The flight from Germany to London Heathrow Airport was short and smooth. A passenger in the first class section of the aircraft however wished the flight was shorter. He had just been discharged from a hospital in Germany where he was operated on for three hours and sixteen minutes. His stitches had been removed only a few hours earlier and he was planning to rest for some days in London before going back to Nigeria.
The aircraft had hardly stopped when the passenger noticed that officers of the London Metropolitan Police had surrounded the plane. Some of them entered the plane and asked in a very loud voice: “Will Mr. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and his two children kindly step forward?”
Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, the governor of Bayelsa State was surprised at the announcement. He managed to lift himself up from his seat, taking extra care because of his recently operated tummy. As a former military officer, he was however not afraid. He knew that once he identified himself as a serving executive Governor in Nigeria, they would apologise profusely for their mistake and allow him to go.
The governor however sensed that this was not just another routine check when the senior police officer who collected his diplomatic passport told him he was under arrest for money laundering. The governor was not a legal practitioner, but he knew enough law to know that a governor enjoyed immunity from arrest and prosecution. He told the officers that he could not be arrested as a serving governor and that technically he was not yet on British soil under international law as he was yet to disembark from the plane.
His legal arguments however fell on the deaf ears of the British officers. They insisted that he must be arrested and that his country had waived his constitutional immunity. He was immediately handcuffed. When he was asked whether he knew a particular lady, he knew instantly that he had inadvertently walked into a cleverly laid trap.
He was politely informed that his London home would be searched. He demanded to see a warrant. It was shown to him. It was clear that they were leaving nothing to search. At his residence at 247 Water Gardens in Paddington area of London, the sum of GBP920, 000 in British pounds sterling and United States dollar was discovered in a safe. It was at this point that His Excellency was taken to Ilford Police Station where he was formally arrested for money laundering.
|DSP's London House|
The news hit Nigeria like a shockwave. His Excellency Governor Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, the Governor of Bayelsa State, the revered Governor-General of Ijaw Nation had been arrested in London!
DSP, as he was fondly called, was a physical giant and a political heavyweight. As a governor, he lived up to the meaning of his mouthful and jaw-breaking surname, Alamieyeseigha [pronounced as al-uh-mess-EE-ya] which means ‘the king can do no wrong’. As a governor, he was larger than life. His influence was however not limited to his native State. His was a figure that was recognized throughout Nigeria. In case you have forgotten, DSP was the Ganuwan Katsina [Advisor of Katsina]. He was the first person who was not of Islamic faith to be so honoured by the Katsina Emirate.
Following his retirement as a Squadron Leader from the Nigerian Air Force in 1992, he emerged as the governor of the oil-rich Bayelsa State on the country’s return to civil rule on May 29, 1999.
His Deputy was a former lecturer, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. It was a perfect pairing. Whereas the governor was boisterous and ebullient, his deputy was reticent and preferred to stay in the background.
Unknown to DSP, he had been under coordinated surveillance even before he left the shores of Nigeria for his surgery in Germany. The London Metropolitan Police had earlier arrested a woman who was said to have tried to transfer between GBP10m and GBP20m from an account in the HSBC in London. The lady reportedly confessed fronting for the governor. Hence, the British Police officers were waiting patiently for DSP when he arrived at Heathrow.
At Ilford Police Station, DSP was granted conditional bail on self-recognizance. His passport was however impounded and he was asked to remain in London pending the conclusion of investigation into his case of alleged money laundering. He was also mandated to report daily to Paddington Green Police Station.
The news of DSP’s arrest was as incredible as the news of snowfall in Sahara Desert. From Bayelsa to Bauchi, From Langtang to Lagos, from Jos to Ijebu-Jesa, it was the same question on everyone’s lips: Could it be true? Almost everyone became an emergency expert on constitutional law. Lawyers and non-lawyers were having a field day on different television and radio channels analyzing the implication of the arrest.
DSP knew that the cards were stacked against him. He knew that if his country had not left him in the cold, the British could not have arrested him. He was however determined to fight back. After all, he was a trained fighter. He had been trained to fight as a military man. He put a call across to one of the most brilliant legal minds in London who incidentally was from Nigeria.
Fidelis Oditah is one of the few legal practitioners privileged to reach the pinnacle of their careers on two continents. A first class graduate of University of Lagos, he obtained his PhD from Oxford University in 1989. He became a Queen’s Counsel in 2003 and the following year, he was appointed a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Oditah reviewed the facts of the case and according to DSP, the learned Senior Advocate “said the treatment meted out to me was not fair and that we should go to court to vacate some of the bail conditions.”
