Plea bargain as a concept in law is the practice of arranging with the prosecution, and sometimes a judge, for a defendant to plead guilty to a less serious charge rather than be tried for a more serious one. Since the inception of this administration, this practice has almost been raised to an art form and it is threatening to derail the fight against corruption- the cardinal principle on which the Muhammadu Buhari administration came into office. Critics of the anti-graft campaign claim that, in spite of all the efforts, no big fish is in the net yet. And the reason is that the government seem to be more interested in recovering the money stolen than in putting the culprits behind bars.
They are believed to be encouraged to plead guilty, return part not all of what was stolen and then they are allowed to go without guarantees that they will not repeat the act if opportunity avails itself. Only prolonged life behind bars will give this guarantee.
Now, it is about to be extended to those who are posing a serious threat to national security. Like the fight against corruption, national security is another key issue that powered the Buhari electioneering campaign and is still driving his administration. So, we think that anyone whose conduct is perceived as an attempt to sabotage these fundamental principles of the administration ought to be dealt with coldly and dispassionately.
It is from this stand point that we view the ploy by the arrested gunrunners to use plea bargain to get off the hook as too dangerous to be considered by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation. The reason for the position of this newspaper on this issue is not far to seek. Nigerians and even international observers are united in their opinion that the threat to the nation’s security is overt and real. The onslaught of Boko Haram terrorists that almost dismembered the country may have been check-mated effectively by the military, those evil men and women still pose a real threat to the security of lives and property in the North east of Nigeria. Attacking soft targets is ongoing as we write.
The other terrorists masquerading as herdsmen are on the rampage killing and maiming almost unchallenged. Their collaborators in crime- kidnappers, hired assassins, oil pipeline vandals, cultists and other miscreants who kill for fun have constituted themselves into a menace to society. They operate with sophisticated weapons that awe even the security agencies. In the prevailing situation, law abiding citizens, fazed and in consternation, have not stopped wondering how these mischief makers get their supplies of arms and ammunition.
These gunrunners arrested at the ports by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) may be one of the sources of the arms used by these gangs to disturb the peace of the society. All over the world, gunrunning like drug deals, are deadly businesses that operate in syndicates. Those already arrested may be the missing link in the efforts to fight crime and criminality in the country. Changing their pleas to guilty so as to get a mild punishment must be seen for what it is, a dummy they want to sale so as to get the authorities off their trail. But we know that the security agencies investigating the crime are too smart to buy it.
In our opinion, the whole essence of fighting crime is not just to arrest the small fry criminals and jail them. That, in itself, is a strong motivation. But getting to the root cause of the act and possibly finding out the main backers, the godfathers, that are behind it in order to ensure that they never rear their ugly heads again, should be the ultimate aim. The permanent solution to the disturbing insecurity scenario pervading across the nation is to find out these incorrect characters and take them out from the system in a manner that will discourage anyone nursing the intention of getting into that line of business.
While this is being pursued, the security agencies investigating this crime must endeavour to look beyond the business angle to it and explore the possible political undertones in the arms importation saga. Nigerian politicians are a desperate lot that use all means available to achieve their aim of winning elections and assuming the commanding heights of political offices. Such affiliations ought to present leads the investigators should follow as they strive to check the arms-propelled criminal acts in the country. Plea bargain, we insist, may be considered if it offers access to information that will help eradicate crime so that peace-loving Nigerians can sleep with their two eyes closed.