- Category: Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye Esq.
- Published on Tuesday, 03 July 2012 23:29
- Written by Elombah.com
"This was the first time I went through this airport since early 2011 without someone setting me aside for special questioning. They were even nice this time. But have in mind that problems usually occur on my way out of the country. That’s when they stop me and delay me for hours. So, before I assume that the harassment is over,
let’s wait to see how I leave the country."
Elombah.com reporter met met with Emeka Ugwuonye in Lagos last night. The following are excerpts of Elombah.com/Ugwuonye chat:
Elombah.com: Mr. Ugwuonye, how was your day, sir?
Elombahh.com: Shall we say your flight to Lagos was uneventful? And was there any problem at the airport this time?
Ugwuonye: Oh yes, the flight was smooth. No problems at all. Everything was on schedule.
Elombah.com: Any incident at the airport at the point of entry?
Ugwuonye: No! Rather interestingly, this was the first time I went through this airport since early 2011 without someone setting me aside for special questioning. They were even nice this time. But have in mind that problems usually occur on my way out of the country. That’s when they stop me and delay me for hours. So, before I assume that the harassment is over, let’s wait to see how I leave the country.
Elombah.com: And when are you leaving the country?
Ugwuonye: Fairly soon. But remember I had made such plans before only to be detained by a desperate and paranoid EFCC officers. Well, I hope to leave soon, though.
Elombah.com: I understand you don’t want to share the details of your travel schedules within the Nigeria.
Ugwuonye: (Laughter). How exact could I safely be? I was warned not to disclose my exact locations. So, let’s say I am still in Lagos and in my room, resting after today’s court and getting ready for my next step.
Elombah.com: What case came up today?
Ugwuonye: One of the three cases pending between them and me. This was the fundamental rights enforcement suit that I filed in Lagos against the EFCC and the Government of Nigeria. It was filed in November last year. However, the EFCC failed to file a counter affidavit until today in court.
Elombah.com: Why did the EFCC fail to file any opposition to your application to enforce your rights all that while?
Ugwuonye: Because they have no answer to my claims. I told you they would never be able to explain or justify what they did to me. They are in a serious quagmire. They would never be able to explain their actions. They are so primitive and backward. Even with all the lies in the world, they are going to get into much more trouble. They even brought to court one of their usually forged or false court orders. I really think you should see a copy of what the EFCC filed today. (Laughter). When you read it, make sure you are sitting down because you could fall to the ground while laughing at their stupidity. What they filed today would explain everything.
Elombah.com: Can we get a copy of what the EFCC filed in court?
Ugwuonye: I don’t have a copy with me. My lawyers have it, but I did read through it in court. I think you can get a copy from the court file.
Elombah.com: How many of the cases are coming up on this trip?
Ugwuonye: All of them. Pretty much all of them.
Elombah.com: So you will be in Abuja as well on this trip?
Ugwuonye: Yes, indeed!
Elombah.com: Before you left Washington, or should I say the past one week; there were a lot of events involving you. How would you reflect on the events of the past week, particularly the reports about the Embassy and the investigation ordered by the President of Nigeria?
Ugwuonye: Yes, last week did involve some heavy lifting. That’s true. Where can one start? First, all the parties in the Embassy case against me appeared before the U.S. District Court judge on June 25. We had a status conference, which addressed a lot of things and set the case on the path forward. I believe that your media group already reported on that.
Elombah.com: What would you say about the effort of the Nigerian Government to gag you?
Ugwuonye: (Laughter). There is a gentleman in Chicago who would shout “Iyasikwa”. (Laughter). Yes, the Government of Nigeria felt that I was dangerous to them if I was free to speak about what I knew about its officials. They felt it was necessary to have my mouth sealed.
Elombah.com: Were you surprised by that move?