Oditah promptly filed necessary applications before the Redbridge Magistrates Court. On September 27, 2005, the Learned Queen’s Counsel argued the application. I have told you Oditah is brilliant but what you may not know is how brilliant he is. Let me digress. Oditah taught briefly at the Nigerian Law School before proceeding to London for his postgraduate studies. On this particular day, he stood before the podium in the Law School auditorium dictating his note to the students. The students didn’t realize anything was amiss until he moved away from the podium and the dictation continued. Yes! The genius was dictating the note without any note!
In less than 30 minutes, Oditah had argued his application. He was as smooth as silk and as persuasive as a poet. The Magistrate was convinced by the sublime arguments proffered. The conditional bail granted the former Squadron Leader was held to be invalid. The court declared that the police bail conditions were null and void.
Ganuwan Katsina was a free man!
DSP thought the worst was over. If only he knew.
As he stepped out of the court, he was immediately surrounded by officers of the Metropolitan Police. For the second time, Governor Alamieyeseigha was under arrest. He was again taken to his house where another round of search was conducted. According to the police, a fresh GBP100, 000 was found while another GBP5, 000 was found on him. When he was questioned, the governor reportedly retorted: “What is GBP100, 000?”
Twenty fours hours later, DSP was formally brought before the Bow Street Magistrates Court where he was arraigned on a three-count charge of money laundering. He was brought to court from police custody. If he was under any stress, it was not showing. He was sporting a light blue striped shirt under an overall navy blue sweater and trousers.
The first count of his charge was that he committed a criminal act of money laundering by being in possession of GBP920, 000 in pounds and US dollars contrary to the provisions of section 327(1) of Proceeds of Crime Act 2000. He was also charged with having GBP420, 000 in his account. The third count was that DSP transferred GBP475, 000 to another account contrary to section 93(1) of the Criminal Justice Act.
Following his arraignment, the court ordered that the governor-general be detained at Brixton Prison and his trial for money laundering was fixed for December 8. Brixton Prison was built in 1820 and had earned reputation as one of the worst prisons in London. However following several reforms, it is now a Category C training establishment and inmates can pursue a range of education courses at the prison’s Learning Skill Centre.
As the crow flies, the distance between Brixton Prison and his posh residence in Paddington is less than 7 miles. However it was a huge and uncomfortable transition for DSP who, a few days before, was mingling with the high and the mighty in the society. Now he found himself in the basement of life with the down and out. According to him: “They took me to Brixton Prison and kept me with mad people. I was with mad people for 15 days!”
I have told you that DSP was a fighter. He quickly asked his lawyers to apply for his bail. On October 4, hearing of his application for bail began at the Southwark Crown Court before His Honour Mr. Justice Geoffrey Rivlin who is also a Queen’s Counsel. His Lordship is the author of Understanding the Law. By the way, I hope you didn’t pronounce the name of the court as ‘south walk.’ On my first visit to the court, I told Taiwo Olaniyi that I have been to ‘south walk’. He started laughing. He then told me that the 'w' and the 'r' are silent.
Finally, on October 11 – fifteen days after he was ordered to be incarcerated with the ‘mad people’, DSP was granted bail by the Crown Court. It was however not an unconditional bail. It is what my prosecutor friend, Gbolahan Adeniran would call ‘bail with stringent conditions.’ According to Justice Geoffrey Rivlin, the bail was granted on six conditions.
In the first place, DSP must live and sleep in an address known to the court. He must also report daily to a police station known to the court. That’s not all. Securities must be lodged with the court to a total sum of GBP500, 000. DSP must provide three sureties of GBP250, 000. He was also restricted from going within three miles of any port or airport. The last condition was that he must not leave the jurisdiction of the court and he must not apply for the release of his travel documents.
Stringent conditions notwithstanding, DSP was able to perfect the terms of the bail. And for the moment, he was a free man.
There was however a small problem. DSP knew that as a governor he couldn’t remain indefinitely in the United Kingdom. He therefore asked his lawyers to ask the court to vary his bail conditions so as to enable him to travel to Nigeria in order to deal with the affairs of Bayelsa State. He asked for only four weeks. He undertook to be back to face his trial. The crown court considered the application. It was refused.
DSP must remain in London.
