Lawyers and human rights activities on Sunday expressed divergent views over whether a former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, could be prosecuted for confessing that he had on many occasions participated in the rigging of elections in the country in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Mantu made the self-confession during an interview programme, Hard Copy, on Channels TV.
Asked how Mantu’s confession should be treated by the authorities, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said since rigging was a criminal offence, Mantu’s confession should be treated like any confessional statement in a criminal case, noting that crime time did not run against crime.
Falana, however, expressed skepticism that the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government would take any action against Mantu “because the country is being run on the basis of official impunity.”
Falana said, “It should be treated the way all confessional statements are treated. But I think he made a general statement, he hasn’t identified which election was rigged.
“A former governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke, had actually given a more vivid account of how elections are manipulated in Nigeria. Furthermore, the National Human Rights Commission had also done a compilation of those who participated actively in the rigging of the 2011 elections and the government hasn’t done anything about it.
“I don’t think the Buhari regime will really follow-up on this revelation because we operate in an atmosphere of impunity. The country is run on the basis of official impunity. But clearly, there is no statute of limitation with respect to serious criminal offences, but I am so convinced that this will not be followed up.”
Also speaking, a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu, called for Mantu’s prosecution based on his confession that he subverted the will of Nigerians.
Shittu said, “How is confession to criminality treated? Do you treat such confession with a kid’s glove or you apply the law? When someone has confessed that he committed a huge crime, such as subversion of the freewill of Nigerians, fraudulent manipulation of the electoral process, the person who makes such confession should be arraigned and prosecuted.”
Similarly, the Executive Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said Mantu should not be allowed to go scot-free, even if the punishment would be reduced based on his self-confession.
Adeniran said, “It is like the God of the Nigerian people is actually at work and that means that those who have committed damaging crimes that have kept Nigeria perpetually low are being spiritually induced to start confessing and that is why Mantu and all his accomplices should be rounded up. He should name those who participated in the rigging machinery of the PDP when they imposed themselves on Nigerians against what the ballot said.
“This case should not be allowed to lie low; the man should be made to account for his deeds. The punishment may be discounted, a kind of amnesty, but he should not be allowed to go scot-free.”
Speaking in the same vein, another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Dele Adeogun said, “He wasn’t specific as to which election he rigged. That needs to come into play. However, any form of electoral malpractice is a criminal offence and time does not run against crime.
“The processes would be that based on his own confession, the Attorney General of the Federation should commence a process in order to enforce the law. It is just like someone coming out to say I killed somebody, it behoves the AGF to take up such a confession. It is a moral obligation on the AGF.”
However, Lagos-based lawyers, Messrs Jiti Ogunye and Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said Mantu’s confession might not be useful as it was not particularised.
Ogunye said, “His confession is a confession at large, made to the general public; it is not a confession that is tied to a specific allegation. And very instructively, he did not volunteer that statement under caution. The confession is not tied to a specific crime that is being investigated by a law enforcement agency, which can result in possible criminal prosecution. At best, what he did can set the stage for him to be invited by a serious-minded and proactive law enforcement agency.”
Adegboruwa added that Mantu’s confession had justified the need for the establishment of an electoral offences commission.
He said, “We have always agitated for an electoral offences commission, which will be different from the regular police, which will have the power to prosecute political thugs, riggers, bribe-givers and bribe-takers, and because most of our leaders are as guilty as Mantu is, that call has not been heeded. So, I think that Mantu’s confession is a wake-up call for us to enact that policy of having a separate electoral offences commission.
“In respect of Mantu, there is little or nothing we can do, there’s no complainant, we don’t know the election he claimed to have rigged.”
But another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Emeka Ngige, said Mantu should not be punished but should be made a resource person on how to prevent future elections rigging.
Ngige said, “I think he should be invited by the police to give further information and use that information to block future rigging. They should not punish him; rather they should make him a resource person that will help them to get information on how future election rigging can be prevented.”