Ugwuonye: Maybe not! I knew from day one that we would get to that point. In fact, that had been my main concern all along. I knew that Ambassador Adefuye acted irresponsibly by starting this lawsuit without making any real effort to settle our dispute amicably. A true diplomat with experience should have shown some sensitivity to certain things. No lawyer wants to fight his client in the open. And no intelligent person wants to fight his lawyer in the open. There is really no kind of dispute that a lawyer and a real Ambassador would not be able to settle amicably and professionally. If an Ambassador could not negotiate an amicable settlement with the lawyer for his embassy, how could such Ambassador be expected to help negotiate a ceasefire in a civil war scenario such as we have in the country of Mali today and recently in Ivory Coast? How can such Ambassador be invited to participate in negotiating with a militant group or Boko Haram, for instance? What if the United Nations were to ask Ambassador Adefuye to sit down in a committee to negotiate a ceasefire in Syria? The fact would be that Adefuye doesn’t know how to negotiate even with the Embassy lawyer. It was a complete Nigerian tragedy that they sent to Washington a incompetent man to head the Embassy. Can you imagine him asking an American judge to gag me? What a mess! United States is not Nigeria. There is nothing so important about Embassy commercial transactions that it should override free speech.
Elombah.com: Is there really a danger to the Government of Nigeria if you are allowed to speak freely?
Ugwuonye: It depends on how one sees it. If you are an honest official, and you have clean hands and you love Nigeria, you shouldn’t worry about what I would say. I do not have any information relating to Nigeria’s security secrets on its nuclear warheads. (Laughter). So there is nothing I could say that would be able to threaten Nigeria’s national security in any sense. I don’t have such information and I wouldn’t have the desire to such information against Nigeria. What I know has to do with the activities of individual officials, money lodgments and accounts and funds movements. If every fund movement was done legitimately in the interest of Nigeria, then no one should worry about what I have to say. But if some Nigerian officials including Ambassador Adefuye cornered the money and embezzled it, then, they would never want me to speak about it. But let’s get one thing clear: my client was Nigeria, and not any thieving official. Indeed, those officials don’t really care much about Nigeria. I realize that they would like to equate their personal interest with the interest of the country. Otherwise, how could a country tell an American judge that I had privileged information and that it needed protection from me?
Elombah.com: You seemed surprised by that move?
Ugwuonye: I was surprised by the manner and timing. I still find it hard to believe. The question is: What is this information? Were you guys planning to assassinate President Paul Biya over Bakassi? Was the Government of Nigeria planning a war against another country and it doesn’t want me to disclose its war plans? Is the Government of Nigeria planning to commit a crime or do something that it is hiding from the public? The way they were asking for protection, you will think this is the Gambino family. A normal Government is supposed to operate above the board, follow the rules and be transparent in its operations. And if so, no normal Government would ask for a lawyer who handled their commercial transactions to be gagged. All the information I have should have been a matter of public record by now, if they were honest and fair to the people of Nigeria.
Elombah.com: The court did not gag you, but the judge said something about you being an officer of the court and would not disclose privileged information. Could you explain this to our readers?
Ugwuonye: Oh yeah; thanks for reminding me I am an officer of the court. Remember that an Embassy lawyer so eager to disqualify me from the Embassy business had been making false statements about how I have been suspended from all the bars and hence no longer a practicing attorney. The idea of asking the court to gag me was really a surprise to me for several reasons, that is, the manner in which it was done. I knew that concern would come up, but I did not expect it to come in the manner in did come. First, and foremost, the circumstances did not warrant it. I am a lawyer and I am already bound by certain confidentiality rules. Furthermore, the court would not have imposed a prior restraint on speech. Thirdly, before the court would even consider that, you have to show the court specifically what information you didn’t want me to divulge and how it harms your interest. Such information would either be privileged or not. If privileged, the court may then issue an order. In my case, no such order was necessary because I already had a duty as an officer of the court. The whole thing was bizarre. But it came from a man who has a lot of reasons to be paranoid. Adefuye has so much to hide. I know that. Adefuye is a dangerous man and the truth about him would gradually emerge.
