A new report released on yesterday by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), disclosed that “55 politicians, high-level public officials and leaders allegedly stole N1,354trn between 2006 and 2013 from Nigeria’s treasury.”
The report titled: “Letting the Big Fish Swim” also revealed that though anti-corruption agencies in the country have secured more than 1500 non-high profile convictions between 2000-2017, they could only muster 10 high profile convictions between the same periods.
The 112 pages report launched in Lagos and presented to the media by a Senior Lecturer of Law, Litigation and Professional ethics at the Nigerian Law School, Abuja Campus, Dr. Esa Onoja stated that those accused of high-level orruption are getting away with their crimes and profiting from Nigeria’s legacy of impunity.
According to the report, “The amount of money embezzled, misappropriated or stolen by public officials and leaders between 2013 and 2017 has galloped beyond the contemplation of average Nigerians. Evidence abound that judges, judicial officers, lawyers and military officers are participants in the frenzy of despoliation of national wealth.”
The report further stated, “in the investigation, prosecution and trial of high profile corruption cases in Nigeria, justice is imprisoned by snares contrived by actors in the legal community in aid of looters.”
The report also listed “high profile cases of corruption prosecuted by anti-corruption agencies between 2000 and 2017 as numbering 177 out of which 167 are pending.
“Total convictions are just 10. Out of the 10, only 3 convictions were obtained after full trial while 7 convictions were based on plea bargaining. Yet 1 of the 3 convictions based on full trial was discharged by the Supreme Court while 3 of the 7 convicted were granted presidential pardon.”
The report read in part: “Most corruption cases against high profile defendants witness delays tactics and tricks by defendants to truncate fair trial. The cases depict the stark reality of a captive justice system at the mercy of high profile offenders and their platoon of defence counsel. The negligible number of conviction of high profile defendants explains the probable calculus of offenders that the risk of apprehension and conviction is low.”
“Mr James Ngilari, ex-governor of Adamawa State was convicted through the effort of the Attorney General of Adamawa State. Salisu Buhari was convicted of forgery under a plea arrangement in 1999. Salisu Buhari’s sentence was a slap on the wrist. President Olusegun Obasanjo later granted him a pardon. Tafa Balogun (former Inspector General of Police), Mrs Celicia Ibru (former CEO of Oceanic Bank), Lucky Igbinedion (former Governor) and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha (former Governor of Bayelsa State) all entered plea agreements with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.”
Alhaji Shettima Bulama (former CEO of Bank of the North) was convicted after trial. The sentences in each of these cases did not reflect the gravity of the offences. There is a sense that all the offenders, including Tafa Balogun and Cecelia Ibru, who publicly returned large amounts of money, were able to retain substantial proceeds of crime. Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and Alhaji Shettima Bulama were granted presidential pardon by President Goodluck Jonathan. The outcome of conviction of the high profile offenders seems to be a clear signal that crime pays when you are high profile.”
“The record of proceedings from courts and law reports paint a vivid and irrefutable picture of the causes of truncation of prosecution of high profile in Nigeria.
“The trajectory of cases through investigation to trial and appeals qualitatively reveals strong evidence of a nexus between weak institutional capacity on the one hand and attitudes of actors in the criminal justice sector that hamstring orderly and efficient collation and presentation of evidence in court, which militates against impartial determination of corruption cases.”
“The sense of simmering undercurrent of commodification of justice and commercialized legal contortions and reasoning pervades investigation, prosecution and trial of high profile corruption cases in Nigeria. Justice stands in the dock this game of musical chairs presided by technical justice while high profile offenders gleefully sit in comfort with their loot, fortified by the efficacy of a vast array of subterfuge and jiggery-pokery of their lawyers, with seeming active and passive connivance of actors in the legal community.”
Falana said, “Nigerians should stop rubbishing all judges and lawyers. No doubt there are a few corrupt judges and lawyers. Just a few. But majority of members of the legal profession are not corrupt. Our duty as concerned citizens is to identify and isolate the bad judges and lawyers.”
According to him, “I can say without any fear of contradiction that the judiciary has developed an inbuilt mechanism to remove bad judges. Between 1999 and 2017 not less than 100 judges have been sanctioned. No other institution in Nigeria in Nigeria can boast of that record.”
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