On September 26, 2017, Ibrahim Garba Wala (IG Wala), the irrepressible social media activist sentenced to 12 years imprisonment last week, visited my office in Abuja for the first time. Earlier on that very day, he had posted on his Facebook page that the chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Abdullahi Mukhtar corruptly enriched himself with N3billion during the conduct of 2017 Hajj.
Wrote he on his Facebook timeline: “Official documents made available to CATBAN reveal that the Chairman of NAHCON after the 2017 Hajj operations makes not less than N3 billion for himself.
“In the interim, CATBAN tends to question how NAHCON expended the the total sum of N97,906,500,000 (almost Hundred Billion) accrued from the payment of N1.5million by each individual that made up the 65,271 being the total number of Nigerian Muslim Pilgrims for 2017.
“Looking into the document, airlines and hotels agents were involved in making of figures which consist of kickbacks to officials.”
IG Wala did not stop there. He demanded – with regimental finality – on behalf of CATBAN (which court found out that it was not a registered organisation) for a detailed report on the 2017 hajj operation.
“These figures are too exorbitant,” IG Wala continued, “In line with the objectives of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration on the fight against corruption, CATBAN demands a report detailing how the 2017 Hajj Operation was conducted to be published immediately.”
IG Wala is an outspoken rabble-rouser whose troubles could be measured in a Richter scale. He has surfeit of energy to dissipate fighting all manner of causes – good, bad and ugly – and ample time to spend haggling on crass trivialities. He is as daring and tenacious as honey badger.
Wala’s dangerous incursions into enemy territories foretells the latest vicissitude that befalls him. At the peak of his fanaticism on Buhari administration, IG Wala once accosted Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja and attempted to beat him up for issuing a statement dissociating the presidency from #iStandWithBuhari after alleged financial scandal that rocked the group. It took efforts of hangers-on to tame the energetic young man. Sometimes I wonder what he wants to achieve in many of his nebulous activism escapades.
I hate to speak on many issues regarding IG Wala’s travails and final conviction in public but there is need say a bit for readers to be put on the vantage point. As I said earlier, IG Wala was incidentally in my office the very day he made the first allegations one and half year ago. The NAHCON chairman was then in Saudi Arabia overseeing the 2017 hajj operation. I used the opportunity to call Mukhtar and make efforts to link up Wala with him to state his own side of the story.
Mukhtar was so angry with what Wala posted such that he blatantly refused to speak with him and threatened to go to court. Mukhtar initially stood his ground that he would seek legal redress but upon my earnest appeal, he agreed not to pursue the case on the condition that IG Wala would retract his comment and apologise.
But the trouble started after we ended the call and I returned to IG Wala. I requested Wala to retract the unsubstantiated post but he refused. At that night, IG Wala left my office fuming and threatening to make more revelations. I was helpless.
True to his promise, IG went berserk the following day, making even more damning allegations. I mustered courage to call IG Wala the following day to persuade him to leave the matter because as a journalist I know the perils of publishing unsubstantiated materials. True to his character, my friend IG Wala “warned” me not to call him again on that issue. I did not.
When I told Mukhtar that IG Wala would not retract, he said, “no problem, I have no option but to seek redress in court.”
Few months afterward, Mukhtar called to tell me that he was privileged to be selected among foreign dignitaries who will be allowed to enter Ka’aba and pray – a rare privilege exclusive to a few Muslim leaders.
“I was privileged to not only be allowed entry into Ka’aba but also allowed to pray in the choicest corner of Rukn al-Yaman. Top in my to-do prayer list that day was IG Wala. I supplicated and beseeched Almighty Allah for justice to be served in the case,” he said.
One month after Wala’s initial post, Abdullahi Mukhtar, himself a lawyer, filed a civil case against him on October 26, 2017, demanding N1billion damages. That was after Wala snubbed a letter formally written by Mukhtar’s lawyer, Professor Yusuf Dankofa, seeking retraction. To borrow an episode from Game of Thrones, Wala was “Unbowed, Unbent and Unbroken” as reeled out more “documents”.
But standing before Justice Valentine Achi in the civil suit, the judge made a momentous statement about the case. Justice Achi asked IG Wala whether he understood the veracity of the case, to which he (Wala) responded in the affirmative. The judge then told IG Wala in the open court that, “if I were you I will seek out of court settlement on this matter.”
Apparently IG Wala did not take Justice Achi’s dope, perhaps because he had prepared for the test. In his usual style, Wala snubbed all reconciliatory moves. All efforts to persuade Wala to “tone down” appeared like a spur to charge with roaring ferocity. Those who follow IG Wala knew how, at a point, he made it a daily routine, like a religious obligation, to spew invectives on the person of the NAHCON chairman in order to lower his estimation in the eyes of the public.
Since Wala was uncompromising even when the matter was in court, Mukhtar took another approach by filing a criminal complaint to the police. It took about a month for Wala to honour the police invitation. He was first detained for about three weeks before arraignment and later sent to prison for remand pending the determination of his bail conditions.
When it finally dawned on Wala that he had no case, he sought out of court settlement. In a surprise twist, most of the notable individuals who Wala sent to broker the peace accord encouraged Mukhtar to pursue the case after hearing his own side of the story.
Now let’s fast-forward the dramatic trial to the judgment day. About 30 minutes before the judgment on Monday April 15, Wala joined me in the elevator to the underground parking lot of the court building to see off a lawyer friend. “Jaafar, I know the efforts you did before,” Wala said in a tone actuated with emotion, “kindly help reach out to Abdullahi Mukhtar now. I will abide by all the conditions he set.”
I knew it was too late at that time as Mukhtar was not in the courtroom to witness the judgment. I wish I had enough time to try again. I wish I could save the family of this energetic breadwinner from the sorrow of his absence “Ok I will try,” I responded reluctantly in order to comfort him.
Wala’s act of making a Facebook live of himself in the courtroom, criticizing the judgment shortly after Justice Yusuf Halilu took a little break to decide on his lawyer’s plea of allocutus worsened the situation. The angry judge, who previously reprimanded IG Wala on two occasions for Facebooking in the dock and later denied him the privilege of sitting down, then served him the maximum sentence of 12 years.
I know as a fact that the judge on five occasions postponed the judgment in order to give Wala chance of out of court settlement, or providing witness or documents to back his claims.
As Wala practically walked himself into the gaol, throwing tantrum at the judge or any other party involved is not the answer. What Wala needs now are prayers and good lawyers to make case for quashing the judgment or commuting the sentence.