Monday, October 3, 2016

FG: Re-open remaining High-profile Corruption cases

Last week, I read a report by Premium Times of September 27th, 2016, that Ex-governor Orji Kalu of Abia State has been re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. This time, the charge preferred against him is a 34-count charge on the allegation of the theft of N3.2billion. The case which was before Justice Anwuri Chikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja, has been adjourned to December 6, 2016, after the Judge refused to entertain Orji’s plea that he had an appeal pending at the Supreme Court. Prior to this, the Abia State governor had been arraigned first by the EFCC in 2007 on a 107-count charge of embezzlement of N5billion at the Federal High Court Abuja. There were many reasons the case seemed to have stalled but the one on paper is that there were some kind of arguments over its the jurisdiction - the former governor allegedly committed the said offence in Abia and he was being tried in Abuja.

But a 2014 report credited to Professor Bolaji Owasanoye titled Justice or Impunity – high profile corruption cases crawling or gone to Sleep, highlights other star-studded cases akin to Orji’s. There are the cases of massive looting of public funds involving politicians like Otumba Gbenga Daniel (Ogun State), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti state- N1.2billion), Jolly Nyame (Taraba State N180million), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu State – N5.3million), Saminu Turaki (Jigawa State N36billion), Boni Haruna (Adamawa State N254million), Rasheed Ladoja (Oyo State N6billion), Attahiru Bafarawa (Sokoto State N15billion), Danjuma Goje(Gombe State N52billion). None of these cases involving these ex-governors is being re-examined. 

Why then is Orji Kalu’s a text book case? Speculations in the market place seem to suggest that there are other considerations to the prosecution or non-prosecution of high profile corruption cases. Take the case of another former governor of Plateau state. A staunch member of the PDP, Joshua Dariye was arraigned in 2007 on a 23-count charge of embezzling N700million. His case is pending at the Supreme Court on the same issue of jurisdiction which he filed like former governor Orji. But most Nigerians have already expressed the misgiving that his case which has been left in limbo since 2007 is likely to hibernate more and more especially with his recent defection to the party in power. This kind of structure gives those who want to lampoon the anti-corruption pose of the present government as mantra, the ammunition and reason to insinuate that the anti-corruption fight is lopsided and one-sided. It seems to suggest that as long as you’re right with government, or that you belong to a certain group, or a protégé of certain power brokers then you cannot be prosecuted. Therefore, a worrisome trend in these cases is that most of the politicians involved in high-profile cases of corruption have since taken refuge in a political divide so as to avoid criminal prosecution. Most Nigerians believe that the current fight against corruption of only the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan raises questions of the sincerity and credibility of the current anti-corruption position of President Muhammadu Buhari. Corruption is corruption, and should not be subordinated to political, ethnic and cultural considerations.

As a matter of fact, if you were to review other cases as well as the kind of monies involved in the allegations preferred against some of these former governors (as cited by Prof Bolaji Owasanoye) - Attahiru Bafarawa (N15billion) Saminu Turaki (36billion) Danjuma Goje (N52billion) and Rasheed Ladoja (N6billion) one is left with the impression that the political consideration, more than the gravity of the charges preferred against the accused persons play a major role in the prosecution of these high profile corruption cases.

Let me attempt a clarification with the James Ibori case. Like other former governors, he was alleged to have embezzled billions of naira and was arraigned. Like all the other highlighted cases above, his case stalled in Nigeria but it was only after it was loaned to the UK was the former governor imprisoned. But how was it that the case managed to get to the UK? Why not take these other cases to the UK as well if the criminal justice system in Nigeria cannot handle them? It is said that the former Delta State governor had very powerful political enemies bent on scuttling his resource-control campaign and who connived with other governments through bribes and covert measures to put him away. While it may not be safe to argue that that case exposed the innards of our criminal justice system to the extent that we should take these cases to the UK for prosecution, one continues to wonder at how and why similar cases involving billions of Naira are still hibernating and gone to sleep.

It is in the light of the foregoing that I beg the FG (mostly for its own image and interest) to reopen and revisit all high profile corruption cases that are either hibernating or gone to sleep so as to validate and give credibility to the current fight against corruption, dethrone impunity and strengthen the rule of law. As a first step for the FG of Nigeria to demonstrate that the anti-corruption campaign is not mantra, it must seek to amend the EFCC Act, tinker with the idea of special courts for the prosecution of these high profile cases and get the Vice President, a SAN, to chairman the vigorous prosecution of these cases. The suggestions in this last paragraph (apart from the one asking for the Vice president to chair the prosecution of these cases) are as contained in Prof Owasanoye’s report.