The trial of former Nigerian governors for offences bordering on corruption and money laundering may continue to linger in different high courts in the country as a result of unending appeals and other submissions by the defendants. Curiously, some of these high profile corruption cases were filed before high courts far back 2007 and are yet to properly commence.
Some went on appeals up to the Supreme Court on matters of interlocutory submissions only to be referred back to the trial court for commencement of the trial proper. Of course, the lack of conviction or delivery of justice has become a huge embarrassment to the judiciary and colossal national shame on the grounds that these trials had hardly commenced 10 years after they were filed against some politically exposed and high profile persons in our high courts all over the country.
A clear example of such these cases involving former governors include Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti) – 2006, Saminu Turaki (Jigawa) filed in 2007, Joshua Dariye (Plateau) -2007, Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu) – 2007, (Orji Kalu)-2007 and Rasheed Ladoja (Oyo)-2008 James Ibori ( Delta), Peter Odili (Rivers), beginning with Diepreye Alamieyeseigha in 2005.
Other cases involving former governors are Jolly Nyame (Taraba) filed in 2007; Danjuma Goje (Gombe) filed in 2011; Timipreye Sylva (Bayelsa) 2015; Murtala Nyako (Adamawa) 2015; Sule Lamido (Jigawa) 2015; Audu Abubakar (Kogi) -2007; Adebayo Alao-Akala (Oyo) 2011; Gbenga Daniel (Ogun) 2011; Michael Botmang (Plateau) Aliyu Akwe Doma (Nasarawa) 2011; Boni Haruna (Adamawa), Gabriel Suswan (Benue)Attahiru Bafawara (Sokoto) 2009 and Ikedi Ohakim (Imo) 2015.
Former state governors that were marked down for prosecution by other anti-graft agencies like Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) include Senator Bukola Saraki, Senator Bola Tinubu and Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan (as the then Governor of Bayelsa state).
Fifteen former state governors found to have breached the code of conduct for public officials and recommended for prosecution by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in line with the Code of Conduct Bureau Act are James Ibori (Delta), Lucky Igbinedion (Edo), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Boni Haruna (Adamawa) Olugbenga Justus Daniel (Ogun), Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi), Atahiru Bafarawa( Sokoto) Ibrahim Saminu Turaki (Jigawa), Ahmad Makarfi (Kaduna), Goodluck Jonathan (Bayelsa), Chimaroke Nnamani ( Enugu), Achike Udenwa ( Imo), Sam Egwu ( Ebonyi) And Bola Tinubu (Lagos). While Saraki is standing trial at the CCT, Tinubu has since been discharged and acquitted. Beside those two, others have never been charged before the CCT.
Also, some high profile cases languishing in the courts are Erasmus Akingbola (Banker)-2010. Adolphus Wabara (ex-Senate President), Sunday Ehindero (IGP) – 2012 and Rep Faruk Lawal – 2013
Out of 19 former governors, whom the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed fraud charges against, only two have been convicted – Lucky Igbinedion (Edo state) and James Ngilari (Adamawa state). Though their conviction was with wooly penalties.
In December 2008, a federal high court in Enugu fined Igbinedion N3.5m in a N25billion financial fraud case. The former governor pleaded guilty to the charge against him, and he was subsequently given a slap on the wrist. He was allowed to walk the walk of freedom.
Also, in March 2017, a high court in Adamawa convicted Ngilari of contract fraud, but it gave him the option of picking any prison of his choice to do time – selective sentencing. However, a few days in jail, he was released in controversial circumstances. The appeal court afterwards invalidated his conviction. End of story.
Coincidentally, 21 ex-governors and deputy governors are now in the senate, namely; Bukola Saraki of Kwara, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of Kano, Kabiru Gaya of Kano, Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom, Theodore Orji of Abia, Abdullahi Adamu of Nasarawa, Sam Egwu of Ebonyi, Shaaba Lafiagi of Kwara, Joshua Dariye of Plateau Jonah Jang of Plateau, Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko of Sokoto, Ahmed Sani Yarima of Zamfara, Danjuma Goje of Gombe, Bukar Abba Ibrahim of Yobe, Adamu Aliero of Kebbi, George Akume of Benue and Isiaka Adeleke of Osun. Former deputy governors in the Senate are Ms Biodun Olujimi of Ekiti and Enyinaya Harcourt Abaribe of Abia. Danladi Abubakar Sani served as the acting governor of Taraba state.
In attempt to absolve the judiciary of blame, the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, had on November 1, 2015 said that the anti-graft agencies in the country often fail to successfully prosecute high profile criminal cases.
According to the ex-CJN, aside the fact that the agencies conduct shoddy investigations before rushing accused persons to court, in some cases, “up to 200-count charges are brought before the court”, a procedure which he said “makes mockery of the constitution and the laws”.
