‘Why investigators, prosecutors need to sharpen skills
Such predicament diminishes the sacred public trust on the criminal justice system and defeat government’s policy trust to fight corruption as encapsulated in the campaign promises of the present administration.
The quest to however, resuscitate the key vital ingredient in the adjudication of criminal justice system relies strongly on the success of investigations and prosecutions.
Many advanced systems place ultimate priority in the intellectual and professional capacity of their investigators to deliver effective case files that guarantees smooth prosecution.
Essentially so, investigators perform a crucial function without which cases of criminal prosecution is defeated.
Unfortunately in Nigeria, investigators in almost all the criminal investigative agencies including Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Department of State Security (DSS) Nigerian Police, among other are often not adequately catered for, in terms of capacity building opportunity and improved funding.
In a recent report published by the National Judicial Council (NJC) indicated that the problem of delays of criminal justice administration was partly placed at the doorstep of investigators and prosecutors.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and President of Center for Socio Legal Studies (CSLS) Professor Yemi Akinseye-George who advocated urgent need to equip investigators and prosecutors with modern technology insisted that until the present status of those entrusted to prosecute crimes and criminalities is effectively improved, the fight against corruption may continue to suffer major setback.
Besides, the legal luminary explained that investigators in Nigeria require critical reorientation in handling provision of administration of Criminal Justice Act, for expediting investigations and the use of technology in carrying out investigations.
He added that, improving the effectiveness of anti-corruption agencies, asset tracking and recovery as well as principles and techniques of investigation are basic skills which investigators and prosecutors must be armed with, so as to deliver functional and effective case files.
Professor George spoke recently during National Training of Investigators in Kano, organized by Center for Socio Legal Studies (CSLS) in collaboration with Federal Ministry of Justice.
The professor of public law observed that, part of the challenges militating against successful investigations include the ways crime suspects are being interrogated, a trend capable of retarding the Administration of criminal Justice Act, 2015 provisions for expediting investigation.
“It is worrisome that, there is excessive reliance on confessional statements by investigators and prosecutors to win convictions.
This practice causes delays in trials due to trial-within-trial, which may run into years.
Therefore it is pertinent, for the improvement in our judicial system to adopt new investigative trends, which leverage on modern technology and forensics.
“Lagos state for instance is fast moving away from the analogue method of investigation and is now applying forensic and other scientific technology in the fight against crime.
The state government recently commissioned the first DNA and forensic center in West Africa, to help investigators and prosecutors produce the best quality of evidence in court.
“Solution to all these challenges on prosecution of criminal justice system, is that we have to create a network of investigators across the country and build the capacity of investigators who can share ideas and use the law more effectively.
For instance, there are provisions in the administration of criminal justice Act, which can assist effective investigation, such that before the prosecution goes to court, proper investigation must have been done, even before you arrest a suspect, you must have concluded detailed investigation.
As such, we cannot have effective criminal prosecution without sound investigation.”
According to him, a government that is prioritized the fight against corruption through the rule of law, must ask; who are the investigators, what are the problems they are having, do they have intellectual resources, material and logistic resources to carry out their assignments?
Professor George said the center would continue to call the attention of government to the challenges facing investigators and prosecutors, adding that, having prioritize the fight against corruption, government must sharpen it’s tools through effective capacity building for its investigators and prosecutors.
On how poor attention on the plight of investigators impedes quick dispensation of justice, the SAN said: “The delay in the dispensation of justice cannot be blamed on individuals, but let me say there is a systemic problem which must be addressed because investigators must work with prosecutors, while prosecutors work with courts.
The prosecutors need witnesses and investigators procure witnesses.
“So, all sectors, segments or aspects in the criminal justice system must be taken as part of the system so that none of them become weak link. So everybody has a share of the blame and instead of it becoming a blame game, we most look at how everybody will contribute to solve the problem”.
