I would like to commence this intervention with the very cryptic statement by President Muhamadu Buhari at the opening ceremony of the 55th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA on August 21,2015 where Mr President urged the judiciary to support his war against corruption while noting that , “Ability to manipulate and frustrate the legal system is the crowning glory of the corrupt and, as may be expected, this has left many legal practitioners and law courts tainted in an ugly way.”
Mr President then added that “ln a gathering such as this, l do not need to elaborate on the way that corruption and impunity have damaged our economy. But l would like to say more on what l believe should be your role as legal practitioners, in helping us back to the path of rectitude” President Buhari who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo concluded by saying that
” allegations of judicial corruption have become more strident and frequent.”
Perhaps, embarrassed by the attack on the judiciary, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN Mahmud Mohamed vowed that going forward, the National Judicial Council, NJC would take strong disciplinary actions against judges indicted for issuing frivolous stay of proceeding orders on any criminal matters before them. He reminded judges that the essence of the newly enacted Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015 was to prevent chances of accused persons taking undue advantage of interlocutory applications to frustrate their trial and ordered day-to-day trials of corruption cases.
Remarkably, the CJN did not just decide to do ‘house-keeping’ in the judiciary without reminding the executive arm of government and accusing it of not being committed enough to the war against corruption that, ” There is need for seasoned prosecutors to prepare and file charges before courts of competent jurisdiction so that criminal matters could be timeously determined.” Continuing, the CJN pointed out that the “Quality of prosecutions must be improved upon, the quality of prosecutions presented in courts by our prosecutorial agencies must be improved upon, as they are sometimes of a standard that will never found a conviction on any court anywhere, yet, a well prepared prosecution can see to the determination of criminal matter within a month.”
The positive fall out of the latter part of the CJN’s policy statement above, seem to be the guiding principle and kernel of Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of Federal High Court, Abuja’s decision on Thursday 21 July in granting bail to Abiodun Agbele, an associate of embattled Ekiti state governor, Ayo Fayose who was arrested and detained since last June 27 by the EFCC, beyond the constitutionally stipulated period of detention, without trial as provided in the 1999 constitution of Nigeria.
In giving his verdict, Justice Adeniyi advised the EFCC to conduct their preliminary investigations thoroughly before arresting suspects to avoid the situation whereby corruption suspects are easily released in court due to improper arraignment. Such professional decisions based on respect for rule of law may be deemed by hawks in the executive arm as lack of commitment to the anti corruption war by the judiciary. President Buhari might have been alluding to when he upbraided the judiciary in his recent speech to the body of benchers.
To serve as deterrent against prosecutors unpreparedness in future, Judge Adeniyi awarded N5m cost against the EFCC and if the immediate reaction of the anti graft agency to the judgement is anything to go by, the judge’s action is like pouring salt on an injury, hence the EFCC referred to the verdict as ‘shocking’ and signified intention to appeal against the decision and also seek stay of execution. The CJN and Judge Olukayode Adeniyi are not alone in observing that anti graft agencies in Nigeria are sloppy in prosecution.
Femi Falana, acclaimed human rights lawyer also in a piece in Thisday newspaper commemorating one year anniversary of the present administration on May 29th, 2016, pointed out the abysmal number of convictions against suspects so far secured by the EFCC.
Although the boss of the indicted anti corruption agency, Ibrahim Magu has denied the low conviction rate of corrupt public officials as alleged by Falana who backed his claim with statistics, Justice Adeniyi’s verdict will certainly serve as a wakeup call for the EFCC. The anti crime agency must shake off the notion that seem to feed the belief that it has the mindset that since the courts are another arm of the establishment who should also be sucked into the corruption war, suspects should be adjudged guilty as charged, without going through the rigorous process of proof of being guilty or otherwise remain innocent. If the onus of proof which in principle is on the prosecutor is not observed, it would definitely be a negation of the basic principles of justice and it’s administration. Admittedly, the conventional wisdom is that the law is an ass, but the legal process was deliberately made long and tedious, so that the innocent is not unjustly imperilled on the altar of haste.
As Mr. Magu already recognizes, and so that l may not be seen as belittling the very tough job of anti graft agencies, l acknowledge that being the head of EFCC is stressful, but somebody has got to do the job and that person must fulfil all righteousness of safeguarding the rules of law and order for the sake of posterity and sustainability of the system. Even in far away United Kingdom, a judge on Thursday July 21 awarded Bhadresh Gohil, lawyer to former Delta state governor, James lbori £20,000.00 for illegal deprivation of his liberty for 33 days from November 20 to December 22 by the Crown Prosecution Service, CPS.
Presently, Scotland Yard, police headquarters is also on trial as one of its officers is facing corruption charges based on accusation by Gohil that in the course of investigating lbori, a police detective compromised the service.
If the panel set up to review the case concludes that there was indeed a bonafide case of corruption and there were substantial instances of cover up of facts by the police and crown prosecution service in order to secure conviction against lbori, it could lead to overturning the conviction against Ibori, his attorney, Gohil and family members who have served between 5-10 years jail terms each and of which lbori himself is at the tail end of thirteen (13) years of incarceration. Can the EFCC or the courts in Nigeria probe their own or reverse their judgement? A billion Naira question!
But that’s the way criminal justice system should function, not just for the purpose of government having its way all the time, but also in the interest of justice and equity, plus sensitivity to the rights of individuals in the society. Anything less than that, would amount to tyranny of govt, a democracy low that l hope Nigeria would not descend.
Expressing similar sentiments to that of the establishment , especially operatives in anti graft agencies such as EFCC, ICPC and CCB, who allegedly fail to carry out thorough investigations of suspects before clamping them in detention, more often than not for mob justice, one Bayo Oluwasanmi wrote an interesting opinion piece titled “Corruption of Mass Destruction” which was widely published online .
In that article Mr. Oluwasanmi bemoaned the odious magnitude of corruption in Nigeria and then dished out a catalogue of news headlines in local and international media, heralding the shape and dimension of stealing of public funds in Nigeria. Here is a snippet:
“Nigeria orders arrest of official accused of stealing $2b meant to buy weapons to fight Boko haram (Fox News World, Nov. 17, 2015). ‘7 Nigerian Ex-Governors, Other Public Thieves, To Lose Billions Smuggled To Dubai’ (The Simon Ateba News, March 22, 2016). ‘N23bn Diezani Bribe: 11 INEC Officials Admit Receiving N120m’ (SaharaReporters, May 28, 2016). ‘EFCC Releases CEOs Of Access bank, Sterling Bank After They Refund Billions Of Naira’ (SaharaReporters,May 07, 2016). ‘ABACHA LOOT: Switzerland returns $723m to Nigeria in 10 years’ (Vanguard, March 16, 2016). ‘Fayose Admits To Buying Properties Of N1.35 Billion’ (SaharaReporters, July 07, 2016). ‘Former PDP Secretary Olisa Metuh Has Offered To Return N400m He Received From Ex-NSA Dasuki’ (SaharaReporters, June 30, 2016). ‘Former Air Staff Chief Amosun And Other Top Military Officials Arraigned For N49 Billion Fraud’ (SaharaReporters, June 29).”
The sensational headlines and humongous sums of money that are purportedly stolen as portrayed in the headlines is obviously the source of enragement for the author of the article, but the curious thing about what seems like genuine concern of Mr. Oluwasanmi is that while his intervention is long on actions to be taken against the suspects, nothing is proposed on how to prevent the despicable act of corruption. This is against the universal dictum, PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE.