The history of his life is replete with many scars of ‘war’. Like or hate him, Femi Fani-Kayode, lawyer, politician, is a good writer and wonderful debater. He is neither shy from stoking the fire of controversy nor afraid to do battle with real or imagined enemies. He is also resplendent in good fashion attires. Whenever he appears in public, either in his well-tailored suit, blazer or custom-made native ensemble – Kaftan or Agbada – with his designer sun shades to match, he always stands out.
Femi has been in the news for all his adult life. In the last seven years, he has been in and out of courts battling to save himself from those who were bent on railroading him to Siberia. But last week Wednesday, July 1, 2015, the outspoken and controversial dude had cause to smile. On that day, the two surviving counts of a forty-count charge brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2008, were decided in his favour. Consequently, the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos discharged and acquitted the former Minister of Aviation and one-time Minister of Culture and Tourism of the charges of money laundering brought against him.
Delivering her judgment, Justice Rita Ofili Ajumogobia noted that the case of the prosecution was “feeble” and without cogent evidence on which a finding of guilt could be based. It is also important to mention that the original charge brought against Fani-Kayode in 2008 before Justice Ramat Mohammed carried 40 counts of misappropriation of public funds and money laundering of several amounts totalling about 100 million naira or more. When Justice Ajumogobia took charge of the case, the court dropped 38 of the charges in November 2014 as the facts and evidence were not enough to sustain a charge. The last two counts of laundering the sum of 2.1 million naira are those for which Fani-Kayode has now been absolved.
The EFCC team, led by Festus Keyamo failed to prove all the elements of the alleged crime arising from the Money Laundering Act. The court identified that the allegation was concerned with conducting transactions exceeding N500,000 in cash without going through a financial institution, which is prohibited under the Money Laundering Act. To establish its case, the EFCC called Police Superintendent Agbaje (among other witnesses), who was a former aide of Fani-Kayode during his time as the Minister of Culture and Tourism. The witness testified that he received sums exceeding that allowed amount from Fani-Kayode with instructions to deposit the same in the latter’s account. Evidence of deposits made into Fani-Kayode’s accounts was also tendered.
Perhaps, basking in the euphoria of his latest victory, Femi has announced his desire to change his last name from Fani-Kayode to ‘Olukayode’ as a tribute to God for delivering him from his legal entanglement. Coming from a man whose ideology and political stance has changed severally over the years like a chameleonic metamorphosis, this may be a tad comical.
The court however found that the prosecution’s case could not be sustained as, first, the oral evidence of the witness in court contradicted his earlier written statement and in such cases, the court finds such witnesses to be unreliable. Furthermore, there was nothing in the prosecution’s case showing the source of the money, nor proof that amounts exceeding N500,000 was received by Fani-Kayode in cash. There remained doubt about whether the sums in Fani-Kayode’s accounts were not received in tranches and the court decided on the side of the defendant.
In its judgment, the court highlighted that the source and motive of receiving the money is irrelevant since the issue was about cash transactions exceeding N500,000 without going through a financial institution. This seemed to aid Fani-Kayode’s case as the testimony by one of his witnesses that the alleged sums were received from tenants occupying some of the former minister’s properties was also considered doubtful by the judge.
As always, Nigerians may decry the judgment as another failure by the anti-corruption agency to put together a credible case. Some may even cry judicial foul play in acquitting the former minister. However, it should be pointed out that the court acknowledged Keyamo’s dexterity in prosecuting the case and differentiated him from other less diligent prosecutors. It appears only that the powers that be at the time, gave a mandate for the prosecution of the former minister even without enough substance to sustain a conviction. The yearnings by the public to see corrupt officials tried and convicted may also lead to hurried charges lacking depth.
Now, a casual observer may well see some merit in Fani-Kayode’s insistent claims throughout the case that the charges were politically motivated. Given the way the case has finally turned out and the sequence of events in the case, a view that the charges were hurriedly drafted to satisfy some political exigency during the late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration cannot be faulted. The verdict is now in and ‘the innocent man’ has been acquitted.
It is the hope that if the former Minister does make good on his name change, then, we will see more of the reasoned educated man, cultured in speech and expression and less of the political chameleon and controversy magnet that Fani-Kayode has come to be known to be.
At last, Femi has enjoyed a victory after suffering huge criticism in the run up to the last presidential election in which he was at the head of the media campaign team put in place for former President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election. Jonathan lost woefully in that election. Femi’s campaign appointment at that time, which came after his brief romance with the then-opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) drew a lot of flak from people. He was described as a two-faced, inconsistent player in the political arena with wavering ideologies. His often unreserved comments in the media have led to much criticism, including allegations of weak mental health, principally made by some leaders of the APC.
Perhaps, basking in the euphoria of his latest victory, Femi has announced his desire to change his last name from Fani-Kayode to ‘Olukayode’ as a tribute to God for delivering him from his legal entanglement. Coming from a man whose ideology and political stance has changed severally over the years like a chameleonic metamorphosis, this may be a tad comical. Beyond that, however, it is hoped that the change will resonate throughout his person too and his knack for insensitive remarks in the press will be lessened at the same time. His brazen comments about other political figures who are not in his chosen camp and unsavoury remarks on other issues including the much publicised condemnation of the Igbos, have put a label of a loose cannon on the otherwise well educated man.
The man may have an unbridled tongue and a penchant for attracting controversy, but the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has determined that, at least, in respect to the charges brought against him, he is innocent. Whether the EFCC goes on appeal or not, which is doubtful, this is the reality for now. Often in the business world, it is common for a company to change its brand name to distance itself from some negative publicity or project a new, better image for itself. It is the hope that if the former Minister does make good on his name change, then, we will see more of the reasoned educated man, cultured in speech and expression and less of the political chameleon and controversy magnet that Fani-Kayode has come to be known to be.
An important lesson here should not be lost. In spite of all the dirty hate propaganda Femi mounted against President Muhammadu Buhari’s candidacy during the last electioneering campaign, he still got a good deal from the court last week. It was the Russian Writer, Count Leo (Nikolayevich) Tolstoy (1828-1910) who, in what I Believe (1884) wrote: “There is only one way to put an end to evil, and that is to do good for evil.” This self-acclaimed poet and historian must now revisit his own history and see where he needs to do better. Poets are known to be great self-critics and “Mr Olukayode” must now find the discipline to do just that going forward.
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