Why We Can’t Prosecute Akan Weeks –Commissioner For Justice
The Akwa Ibom State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Barr Uwemendimo Nwoko, in this exclusive interview, revealed the intricacies behind the Reigners Bible Church collapse of 2016, some of the issues raised in the published report of the judicial commission of enquiry; and matters of national security in the light of current killings perpetrated by herdsmen in some parts of the country
Just last week the president of this country was in faraway United States of America and he had to say that the issue of herdsmen attacking Nigerians, attacking farmers in Nigeria is not a new thing, and that the herdsmen are not actually to be blamed offered some sort of explanation that Muammar Gaddafi, the late Libyan president was behind what we have now as terrorism in Nigeria. How do you react to this like others saw it?
My reaction to it because of my position may sound political; I wish I was talking as an ordinary person. I wasn’t impressed with that kind of excuse from Mr. President, being that Mr. President was speaking for the government that kind of reflects sadly on the government’s capacity, reasoning, ability and readiness to tackle this heinous crime by the herdsmen. Somehow I find myself unable to take away the feeling that this president and this government are not ready to fight the herdsmen problem.
Possibly because of this president’s emotional attachment to the Fulani race where he comes from, and if he is unable to detach himself from that primordial sentiment of being a Fulani man… so he will want to act to defend and protect the herdsmen.Sadly that is part of the song they are singing for him in the North, that this is the only president that is protecting the Fulanis, and he is very happy to be called the president that is protecting the Fulanis at the expense of the totality of every other Nigerian out of about 250 ethnic nations that we have in this country, and that is very sad. Let’s put it this way, this government has failed in that respect.
What do you think should have been done to curb this menace?
The herdsmen should be proscribed as criminals, as people who are committing crimes. Of course, put in motion machinery for addressing it. Let me say this; there is a danger that the government does not appear to recognize; this herdsmen thing you are seeing is a mixture, it is not just the ordinary Fulani cattle rearer, it’s a mixture of higher level criminality. The Boko Haram people are mixed up with it, the ISIS people are mixed up with it, and the government is kind of thinking that it is a kind of herdsmen clashing with farmers because of grazing, it goes beyond grazing.
And If you look at places like Iraq, Iran and Syria where some of these things have already taken root, you will discover that it will not only stop with farmers, it will not only stop with Christians, it will expand, it will extend to other people. And by the time you get to realize it everybody will eventually be a victim or potential victim.
It is always said that most of these issues are being restricted to ISIS, Fulani herdsmen and others, is not actually peculiar to the North, the part of Akwa Ibom state you come from: Ika/Etim Ekpo axis of Akwa Ibom state, there were also flashes of insecurity; is it not an endemic problem that is beyond Fulani herdsmen in the country?
I think they are two different scenarios; we have problems of insecurity talk about Ika/EtimEkpo/Ukanafun for instance, even in Ikot Ekpene and Eket: but the kind of insecurity we have is not the kind of these ones you are seeing up there in the North principally. A situation where they will march like it happened… there is a small island in Benue and they (herdsmen) walked up there and told everybody living there to move out, that is what we are talking about here. They go and massacre. On Saturday night 21 people were killed in one night in Kaduna. We haven’t experienced that type here, but this is a kind of ethnic cleansing, a note of warning has been sounded by somebody as high up as Danjuma who understands the dynamics of Nigeria very well. If somebody says that Danjuma does not understand Nigeria, that person does not understand Nigeria at all. Danjuma, before he could take the microphone, stand on a public podium at international level and make that comment, he knew what he was saying.
And the sooner the government comes to terms with reality; and forgets about window dressing, forget about whitewashing the face of a collapsing building: we have a major problem in our hands and government should take politics out of this and face it head on, take emotions out of it and take sentiments out of it and face it.