Elombah.com: Why would anyone consider you the Ambassador’s nightmare?
Ugwuonye: Because some money, around 25 million dollars, were in the Embassy account when Adefuye arrived in Washington as the Ambassador. Given what we learned from the Ambassador’s media guru (Emmanuel Asiwe), the money is no longer in the Embassy’s account. It is fair to say that whatever happened to the money happened during Ambassador Adefuye’s time in that office. The fact is that Embassy key staff are rotated every so often, about 4 years at a time. To clarify this, there are two types of people who work at the Embassy. Most of the staff and all senior staff are on posting from Abuja. The other group of staff comprises of staff hired in America who are Americans. But these are usually secretarial staff and drivers. Even at that, they are few indeed. Apart from these local staff, every other staff gets posted out of the Embassy after 4 years. The implication of this is obvious. Having been attorney for the Embassy for 8 years, I have a vast institutional and transactional memory of the Embassy businesses. And I don’t get reposted anywhere. While the current Embassy staff are clueless about what happened 8 years ago, when and how the funds came into the account of the Embassy, I would be expected to know. So, the Ambassador could fool anybody, but he can’t fool me. If you really want to steal that money without anyone being able to explain or even understand what is going on, the best way is for you to buy me over, which failed, or alienate me, the only person, who would understand what is going on.
Elombah.com: On the issue of gagging you, where do things stand now?
Ugwuonye: As I said, there ought not to have been any issue with that at all. I was not going to disclose those things that I am bound not to disclose as a lawyer. But you must know that almost everything is now justifiably open to disclosure if you follow the rules. For instance, the Embassy has systematically leaked certain parts of everything in other to impugn me, which then excuses my disclosing the other part or the entire part of the information to protect my name. Take for instance, recently, one Seyi Awofeso-Martins, one of the Ambassador’s hired hands, who pretends to be an experienced lawyer, leaked one paragraph from the letter the former Ambassador Obiozor wrote to me in 2008 or thereabout. Seyi did that just to further his relentless, but now ineffective, attack on me. To know the entire truth about that letter of Ambassador Obiozor, you need to read the entire letter and you need to read my response to that letter. Then you need to know what was done after my response was received. You really need to know the entire context and events, which were addressed by that letter.
The letter was from an important figure in this whole saga. Once the Embassy revealed through Seyi any part of that letter, it is fair to say that the Embassy, but conduct, have waived mist of its entitlement to confidentiality. So, you can see how dumb these guys really are. On one hand, they went to court to beg, through their lawyer, that they be granted a protective order to protect them from me disclosing privileged information about the Embassy business. Even before the ink would dry from the paper on which the order of the court was written, they handed over a sensitive correspondence to their agent and asked him to disclose portions of it in a manner calculated to portray me in a false light. So, what do you think the judge is going to think when she learns of their behavior? I can assure you that the conduct of the Embassy is such that I could indeed release everything because I can show that the Embassy already released various parts of everything.
Elombah.com: You said something about the Ambassador’s hired hands, who do you have in mind?
Ugwuonye: You must have read one of them, Emmanuel Asiwe of Huhuonline.com? Oh, poor Emmanuel! Yes, but there are more of them. The Embassy had recruited various shenanigans to fight its battles against me. Right from the beginning, Ambassador Rotimi engaged Sowore, publisher of Saharareporters.com, to start a blitzkrieg against me, which was the beginning of the mess we found ourselves in today. If the Embassy must use the media to attack me, why engage an armature non-journalist for that. Did they think that once Saharareporters.com called me names and made unjustifiable accusations against me, as in two market women fighting, that would make them overrun me? Indeed, that was a terrible miscalculation. Also, the Embassy used other surrogates to attack me so viciously. They are still recruiting people from all corners to attack me. You saw what happened last two weeks with one nonentity called Sunday Fadeyi, P. E., who came out of nowhere and initiated a rumor that I embezzled 145 million dollars. Nobody ever told Fadeyi that there was no way the Embassy could have had such amount of money, but you have seen people recently come out to say that the Embassy could not have had 25 million dollars. Then you have seen how the Ambassador hired the almighty Huhuonline to discredit me. What a drama! The most dramatic of such surrogate operation was the idea of getting the ever so stupid Mrs. Farida Waziri to detain me just at the behest of the Ambassador.
