In a place where a deputy governor was impeached for rearing chickens, no one would be surprised if another is impeached for having a poor sense of fashion. The decision by the National Assembly to retain the immunity clause for governors and their deputies deserves a thunderous round of applause! Our laws have turned weapons politicians fashion against their enemies and rivals at their meetings, and there would be utter chaos if we create room for governors and their deputies to be witch-hunted while still in office.
A lot of things is going to happen after the general elections in 2015. So far, we haven’t had cause to tag the EFCC as the government’s “labour prefect” who whips any recalcitrant child into line, but one should never forget the past easily because it is supposed to prepare one for the future. Many of us have come to see politicians witch-hunting themselves as “na God catch them” thing because, as far as we are concerned, if there were clean and non-thieving ones, a majority of Nigerians wouldn’t have a football formation feeding pattern: mostly 0-1-0.Sadly, the people who are responsible for the mess we are in are hardly ever punished. The severest of punishment we have seen meted out to corrupt leaders can best be described as nothing but a slap on the wrist. No governor has ever served a jail sentence for corruption and, honestly, I don’t see this changing when a lot of them lose immunity next year. A lot of cases instituted against corrupt politicians haven’t made any meaningful progress since inception. I can count cases of more than eight ex-governors.
The system isn’t really hell-bent on fighting corruption. With politicians growing more audacious in abusing our laws, one can’t even imagine the pain a lot of Nigerians feel when we know that there are provisions in our laws that leave them room to sleep well if ever the anti-graft agency comes calling. At this juncture,let me introduce the legal abracadabra called “plea bargain”.
Simply put, plea bargain is an agreement between a prosecutor and an accused person or defendant in a criminal trial to settle the case usually in exchange for concessions on the part of the accused person. He or she gets a lighter sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. In places like the USA where this concept has thrived, the rationale for its application is that, amongst other things, it saves the prosecutors’ and by extension the state’s time and resources which would be better utilized in prosecuting graver offences. Generally speaking, it is a quest to ensure justice for all at all times in the society. The only statute which expressly recognizes plea bargain in Nigeria is the Administration of Criminal justice Law of Lagos State. No other does. But the EFCC in staying true to the “If there is a will, then there is a way” mentality of Nigerians could capitalize on Section 14(2) of the EFCC Act which allows it to “compound”(which means to agree for a consideration) any offence punishable under the act by accepting any sum of money as it deems fit exceeding the maximum amount to which that person would have been liable if he had been convicted of the offence to allow thieving persons go scot-free for peanuts compared to their loot.
Politics is a game of no permanent enemies. The president has said publicly that he has no problem with Governor Lamido; all it would take is for the governor to swallow his vomit by supporting him if he runs in 2015 for the EFCC to start to develop the urge of using this section to back off his sons. The EFCC has denied using plea bargain on several occasions when criticized and could get off on the grounds that its Act has no provision for it, but the implications of this section are not different from a plea bargain – except, of course, the accused doesn’t need to spend time whatsoever in prison.
The concept of plea bargain is an asset to any legal system, but, in relation to our system, I would agree with the former chief justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, when he described it as dubious. There have been allegations the EFCC struck deals with ex-governors Lucky Igbinedion and Diepreye Alamieyesiegha in the past, though it appealed against a federal high court decision to allow the former walk away with just a N3.5m fine in what is believed to be about a N44 billion loot.
The case of Cecilia Ibru, a former chief executive officer of Oceanic Bank, also comes to mind. After agreeing to forfeit 199 assets and funds worth about N190 billion, she was sentenced to just six months in prison. Most Nigerians were disappointed in the judgment.
In a society like ours where corruption no longer seems abominable, the only way to curb the menace and deter people is by enforcing maximum punitive measures. I don’t think the most persuasive of persons can sell any perceived merits of Section 14(2) of the Act which technically provides for plea bargaining but still leaves room for the EFCC to frown against the concept like it has already done. It cannot say it saves time and resources when the entire essence of justice is defeated, forfeiting peanuts compared to money stolen to walk away. And talking about resources, why does the EFCC pay private lawyers to prosecute on its behalf? I don’t see the need to employ lawyers at all if they can’t be called on at all times.
In a system like ours where a president has unlawfully suspended a CBN governor and has continued to appoint defence chiefs unconstitutionally without the ratification of the house, among other things, we only deceive ourselves when we say the rule of law is supreme. As far as the war against corruption goes, many Nigerians have lost faith in the justice system. It is saddening that we still leave windows to be exploited by people with the right contacts on their phone.
Many of us are still bitter over the non-prosecution of Stella Oduah. The petroleum minister who is widely believed to be the most corrupt minister since our return to democracy in 1999 does seem untouchable. If the president still retains her despite her being a political liability, then, I think if ever she is effectively prosecuted, it has to be by another president; even if she does get arraigned in court, I don’t see it not being the usual prosecution that ends nowhere or a deal to forfeit a part of the loot behind the scenes.
The EFCC, in prosecuting corrupt politicians from inception till date, has always given us reason to doubt its sincerity. We have learnt to stop jubilating over disclosure of the outcome of investigations and only rejoice when thieving politicians get what they deserve. Have we celebrated ever since?
— By Umar Hassan, Kaduna