Now, come to talk of Akwa Ibom State, we had pockets of these issues, Ukanafun, Etim Ekpo, Ika and others; what did the government do? How did Governor Udom Emmanuel respond to it? Those things are dead as I am talking to you now. I am talking as Attorney General of the State, and with all due respect can President Buhari get up to say I have taken such drastic steps in any area under his own control? Governor Udom Emmanuel immediately responded with the highest reaction anybody would take. After praying he just told God this thing must come to an end, and then he mobilised every force that he could afford: moved into Ukanafun, moved into Etim Ekpo, move into Ika and leveled it. And the criminals are out.
Sir, don’t you think that this is an indictment on the governors of those states like Benue, Taraba, Kaduna, and so on that have these clashes and insecurity issues?
Let me not go and blame another person’s Governor but let me praise my own Governor. But you see when this thing started I felt quite disturbed by the wailings of the Governor of Benue State every day on television “my people are being killed, my people are being killed:” and you are helpless? I don’t think you should be helpless, the Governor is the Chief security officer of the state, and every centimeter of that state comes under his control. Whatever the President can do for you, you are the first line of defense for your people, and that is why you took the oath of office.
Let me not go talking as if I know so much about them, but if it happens in Akwa Ibom state I can assure you that my governor will not allow it to stay
You understand the law concerning the extent of control of the military, the security agencies and so on; those things do not lie with the governors, so what do you expect those governors to do because I think they are handicapped in this respect?
We are going to get there, but let’s look at this, are they completely helpless? How come Akwa Ibom state Governor was able to react? The same security apparatus, constitutionally Akwa Ibom state he was also handicapped, but he was able to put together his team and achieve results. I believe that they can also mobilize their own team and achieve results. And sometimes they say, a desperate disease requires a desperate treatment. I believe that Benue state situation has gotten to a point where it is desperate; the first law of nature is self-preservation. And so the people of Benue state with all due respect to whatever anyone will say from outside are entitled to defend them-selves, they are entitled to mobilize anyhow, whatever you have to do to ensure that you stay alive to ensure that you can discuss the constitution. It has gotten to that level to think of how we stay alive before we can discuss Nigeria.
Still talking about the issue of insecurity, recently the state government did come up 33 cult groups that it proscribed and some impetus was added to an existing law against their existence. What pedestal does it now put the state as regards cultism because we know that the law against cultism was first enacted in 2004 by the then administration. So what difference is this one coming with?
The criminal code is as old as Nigeria. The criminal code has a provision prohibiting secret societies, but the 2004 had to be enacted by the Attah administration to give verve and redefine specifically on the issue of cultism, but section 70 of the criminal code put a responsibility to specifically name and proscribe a cult group before you can declare it a secret society. So it is not just enough for you to say we have this law prohibiting secret societies; you must name them and over the years this has not been done.
When I came in as Attorney General I tried to do prosecutions here and there, we keep on having this problem, the court will ask you, “which cult group does he belong to, when was it proscribed?” so I approached His Excellency and told him sir this is the problem we are facing and he said “So what are you waiting for, give me the cult groups and I will proscribe them.” So I worked with the security agencies who came up with their intelligence gathering and were able to list out 19 cult groups in primary and secondary schools, we had 11 cult groups in the society generally and we put them together and gave to His Excellency and now youhave the cultism and other violent behavior prohibition order of 2018 in Akwa Ibom State, and I can tell you that has put on a new pedestal to fighting crimes, particularly as it relates to cultism, as a product of that particular effort by his excellency.
If you don’t have a governor who fears God; who thinks about his people: and not his elections. If you don’t have a governor who thinks about the future of his children… why do I tell you this; when the governor signed that order people were like, “Ahh! His Excellency its election year and people are getting close to election: you shouldn’t have signed such order.” His Excellency said I am not talking about the elections, I am talking about the future of Akwa Ibom Youths, and I am talking about the safety of Akwa Ibom People. Keep away election matter, I am dealing with insecurity. It takes a man who is completely disposed to working for what he took oath of office for to do that. He didn’t think about his election. And because of that I have charged more than 250 different people already.
Has there been any conviction?
