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…
‘Plea bargain saves time, it reduces time and the cost spent on a case’
– GABRIEL ONOJASON, Legal Practitioner
It’s a combination of many factors 1) is the quality of the investigation carried out, 2) the nature of the charges filed against such individuals, 3) the high profile individuals have the ability to hire a number of very senior lawyers and these lawyers can put a whole lot of legal stumbling blocks.
Let’s take it one after the other. In criminal prosecution, the law states that to secure conviction, you must prove your case beyond reasonable doubt. What that implies is that once there’s an iota of doubt, the court will tend to resolve it in favour of the accused. It means that if you are going to court against any high profile individual, you must get your evidence point blank! That’s very important. For example, if someone is accused of misappropriating some funds, you have to prove that that person actually misappropriated the funds, showing instances when the funds were misappropriated. The moment there’s an element of doubt or a gap in your case, regardless of how small it may be, the court will resolve it in favour of the accused. That’s how the law works.
To the second point; a lot of times we see EFCC or ICPC charging an individual with 60, 80, even 120 count charges. The truth is that if you charge somebody with a certain number of counts, you must prove
every one of them! If you charge somebody with a 10-count charge and you’re able to only prove one, the person will go scot-free, because the law is that you must prove 10 out of 10. We often advise the EFCC
to charge someone with only a single count charge or two counts, and then ensure there’s enough evidence backing those charges. If they can successfully prove those two, the accused will be given his due punishment.
Finally, the quality of the defence. The prosecution counsel may be consisted of just one or two lawyers, whereas the accused person hires up to seven lawyers, who all would be looking for technicalities in the offence. If they notice the prosecution failed to do something, they would raise it in court, and before the court would determine that issue, four years passed and everyone is tired; so much that the main case against the person is forgotten. They would be battling very insignificant matters that are not relevant to the case, it’s all part of the legal strategy.
I’ll start on the premise that plea bargain is not part of our law at the moment, but it’s a practice that other jurisdiction outside Nigeria have employed and it has been working. It is good, but it also has its own side effects. Plea bargain is a good approach if the accused person returns everything he/she allegedly stole. But the few plea bargain cases we’ve seen here in Nigeria are such that say someone stole N1,000, he then returns N50. That’s not plea bargain! It is really plea bargain when the person returns all N1000, and instead of the person being charged to jail for say two years, he gets one month! Plea bargain saves time, it reduces time and the cost spent on a case. Ordinarily, it’s a good idea, but its implementation here in Nigeria is what I personally have issues with.
‘There should be time frame for prosecution’
-FRIDAY OSHOMAGBE, Legal Practitioner
My thoughts on the reasons are 1) corruption in the judicial system, 2) slow pace of our court system, 3) poor investigation by government investigation agency, 4) destruction and tampering of evidence, 5) lack
of security for witnesses, 6) the unpleasant attitude of lawyers who use technicalities and frivolous applications to delay trial, 7) poor prosecution by prosecutors.
It is indeed sad that the rich will steal much and go scot free while the poor go to jail daily for smaller offences. The prosecutoral system of the two agencies is not designed to work. Hence, their laws must be amended and strengthened. There should be time frame for prosecution like we have in electoral matters. There should also be special court to deal with corrupt cases for speedy disposition.
As to plea bargain, there is nothing wrong with the concept but the abuse in Nigeria is what worries me.
The case of Pension Fund is still fresh in our memory. Therefore, I will advise that caution should be applied.
‘Whatever you put before the judges is what the court will pronounce upon’
– GBOYEGA ERINLE, Legal Practitioner
I think it all boils down to the kind of lawyers prosecuting the matter. Like I’ve always said, it depends on how you apply the law, which is why some people label lawyers as liars, even though that is not the truth. For me, it’s about the applicability of the law, and how sound the legal team handling the matter are able to apply the law in specific cases. High profile cases are usually handled by very senior counsels of the bar, and you find a lot of legal twists to it.
You can have a good case but if you don’t get everything right, the defendant could capitalise on a loophole which would lead to the judge to adjourn the matter. I don’t think it is a case of judges being afraid to convict high profile personalities, no! They have to judge based on what’s before them. You know that they were not at the scene of the incident, so they adjudge based on what is presented to them in court. They are always technical under tones to all these things.
Let’s take election petitions for example, you realise that many petitions are thrown out at tribunals on technical grounds, and not on merit. In that situation, will you say the tribunal is fearful or it can’t give the right verdict? No! But because the counsel didn’t do what he was meant to do within the time frame allowed, the petition is thrown away. Summarily, the truth is that it is about the case and the way it is presented to the tribunal or the judges that’ll sit over them. It’s garbage in, garbage out! Whatever you put before the judges is what the court will pronounce upon, except in peculiar or rare cases when the judges are critical about setting a bad precedence so they do what they are supposed to do in terms of applying full substantial judgment.
- MICHAEL NWOKIKE