Following the refusal of the crown court to grant him bail, it appeared that Governor would not be allowed to leave Britain in a hurry. Yet he knew that it was risky for him to govern the state from ‘exile’. He therefore sent a letter to the House of Assembly asking for 120 days leave to enable him attend to his health challenges. There was no reference in the letter about his case in London. The thinking of the governor was that within the requested 4 months, his travails in London would have been over.
The governor was however shocked to his marrows when he learnt that two of his avowed loyalists in the House, the Speaker, Boyelayefa Debekem, and the Deputy Speaker, Jephter Foingha, had been relieved of their parliamentary positions. In their stead, the House appointed Peremobowei Ebebi and Bright Ereware as the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker respectively.
As if that was not enough, the governor was also informed that his deputy, the reticent Goodluck Jonathan, had been formally sworn in as the Acting Governor. To compound the matter, rumour of impeachment began to fly around the State. The governor realized that he had become the proverbial hen that perched on a line. Adie ba l’okun, ara ko ro okun, ara ko ro adie. Neither the hen nor the line would be comfortable. Something had to be done.
I have told you that the governor general was a dogged fighter. He instructed his lawyers to file a fresh application at the High Court of Justice. This time around, it was an application lawyers call ‘habeas corpus’ which is a Latin for ‘Produce the Body’ that was filed. The Court however asked whether such an application could be brought by someone who was already released on bail. Counsel immediately got the hint and the application was changed to that of judicial review.
Without boring you with the legal details, the issue raised in the new application was whether the decision to prosecute DSP should be quashed on the grounds that he was entitled to sovereign immunity in his capacity as Governor and Chief Executive of Bayelsa State, which is a constituent part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In other words, the issue before the Royal Court of Justice was whether a Governor and a Chief Executive of a State, which is a constituent part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is entitled to immunity in criminal proceedings brought in the United Kingdom.
This time around, DSP was represented by two formidable Queen’s Counsel, one of whom was a professor of law: Edward Fitzgerald and Professor Malcolm Shaw. The Crown Prosecution Service was also represented by another brilliant Queen’s Counsel in person of Jonathan Fisher.
At the hearing of the DSP’s application for judicial review, the parties submitted experts’ evidence on the position of Nigerian law on this very important issue. DSP relied on a report of Professor Ben Nwabueze to support his contention that he was entitled to immunity as the governor of Bayelsa. The CPS, on the other hand, adduced a report from a senior lecturer at King’s College, London, Professor Tunde Ogowewo to the effect that he was not.
That was not all. The Attorney General of Bayelsa filed an affidavit before the court wherein he claimed that his boss was entitled to state immunity. The Attorney General of the Federation however disagreed and contended, in his witness statement filed in London, that the AG of Bayelsa who deposed to the affidavit in support was also “an accomplice in the case against the claimant!”
According to the leader of the Nigerian Bar: “The immunity enjoyed by [the claimant as the governor] does not extend beyond the shores of Nigeria…It is lawful for the Crown to arrest, detain and prosecute the governor for money laundering offences.” In conclusion, the AGF submitted that: “the only person that can lay claim to sovereign immunity is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under the doctrine of sovereign immunity in international law…”
At the end of the hearing on November 17, 2005, the Court adjourned the matter to November 25 for ruling.
There was no other issue being discussed in Nigeria and in the United Kingdom on the evening of that day except the case. People were wondering where the pendulum of justice was going to swing when the court reconvened the following week.
However while people were busy speculating, a drama of epic proportion was happening across international boundaries. If it had been a scene from a Nollywood flick, it would have been roundly condemned by film critics as the product of a lazy scriptwriter. But what was happening was stranger than fiction. It was beyond what someone from Ebinpejo Lane, Idumota or Iweka Road, Onitsha could have dreamt of!
On Monday, November 21, 2015, Nigerian woke up to the breaking news:
GOVERNOR ALAMIEYESEIGHA IS BACK IN NIGERIA!
What! How! Where! When!
Nigerians across the world went into an instant overdrive. Public analysts and social commentators ran all the way to the nearest media house to pontificate on international law. Journalists ambushed every available lawyer to get their learned view. Professors of political science and international relations became overnight celebrities. Correspondents maintained a siege on the State House to get government’s official reaction.
How did the governor general manage to leave the United Kingdom without his travel documents? When did he arrive in Nigeria? Who assisted him to leave the UK? Did he fly? Did he swim? He couldn’t have walked, that option was immediately ruled out for he was sighted in the UK on Sunday morning. Even a nomadic Fulani who is accustomed to trekking could not have walked from London to Bayelsa in 24 hours!
