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How lawyers score prosecution of anti-graft war

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Quakers, SAN

Quakers, SAN

Flay government’s disrespect to court orders, Rule of law
Condemn handcuffing of suspects to court

At home, his administration is stepping up efforts through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to prosecute those who have been fingered for their involvement in the various scams that took place in the immediate past regime.
Corruption in Nigeria, no doubt has brought this country to its knees and impoverished its people for too long that this time around, it must be confronted head on in order to eliminate its adverse effects.

A Lagos constitutional and human rights lawyer, Carol Ajie, said that corruption destroys nations and their people which must not be allowed to thrive for any reason. Her words: “Corruption destroys nations and their workforce, reduces productivity, hinders development, worsens poverty, marginalizes the poor, and hence these issues raise human rights concerns for all. The economic effects of corruption lead to the conversion of public wealth to private and personal property, imbalanced economic development, poor work ethics and professionalism, hindrance to the development of fair market structures and unhealthy competition. Corruption has tied this country’s development down and left the common people scrambling for survival amidst plenty.

This was why President Buhari was voted for in March 2015 so that we may not as a nation continue with the embarrassing conduct of business as usual”.

caroline

Caroline Aije

In the same vein, American Secretary of State, John Kerry on a global stage at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, while acknowledging the efforts Nigeria is making at home to curtail this epidemic, painted a gloomy picture on how corruption destroys nations, businesses and investments when he said: “Corruption is an opportunity destroyer because it discourages honest and accountable investment; it makes businesses more expensive to operate; it drives up the cost of public services for local taxpayers and it turns a nation’s entire budget into a feeding trough for the privileged few.”

With the seriousness that the fight against corruption demands, a lot of people are raising doubts whether the Buhari administration is also seriously committed in ridding this country of corruption with the method he is adopting in the fight which is already raising concerns of whether the nation will finally reach the Eldorado.
While many will welcome an all-inclusive fight that will carry people along and heal the wounds in the land, others are kicking against selective prosecution of perceived political opponents geared towards victimization and vendetta that will only breed bad blood.

Reacting to this notion, Ajie said ‘US Secretary of State John Kerry was right when he reminded the audience at the World Economic Forum, that President Buhari inherited a corrupt system. Hence all Nigerians irrespective of political parties must urge Buhari to launch sincere and honest war against graft either against APC or PDP considering the fact that national agencies cover 36 states of the Federation’.

She admonished: “Buhari must be above board himself, he and members of the first family cannot effectively fight corruption and be perceived as guilty as was reflected in his 2016 budget of profligacy for a President who rode to power on the crest of a Spartan lifestyle, retaining the luxuriant fleet of aircraft he inherited from his predecessor-in-office and maintains the presidential fleet at the cost of N1.8billion per month, which can be money capable of transforming the lives of thousands of internally displaced persons and their families in the North East.

Buhari must imbibe the spirit of self-sacrifice like the new President of Tanzania, John Magufuli who implements austere programs for himself and others. Buhari’s priority within four weeks of his swearing-in was the construction of a helipad in his hometown Daura at the cost of $500,000 and to now desire N4billion for Aso Rock clinic and N800 million for website construction, in the budget as items, are very absurd and sets the citizenry against a kleptomaniac mindset”.

Under democracy, war against corruption is fought and won or lost through the court system and respect for the rule of law. The issue now is to interrogate the capacity of the Nigerian courts to handle the increasing number of corruption cases and the President’s preparedness to respect the rule of law.

It is even being contemplated whether the country can establish special courts to handle the corruption cases, as well as declare a state of emergency on the pandemic.

In his reactions to these issues, Lagos lawyer and a senior advocate of Nigeria, Norrison Quakers, admonished that the government should not combat corruption frontally at the expense of other areas of the Nigerian polity that needs to be addressed because corruption is not the only problem confronting the country.

He stated further that, if the laws and the enforcement agencies are efficient and effective, the ways and manner corruption is being fought would not have arisen.

“In other developed climes where public officials are found to be corrupt, they will be arrested, prosecuted and convicted accordingly, because it has been entrenched in their system.

That is why people are raising questions concerning the nation’s own prosecutions have become a show. Of course, the aspect of public spectacle is psychological, even when there is also a constitutional provision that anyone who is arrested for an offence is presumed innocent until proven guilty by the law. The aspect of arraigning and displaying to public spectacle is a showcase of guilt which runs contrary to the constitutional provisions. Again, you don’t arrest a man and subject him to detention without trial beyond the constitutional provision of 48 hours”, he said.

Quakers also reacted to non-compliance to court orders by the Federal Government stating that, “If a person had been granted bail and if there are reasons for re-arrest, it must not be for the purpose of the charge for which he had been granted bail.

“ If there are other cases pending against him, the government must first show that he had complied with the order of the court granting the accused person bail, then it can subsequently have another case against him”, he advised.
He pointed out that, this must have prompted the Chief Justice of Nigeria recent order that courts should stop granting remand orders to EFCC.

“In developed countries, when a person is arrested, he will be granted administrative bail. The essence of bail is that you will be present at your trial. But in some instances, you might be denied bail and that is, if you are likely to jump bail or not present yourself for trial”.

To Quakers, ‘it is indeed a welcome development that those who were suspected to have plundered the country’s commonwealth are not treated as sacred cows. But I think the government should also saddle itself with responsibilities from other areas of the economy.

“I believe we should not sensationalize the crusade for ill-gotten wealth, but adhere strictly to the law. In a democratic dispensation the rule of law must prevail and the constitution must be supreme”, he added.

On the change of attitude of the people generally, he stated that: “For the first time in the history of this country, everyone is now conscious and careful of what he does, most especially, government officials. People are now going into government with every sense of responsibility. It is no more business as usual. If this alone is what this government has achieved, I think that is good”.

Corroborating Quakers on the issue of rule of law in prosecuting alleged corrupt people, Dame Ajie said: “In a democracy, in the 21st Century where the rule of law ought to be promoted as alternative to chaos, disorder and dictatorship, President Buhari made a public declaration at his maiden media chat in December 2015, in front of TV camera and denounced subsisting court orders that are unfavourable to him. Many citizens, institutions and the Nigerian Bar Association frowned at him for his disrespect of court orders, as the war against corruption must be won legitimately by applying lawful tools.

“Having taken the Oath of Allegiance to protect the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Oath of office to discharge his presidential duties as distinct from ‘personal’ duties faithfully, in accordance with the Constitution and the Laws of Nigeria without ill-will or personal animosity, President Buhari must respect the revered Oaths he took voluntarily, not being permitted to demonstrate lack of respect for Court Orders or to make puerile attempts to justify it in stating that some persons his regime arrested and detained under dehumanizing conditions against subsisting court orders, must remain so detained. That has been rejected by all civilized nations as it tends to promote anarchy”.

On his on part, Quakers advised government to understand why Nigeria is facing the predicament of corruption and why the people are fighting the war against corruption. He also stressed the need to have a principle that will checkmate public office holders such that it will no longer be business as usual.

“In the United Kingdom, there are laws similar to what we have in the EFCC. But our problem is that these laws are not applicable or implemented as they should. Look at the motto of the EFCC, which reads thus: ‘Whatever you do, wherever you go, EFCC will get you’.

To me it looks like a vindictive provision and I think we should do something to change this impression. Laws are to reform and not to arrest and punish.


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