Elombah.com: What is special about Huhuonline or is publisher, Mr. Asiwe?
Ugwuonye: Nothing really, and that has been my point. I said this is just one more of them. It is actually Emmanuel Asiwe that first suggested that there is something special about his work for the Ambassador. Of all the people the Ambassador had hired in this war, Emmanuel seemed to be the most sleek. Unlike others who could not call me, Emmanuel called me on the phone to discuss the controversy. That was a fast one. Through Emmanuel, the Ambassador could have gained an insight into my mind, calculations, tactics and strategy. This is a thing that Aluko could not do, Sowore could not do, Seyi could not do, and the EFCC guys could not do.
I detest Emmanuel’s method. His likes would publish trash about you and when you try to call them to order, they would ask you to send them the truth so they could publish that too. Then, they begin to debate the truth with you. So, all of a sudden, you find yourself begging a crazy scallywag to publish something corrective of his earlier publication about you or your family. Rather than researching the truth upfront, they could force you to come to them with the truth and begging for it to be published and even pay money for the truth to be published. They can, for instance, publish that your wife has venereal disease so you will come to them with your family medical record to show that it was only an early menopause problems that she has. What nonsense! The problem with Emmanuel Asiwe was not just his lies about his credentials, which were totally deliberate and a repeat occurrence. In fact, as we speak there is another lie standing in the center of his resume on his website – that he worked on World Bank projects.
Elombah.com: Are you behind the revelation about Emmanuel Asiwe’s Harvard Business School alumni claims?
Ugwuonye: Nobody should blame me for that. Anybody with experience would know that such a claim was bogus. Emmanuel’s report did not reflect any experience or training comparable to what they teach the students of Harvard Business School. Have you seen a project document or case report written by a HBS student? Just try to read the Harvard Business Review to have an idea of the quality of rigor and finesse expected of a HBS graduate. I had no problem in recognizing that his claim was false. But, really, it was not my main headache. If he had not continued to try to discredit me as an immoral or dishonest person, I would not have pointed out his most blatant dishonesty. But in any case, I informed him over the telephone that his claim was false. That would have been the right time to apologize or simply keep quiet. But he persisted. I know so many other false claims he has made even as he apologizes for the one he was caught on. But it is not my interest to focus my energy or attention on Emmanuel beyond what I have already done.
Anyway, I knew that he was one of the online journalists who were being induced with cash or manipulated by Femi Babafemi to report favorably about Farida Waziri. When Emmanuel called me this time, he gave me the impression that he was about to nail Ambassador Adefuye and that he needed information about the funds and bank accounts to nail him. When I told him that I could not give him the documents, he told me it would be between him and me and that no-one would know the source of such document. Can you imagine? To trust Emmanuel, friend of Mrs. Farida Waziri? In my position – trust is extremely in short supply. But I couldn’t just tell him to get lost. It was for me to turn the table and try to get into his head and mind. That was how I knew all he was planning that weekend with the Ambassador. That was how I knew the Ambassador invited him to Washington. That was how I knew where they would be meeting. That was how I knew what time he was arriving to Washington. That was how I knew (and later confirmed from my sources) that his first ever meeting started with the Ambassador by 3pm on Friday, June 22. I figured that if he started meeting with the Ambassador by 3pm and was with him till 5pm, he would not have time to call the M & T Bank officials and those other bank officials for the information as he claimed. I knew from these calculations that all the information Emmanuel had in his report was only what the Ambassador and Aluko gave him. And that would never be reliable or credible enough.