There was another theory. It was Professor Wole Soyinka who came up with the theory as a means of making light of the very serious situation. If the theory had been true, thousands of Nigerian who queue up daily at foreign embassies for visas wouldn’t have bothered any longer.
You want to know the theory? You won’t hear it from Onigegewura’s mouth. Let me quote the Nobel Laureate: “He said he did not escape. If you believe in tradition, there is what we call egbé carrier or ofe; it could be either of these that brought him to Bayelsa…we must come together to hold a conference and decide how this man vanished from Great Britain and landed in Bayelsa creek.” [Note to my daughter: egbe and ofe are two variants of a traditional Yoruba charm that is capable of metaphysically transporting a person over a considerable distance without being seen.]
The governor himself was not forthcoming about his mysterious disappearance in the UK and his more mysterious re-appearance in Nigeria. According to the UK’s The Guardian: “Mr. Alamieyeseigha was coy when asked how he evaded the British controls to make it back to his village in the Niger Delta. ‘I don’t know myself. I just woke up and found myself in Amassoma.” Incredible stuff!
Speculations were rife about how the embattled governor was able to leave the United Kingdom undetected. Some said he snuck into the country aboard a British Airways flight. Others claimed that it was by a chartered flight that the former Squadron Leader slinked in.
No less surprised by the mysterious return was the hard-fighting and tough-speaking Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu. He was one of the first persons to give a hint about how the governor could have escaped. When he was interviewed about the governor’s strange return, the anti-corruption czar said: “It is a sad development. It is something we should not be proud of. The act committed has to do with the British justice system.” Then he went on to throw down the bombshell: “We knew he dressed like a woman and forged documents. He passed through all the borders undetected!”
Alamieyeseigha dressed like a woman! Could it be true?
The Guardian [UK] appeared to corroborate this finding about governor’s newfound love for female garment. According to the publication: “Dressed as a woman, the governor is said to have taken a Eurostar train from London to Paris and then flown to Douala, a port city in Cameroon neighbouring Nigeria, where a speedboat took him home under cover of darkness. The disguise was helped by the fugitive’s weight loss during his stay in Europe, which included a tummy tuck operation in Germany.”
Trust Nigerians with their fertile imagination. Various images of the governor dressed as a woman quickly emerged. Thisday however took the cake with its front-page graphic representation of DSP dressed in a colourful lace blouse with a beautifully tied Madam Kofo gele and lipstick. The image was complete with a sparkling necklace. Two days later, Olusegun Adeniyi’s popular column in Thisday featured another image of the governor. This time around, DSP was sporting a beautifully cut blouse, thin necklace, and a full wig.
But did the fugitive governor truly come to Nigeria by way of Douala dressed as a woman?
I hope you remember that one of the conditions of the bail granted the governor was that he should report daily to a police station within jurisdiction every day. The governor kept faithfully to this term until Friday, November 18 when he failed to show up. The police officers were however not unduly alarmed. They were confident that with his papers safely locked up in the court’s vault, the governor would always be within their reach.
On Saturday, British undercover agents who were detailed to monitor him were said to have trailed him to a flat behind Hilton. According to Thisday: “He was said to have left the flat in the company of a young lady to another flat on Peckham Street where he spent the night. The next morning, Sunday, two ladies were seen leaving the Peckham flat by the undercover agents and it was much later when, the governor’s whereabouts became unknown, that they got wise to the realisation that Alamieyeseigha was indeed the ‘second woman’.” In other words, when a limping masquerade enters the groove and a limping man comes out of the groove, it is clear that the limping man was actually the person under the mask.
But again, did the fugitive governor truly disguise as a woman? More importantly, how was he able to evade the British security networks without detection? Well, you know that it is from the mouth of the owner of the garden egg that you hear the sound of its eating. Let’s listen to the governor’s side of the story.
According to DSP, officers of the Metropolitan Police assisted him to leave their country. “Every other day, the Metropolitan Police came to my house. So one of those days, they took me out of London to an awaiting aircraft and when I asked where they were taking me, they said, look we don’t want your political problems. Go and solve it. The day we saw your Attorney General [Bayo Ojo] in court making that type of statement, we knew it was not a criminal matter but political and we are not interested in getting involved. So I was flown to Ivory Coast. They had warned me not to say certain things they did. So I was lucky a Nigerian was coming to do business in a chartered flight because I had no passport.
