Quote: “Unjust law is no law at all” (by Saint Augustine)
By Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan
May 11, 2011 (SSNA) — South Sudan has come from a long distance walk of bitter experiences as the odious journey has somewhat come to an end, but it still has a long way to go. The wars that were fought were caused by the refusal of the domestic oppressors to accord all the citizens of the Sudan equal rights and opportunities by the virtue of their birth rights. Injustices that were done on some specific people (southerners) compelled them to rise up and defend their rights through whatever means one could afford or use. Those who did that have now lived to regret their actions because it was better for them to try to do everything possible in order for Sudan to remain united, since they were in the position of power – but unfortunately, they used that position of power to oppress those in the periphery through security apparatus and other parameters of power. This’d worked in favour of those who were separatists right from the very beginning!
It seems as though South Sudan or say the soon-to-become the government of the republic of South Sudan has not learned anything from those lessons in the past, as would be expected. We all fought during the liberation struggles for freedom, justice and equality regardless of whether physically or through pens – or using other means to have our case heard by the international community. It’s a sheer stupidity for some Dinka opportunists to assert that they were the ones who paid the heaviest price, in other words, who contributed a lot during the liberation struggle; be it materially or in terms of human life. Equally, it would also be a sheer naivety if some Nuer opportunists try to justify their grip on power by saying that they were the ones who most borne the brunt of the liberation struggle from the onset – that is a big lie – all have participated a lot. That is why we were able to make some significant progress because no one would have made it alone without others. Let us not lie before the almighty God and the history of Republic of South Sudan!
In this case, and at this point in time, Dr. Josephine Lagu, the former undersecretary in the ministry of education science and technology (by then) was victimised for no good reason. Yes, money meant for students studying abroad were diverted into private accounts by an employee of the ministry with the consent of the minister. The person called Felix, who diverted the money and wired it into his own account, was a Ugandan by nationality but how he was employed to assume this role in the ministry was something only the minister or whoever employed him could shed light on. I would have said verbally that Dr. Josephine is guilty if she was the one who employed a foreigner to work in the ministry holding a sensitive position, but the guy was employed long before she was appointed as the undersecretary in the ministry – she couldn’t have been held responsible for the action of this mister. Should that be the case, then we would assumed that she purposely or intentionally employed him so as to defraud the money covertly without people knowing whether she was part of the plan or not. But she did not employ Felix or rather; she was not the one who employed him.
It’s noteworthy that Dr. Josephine Lagu has spoken loud and clear on the circumstances that led to her unfair or unjust prosecution. I would say it’s more of persecution than the former. Therefore, what happened to her was a selective flawed justice akin to the brief outline of our liberation struggle from Jallaba attributed to in the first paragraph above and how it came about. Why do I say this? Simple and I’ll tell you why. It’s a selective justice meant for victimization purposes because even if she was found to have had a link to the fraud case, still she would not be the first to have been involved or implicated in corruption–related charges or allegations. There were big fish from Bhar El GhaZal region; where President Salvatore Kiir hails from, who had stolen millions and millions of US dollars from the public kitty but were never investigated, leave alone being taken to court to stand trial for the financial and economic crimes committed directly by these ministers. We have Athuir Akuen, the first and former minister of finance and economic planning – GOSS who had stolen millions of dollars and put in caskets as dead (foreign) bodies being transported to their respect countries for burials.
We have Mr. Kuol Athien, the second and former minister of finance and economic planning in the government of Southern Sudan, who squandered billions of Sudanese pounds in the name of buying grain and selling it at subsidized prices to the ten states of Southern Sudan to help curb the then looming hunger gap. The money ended up in individual’s pockets as well as in the dubious companies’ accounts, which he corruptly organised in order to benefit from this. We have the tall gentleman whose name I will not bother to mention here; who was caught red handed with 2 million dollars at the airport in the UK, the guy said the money was for opening up an embassy there – the embassy for the government of Southern Sudan. Fancy as its! We have Acuil Tito, the incumbent inspector general of police who misappropriated funds meant for the training of police force in South Sudan, and he is just continuing with his work. And several others who were involved in corruption related activities in one way or another. The two former ministers of finance and economic planning – GOSS were never investigated to date and will never be investigated for the known reasons. They threatened beny Kiir that should he pursue the case against them in a bid to have them tried or prosecuted in court, they will go to their backyards in Bhar el Ghazal and fight Beny Kiir from there tooth and nail. With that threatening tone, coupled with the obvious baseless claim that the children of Bhar el Ghazal are the ones who suffered a lot most during the war and therefore it’s time for them to reap the fruits of what they had sown, beny Kiir decided to loosen the string and let go of these men – something which has compromised his vigorous fight for corruption to date.
Several other cases of corruption went un-investigated and it now became the order of the day. Senior government officials could squander huge sums of money and wire it into their private accounts abroad without anyone questioning. The major international donors had to stop donating money directly to the government of Southern Sudan at some point in mid 2009 because of the rampant corruption leading to accountability and transparency problems. This was a major setback to the would-be- development and reconstruction stage for the ravaged towns and cities of South Sudan as a result of the two decades of civil strife.
