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Peace departs

Published by The Nation on Tue, 10 Dec 2019

Few weeks ago, Chief Allen Onyema, founder of the Air Peace airline, was the toast of Nigerians.The business mogul had recently invested over N300 million, to clean shame from the face of the country, on the international scene. He had sent his aircraft to South Africa to evacuate stranded Nigerian men, women and children, who had become targets of xenophobic attacks.Many of those evacuated had become economic refugees, and needed the lift to make it back to Nigeria.So, Onyema, like instant coffee, turned a national hero, by that act. Again, like Okonkwo, in Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart, Onyemas fame quickly spread far and wide, and I could imagine him walking with the gait of Amalinze the cat, the famed wrestler, whose back would never touch the earth, until Okonkwo threw him in a fight.I would not be surprised if Onyema had received a call on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari congratulating him for his act of patriotism.The fate of the Nigerians had become a subject of humiliation in the hands of those who had forgotten how we feed and clothed them, when they were in the apartheid prison.The intervention became a form of spiritual pilgrimage for Nigerians. Each time Air Peace departed Nigeria en-route to South Africa, our country men and women spiritually journeyed with the crew, as they navigated thousands of nautical miles until they landed safely.When the South African authorities raised some technical mumbo-jumbo about landing rights, Onyema was at peace with the delay, not minding the further costs incurred.The national adulation for Air Peace chief executive became so loud that some persons started clamouring for the airline to be accorded the status of the national carrier.Of note, in a space of few years, Air Peace had become the dominant airline in the country, and was making plans to become a regional and international player. Everything seemed to be going well for the airline, and there were rumours that Onyema may throw his hat into the political ring, with the fame and fortune that had come his way.Just like Okonkwo, Onyema had become known throughout the federation, when suddenly the American criminal justice system, appear to conspire to break the season of fame for the owner of the Air Peace airline.Has Onyema committed an offence of strict liability, like Okonkwo who in a fit of justifiable anger beat his wife Ojiugo, in the week of peace' The indictment against Onyema talked about alleged illegitimate transfers from Nigeria to America, and not about illegitimate earnings.Would that become an albatross, to weigh down Air Peace, or merely a misdemeanour for which Onyema may be asked to pay a fine, like Okonkwo for beating Ojiugo'Or is Onyema going to pay heavily, like Okonkwo did, for the accidental discharge that resulted in the death of his kinsman during the burial rites of Chief Ezeudu, in Things Fall Apart' For killing his kinsman, albeit inadvertently, Okonkwo had to go on exile to live with his mothers kinsmen in Abanta for seven years. Strikingly, in the story, after tragedy had befallen Okonkwo, his friends and family rallied round him to salvage what they could before the day-break, at which friends and foes alike joined their kinsmen to cleanse the land, by destroying the homestead of Okonkwo.Will the Nigerian state, which Onyema had served when she needed his help, take steps to save the man and his airline, assuming they had committed any infractions' Or will they feign indifference or even join forces with foreign forces to throw him to the dogs' Of course, as was done for Okonkwo, the Nigerian state can salvage what can be salvaged before meting out punishment, if he is guilty. Since I do not have the brief of the airline and its owners, let me place a caveat that the indicted persons have denied any wrong doing, and has expressed willingness to submit themselves for investigation.So this write-up is a private excursion, and by no means an acceptance of guilt by the airline and its owners.But in the court of public opinion, Onyema has turned from a national hero to a near pariah, within a few weeks interval, and it is important to extrapolate in the circumstance. Even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has jumped into the fray, by hauling in Onyema and other indicted person for questioning. Well, the public is unaware whether the American criminal justice system has requested for help on the principle of national reciprocity, or the agency is merely acting excitably.Read Also:NANS makes case for Air Peace CEOWhile the EFCC should know its brief, it is important that they accord their own citizen the benefit of doubt, until the American legal system takes its course, and they are forced to intervene in the spirit of reciprocity. If there is no formal request, it will be preposterous for our national government and its agencies to cry more than the bereaved, unless of course, Nigerian laws have been breached.Of note, as the indictment clearly stated, those indicted must be treated as innocent, until otherwise is proved.That may explain the show of solidarity by the Southeast governors. Apart from connecting the Southeast to the nation, with his airline, Onyema had portrayed the region in good light by his generosity to the Nigerian citizens stranded in South Africa. So, it is expected that his kinsmen should show him compassion.But it is not only for Onyema that peace has eluded. It has also departed for Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, of Abia State. As one headline roared, he has moved from governor, to senate, to prison. Many taunt him that his movement to APC has not saved him as if the charges were initiated since the birth of APC. Far from the insinuation of immunity in APC, President Buharis government has not intervened in any trial process.Perhaps the APC government may have through workshops enhanced the use of Administration of Criminal Justice Act to forestall the undue delays that characterised the trial of Orji Uzor Kalu and his class of governors who finished their terms since 2007. But if we are to believe the jailed senator, it was all part of the intrigues for the 2023 general elections. Surely he would approach the appeal court, to upturn the sentence, but the onus will lie on him to convince the court.While the debate rages on over whether other political big wigs across party lines would soon join the former governor in prison, the Buhari government has one more boast that the anti-corruption war is raging.
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