Poor Maina, Totally Avoidable Sentence Of 8 Years Imprisonment - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Poor Maina, Totally Avoidable Sentence Of 8 Years Imprisonment


The Daily Crucible | Published Tuesday,  November 9, 2021

By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire

On Monday, my friend and former fellow inmate at Kuje Medium Custodial Center (the new name they gave Nigerian prisons) was convicted and sentenced to prison for eight years. To avoid any confusion, let me explain to a newcomer how I ended up in prison myself. I once accused the Abuja police command of corruption and incompetence and use of torture to coerce confessions. I was getting too vocal in that. The officers implicated in my accusations decided to shut me up. They chose the option of falsely charging me with murder and armed robbery. Only God saved my life: they could have killed me extrajudicially. In Nigeria, when charged with murder or armed robbery (regardless of the complete absence of evidence), the courts will remand you in prison. The courts do that for many reasons, which we shall discuss elsewhere. That was how I spent two years in prison – raw and brutal power of the police. And that was when I met Abdurasheed Maina. For more than a year, I saw and chatted with Maina almost every day. As you can imagine, that was long enough period of time to get to know a person well enough. In fact, I would say that I used the opportunity to study this extraordinarily persona, called Maina. 

I was not surprised that Maina was convicted. It became obvious that he would be convicted. The case became personal in many ways. But let it be known: Maina was convicted more for his stupidity and blunders than for any criminal offense. And this is singularly my reason for feeling sorry for him today. If Maina was convicted truly for a criminal offense, that would have been good for the nation and for justice. But he was convicted for his blunders that have little to do with any offense. 

I will never forget the day Maina arrived in Kuje prison. Everybody knew that a big man arrived. The entire top officials of the prison see the arrival of a big man as an opportunity to make money, to cozy up to power and to build a contact of value. And powerful people, even when in prison, can cause things to happen outside the prison. Nigerians, especially government people like prison staff, so poorly paid, are desperate to tap into power, money and influence, when within reach. They were all eager, falling over themselves, to please Maina. And Maina seemed to be a master of such power and influence peddling. In the first few days of his arrival in prison, Maina, with an uncanny understanding of human nature, would listen to a person who would be asking for money and say: “Don’t worry, you will get five million tomorrow”. These words can turn any Nigerian official into an instant zombie. 

On the first day that Maina was to go to court, and I happen to be going to court on the same day, we were all assembled in one part of the prison where we would take rollcalls and be sorted into different prison vehicles going to different courts. As we were in that area, Maina joined us. This was the first time I was to set my eyes on Maina. Immediately Maina entered with all the attention the warders and officials were according him, our eyes met and we mutually advanced toward each other. I didn’t know that he already knew about my case. He is a big man of about 6:2ft tall. I am only 5:8ft. So, it was a small man standing with a huge man. I stretched my hand and shook his very firmly. “Nice to meet you, Alhaji”, I said. “I have been following your case”, I added. He smiled and said in a conspiratorial tone: “We need to talk”. I was impressed. He seemed to have known something about me that prompted him to want to talk with me. 

Maina and I were placed in the same prison vehicle. It was a new vehicle, a Nissan medium sized bus. He was seated on the row behind the driver. I was seated on the back row. Altogether, there were about 5 other inmates. From his front seat, Maina looked back and winked at me very friendly and we nodded to our plan to talk later. For some reason, I liked this guy. He seemed so friendly. But I was not surprised. That is how manipulative or conmen generally are. That is why they are able to penetrate anyone so easily. I could see Maina with those characteristics. But I did not feel vulnerable. I was in prison. I had nothing of value (so I thought) and I did not feel like someone might be trying to win me over for anything. I just liked Maina. We kept making eye contacts throughout the ride to court. 

