INTERVIEW: Why We Can’t Take Legal Action Against Tinubu Over US Drug Link- Frank Tietie

Barrister Frank Tietie is the Executive Director of Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER) , a civil society group promoting human rights and better living standards for citizens of Nigeria.

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The public interest and development lawyer spoke to THE WHISTLER in his Abuja office, and explains the challenges of instituting legal actions on the allegations levelled against political candidates, especially the candidate of the All Progressive Congress, Bola Tinubu.

How Strong Are Recent Allegations Of Vote Buying Plot Made By The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP)? Are They Just Raising Alarm? You Have Been Following Electoral Reforms, Do You Think The Allegations Make Sense In Light Of The Electoral Act 2022?

Their allegation is that the APC has put structures on the ground to corruptly influence voters in the coming election, is that not?

It remains an allegation, so there are two things that are expected, first, a sincere coalition like CUPP will submit a report to INEC simultaneously with that press briefing.

Meaning that they are holding INEC accountable to the people and going back to the people to inform them that they have made INEC become aware, with pieces of evidence and not just wide allegations without substantiated evidence.

Because making that press statement without submitting evidence to the people or to the journalists present to analyze and evaluate the veracity of such allegations simply makes it another political comment.

The best thing will be that the allegations should have been made before INEC, then the burden will now fall on INEC to discharge it to the extent that it will either confirm it to be true or not and even if it is not either of the two, it should give reassurance that such a thing cannot happen.

Right now, INEC appears to be helpless with regard to the issue of vote buying. It doesn’t seem as if it can arrest it. Even when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission made a statement that it is putting machinery and mechanism in place to arrest vote buying, that appears empty because it does not seem to have the ability to also track and prevent vote buying because of the pattern it assumes where they have agents that are within the community, vicinity, who know the people and the people know them.

Vote buying is done with so much discreetness that is beyond the tracking of even an anti-corruption agency like the EFCC.

If these groups of politicians now accuse APC of plotting vote buying; it is not only the APC that intends to buy votes and the appropriate thing would be for the electoral umpire to be able to say that such is true or not true and to also be able to prevent it.

If that cannot be done, vote buying has come to stay and is something we have to live with to the extent that we continue to campaign that individual citizens should not sell their votes.

Political Opposition And Some Section Of The Media Have Reported Allegations Of Certificate Forgery And Drug Links Against The APC Presidential Candidate, Bola Tinubu. Why Is It That No Frontline Public Interest Lawyer Has Taken Up The Issue Over The Years? Why Can’t Lawyers Like You Go To Court To Prove This Case?

The reason why, as a public interest lawyer, I have not been interested in pursuing such cases even though, Mike Enahoro, a colleague of mine has filed a case, is to avoid being referred to as a busybody.

Two, I did not have sufficient confidence that the court will entertain such a matter in good faith on the grounds that we don’t have a course of action or the court itself may not assume jurisdiction on the grounds that we lack locus standi (the right or capacity to bring an action or to appear in a court).

The reason (locus standi) is that we are neither candidates in any of the elections nor members of any of the political parties.

The course of action is the set of facts that will invoke the jurisdiction of the court’s power to hear a matter and make a pronouncement.

Thirdly, we have been sorely disappointed by our past attempts to address public interest issues through the court. I have now resolved that until certain individuals or strong groups take interest in such matters to the point that they approach us, I will not take it up.

Supposed interested parties like political parties and candidates have not shown enough interest.

Why Do You Think Political Parties And Other Interest Groups Are Not Showing Enough Interest In Pursuing This Case In Court?

This is politics, politics in Nigeria, even though many people don’t want to acknowledge it, has been reduced to “what is in it for me. What can I get to my benefit?”

So, if groups and individuals do not yet see how much financial, material or political benefits that can come to them from getting engaged in such matter, they won’t do it.

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So, I tell myself, why then do I do it? If I claim to have reasons for public good, I will not do it unless I find like-minded persons, then I can now go ahead.

Since I don’t find in my previous work done for good, I don’t see anybody who associates with them, I don’t even see the value that comes to them.

So, I don’t want to waste my time and resources for something another person will benefit from. The benefit they should get should be that they want a better Nigeria, not money coming to their pockets because they are blackmailing Tinubu or because they are going to get more votes because they are blackmailing Tinubu. If that is the reason , I won’t do it, it is for good that it should be done.

Since they are not seeing personal benefit, they are not interested. Am I now going to be the one that will bell the cat for people, for someone like Atiku Abubakar to get benefit from it?

If Atiku wants to get benefit from exposing Tinubu as a certificate forger, as a serial drug lord, then he should go and institute a case in court. I won’t do a public interest case that will benefit somebody who is standing by, they should take it up.

Then if a group wants to do it for the good of Nigeria and requires the help of a probono (without charge) lawyer like me, I will gladly do it.

You don’t want to know the politics of some so-called NGOs and Civil Society Organizations. They are largely not different from the political class. That is a big problem.

The people you are asking to go and probe Tinubu are not much different. Many of them largely do things that will only benefit them.

As A lawyer, You Have Read Everything In The Public Domain. Is There A Case That Can Be Made In Court Against Tinubu?

Not yet. The problem is that there is no outright record of conviction.

And then these are two separate and different jurisdictions, Nigeria and United States.

Clearly, he (Tinubu) was indicted. Now, even the details of the indictment are not made public. Only a court of law can now look at the circumstances and the affidavit and declare whether such an indictment amounts to a conviction under the provisions of the 1999 Constitution and Electoral law, to be able to disqualify him.

So, if some persons are not going to court now, they are probably awaiting till after the elections, if at all he wins, before they approach the court.

Some Opposition Political Parties Have Accused Ruling Parties In Their States Of Denying Them Campaign Space, As A Human Rights Lawyer, What Do You Think Such Parties Should Do?

That is a serious human rights matter because it has to do with Section 39 of the 1999 Constitution which talks about freedom of expression, the import of that provision is that every Nigerian has a right to disseminate information according to law.

Unfortunately, these state governments make laws within the jurisdiction as to how public spaces will be used for the purpose of the display of political messages.

However, if those executive orders and rules and bylaws contravene in any way, such freedom (of expression), then individuals who have a right to display or receive such information can actually compel the state or local government to allow them to carry on with their dissemination of messages and where there are no rules and regulations, the local and state governments can be forced to provide such.

Such a situation is a breach of one’s fundamental right to expression; they should go to court to get relief and in instances where they have been prevented, they should seek compensation.

You Are Planning A Human Rights Fiesta, Do You Think Human Rights In Nigeria Calls For Celebration ?

We celebrate human rights, not because of their state in Nigeria but because they naturally belong to human beings.

The goal of celebrating human rights is simply as a way of human rights education and public education of human rights in general.

Human rights are divided into two main rights, civil and political rights on one hand and economic, social and cultural rights.

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