Contributing to the discourse with The Guardian, a Kano based lawyer, Muhammad Lawal, agreed that investigators need to be trained in modern way of investigation.
So long as they continue to get it wrongly, he said, prosecutors will continue to get it rough in the court because it is based on what the investigators give to them they will use in the court.
His words: “Mostly, our investigators rely on the old method of investigation, in that, when you write a petition to the agency concerned such as the Police or EFCC and they invite you the petitioner to write statement, more often, the next thing they do is to, almost immediately invite the person you write against or arrest him. To me, that is not investigation.
“I think when a petition is written against a person, say a civil servant who has been living above his wages, the first attempt is to start discreet investigation and this is what is obtainable in advanced world.
You find out about the person, where he works, his income, houses, type of cars, property and so on.
When you now get details of all these findings, you can now weigh it with his monthly salaries and that will be after you might have confirmed he has no other job or business which is not illegal.”
According to Lawal, the investigators from the investigation will know whether the petition has merit or not.
He explained that If they find out an account with hundreds of millions, that he has cars worth N70 million, he has houses worth N100millions and all these weigh above his income, then you have a course to invite him and if the need arises, you can then arrest him to answer questions.
He believes that if investigators have all these facts, prosecutors would have watertight case.
Besides the training, he said, there must be a good working relationship between the investigators and prosecutors.
“In the developed countries, investigation will not go on without the input of the prosecutor,” he stated, adding that such would make the prosecutor be at home with all the ingredients of the case.
Also, Theopholus Jibrin, a lawyer pointed out that while lack of basic skills may hamper successful prosecution, major challenge lie in lack of tools to conduct proper investigation, which is readily available in developed countries.
“The problem with EFCC is simple and I can say it anywhere, that apart from their legal department, those people in the investigative section are still the Police and you know the problem of Police in this country.
The same problem the Police have with investigation is the same bedeviling the EFCC.
Whether we like it or not, we must tell ourselves the truth.
The challenges still boil down to favoritism, ethnicity and corruption.
“I’m sure you must have heard our judges lambasting lawyers that they don’t know what to do with a case.
What is the essence of charging someone with 135 charges and you are unable to defend just one of the cases,” he queried.
Jibril noted that most of the investigators end their work on obtaining confessionary statements.
“What if you finally charge the suspect to court and he claimed he made the statement or self confession under duress?
They don’t go further to prove their defence beyond reasonable doubt, even if he has confessed to the commission of the crime,” he pointed out.
He explained that beside the issue of skills and tools, the greatest challenge for Nigerian investigators borders on corruption, favoritism, tribal and ethnic sentiments.
He lamented that a lot of tax-payers money have been sunk on EFCC and Police investigators training abroad without commensurate result on the part of the beneficiaries.
Another Kano-based lawyer, Abdul Adamu Fagge in his own view also believes that part of the problem with investigator’s failure to prosecute their case to a logical conclusion is not because of lack of capacity.
His words: “For me, I want to believe there is political interest dimension to it.
When I say political interest I mean, the kind of pressure that influential people mostly mount on investigators and prosecutors from the top echelon of their agencies largely contribute to failure of most cases.
“I believe if the investigators and prosecutors have institutional powers devoid of interference to carry out their business, the reverse may be the case.
Criminal cases are more delicate and sensitive such that, no matter how long the case may take to reach logical conclusion, it should not be compromised for whatever reason.
“So in a nutshell, investigation most be properly conducted without interference and must be backed with substantial evidences that will be in consonant with your charges.
As far as I’m concerned, I will not say the failure is as a result of lack of skill because I have practically handled a case in defence against EFCC and the way and manner the investigation was conducted, there was no miracle or magic I could put forward to save my client from going to jail.”
In that case, Fagge declared, that the EFCC had not only proved its efficiency, but also proved that there were no interference or influence in the case.
He concluded that in circumstances where the agencies failed, there must have been undue interference or influence from powers that be.