Something remarkable occurred on our way to court. I noticed that the prison officials mobilized many vehicles and their armed squad to escort our vehicle to court. I had been to court many times from the prison before this. I had never experienced the sort of motorcade and escort that I witnessed that day. I understood it was because of the presence of Maina. But it was not really because they were afraid that Maina might escape. No, it was a way of many of them ingratiating themselves to find favor with Maina. They were actually giving him their red-carpet treatment. There was blaring siren everywhere. It was like a motorcade for the president. I enjoyed it though – clean, brand new vehicle and riding like a president to court. And when we arrived in court, I realized that part of the reason there were many armed prison guards was to stop the press from getting close to Maina. It felt good for me to tag along and enjoy the protection of the shield of power and influence.

Maina’s first day in court after he arrived in prison was for the court to consider his bail application. It was clear that Maina was going to seek bail on health ground. He was getting sicker and sicker as we approached the court. As part of the effort to curry favor from Maina, or maybe he paid them, I am not sure which, the Officer-in-Charge of the Prison mobilized the medical staff of the prison to the court. They had the stretcher and wheelchair and were even ready to strap on drips as they carried him into the court. The purpose was to convince the court that Maina was sick and deserved bail on health ground. It was a massive production, if you know what that means. The judge, sighting the Officer-in-Charge of Prison present in court, asked why he came to court. The Officer-in-Charge stammered. But it boiled down to the fact that he came to be seen to be helping Maina get bail. To understand what happen, it is important to know that within three days, a few officers of the prison lost their posts, including the Officer-in-Charge. When the Prison hierarchy saw on TV the Officer-in-Charge personally in court, they understood that Maina might have bought the prison officials. Transfers followed immediately. The Officer-in-Charge was promptly transferred to Kaduna Prison Academy to teach.

There was something else at play in Maina’s case. Because of the trouble he put the EFCC through before they could arrest him, coupled with the fact that during the arrest, Maina’s son pulled a gun on the arresting officers, the EFCC officers were determined to deal with Maina the Nigerian way. It was not a surprise that the judge to trial Maina was the Government’s favorite judge, Justice Okon Abang, the same judge that jailed Olisa Metuh, whose judgment that was ridiculed and reversed on appeal. With Justice Okon Abang, even Maina knew that his conviction was a foregone conclusion. So, you have in the case two countervailing forces. On the one hand, you had Maina and his connection and large amount money at his disposal. On the other hand you had an embarrassed EFCC which was determined to get at a troublesome suspect through their presumed favorite judge. 

Within a few days of trip to court, Maina finally met me at the prison’s visiting room. Maina informed me that he and his son, who was also remanded in Kuje, were America citizens. Knowing that I was a lawyer in America and had lived for nearly 30 years in America, Maina felt I could explain things to him. Something else I believed that Maina must have considered before talking to me: He must have known how the police fabricated a murder case against me just to keep me in detention, and he felt confident that I would have sufficient animus toward Nigerian Government as to be able to help him without any qualm. The first thing Maina asked me was whether he could travel to America even though the Nigerian authorities had seized his passport. That was when I knew that Maina was planning to jump bail, if granted one. I told him yes, that it was easy for him to travel to America though his American passport had been seized by Nigerian authorities.

Maina was excited to hear that he could travel to America while his passport was seized in Nigeria. This is one thing the Nigerian authorities didn’t realize. They lack the capacity to prevent a foreigner from returning to his country by seizing in Nigeria his foreign passport. Only the government that issued a passport can validly seize such passport. All it would take is for the foreigner to go to this embassy in Nigeria or his embassy outside Nigeria and he will be given travelling documents to enable him return to his country. Embassies are here to help their nationals return home, and not to help Nigeria government to keep them here. Nnamdi Kanu was able to return to Britain even though his British Passport was being held by Justice Nyako’s court. Once Nnamdi Kanu entered Sao Tome (with the help of Asari Dokubo and his men) he was able to get travel documents to return to Britain. So, if Maina went to the US Embassy in Niger, he would be able to get travel documents to return to the US. When I explained this to Maina, he was elated. I didn’t feel guilty explaining this to him, even though I realized it would enable him jump bail. It was information that the Nigerian authorities and courts should have had all along. Indeed, I was embarrassed by their level of ignorance on that. 