I was just stranded in Ivory Coast in the evening when this Good Samaritan saw me. He was excited and asked what I was doing in Ivory Coast and I narrated my ordeal. So he said I should join him and he brought me back to Nigeria. I got home late. We flew to Lagos and the same aircraft took me to Port Harcourt. It was in Lagos that I called my ADC to come and pick me at the airport and that was how I got home. I never dressed like a woman to escape from London.”
From available records, it appeared that contrary to The Guardian’s report that DSP came into the country via Douala by a speedboat, Alamieyeseigha actually came in through Abidjan by a chartered flight operated by Kings Air owned by Senator Musa Adede. A few days after his arrival in the country, EFCC officials arrested two pilots of the airline. The pilots, Mobee Yinka and Toyin, were said to have been arrested over the role their airline played in the arrival of the governor in Nigeria.
Well, irrespective of how he came back to the country, Alamieyeseigha’s return was celebrated by almost everyone in Bayelsa. Thousands of Bayelsans trooped out to the Government House to welcome their hero. Seeing the multitude that came to welcome him, the governor was overcome by palpable emotion. He addressed the crowd in his native Ijaw language. He thanked God who brought him back from foreign wilderness.
According to him: “For 65 days or so, I found myself in the wilderness of foreign restriction and torment. However, God Almighty has used this travail to humble me and I pray Nigerians accept the will of God in my life…Today, I am back at my desk, forever committed to serve the people of Bayelsa and Nigeria.”
If Alamieyeseigha had thought that his return to the country would mark the end of his travails, subsequent events which were happening almost at the speed of light appeared to prove him wrong. His return was roundly condemned by almost every vocal person in the country. Even DSP’s brother governors advised him to go back to the United Kingdom to face his trial like a man. The Yobe State governor, Bukar Ibrahim fired the first salvo when he condemned the act of jumping bail by a governor as ungentlemanly.
Ibrahim was not alone. Ali Modu Sheriff, the governor of Borno State was also unequivocal in his condemnation of his co-governor. According to him: “That the governor of a State in Nigeria is said to have done that sort of disgraceful act is really disappointing and a big embarrassment to our country.”
The Nigerian Governors’ Forum of which Alamieyeseigha was a staunch member did not spare him. The Forum advised the beleaguered governor general to face his trial, as members would not be party to any illegality.
Her Majesty’s government, from whose soil the governor escaped, also vowed to extradite him back to the United Kingdom. The British High Commission spokesperson informed reporters in Abuja that the United Kingdom had taken steps to apply for an international warrant of arrest.
Nigerian government also gave him no respite. It appeared that DSP had overnight become the proverbial goldfish with no hiding place. In a strongly worded letter he wrote to his British counterpart, Tony Blair, Nigerian Olusegun Obasanjo described the governor’s escape under the nose of British police as “most unbelievable.” According to Baba Iyabo, “Given the global war on terror and the reputation of the British security agencies for thoroughness, efficiency and effectiveness, not only does Nigeria need assurances on this matter, we also expect decisive statements and actions on this matter from the appropriate authorities at the British end.”
It was however the fiery human rights lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi, who appeared to nudge the relevant authorities in the right constitutional direction. In condemning the governor’s midnight escape as ‘a national shame’, Fawehinmi called on the Bayelsa State House of Assembly to impeach him without delay. He said: “He has committed an international crime. The British government would invoke international law. No doubt about that, Alamieyeseigha is in trouble. He should be impeached immediately. Section 188 of the Constitution should be used to impeach him on the strength of the crime committed.”
As if that was the green light the parliamentarians were waiting for, the Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Peremobowei Ebebi immediately addressed a world press conference to the effect that impeachment proceeding would be commenced against the governor if he failed to resign. According to the BBC, Ebebi declared that: “He [DSP] has to resign within two weeks or face impeachment. A governor who disguised himself as a woman to run away from justice in London should not be our governor. It is a slap on our collective dignity as a people and our sensibilities as a people.”
With the declaration coming from the legislators, the line of Rubicon appeared to have been crossed. Bayelsans and Nigerians waited with bated breath wondering whether the governor would resign voluntarily or dare the House to commence impeachment proceedings against him.
