How Judges Weaken Anti-Corruption Laws


 By Ojelimafe Anthony 

On 4 October, 2012, Justice Abubakar Umar of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, who presided over a criminal four-count charge bordering on conspiracy and obtaining money under false pretence brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, against two of its staff, Douglas William and Abba Ishaku, was not diplomatic with his judgement when, after sentencing the duo to five years imprisonment, also explained why the sentence which is to run concurrently, should start from the date of their arraignment, being October 18, 2010. By implication, William and Ishaku, who were sent to Kuje prison immediately, shall regain their freedom on October 19, 2012.

Until their arrest, the two officers who were arrested in 2010, following a ‘sting operation’ were stationed at the reception of the EFCC headquarters in Wuse, Abuja. Trouble started for the officers when they allegedly demanded for N100,000 from Kullima Kachalla, a former Chairman of Bama Local Government in Borno state, in 2010, by posing as investigators of the EFCC. They were alleged to have asked Mr. Kachalla to send them the money in order to bribe other investigators of the Commission to destroy a petition written to the EFCC, which indicted him for alleged mismanagement of public funds.

By virtue of Section 1 (1) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006, any person who by any false pretence, and with intent to defraud, induces any other person, in Nigeria or any other country, to deliver to any person, any property, whether or not the property is obtained or its delivery is induced through the medium of a contract induced by the false pretence, commits an offence and such a person, according to subsection (3) of the Act, is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of not more than 20 years and not less than 7 years without an option of fine. In the case of Money Laundering offence, which the legislators and executives are mostly culprits, the penalty is maximum of ten years and minimum of five years imprisonment.

But in his wisdom, Justice Umar said the light sentence he gave the two staff of the EFCC, contrary to the enabling Act, is in view of the “harsh penalty of the Advance Fee Fraud, AFF, Act 2006”.

One may argue that the judge has no such powers to constitute himself into a lawmaking body by changing the laws as contained in the statute. The only power which the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria confers on him as a part of the judiciary is to interpret the laws of the federation. It is therefore, to me, a matter of judicial rascality, for Justice Umar to go a step further to become a law unto himself. Therefore, the October 4, 2012, ruling of Justice Umar, as counsel to the EFCC, Mary Onoja, hinted after the verdict, is a subject of appeal.

Be that as it may, like eminent African novelist and critic, Prof Chinua Achebe, in his famous book “The Trouble with Nigeria” now reprinted, 29 years after, posited, the only trouble with Nigeria is the failure of leadership, because with good leaders Nigeria could resolve its inherent problems such as tribalism, lack of patriotism, social injustice and the cult of mediocrity; indiscipline and corruption. Today, there is no denying the fact that the major problem with Nigeria still remains corruption, and nothing is suggestive that the leadership is atop the situation. Rather than a concerted effort from concerned Nigerians to curb it, very little is being done to really fight the scourge of corruption, economic and financial crimes in the country.

Under the leadership of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu as EFCC chairman, so much was done to amend the immunity clause as contained in section 308 of the 1999 constitution. That never sailed through as it was not in the interest of those in government even though it was in the overall interest of the Nigerian people. But shortly afterward, the legislators mooted the idea and in fact went ahead to present a Bill that was to grant immunity to members of the National Assembly and state assemblies. The Bill which was sponsored by Henry Seriake Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa state) now governor of Bayelsa state, was titled “a Bill for an Act to Amend the Legislative Houses, Powers and Privileges Act, Cap L12 2004, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria and for Other Related Purposes, 2009,”.  Nkeiruka Onyejiocha, (PDP, Abia), who also supported the Bill, said, if passed, would promote the rule of law and would check a situation where people are whisked away by security agencies under different guises.

While that lasted, the same national assembly threw out the Civil Asset forfeiture Bill, which was intended to serve as deterrent to corrupt public office holders who loot the treasury and aggravate the pains of the populace. The Bill was meant to be one of the most effective tools employed in the fight against corruption as is the practice worldwide.

The law would have been most applicable in cases where circumstantial evidence proves that assets the individual possesses cannot possibly be explained by any of his or her known sources of income. The system would have been constitutional and wouldn’t have infringed the fundamental rights of citizens.