The mindboggling question that begs an answer from an honest person is: if these two high profile figures were not investigated and subsequently prosecuted, why incriminate and prosecute Josephine, who was just an undersecretary in the ministry? Surely is this not a selective justice? Oh yeah it’s a selective flawed justice serving only the interest of one tribe. If the first two corrupt ministers were taken to court over the alleged financial and economic crimes, then there would have been no reason not to investigate or try Dr. Josephine Lagu because precedence has been set already. But because all the Dinka corrupt ministers and other looters (from Dinka & Nuer) were left free and not investigated, why didn’t the same thing apply to the poor and innocent Josephine?
Can justice really work half way – that is if one is implicated in corruption-related- crimes he or she is not prosecuted or tried because of his/her social status or on the basis of his/her tribe, but when the other is innocently accused or believed to have been involved in the same, he/she is prosecuted? It cannot work that way. That’s what I called a ‘tribal justice system’ in the case of Gabriel Gatwech Chan (aka Tanginye) and now with Dr. Josephine Lagu’s case. I strongly disagree with what Isaiah Abraham said or wrote on Dr. Josephine Lagu’s case. He is giving us a wrong impression that almost all the Dinka would want injustices to be meted on other Southerners because they (Dinka) are in the position of power now, and it’s what I alluded to above in the case of jallaba. It seems like most Dinka are absolutely happy about the malignant treatment other Southerners are receiving or getting from some Dinka elements purporting to represent the conscience of the whole Dinka tribe. I can understand the pain and agony in Isaiah’s due to the fact that the lady touched the wrong nerves by telling the plain and bitter truth about the circumstances that led to her being sentenced to 10 years in prison while the untouchables, who’d stolen millions of dollars (if not billions) are just walking freely in the streets of Juba. Isaiah Abraham, you got it wrong all, brother!!
If it was not a selective justice, why didn’t they investigate Atem Kuir and Job Dhuruai, the then minister of Education science and technology? But this was not done. And besides, administrative or institutional procedures were never followed in her case; when this should have been done to establish where the problem was and who would be eligible to be tried at the court over misappropriating the funds earn-marked for students studying abroad. “In total, she is reckless and I for one don’t sympathize with her at this point! No one would love to see another Southerner mistreated or unfairly denied any right or justice when we are masters of our own and when that was the practice during our masters in Khartoum. Even Khartoum judicial system was so judicious, and few Southerners have no faith in the Judicial System there”. Isaiah Abraham, this statement paints a very ugly picture about you. She is not reckless just because she aired out or told the truth to the wider world; and its true, majority in the periphery of power are being mistreated by the minority in power. A case in point is this of Dr. Josephine Lagu, who has been victimised because she comes from Equatoria region, and not Bhar el Ghazal! Why didn’t they prosecute Arthur Akuen and Kuol Athien? Why didn’t they prosecute the gentleman who stole 2 million dollars, caught at the airport in the UK? Will they prosecute the current minister of finance and economic planning, the big crook, Mr. David Deng Athorbei? I don’t think so. They couldn’t and will never do so, all because they come from Bhar el Ghazal where the king hails, and that is enough protection – they assume the same immunity of the president.
I am afraid there is no difference between those elite in Juba from those in Khartoum. What used to happen to Southerners in Khartoum is what is happening now in Juba, where some Dinka elements want to implement the same Master-slave policy of Jallaba, which denied justice to be accorded to all who deserve it regardless of one’s tribe, race, religion or political inclination. You cannot shamelessly assert that we are all masters in our own land – it’s a fallacious statement and it shows one being oblivious of today’s realities in Southern Sudan. The reality is this: if you are a Dinka and you have committed a crime punishable by law, you are exempted because of your ethnicity background, but if you happened to be from a different ethnic group, you face the law in a harsh way or in a manner that could be deemed to be ultra-vires.
And it’s the case now with Dr. Josephine as she was first acquitted of the charges by the high court on ground that there was no sufficient evidence suggesting that she had actually intended to divert the money through Felix’s private account. Then later the main complainant, Atem Kuir, who should have been investigated too; went to appeal against the decision by the high court as he challenged court’s verdict by going to the court of appeal and eventually, the supreme court of Southern Sudan. One wonders how a junior officer ended up suing his former boss as if it was a case between him the ex. Undersecretary. If they followed the due procedures, it should have been the role of the anti-corruption commission, the ministry of legal affairs and constitutional development and then the court, not an individual purporting to represent the ministry (of education) whose image was now tainted by corruption.
To recapitulate, what happened to Dr. Josephine Lagu was a selective justice and I would contend with her that it’s a political persecution other than prosecution. Even if she had actually diverted the money for personal gains or use, why only target her alone when they are dozens corrupt individuals? Does law apply to all or to only specific people and based on their ethnic backgrounds? It’s true, “unjust law is no law at all” as Saint Augustine put it. I have no other motives than to defend her based on moral principles of natural justice that says “all men and women are created equal” and that no one is above or below the law. One unique thing about Nuer (and I am proud to be a Nuer) is that they don’t allow injustices to be meted on others just because they are not Nuer or powerless; they would kill one another (Nuer themselves) but not touch any other person who is non-Nuer, they would first die before that person could be killed. I think it would be up to other Southerners to allow Dinka and Nuer to mistreat and mete injustices on them just because of their unfounded and unjustified numerical sizes. South Sudan is for all the people of Southern Sudan and not only for Dinka and Nuer. Therefore, they cannot use their positions of power against others instead of using it for the good of all. Power is rotational! Who knows, may be the next elections or in the far future, the president can be elected from a different tribe, apart from Dinka and Nuer?
The author is a member of civil society group living in Southern Sudan. He could be reached for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org