Tightening the noose on corrupt officials
THEY have the noose; they have the criminal; but tightening the noose has always been the major hurdle. Sometimes, in the course of trying to gather the required momentum, the criminal escapes or get a ‘slap on the wrist’ for crime against the state and fellow countrymen and women.
Indeed, the road to securing justice for anti-corruption agencies has continued to be long and sometimes tortuous with little or no gain at the end.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has had course to blame the frustrating process on the judiciary, particularly defense lawyers who seek injunction and apply other means to exploit inherent loopholes in the lawyer to scuttle justice in cases involving their clients standing trails for corruption related cases.
For some years, EFCC, miffed by the situation, has been calling for the overhaul of the criminal justice system in Nigeria. This is for good reason due to the way corruption cases such as those involving former governors, former bank chiefs and other high profile government officials drag on endlessly. This was after the bid by its former chairman, Farida Waziri, for special courts for corruption cases failed at the National Assembly. The failure of the Bill may not be unconnected with the fact that it could sound the death knell on some of the legislators who have cases with the EFCC.
The leadership of the EFCC has continually lamented about cases against some former governors, which have been in the courts for upward of seven to nine years without the commencement of trial due to the delay tactics of their counsels in filing frivolous applications that challenge the jurisdiction of the courts.
According to the Chief of Staff of the EFCC, and the Director of Legal and Prosecution, Kayode Oladele and Chile Okoroma, who spoke in separate interviews with The Guardian, these cases are taken up to the Supreme Court in a bid to waste time and evade justice.
Despite these delays, the EFCC has continued to investigate cases, made arrests and keep the case files at the doors of the judiciary in the hope that, with time, the judiciary will wake up to its responsibility of giving Nigerians speedy justice.
The most recent of such investigations being carried out by the EFCC involve former and serving governors who will lose their immunity at the end of the current dispensation. Others are serving members of the National Assembly, as well as former Heads of Service of the Federation.
To ensure that the targets are brought to book, the EFCC has signed Memoranda of Understanding with 12 international law enforcement agencies with which it will be collaborating on training, information sharing and joint operation so that indicted individuals do not escape outside the country after the elections.
The Memoranda of Understanding were signed with agencies such as the Metropolitan Police of the United Kingdom, the French Police, Australia Federal Police, The Global fund, United States Federal Trade Commission, West Australia Police, the World Bank, Africa Development Bank, Higher Authority against Corruption and Related Offences (HALCIA), Niger Republic, British Serious Fraud Office and Economic Crimes Network of New Zealand in January While speaking at the brief signing ceremony with the Metropolitan Police of the United Kingdom, chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, lamented the delayed trial of high profile corruption cases in the courts
However, the judiciary took a positive stance last week by ordering two of such long standing cases for trial. In one week, the Supreme Court ordered the former aviation minister, Professor Babalola Borishade and former governor of Plateau state, now senator Joshua Dariye to go and face trial in their different corruption cases.
This move is somewhat a form of victory for the anti corruption course in Nigeria. It is worthy to note that as the judiciary in Nigeria seems to have woken up to tackling corruption cases with vigour, same is being done in the international community.
For instance, just as the United States of America has been dealing with some of its corrupt officials through convictions in the past weeks, the United Kingdom, which ranks highly on the Transparency International corruption perception index, is also doing a lot more to ensure it does better; by launching its anti corruption plan as part of the new year moves to keep corruption at bay in the UK.
In the past weeks, the American judiciary sentenced former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell, and wife, Maureen to prison terms after finding them guilty on 11 counts related to public corruption.
Though the two years is said to be a much shorter sentence than the 10 to 12 years that prosecutors had asked for, it was a way of sending a message to the public and to the world, that corruption will not be condoned by human civilization, no matter who is involved.
Though America has a long list of public officers who had been convicted on public corruption spanning decades, McDonnell is reported to be the first Virginia governor ever sent to prison for corruption. Mcdonell’s wife, Maureen has since been sentenced to one year prison term.
Both were sentenced for accepting about $177,000 in gifts and loans from Richmond businessman Williams in exchange for government favours as he sought to market a dietary supplement. It would be recalled that the UK government recently announced its plan to fight corruption both at home and abroad.
]The plan which is contained in the UK Anti-Corruption Plan, with over 60 actions for government and partners, gave strategic direction for all anti-corruption activity and promises greater collaboration and consistency across the public and private sectors.
Through this plan, highlights are given to reflect safeguards that will be reinforced within key sectors and institutions, including the criminal justice system and associated professions. With the Plan, the UK government seeks to bring to justice, individuals involved in bribery and corruption, or those who hide their illicit assets in the UK.
Corruption is bad for sustainable development, bad for those who live in poverty and bad for business. It causes huge damage, particularly to developing countries, diverting and wasting precious resources. Corruption is often at the root of conflict and instability. The uncertainties of bribery stifle business development and inward investment. Action to tackle corruption overseas needs to take place both directly within our partner countries and internationally to strengthen the global ‘architecture”, the document read, sending much signal to Nigerians and other nationals, who are in the habit of stealing public funds from the home base and laundering them in properties abroad.
The Plan is focused on areas such as the Police, Prisons, Borders, central government employees, the Defence, contract awards, public procurement, the private sector, aid programme, sports sector, among others, as potential sectors where corruption can be held down.
“Corruption is bad for sustainable development, bad for those who live in poverty and bad for business. It causes huge damage, particularly to developing countries, diverting and wasting precious resources. Corruption is often at the root of conflict and instability.
The uncertainties of bribery stifle business development and inward investment. Action to tackle corruption overseas needs to take place both directly within our partner countries and internationally to strengthen the global ‘architecture”, the document read, sending much signal to Nigerians and other nationals, who are in the habit of stealing public funds from the home base and laundering them in properties abroad.”
Some of the strategies it plans to use include promoting corruption risk assessment, recovering stolen assets and tackling illicit financial flows linked to corruption; as was done in the case of former governor of Delta state, James Ibori who is currently serving jail term in the UK.
“We know that corrupt foreign officials target the UK, its financial institutions and professional services to launder their misappropriated funds and stolen assets. Tackling illicit finance is a key priority for the UK. The Serious and Organised Crime Strategy sets out how the government will make it even harder for individuals either based in the UK or overseas, to move, hide and use the proceeds of crime”, the document read.
A UK member of parliament, Matthew Hancock said in defence of the anti corruption plan that, as host to one of the world’s largest financial centres, the UK has a moral duty and global responsibility to ensure that corrupt officials and organised criminals do not abuse the systems.
“We are one of the least corrupt nations on earth, but we want to do more”, he said. Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Ekpo Nta, whose agency began the preventive strategy to corruption through risk assessments and system study reviews in the various sectors in Nigeria a few years ago, said in an interview that “those rated highly by Transparency International, are not resting on their oars. They are working hard to do even better”.