From that moment, Maina would call me every so often to discuss the possible ways he would jump bail if granted one. We didn’t use the phrase “jump bail” in the discussions. However, from the questions he was asking, I knew he was going to use the information I gave him to jump bail. However, I also knew that jumping bail would ultimately not be in his best interest. Because he never used the words “jump bail”, I never bothered to advise him that jumping bail would be the worst thing he could do. But also, I was conscious of the fact that Justice Abang seemed too personal over the case, and because he was known as Government judge, he is not, in my view, a good judge. I couldn’t care a bit whether Maina jumped a bail granted by Abang. Indeed, that would seem like a form of natural justice – to run from a judge that appears to be in the pocket of the government.

Justice Abang dragged Maina’s bail to the point of madness. For six months after he was granted bail, Maina could not meet the terms of bail. He told me that Justice Abang was determined to jail him at all costs. He wanted to apply to have another judge, instead of Abang. He would complain without end about Abang and how desperate he as to jail him. Justice Abang imposed extremely hard bail conditions. Finally Maina met the conditions. But it was not easy. He basically blackmailed Senator Ali Ndume to stand for him.

Once Maina got his bail, I knew what to expect. But I really assumed that the information I gave Maina about how to return to America was merely academic. He did not need to jump bail. All Maina needed to do was to keep attending court, drag out the trial, stretching it into years. Within that time, he would be free on bail. He would even be allowed to have back his passport and travel overseas on medical grounds. Indeed, with his connection and influence, Maina could keep the trial going on until Abang would be promoted or retired. And the case would start all over. In ten years’ time, if convicted, he would go on appeal and would be granted bail pending appeal. If he was to jump bail, let it be after the final address but before judgment. Why would he jump bail? That was the first mistake. The second mistake Maina made was that he did not return to America. He could have gone back to America and America would not extradite him to Nigeria. America does not extradite anybody to Nigeria because American courts consider Nigerian judicial system too corrupt to be trusted to guarantee fair trial. So, if Maina had gone back to America, he would have been beyond the reach of Nigerian justice system. 

However, Maina did the wrong things. He jumped bail when he did not need to. Secondly, he ran to Niger instead of going back to the US since he is a US citizen. Niger is like a state in Nigeria. It was so easy for Nigeria to catch him in Niger and return him to Nigeria by rendition. Yes, many people will never realize that the process by which Maina was brought back to Nigeria from Niger was a form of rendition because Maina did not go through any extradition hearing in Niger before he was flown back to Nigeria. 

Today, the door has closed tightly against Maina. He is no longer awaiting trial. He is a convicted inmate. When he went into his cell tonight, and heard the locks turned from outside, he would have a different feeling. He will no longer be going to court. The prison is now his home pending any appeal he mail file. He is really in a bad position. He squandered his options. Cumulatively, he has spent two years in prison. By prison calendar, 8 years comes down to less than 6 years. With 2 years already gone, Maine has less than 4 regular calendar years to spend in prison, if he serves his term in full. He is around 50 years old. He will be out eventually. However, the judgment comes with restitution and forfeiture terms, which means he will have to pay back money to the government. That is the nasty part of it.

I feel for him, especially because I know that overtime, Maina became so unpopular in the prison community. He got many officials into trouble, to a point that they began to avoid him. Any association with Maina could get you into trouble because Maina will personally implicate you. Also, among the ordinary inmates population, there is something very irritating about Maina. He has very subtle ways to make himself unpopular. For instance, Maina could give N1000 worth of groundnuts to 200 inmates to share. That would lead to the inmates fighting as they struggle to get a share of the groundnuts. It would have been better to not give them at all that give them in a manner that would be considered an instigation for a fight among inmates. The ordinary inmates view him as stingy and heartless. Serving any term in prison is hard when you are not liked by the majority of fellow inmates.

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