No, we have not secured any conviction yet, but we have charged including two policemen who were caught in cult activities. And the Commissioner of Police, I give it to him, immediately it came up, he did the orderly room trial and dismissed them, they are out, but they are in custody now. That is the new situation we have in Akwa Ibom state, and because of the punishment proscribed under the 2004 law; the maximum term was 7 years. And we are looking at it, it is not enough to deter people in the present situation, we are building up an amendment to send to the House of Assembly to raise the penalty.
I want to draw your attention to some cult groups who kicked against the fact that they were also banned. They said they are not cult groups and therefore ought not to belong to that category, what is your reaction to that?
Well I have had a couple of visits, they have come to me to discuss officially, trying to exonerate themselves, to distant themselves from the proscriptions. And some have even offered to work with the government to make sure that the proscription order stands and is effective, and we say we don’t have any problem with that, but let me say this, mere registration with the copyrights commission does not really take a group outside the definition of a cult group as security agencies would come out with their intelligence report: these and these are what your group have been doing. When they came to me I tell them, go and check your system, go and check your group, go and check your activities.
If your activities fall within the definition of what the security agencies in their coordinated activities find out that you belong there, then they have to redefine themselves so that you can come out of it. But if you still remain within the confines of the definition of what is a cult group, what is a secret society, of what is a violent organization… let’s get this; what we have proscribed is cultism and other violent behavior prohibition order. So even if you are not a secret cult, but your activities are violent in nature, you come within the definition of what has been proscribed, you go in for it.
We saw something like Utoto as one of those groups…
That one is an open crime; the Utoto group is an open crime.
We also have Amoc…
The group that is on our list is Amoc without the R. AMOC, not AMORC. The Amorc people came to me and I said well I will not add a letter to what the security agencies gave to me, so for now, the security agencies will check it up and come to a clear definition, we are not working emotionally, we are working based on intelligent reports. It is not a government that is after anybody, government is after the society. One thing I keep on praying for the Governor, if a man cares about the society, up to the point of saying “What will be the future of Akwa Ibom State in 10 – 20 years’ time if you allow this number of cult groups to remain in primary and secondary schools, we have lost the future.” And that is why the Governor is this proactive he doesn’t care what anybody says as far as he is concerned, he is justifying his conscience. And I tell you something my brother; a lot of Akwa Ibomites, majority of Akwa Ibomites are praying positive prayers for the Governor in respect of this.
The war against cultism and the protection of the future of our children is not for the government alone. Government has set a template, the government has provided enough materials for people to work with the churches, the communities, the schools, the families, and everybody must rise up at this level to say no to cultism. The message must be carried on a daily basis to the nooks and crannies
Is there any way of identifying cultist by the hairstyle, or by removing his clothe to check his back or something?
There is a psychological aspect to it. You can act in a way that tends to ask somebody to tell you bring your bag let me check what you are carrying maybe by your hairstyle or the colour of clothes you wear, the way you wear it, maybe you sag your trouser, your hair cut, you claim to be a musician, maybe you are not even a musician but you are carrying a haircut of such character. In my community, we had two young men, all of them were of the same parents we used to play football together; one of them was a very harsh looking guy, always tough, carried ruff hair and all that: the brother very soft looking but was more vicious than the one who looked physically difficult.
And when the news came that time that one of them stole something in the primary school everybody thought it was the one who used to look rough-tough, but eventually it was discovered it was the other one. The security agents have a psychological way of using to monitor the society and what I appeal to our youths is don’t put yourself in a situation where you might have to answer many questions at every check point.
Recently the state government did release a white paper on the collapsed Reigners church Building and that also generated some ripples from some sect of the society. I know people said that the governor was forced to release that white paper following a suit by some persons to compel the government to release the report several months after it was released by the judiciary panel. Can you tell us really why there was a delay before that white paper was released or was the state government actually compelled to release that paper?