Elombah.com: You seem to have much interest in Emmanuel’s dealing with the Embassy?
Ugwuonye: Not really. It is just in my nature to know such things. I could figure out a lot quickly under the circumstances. It was really simply. The M & T Bank was not open on Saturday and Sunday, when Emmanuel’s story was ready for publication. By 5pm on Sunday, when Emmanuel called me, I was expecting his call. He just landed in Boston about two hours previously. He was just checking to gauge how I might react to his report once it was published. He was basically estimating his follow-up report. This was a different Emmanuel from the one I had spoken with a few days earlier. Before he came to Washington, he was asking questions about the Embassy affairs. But on this Sunday, he was trying to educate me, gratuitously, on the affairs of the Embassy and on international banking. It was like: “Emeka, don’t you say a word against the Embassy, this is the truth, this is how we do business, this is how the international banking system works, this is what you should know about diplomatic law”, and some other jazz. He even put another man on the line to try to explain it all to me. When they finished, I asked him only one question: “When will your report be published?” I wanted to know how much time I would have to react to his report, or to simply pre-empt it. He told me he would publish on Tuesday. I didn’t believe him. I knew he was lying to me to make sure I would not be able to react immediately after his report came out. He was really being smart. He wanted me to prepare to react late Tuesday or Wednesday while he was actually going to publish on Monday morning. That would be dangerous. If I was going to react, it had to be within minutes.
So, I wanted my reaction to be ready soon after Huhuonline went online with that report. If he said the story was coming out on Tuesday, I knew the story would come out earlier. In fact, I knew the story was ready by Sunday evening. The only thing probably holding was that he was waiting for the Ambassador and his men to review it and give a go ahead order. I already knew what Emmanuel’s report would be like. Why wait for him to publish before getting ready to respond. I decided to pre-empt him. I released something by 6am on Monday on the report that was coming. That gave me breathing space to prepare for my main counter on Tuesday morning. I have heard all the denials that he was not paid money by the Embassy. But even if I were to disbelieve my sources, there are too many coincidences that lent credence to the idea that it was a cash-and-carry operation. For instance, who paid his ticket from Boston to Washington? Who paid for his hotel for two days? His original report was published only a week previously, clearly stating that the Embassy accounts were frozen or severely compromised. What has happened within a week to justify another report that said the opposite? Was it that he did not research well his original story? Something was terribly wrong. Also, the encounters he claimed to have had with the banks and the information they gave him could never have happened. He did not have enough time on Friday for all that. And the bank did not provide him any information on their former customer, the Embassy. Further, he did not ask any important questions
Elombah.com: Why do you think an Ambassador would be so interested in this matter in such details?
Ugwuonye: Three reasons: (a) incompetence of the Ambassador, (b) personal motive of quelling the growing public outcry over the handling of the Embassy bank accounts, (c) to continue to cover up his role in my detention, and torture in Nigeria. He just doesn’t want the world to know what happened. But he can’t hide such things forever.
Elombah.com: Mr. Ugwuonye, is there anything else you want to tell our readers?
Ugwuonye: I would want all Nigerians to understand that our country is in dire crisis. The country is failing so fast. My case reflects just an aspect of the system collapse. The center is not holding in Nigeria. Any official could grab a chunk of power and abuse it as he or she likes and there will be no accountability. Otherwise, how could a stupid Ambassador sitting in a Washington write an email to the Head of the EFCC and order her to arrest a lawyer, and without more, she did it precisely as directed by the Ambassador? How could our public officials be so irresponsible? There is nothing within the institutions to stop these people from abusing power. There was nothing in the world to cause Mrs. Waziri to pause and ask herself: “Who am I being asked to arrest? What did he do, etc? Apart from my case, who can imagine the level of abuse perpetrated by Mrs. Waziri at the behest of evil men like Adefuye all over her tenure? We must all be eternally vigilant. Otherwise, we all fall victim.
A Chat with Elombah.com
July 3, 2012