It is a fact that Nigeria sold oil to Zambia at a concessionary rate during the time Rupiah Banda was president of the Republic.
A concessionary rate was a way of Nigeria helping poor Zambians. Nigeria is not a rich country. The poverty levels in that country are still high. So, that gesture was not something done out of abundance. It was a gift given to the Zambian people at great sacrifice on the part of Nigeria. They also need that money to provide their people with education and health services needed in the 21st century. There are still many Nigerian children who do not have access to a classroom or proper medical services.
Nigerians, therefore, have the right and duty to ensure that the money from the oil they sold us at a concessionary rate benefits the country and is properly accounted for. What is wrong with this?
Rupiah Banda and his lawyers find something wrong with this. They do not want anyone, including the Nigerians, to talk about that oil. Why?
When you help someone, a position is taken on the basis of what that assistance should achieve. The assistance should be conditional; if not, there is a risk of it being turned into the opposite of what it was intended for.
What is it that Olanrewaju Suraju, chairman of Nigeria’s Civil Society Network Against Corruption, said that offended or annoyed Rupiah and his lawyers to threaten him with contempt of court proceedings?
It seems Rupiah has found a new shield in contempt of court. Anyone who says anything about corruption in this country is seen to be talking about Rupiah, even if his name is not in any way mentioned. Nigerians should not talk about the oil they sold to Zambia at a concessionary rate because that amounts to contempt of court! Was that oil sold to Zambia or to Rupiah? We believe it was sold to Zambia and not to Rupiah. And Rupiah’s problems are not Zambia’s problems. If the Nigerians want to know what happened to that oil and its proceeds, why should this offend Rupiah who was not a party to the transaction? If somehow Rupiah has problems with this transaction, should this be a reason for Nigerians to stop talking about that transaction and finding out how the savings from it were utilised, how the poor Zambians benefitted?
It is clear that Rupiah and his lawyers are abusing contempt of court proceedings to silence people from raising legitimate concerns about that which belongs to them.
Simply because someone may be in court for allegedly stealing from you should not stop you from talking about your loss. If that amounts to contempt of court, then nobody in this country can go and tell another person that balinjibila.
And Rupiah and his lawyers should be careful about their use of contempt of court as a shield because this shield can easily be turned into a sword against them. The Nigerians they have threatened with contempt of court are now challenging them to an open fight that will not be confined to this jurisdiction they control. There is nothing that stops them from pursuing the issue in a global manner. And whereas the Zambian law enforcement agencies may have serious limitations in pursuing them and in finding out what really happened, it will be so easy for the Nigerians to find out what went wrong. Even for Henry Banda who ran away from Zambia for fear of being prosecuted, the Nigerians can easily catch up with him. Henry may today enjoy the protection of the Zambian government, but things may not be the same with the Nigerian authorities. Things have changed in that country. The people they were dealing with are no longer in power. The new regime has committed itself to fighting corruption, came into power on an anti-corruption ticket. All it may take is one trip to Nigeria and we will be reading all over the papers that they have been arrested there. The world may soon become very small for them.
They can be in control of the Zambian courts but they shouldn’t cheat themselves that their hegemony can be extended to Nigeria. They can threaten and drag us to court for contempt as and when they wish and even probably get the results they want, but they shouldn’t cheat themselves that they can do the same to the Nigerians, to Suraju.
Their threats on Suraju have so quickly produced something they might not have foreseen; they have internationalised the fight against them. They have given us instant allies. They are no longer fighting us alone. They are today fighting us with Nigerians on the same side with us. They have made us stronger than we were before. Thanks to their arrogance! Thanks to their intolerance!
In Bemba, they say muteya ciliba cenjela, nga cakufwanta wilila; you who set a trap, beware; when it falls on you, do not cry. It is always important to know the consequences of your actions.
But arrogant people never pay attention to the consequences of their actions. They think everything is under their control and direction. Again, in Bemba they say icifupa amina mu bukangalume aleciluka, meaning the bone that is swallowed with arrogance is soon vomited. Actions that are taken without much thought because of excessive pride may lead to disgrace.
Suraju’s statements that seem to have annoyed Rupiah and his lawyers had nothing contemptuous whatsoever in them. All he said was: “The oil concession that was given to Zambia was not meant for an individual. That oil was sold to Zambia at a concessionary rate to assist Zambians to either reduce the cost of fuel here or the difference can be used into other development projects. But it was shocking to hear that the proceeds of that oil actually went into private pockets. So the mood in Nigeria is so serious and by the time the story gets into the public domain than it is now, there is going to be more pressure on the current president because the new leadership that we are having in Nigeria is expected to be tough on corruption. As a matter of fact, one of the things we gonna do is to demand the repayment of that money either to Nigeria or to a special account in Zambia where is can be monitored. It was given to Zambia as a country. I am sure you have also done the same to Malawi before.” What is contemptuous about this statement? Where is Rupiah’s name in this statement? How is this statement prejudicing any court proceedings in this country?
This habit of theirs of trying to abuse court processes will one day backfire seriously. Rupiah is putting himself under unnecessary additional pressure. And it won’t be long before he fully realises that threatening people with contempt of court whenever they try to exercise their freedom of expression on matters of great public interest that he has an interest in won’t do.