Then the unthinkable happened! It was no longer a rumour. 17 out of 24 members of the State House of Assembly formally signed a notice to impeach Mr. Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha as the governor of Bayelsa State. Addressing newsmen in Lagos on the development, the Speaker said: “The House got a report from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission where it mandated us to look into the development concerning the governor. We looked at the report and the Assembly decided that we should serve him the impeachment notice on eight grounds.”
In the report mentioned by the Speaker, the EFCC found that in 1999 when he became the governor, DSP declared five buildings [N50 million], 25 plots of land [N2.5 million], four vehicles [N10 million]; and N5 million in bank and N.1m in cash. Four years later, the governor declared 7 buildings [N77 million with rental income of N4.5 million], 27 plots of land [N5 million], six vehicles [N14.8 million], and one boat [N2.5million].
The Commission however found that the governor had acquired the following properties and bank accounts which were not declared: Barclays Bank: GBP203,753.34; Bank of America: $1,600,000; GBP1, 350,000 was traced to NATWEST account linked to him; properties at 247 Water Gardens [GBP1.75million]; 14 Mapesbury Road, London [GBP1.4million]; 68-70 Regent Park [GBP 3million]; and a flat at Jubilee Heights [GBP241,000] were also found to be owned by him. The report also contained details of two properties in South Africa, and two properties in the United States, amongst other properties.
Following the receipt of the notice, the House directed the Chief Judge of Bayelsa to constitute a probe panel to investigate the allegation of gross misconducts leveled against the governor. The particulars of the gross misconducts as provided by the House include the following: Involvement in money laundering occasioning his arrest and investigation by officers of the Metropolitan Police; maintaining of four foreign bank accounts while serving as a governor [Barclays Bank Plc., London; National Westminster Bank, London; Royal Bank of Scotland; and Commerz Bank, London]; corrupt enrichment of his wife and children; and criminal diversion of public funds to purchase the following: One Billion Naira shares in Bond Bank, Chelsea Hotel in Abuja, GBP10m worth of properties in London, amongst others.
The governor was however unfazed by the accusation of corruption. In a broadcast he made to the people of the State, he informed them he was being persecuted on behalf all Ijaw people. According to him: “Be reminded that the modest triumph and pride I brought to the Ijaw Nation in the recent past was won on behalf of all our people. That is why the persecution I suffer today amounts to the persecution of all Bayelsans and the Ijaw Nation.” The governor then vowed to defend his mandate and concluded by quoting from the Book of Roman 8:20 “all things work together for good to them that love God…”
The governor didn’t stop at the broadcast. He promptly directed the State Attorney General to file a case against the Federal Government at the Supreme Court. In the suit filed at the apex court, the state government asked the Court to void the deployment of troops in the State by the Federal Government on the ground that it was calculated to intimidate the House of Assembly and the Chief Judge of the state into removing the governor from office by force.
That was not all. The governor then took pen to paper to respond to the issues raised against him by the House of Assembly. If you are looking for a classical statement of defence, I enjoin you to look no further than the governor’s response. In addition to his substantive defence, the governor also filed preliminary objection against the proceedings. Time won’t permit me to reproduce the entire statement, but let me tease you with the opener: [you have to wait for my forthcoming book for the rest; Yes, Onigegewura is compiling all our stories published on this blog and more into a book, in order to preserve them for our children yet unborn]
“SAVE AND EXCEPT as hereinafter expressly admitted, I, Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, the Executive Governor and holder of the office of the Governor of Bayelsa State hereinafter referred to simply as the Respondent CATEGORICALLY AND EMPATHICALLY DENY each and every allegation of fact contained in the purported Notice of Impeachment as if each and every such allegation is specifically set out and traversed SERIATIM.
1. Without prejudice to available legal and equitable defences which would be explored and exploited at and during the hearing before the Seven Man Panel” to be set up by the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, the Respondent shall by way of preliminary objection CHALLENGE the validity of the purported NOTICE OF IMPEACHMENT as well as the Annexure BYHA1 entitled “Interim Investigation Report: Case of Conspiracy, Fraudulent Diversion of Public Funds and Money Laundering – Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha” and would most humbly urge that same be struck out on grounds succinctly set out hereunder….” [Emphasis NOT mine]
What did I tell you? Look at that use of English Language! Categorically and Emphatically Deny! Explored and Exploited! Traversed Seriatim! Purported Notice! Grounds succinctly set out hereunder! And someone would be asking wetin lawyers dey do self!