Justice Mohammed, who disclosed this when a delegation from the Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum (NEFF) paid him a courtesy visit insisted that problems associated with adjudication of criminal cases were not mainly from the courts. He said: “It is in the investigation, collection of evidence, presentation of the cases and trial”.
“Judiciary is like a builder, and works with materials that are brought to it. “As such, the materials necessary for construction must measure up to standard in order to be applied by the courts.
“Courts cannot carry out investigation and our security agencies must be encouraged to carry out investigation-led arrest and not arrest-led investigation”.
He stressed that once suspects are charged to courts, there should not be too many counts of offences (charges), stressing that for anti-graft agencies to successfully nail accused persons, they must, at least, call a witness or more on each count charge.
“In some cases up to 200 count charge are brought before the court which is a waste of court’s time and makes mockery of the constitution and the laws”, he added.
While fielding questions from the State House correspondents after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari under closed-doors at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on April 24, 2018, the current CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen equally exonerated Judges of being the sole cause of delay in court cases, saying that the responsibility of investigation and prosecution rest squarely with independent bodies.
He said it was unfair to blame judges for not expeditiously trying cases when judges were always seated and ready to listen to cases brought before them.
This is just as he said that the responsibility of the judges was to decide on cases brought before them and that the establishment of special courts for speedy adjudication of special cases was the prerogative of the executive in conjunction with the legislature while the judiciary only provides the manpower to handle the special courts.
Since the two revered jurists spoke from hindsight of privilege position, one can’t afford saying something contrary. But it won’t be wrong to point out that certain laws, measures or rules have been laid down to remedy some of the lapses inherent in our criminal justice system.
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) which was signed into law in May 2015 is unmistakably with wide applicability and revolutionary nature.
Section 1 of the ACJA is overtly apt in explaining the purpose of the Act thus: The purpose of this Act is to ensure that the system of administration of criminal justice in Nigeria promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions, speedy dispensation of justice, protection of the society from crime and protection of the rights and interests of the suspect, the defendant, and the victim.
This law which was to correct the “lacuna” in the repealed Criminal Procedure Act and Criminal Procedure Code, also bar the court from granting orders of stay of proceedings pending appeal on preliminary issues. The Act covers the entire criminal justice process from arrest, investigation, trial, and custodial matters to sentencing.
Most Superior Courts in the country, including the Supreme Court, have enacted Practice Directions on Serious Crimes like Money Laundering and Fraud to fast track the adjudication of cases and ensure speedy trial of accused persons.
The CJN had in September 2017 set up the Corruption and Financial Crime Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) to ensure that the judiciary dispenses justice promptly on corruption cases in compliance with the letters and spirit of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. The 15-man committee is enjoined to continually monitor the progress of high-profile criminal cases which are estimated to be well over 1500.
We are of the view that the Federal Government has shown more rhetoric support than providing necessary financial support to prosecute the anti-corruption cases in the country. The National Judicial Council (NJC) budgeted a paltry sum of N0.5 billion as running costs and other requirements of the COTRIMCO based on the FG budget envelop for judiciary’s 2018 budget.
Except with adequate financial provision, EFCC, police, DSS and even the Ministry of Justice can’t recruit the skillful manpower required to investigate and prosecute anti-corruption cases. A source close to the Ministry of Justice disclosed recently that the AGF office is owing lawyers to the tune of N1.0 billion, being legal fees due to them for prosecuting government cases in the past.
In 2015, a Budget of N9.4bn was approved for the EFCC for the year. The agency’s then Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde lamented that the budget was a decline from the about N12.2bn appropriated for the agency in 2014.
The budget covers capital expenditures, personnel cost and overhead cost. In 2014, the agency allocated N284.6m to hire competent and reputable lawyers to pursue the trial of former governors being prosecuted to a logical conclusion.
Five years after Justice Abubakar Talba of the FCT High Court convicted and sentenced John Yusuf to an aggregate fine of N750, 000 that sparked public outrage, the Court of Appeal, in Abuja on March 21 this yearsentenced him to 6 years imprisonment and a fine of N22.9billion
John Yusuf was one of the six federal civil servants facing prosecution for allegedly stealing N32.8 billion of police pension fund
EFCC had asked the appellate court to set aside the judgment of the lower court in a plea bargain agreement on April 26, 2013, saying discretion the Judge exercised by imposing sentence on the respondent who pleaded guilty to the three count charge in which he admitted converting an aggregate sum of over N24 billion of Police Pension fund into his personal use was wrong.
Except with concerted resolve of the judiciary and serious political will on the side of the Federal Government, it may take Nigeria till eternity before the anti-corruption cases filed against the former governors in our courts would ever be determined.