– Lawyers, activists itemize loopholes (3)
Both the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) are bodies charged with the responsibility of bringing corrupt offenders to book – regardless of their social or financial status; besides, nobody is above the law!
But unfortunately, these bodies have fallen shy of expectations, failing to make certain corrupt individuals – especially highly placed ones face the consequences of their actions as prescribed by law. The list of their failures when they come up against personalities with financial mien is a long one indeed.
ENCOMIUM Weekly sought the thought of lawyers and rights activist on this worrying trend…
‘We’d need to work together to be able to secure appropriate conviction’ – Deji Fasusi
When it comes to the prosecution of high profile cases, it’s not only the prosecuting counsel that has a role to play, the defence does, the judge presiding over the matter also has a role to play. These three are the principal actors, what the public has to say is not important.
An example is the Dasuki case. After he was arraigned in court, the prosecution brought an application that the witnesses in the matter be allowed to give their evidence wearing masks and answering their names in pseudonyms; they also applied for secret trial. What the public do not realise is that if Dasuki’s lawyers do not accept such an application, they would oppose it; and the judge would need some time in order to be able to give the correct interpretation of the law concerning such application. And with such an application the court cannot go to the substance of the case until that application is treated. Does it mean that the prosecuting lawyers do not expect that Dasuki’s lawyers will contest such an application. And if it were to be the defence that filed such, they’ll equally oppose it and when the ruling is delivered on that, they’ll keep appealing at the Court of Appeal forgetting that there is the main issue. What that application means is that without their witnesses wearing masks and using pseudonyms they can’t secure Dasuki’s conviction.
We’d need to work together to be able to secure appropriate conviction within a given time because when matters drag on for 10 years, it loses its sting. But there’s nothing you can do. Sometimes, you have to give time for interlocutory applications. You have to give the litigants time to exhaust options.
On plea bargain, it depends on the angle you are looking at. In the United Kingdom where it is practised, a lawyer would tell the client the strength of his case. When as a lawyer a client comes to you and you see that all the evidence indict your client, isn’t it in your best interest to inform the client that there’s no legal gymnastics that can be played in the case to secure victory. At that point, plea bargain is the better option than going the full length of the trial and losing at the end of the day. You’d have wasted every body’s time.
So, it depends on how you’re looking at it. It’s just that here in Nigeria what we get is most times is not commensurate with what was stolen which evidence points to. If someone is alleged to have embezzled N500m and he returns N50m or N100m, that’s not commensurate to the amount he has stolen. But you can still secure conviction.
‘The accused in plea bargain in Nigeria will smile to the bank’ – Fred Agbaje
Government interference, in other words, intervention from high places, be it public or private sector who are part of the loot. Another reason is shoddy investigation by the anti-graft agencies. And third, bad prosecution by the prosecuting lawyers. And, ultimately, when the judge is ready to compromise, the cycle is complete.
Plea bargain is not the way forward. It would have been ideal if we do it the way it is done in advanced countries. Over there, if they resort to plea bargain, the person will refund all the money allegedly stolen, and will still serve term. But here, if somebody steals N100 million, he’d return N2 million and pocket N98 million. How does that work? That’s unfair! In other words, come rain or sun, the accused in plea bargain in Nigeria will smile to the bank. Most people who are neck deep in corruption are emboldened because they know that the institutions are compromisable, either questionable plea bargain or through shoddy investigation and prosecution.
‘Everybody who has stolen money should return it and be sent to jail’- Mohammed Fawehinmi
There are some factors responsible for this. One of such is that the agencies themselves are corrupt. The immediate past chairman was alleged to have attempted to embezzle, the money seized from these high profile people, which makes him guilty, so to speak until proven otherwise. I think they’ve not been doing their jobs and that’s because they’ve been corrupt. In all honesty, a lot of them there are not ready to work, they see it as a means of making money.
If they properly investigate and get their charges right, there is no way the accused person will go free.
They should properly conduct their investigations, get the evidence properly structured and the charges should be built around the facts of the evidence, so there’ll be little or no loophole. I believe if the agencies really want to, they can.
Let’s forget plea bargain in Nigeria, we don’t need it. Everybody who has stolen money should return it and be sent to jail. For instance, Diezani who claims to be having cancer, let her return all the money she stole and go ahead to serve her jail term regardless of whether she has cancer or not. There are some people who are being punished, who have never known the luxury of sanity of eating two square meals in a day, like a normal person.
As we’re speaking right now, there are people in the Niger Delta, North East, The Middle Belt, South West and villages everywhere who are struggling to feed once a day, and one minister will steal billions then you want to handle those people with sentiment. Let’s do away with all that. Let everyone who stole return the money, and then serve his or her jail term.