In his defence, the governor denied all the allegations leveled against him. In particular, he denied using his position to corruptly enrich his family. According to him: “As a responsible husband and father, the Respondent is entitled to make adequate provisions to cater for [his] wife, children and dependent relations as is the practice all over the world.”
With regard to properties allegedly acquired illegally, it was the position of the governor that they were all acquired by the government to boost the internally generated revenue of the state government.
On Monday, December 5, 2005, the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, His Lordship Justice Emmanuel Igoniwari, formally constituted the Probe Panel as requested by the State House of Assembly. The panel was headed by Serena Dokubo-Spiff. Benson Agada who was the immediate past commissioner in the State was also a member, as well as Bolere Ketebu-Nwokafor, who was the National President of the National Council of Women Societies. Rufus Apulu, a retired Colonel of the Nigerian Army was also a member. Collins Bedeigha, from the Nigerian Bar Association, Gladys Brisibe, a retired Wing Commander; and Lady Mercy Alagoa were the other members.. With the inauguration of the panel, it appeared that the stage was now finally set for the commencement of the probe of the governor.
According to him, Dokubo-Spiff was the lead counsel in a case instituted against him in 2003/2004 by the Nembe Council of Chiefs and that the information supplied to him by his clients would influence his sense of justice. It was also the contention of DSP that Dokubo-Spiff was a call mate of Bayo Ojo, the Attorney General of the Federation whom he accused of bias. On the part of Agada, the governor alleged that he was his former commissioner and therefore must be presumed to hold grudges against him for his removal from the state cabinet. I hope you recall that the AGF, Bayo Ojo, had filed papers against Alamieyeseigha in the London proceedings.
By the way, you didn’t even bother to ask me about the outcome of the London proceedings after the ‘miraculous’ departure of Alamieyeseigha who was the person who filed the application for judicial review. You recall that hearing in the proceedings was concluded on November 17 and Alamieyeseigha took leave of Her Majesty on November 20. You remember? Good.
On November 25, the Royal Court of Justice delivered its ruling on the issue whether the man whose name means The King can do no wrong should be tried by the Queen of another land. In the ruling delivered by Mr. Justice Stephen Silber, a Queen’s Counsel, the Court held that “I am satisfied that it would only rarely be appropriate to regard a sub-state is entitled to immunity. I do not regard Bayelsa State as entitled to immunity and so the claimant [Alamieyeseigha] himself has no such entitlement.” In other words, DSP had no immunity in London. Iyalode Ibadan, omo egbe ni l’Eko. [Note to my daughter: I won’t translate this because of my friends from Ibadan. Luqman Animashaun and Ronke Oyelami consider the proverb as a Lagos invention to deride the town of Bashorun Oluyole.]
I have told you that it doesn’t rain, it pours. Three days after the London Court threw out his application, the EFCC filed a case against the governor before the Code of Tribunal in Nigeria. In the 19-count charge filed before the Tribunal, the governor was accused of false declaration of assets, corrupt enrichment abuse of office.
Meanwhile, accusations and counter-accusations began to fly between the governor and members of the State House of Assembly. The governor informed Bayelsans that there were plans to assassinate him. According to him: “Even as I speak to you, I have it on good authority that there is a plan to assassinate or kidnap me. As a prelude to that plan, my official security is already being withdrawn.”
On their own part, the parliamentarians alleged that their lives were in danger. They claimed that: “As we are sitting here, our lives are in danger. It is God that is protecting us.”
It appeared that all the elements were conspiring against the embattled governor. As he was being buffeted in London, he was being pummeled by the House of Assembly in Yenogoa. He was also not being spared by the EFCC. As if that was not enough, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission [ICPC] succeeded in securing an order of the Federal High Court in Abuja to endorse the appointment of a private counsel to investigate the N1.7 billion contract scam allegation leveled against him.
The governor was alleged to have awarded contracts and paid over N1.7billion to fake and non-existing companies in the construction of the Niger Delta University. In the ruling delivered by Justice Anwuli Chikere, a private counsel was to be appointed by the Chief Justice of Nigeria in line with the provisions of section 52 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act.
I hope you are following me. I have told you that many things were happening at the same time and almost at the speed of light. Let’s leave Nigeria for a moment and check what’s happening in London.
You recall that when DSP was granted bail by the Bow Street Magistrate Court on October 11, the court fixed December 8 for his trial. It was while waiting for trial that he jumped bail.
On December 8, the Bow Street Magistrate Court in London waited for the Defendant to appear to face his trial. It was however in vain that the court waited. DSP was nowhere to be found. Following his failure to show up, the prosecuting counsel from the Crown Prosecution Services, Mark Ludcraft told the court that Alamieyeseigha must be presumed to have jumped bail since he had not reported to the Paddington Police Station since November 18. The Court then ordered that arrest warrant be issued against him for his failure to keep to his terms of bail.
On Friday, December 9, 2005, the Bayelsa State House of Assembly impeached the Ganuwan Katsina as the governor of Bayelsa State!
But that’s not the end of the story.
Immediately he was impeached, EFCC officials swooped on him the way the eagle does a money-swallowing snake.
|The Past and The Present|
In his first address to the people of the state on December 12, Jonathan admitted that his emergence as the governor was unexpected. He told the people: “This is an event none of us could have contemplated three months ago… I believe it is well known that I served Chief DSP Alamieyeseigha as his deputy loyally and honestly from the beginning of our tenure on May 29, 1999 until the sad circumstances that have caused me to succeed him today. I did not go out of my way to seek this.”
So what happened to the former governor? I have already told you that he was arrested by the EFCC immediately he was impeached by the House of Assembly. Following his arrest, he was kept in the gulag of the Commission for about twenty months. He was eventually arraigned alongside his six companies before the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court on a thirty-three count charges bordering on corrupt enrichment, false declaration of assets and money laundering.
On July 26, 2007, DSP pleaded guilty to three out of the thirty-three charges. Before he was sentenced, Justice Mohammed Shuaibu asked him whether he had anything to say as his allocutus. The man who once lorded it over the government of Bayelsa nodded and in an emotion-laden voice began to address His Lordship.
“I was brought to the country by the British government. In London, I was kept with mad people for 15 days. I was bleeding due to my state of health as I was arrested…I was not impeached but physically removed. I have had surgical operations five times. I did this for two reasons. I am 55 years old, I have lost a wife and children… If I were younger, I would not have pleaded guilty, but because of the killings, maimings and kidnap in the Niger Delta to which some people were claiming that there would not be peace until I am released, I have to do it.”
The court thereafter sentenced him to a term of two years imprisonment in respect of each of the charges and the terms were to run from December 9, 2005 the day he was arrested. As you may be aware, under our criminal procedure system, terms of imprisonment are to be concurrent unless otherwise ordered. In other words, the DSP would serve only two years.
|One of the properties|
The court further ordered that his London properties, GBP2.29 million cash, shares in a commercial bank valued at N1 billion, N105 million Naira cash and another $160,000 be forfeited. Justice Shuaibu ordered that the properties be sold and the proceeds transferred to the treasury of Bayelsa State Government.
However having regard to the fact that he had been in the custody of the Commission since his arrest in 2005, he was deemed to have served his sentence and he was therefore released the day following his conviction.
DSP was finally a free man!
But that was still not the end of the story. In 2012, the United State Justice Department won a forfeiture judgment against him for money laundering and corruption. Justice officials said he had accumulated million of dollars’ worth of property and bank accounts around the world during his six years as governor, a period in which he was paid a total of $81,000 in salary and declared $248,000 incomes from all sources.
The story however did not end there.
On March 12, 2013, DSP’s former deputy and successor, Goodluck Jonathan who had by then become the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, granted him a state pardon. This pardon was however roundly condemned as it was seen as a setback in the fight against corruption.
The US Embassy in Nigeria said it was deeply disappointed by the pardon. The man who could be regarded as Alamieyeseigha’s nemesis, Nuhu Ribadu could not mask his disappointment with the pardon. According to the former head of EFCC that investigated DSP, the pardon was “going to do a great deal of damage.” The government, through its spokesperson, Doyin Okupe, however defended the action. In his words: “Alamieyeseigha had impacted positively on the overall economy of the nation.”
Finally, On October 10, 2015, Chief Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha breathed his last in the garden city of Port Harcourt. He died at the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital. The cause of death was given as complications arising from high blood pressure and diabetes. The New York Times reported that the late governor’s health problems resulted from his transfer from a hospital in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, to avoid being extradited to Britain, where he was wanted for money laundering charges and for skipping bail. He was 62 years old.
And with that we have come to the end of the story of Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, the Ganuwan Katsina.
Historian Is Not A Judge. History Is.
I thank you for your time.
History Does Not Forget
The right of Olanrewaju Onigegewura© to be identified as the author of stories published on this blog has been asserted by him in accordance with the copyright laws.