Johnnie Cochran will soon learn that defending Abacha's loot is not as simple as his O.J Simpson's case
If the Nigerian government is able to prove "in a court of law" the massive translocation of funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria and other corrupt activities, a dozen Johnnie Cochrans will not save the Abacha loot. Rather, our brilliant Brother Johnnie will enlist himself in the Black Book of Infamy and the Lootocracy we were sentenced to in Nigeria by the late brutal ruler Abacha, and a gang of soldier-businessmen-politicians who ruined the emerging destiny of Nigeria since 1966. I respect Mr. Cochran, and I know Nigeria better than he does. Hence, I believe and I'll advise that his clout, catalytic visibility and jurisprudential insight ought not to be utilized to benefit the Abacha estate. If only he knew the mayhem we all endured....
Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr., the Los Angeles-based lawyer who made the phrase "if it don't fit, you must acquit" famous, during the trial for murder of former football superstar O.J. Simpson, is reported to have joined the legal team for the defense of the interests of the family of the late but discredited Nigerian dictator Gen. Sani Abacha.
Cochran, flamboyant and tactical in his practise of law, will find the environment of law in Nigeria substantially different from the legal chambers in Los Angeles or New York. He began his career in 1963 as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Los Angeles, Cochran was assigned to the Criminal Division. He has since become a heavyweight attorney. Accordingly, his value will be evident in the visibility of the case especially when (and if) it goes to Luxembourg (in Europe).
A few weeks ago, Luxembourg officials announced the freezing of $630 million belonging to the Abachas in the Luxembourg subsidiary of a German bank. There has been talk, also, that the $630 million frozen in Luxembourg belong to some children of late Gen. Abacha, family friends and some of his regime officials.
Reports that some of the funds are in a number of banks in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, China, Dubai, the U.S, and Luxembourg have been cited by some sources. Switzerland cited in January 2000 the existence of $645 million in their country as one of Abacha's accounts.
Increasingly, and with every additional discovery and announcement of stolen funds, Abacha's five years and record of looting of public funds during his iron-fisted rule from November of 1993 to 1998, have become a metaphor for mindless and insatiable plunder of public resources. Worse, the sums are exponentially in excess of his salary as a soldier, by well over 850 million times. Go figure!
The international tangle with other central banks and finance houses as Nigeria seeks to regain some of the known funds has not been a cake walk. Some of the privacy laws of banks and countries have protected such funds. Before Abacha, Zaire's late dictator and kleptomaniac-in-chief Mobutu Sese Seko would rather the funds he stole from his impoverished country in central Africa stay with and be dispensed by the Euro-Caucasian bankers than have a handful of those dollars, deutch marks and pound sterling redevelop Zaire.
The Abachas and Mobutus, and in deed, some other less known wealthy folks of African heritage and ancestry keep millions of funds away from the continent's financial houses. This dries up economic resources "back home" while the European, American and other international banks earn huge operational fees/interests from such funds.
If the Nigerian government is able to prove "in a court of law" the massive translocation of funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria and other corrupt activities, a dozen Johnnie Cochrans will not save the Abacha loot. Rather, our brilliant "Brother Johnnie" will enlist himself in the Black Book of Infamy and the Lootocracy we were sentenced to in Nigeria by the late brutal ruler Abacha, and a gang of soldier-businessmen-politicians who ruined the emerging destiny of Nigeria since 1966.
In Nigeria and other parts of Africa, Mr. Cochran will realize, sooner rather than later, that professional legalistic skills are usually considered as an affirmative endorsement of your client's lifestyle (or in Abacha's much advertised case, a boundless, corrosive acquisition of public funds).
Some Nigerians will believe, right or wrong, that their stolen funds will be used to pay the high-flying, smooth-talking but effective lawyer, Johnnie Cochran. I must say that I believe that everyone shouldhave the right to a lawyer, especially under judicious and equitable circumstances. Those who come to equity must come with their hands clean, my very many lawyer friends are quick to say. But are Abacha's hands clean, amidst the evidence of corruption?
Without indulging in any joke(s) about lawyers, may I venture to ask: is there any case some lawyers of substance can say "Honor, Equity and ...."?
Just before the splitting of jurisprudential hairs begin, and legalistic nuance and dynamic technicalities become the currency on the highway of justice and law, may I inform our Brother Johnnie Cochran that he may never in this lifetime, adequately, understand the brutish mannerisms, the dislocation of the nation's psyche and extent of depravity and ill-purpose imposed through the force of guns and physical assault by the Abacha dictatorship on Nigeria and Nigerians.
It was for such reason that I questioned during a late March 1998 press conference in South Africa U.S President Bill Clinton's ill-advised comments a few hours earlier, essentially, to the terrible effect that "Gen. Abacha could run for President as a civilian, if he (Abacha) met the criteria to contest the elections in Nigeria."
Interestingly, Abacha was the referee for the elections, he changed the rules depending on what side of the bed he woke up; and whatever phantasmagoric illusions possessed his mind. What did Cochran say when Abacha ruled Nigerians with scorpions and snakes and bayonets?
Current U.S. national Security adviser Sandy Berger and former Press Secretary Mike McCurry retracted Clinton's error of judgement when I continued to raise the moral contradictions while I covered Clinton's 1998 visit in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Some of Clinton's advisers on Nigeria, I learned with additional news and policy investigations, were persons with divided loyalty; specifically, a handful of them saw, shall we say, eye to eye with the late dictator Abacha.
This offers some insight to the dynamic inactivity of the Clinton administration who did not offer adequate and muscular support to former ambassador Walter Carrington, the U.S chief diplomat in Nigeria (and Abacha's non-Nigerian tormentor-in-chief. See my profile-commentary on Ambassador Carrington's work on Nigeria on another section of USAfricaonline.com
I've not even started to cite for Mr. Cochran the factual data of blanket abuse of whole communities and targeted persons. Missing fathers and sons. Murdered wives. Where shall we start? Therefore, permit me to say that the Abacha issues and lawyering go beyond the dry exegis of legal scholarship and competency about technicalities and spirit of the law by the likes of Johnnie Cochran. No. Abacha is no O.J! And, the memory of Nigerians about Abacha's years and loot cannot be dulled by tactical scientific minutiae about DNA sampling, presentations of timeline, and assorted hypotheses resting on a variable of the probability of one of 10 million, and all that jazzz.... No; Nigeria is not Los Angeles.
As a continental African whose work has essentially been one of building bridges of understanding regarding our shared heritage, one seriously hopes Nigerians and other Africans unde stand that this Abacha deal, Mr. Cochran's first controversial public issue foray into Nigeria, represents only his personal financial reward rather than a reflection of any form of overall African-American position on how Abacha and Co plundered and bludgeoned Nigeria and Nigerians.
Although, during the first O.J Simpson trial, I was contextually enthralled by his brilliance and total "cool" inside the law court and outside, I'll leave Brother Johnnie Cochran with the wise words of our Mongo folks in the central African nation of the Congo who said: "He who finds a fly in his plate has certainly had enough." Brother Johnnie, this Abacha issue may turn out to be the fly in your plate. Think about it; until then: Stay blessed, my friends.
Nwangwu, Founder & Publisher of the Houston-based USAfricaonline.com, USAfrica The Newspaper, The Black Business Journal, BBJonline.com, and NigeriaCentral.com, is the recipient of the Journalism Excellence Award, HABJ 1997. He is writing a book on the experiences of recent African immigrants in the U.S. Also, he serves an adviser to the Mayor of Houston on matters relating to Africa.
As Ethiopia's children starve to death humanity's shame grows.