If you know the characters that aspired to the national assembly, that were at the national assembly and are still at the national assembly making laws and influencing laws for the good people of Nigeria, then you will know that the laws will definitely be harsh on the common criminal and mild on the big rogues, according to Justice Umar, to protect their interest and not the interest of the Nigerian people. Let us take a cursory look at some of these characters.

Senator Hosea Ayoola Agboola Oyo State High Court arraigned on 11-count charge bordering on abuse of office to the tune of N11.5 billion. he was arraigned on 11 October, 2011.

Senator Adamu Abdullahi, former Governor of Nasarawa state now a senator is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Lafia, Nasarawa. He was arraigned on 149-count charge of fraud to the tune of N15 billion.

Ex-governor, Senator Sani Ahmed Yerima of Zamfara state was a two time governor of Zamfara state (1999 to 2007). At the end of his tenure in 2007, he indicated interest in the senate but the EFCC listed him as number 47 of candidates indicted as (being) corrupt. The list notwithstanding, he won and has remained in the senate ever since.

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Ex-Governor, Senator Danjuma Goje of Gombe State was arraigned on 18-count criminal charge bordering on diversion of state funds to the tune of N52 billion.

Two-time governor Senator George Akume of Benue state is now the minority leader in the senate. This is a man who is a fugitive abroad wanted for alleged fraud.

Senator John Dangoyi of Nasarawa State, Lafia Nasarawa State was arraigned on a 17-count criminal charge bordering on diversion of state funds to the tune of N40 billion. The case of Dangoyi who was arraigned on 18 October, 2011, is  on-going.

Abdulmumin Jibril of Nasarawa State, Lafia, Nasarawa State arraigned on a 17-count criminal charge bordering on diversion of state funds to the tune of N40 billion. He was arraigned on 18 October, 2011 and the case is on-going.

Emmanuel Obot, Akwa Ibom state: He was 63 on the EFCC advisory list as a corrupt politician who should not be given a chance in the 2007 general election. After several court battles, he returned to the House of Representatives.

Chimaroke Nnamani, former governor of Enugu State (1999-2007) was a Senator (2007-2011). He is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Lagos, on a 105-count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N5.3 billion. In 2011, he contested and lost in Enugu West Senatorial District on the platform of Peoples for Democratic Change, PDC. He lost to Gilbert Nnaji of the PDP.

Orji Uzor Kalu, a former Abia State governor is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 107-count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N5 billion. He contested on the platform of the People’s Progressive Alliance, PPA in the Abia North Senatorial district and lost to incumbent Senator Uche Chukwumerije of PDP.

Senator Saminu Turaki is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 32-count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N36 billion. He was a former governor of Jigawa state and a former Senator representing Jigawa North-West Senatorial district. He was in the senate after completing his eight year tenure as governor.

Rev Jolly Nyame was a two term former governor of Taraba State. He is being prosecuted by the EFCC at a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on a 41 count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N1.3 billion. He contested on the platform of the ACN and lost to a retired Justice, Aisha Jummai Alhassan of PDP.

Boni Haruna, a former governor of Adamawa state is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on a 28-count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement to the tune of N250 million. He contested and lost the Adamawa North senatorial seat under the platform of the ACN.

Joshua Dariye served eight years as governor of Plateau state and also won the senate ticket to the National Assembly. He is being prosecuted by the EFCC at the FCT High court, Abuja, on a 23-count charge of corruption and fraudulent embezzlement of over N700 million. He defected from the ruling PDP to the Labour Party, LP. He lost his election in 2011.

Tolorunjuwon Joseph Faniyi, former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in Kogi state is being prosecuted by EFCC, for allegedly defrauding the state to the tune of N536 million at the Federal High Court, Lokoja. He contested the primaries of Kogi West senatorial seat under the PDP and lost to incumbent Senator Smart Adeyemi. He defected to the CPC and contested the national assembly election on 9 April 9, 2011 but lost woefully to the PDP candidate.

•Anthony wrote from Abuja.

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