Buhari’s Anti-corruption war, An Opportunity to Strengthen Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System, By Gloria Eluebo Adagbon
One of the key campaign pledges of President Buhari is fighting corruption that has stagnated Nigeria for decades. Taking the oath of office, on May 29th 2015, Buhari stated that “he belonged to everybody and belonged to nobody. Since then, he has not looked back. He has thrown his weight against the almighty corruption and confronted it head on.
Today, the results of such commitment has brought to the fore, the sordid revelations of the monumental looting in the arms probe, and how monies exchanged hands fraudulently. Many high profile individuals have been arrested and are now going through the court proceedings. This is a remarkable shift from the past where influential people just use the loopholes in our legal system to circumvent their prosecution.
I remember the case of Chief James Ibori that was dismissed and thrown out of our courts. The same Ibori was later to be convicted and sentenced and his criminal proceeds confiscated by a foreign court in the United Kingdom. There are several others who had succeeded in thwarting the efforts by Nigerian criminal justice to bring them to book. Often than not, these people evade prosecution using one way or the other to frustrate the cases against them.
It is necessary for us to take a cursory look and ask ourselves why is it that we find it difficult to successfully prosecute high profile cases? Have we thought about why our Criminal Justice System cannot effectively sanction wrong doing? What is the rule of law? Doesn’t it exist in other countries? How come other countries such as Britain and America can prosecute and sentence high profile individuals and we cannot? How is their rule of law different from ours?
Since the arms deal probe and the arrest of Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd), the public space has been littered with calls about the rule of law and Buhari should not flout court orders. My question earlier about why Nigeria seem not be able to prosecute high profile cases lies in the lack of “political will” and a good prosecution strategy.
What we lacked in the past, we now have in President Buhari, who thus far has shown a strong commitment and focus to tackle corruption. Yet, instead of us to use this incredible opportunity to strengthen our criminal justice, we are shouting tyranny and rule of law. Yes, we must operate within the confines of the law permits but at same time, we must not lose sight of the bigger picture.
I read the respected Femi Falana’s (SAN) comments about the rule of law, asking Buhari to obey court orders re Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu. Whilst I agree that once a court has granted bail, a defendant should be released provided any conditions have been met. I differ with Mr Falana’s take because in serious and complex cases, a prosecuting authority has its strategy in place and are live to issues of bail especially where suspects or the defendants are flight risks. Such calculated strategy is required in order that suspects do not jump bail or abscond.
Significantly, where an individual has been charged for an offence and offered bail, and thereafter information comes to light about other offences, it is not against the rule of law for the authorities to charge him and remand in custody. In this scenario, the person is on bail but also remanded in custody for an offence which he has no bail. The bail granted initially becomes “technical bail” and he is kept in custody for the new offence. In essence, he is on bail in principle but in custody for a separate offence.
This is what is playing out in the case of Col. Sambo Dasuki and Nnamdi Kanu bail. As explained above, both Dasuki and Kanu are essentially on “technical bail” having been granted bail but at the same time, charged with an offence which they have no bail or have not been bailed for. This is certainly within the ambit of the law against the current misunderstanding that Dasuki and Kanu are being held in breach of court orders. That is certainly not so and President or anti graft cannot be said to have flouted any court orders in the circumstances. A President that is himself an ardent follower of justice, law and order cannot in any way impede the process he is trying to strengthen.
President Buhari’s anti corruption war is a huge opportunity for Nigeria to strengthen her criminal justice system. He has taken the lead, with clear focus and the strategy to enable Nigeria kill her off her enemy. Why are we are shouting impunity and tyranny? To start blaming Buhari is synonymous to supporting the looters of our commonwealth, who sadly hide behind the loopholes, to thwart prosecution.
For once, we have anti graft that is one step ahead of the suspects and those already charged. This is setting the tone of seriousness about Nigeria’s new resolve to tackle corruption. We have a criminal justice system that is being strengthened, the EFCC and other anti graft agencies are being provided with a clear focus and strategy to effectively prosecute high profile cases. Buhari should be commended and not castigated for this efficient and robust strategy that we lacked in the past.
From the onset, it is clear that the war against corruption is not going to be an easy one. The challenges thus far are evident for all to see. As we fight corruption, corruption will also fight back. Just like any disease, you you administer treatment, the virus or bacteria also tries to compromise the immune system in order to continue ravaging the host body. The same thing is applicable to corruption. As President Buhari takes practical steps to tackle corruption, the corrupt elements are also finding ways to fight back and it is obvious that tagging Buhari with a bad name is part of their game plan.
We should commend Buhari for his poignant move rather berating him. We cannot continue do the same thing and expect different results. If not for a strengthened anti graft and the strategic direction set by Mr President, by now those who are facing corruption and money laundering charges would have either exploited the loopholes or find away to compromise their cases.
Anti graft will be faced with all manners of accusations and counter accusations on how the cases are being prosecuted. One thing that Nigerians must understand is that these high profile individuals have means to stoke up tensions in a bid to distract the anti graft commitment and focus, thereby going the old ways of Nigeria not being able to prosecute and convict high profile individuals.
But Nigerians are lucky that Buhari is not someone that can be easily distracted. He is a man who is very focused and would do all it takes to recover every single kobo. One thing that many love Buhari for is his sincerity and commitment to deliver on this key promise he made to Nigerians. He will not back down but instead he will press forward and no doubt shall deliver Nigeria from the oppressive tyranny called corruption. Buhari’s second coming, is Nigeria’s opportunity to strengthen and lay
down a robust criminal justice system.
Gloria Adagbon, a Diaspora Nigerian writes from London.