Compelled by whom? The government is structured and a lot of things we do in government have their own peculiar timelines. The government was not compelled, was not coerced by anybody, or by any suit to release the white paper. The white paper was released even faster than I expected it to come out. The reason is that if you go to where the whitepapers are, other whitepapers are compiled and produced, and you will find out that a lot of such documents lie pending awaiting attention, this white paper had to jump the queue to be produced. I am saying so because I am in the system, it was because the Governor took it as a priority issue and directed that the Commissioner for Information to ensure that the whitepaper comes out.
It wasn’t because anybody went to court, if anyone went to court…. You know me I don’t have any other work in my life, the work I have always done in my whole life is to go to court. I am so happy any time anybody goes to court particularly to sue the government I am Attorney General, I will meet you in court. There is no big deal about that, any time any day you file a suit against government; I am defending almost 10,000 matters filed by all manners of people from all across the country, and it doesn’t take anything away from me. Tomorrow I have four cases in court of appeal, so it is a daily thing for me, so we are not worried about going to court. The man that went to court: I was served with the process, he has no Locus Standi, so that case will die the same day it arrives in court, that wouldn’t have bothered me, we had to do what we need to do to meet the demands on government giving the oath of office that we took.
How do you react to reactions that there were some levels of kid glove attention given to some recommendations made by the panel, especially as it pertains to the founder of Reigners Bible Church?
Let me state this clearly, there were no kid gloves approach to it. It’s actually a product of the lack of adequate information; you could call it ignorance of the people who actually make some of these criticisms. The judicial commission of enquiry made certain findings and let me comment particularly the findings on Akan Weeks, the founder of Reigners Bible Church. The commission of enquiry found him to have acted with impunity, and that is what everyone started shouting that Akan Weeks should have been prosecuted. And I asked the question, “In which section of the law do you find impunity as a crime?” Impunity is not a crime it is a moral turpitude. Impunity is just like saying “this man doesn’t have conscience.”
If somebody asked me, without adequate conscience does not amount to a crime, before you can prosecute someone and expect to get a conviction, the constitution is very specific; the offence must be defined by a law and the punishment prescribed in that law, you cannot even do it retrospectively. The only case concerning Akan Weeks is that he acted with impunity that he tried to influence the professionals in their professional judgment. And till today, none of those professionals even resigned from the work that he was asked to do. If I am a driver and you buy a brand new car and you give me to drive, you want to go to Calabar and you tell me do 120km/h, I do 120, you say do 140km/h, I do 140, you say do 180km/h, you say do 200km/h. I say I won’t do it, you say do it, it is my car. I will pull the car and give you the key so that I will save your life and save my own. The situation you tell me to do 200 and I keep on doing 200, when the accident occurs who is to be blamed, the owner of the car or me the driver? Of course I was the driver of the car, I am the professional.
When people say we should have charged Akan Weeks to court for impunity, there is no provision in the law that I could take him to court over that, he just committed a moral caution-able action and it is not a crime. We cannot take him to court over that.
So in this regard, the professionals are complicit?
Exactly! And the commission of enquiry report specifically report that we should prosecute them, now this is another angle to it, people say Attorney General we have not seen anybody in court until now. When you read section 10 of the commission of enquiries law specifically provides that no evidence elicited from the commission of enquiry proceedings can be used in court either for a civil or criminal proceeding.
Why does the law make this provision, the law makes that provision so that people can go to that panel and testify, if you put a clause that evidence adduced or elicited from that proceeding can be used subsequently either in a civil or criminal proceeding, you would have caused people not to be very free when they want to go and testify so that is the position. So when somebody is indicted by such a commission of enquiry report and it is accepted in a white paper like the government has done, you now make a formal report to the police which is an investigation agency to investigate that person, come up with facts that can justify a prosecution before you now proceed to court. We cannot carry that report and say this person has been indicted by the commission of enquiry report and take him to court, you will not succeed.
And so I want Akwa Ibom people to understand that these things have their own mechanisms that they run on. It is structured. It is not something you just wake up and act emotionally just because you want to impress the public. We would go to court and we would have failed and we would have not achieved any purpose.