EFCC and its fight against corruption in courts
Nigeria has witnessed a tremendous increase in the activities of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), against alleged corrupt individuals in the past two years.
With the coming of President Muhammadu Buhari into power with his anti-corruption crusade, EFCC has been instrumental to the arrest and prosecution of several alleged corrupt persons.
Although the upbeat in the activities of the Commission has been applauded by some sections of the society, some others tagged it a reaction to the body language of Mr. President, and targeted at political enemies, due to alleged lopsidedness that characterised the arrests.
Undaunted by mixed public perception, EFCC has carried on with the raid, arrests and prosecution of several Nigerians in the wake of the present administration.
Aside EFCC, the Department of State Security Service (DSS) has also joined in the crusade to rid the country of corrupt individuals by arresting and charging several accused persons to court.
The implication of this development was an increase in the number of high profile criminal cases in various courts across the country.Unfortunately, two years down the lane, the Commission could scarcely boast of any conviction in several high profile cases charged to court in the last two years, except that of former Governor of Adamawa State, James Bala Ngilari, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment without the option of fine on March 6, by a High Court in Yola.
Ngilari was found guilty of corruption charges leveled against him by the Commission in September 2016.The Acting-Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, had described the conviction of an ex-governor for corrupt misconduct committed, while in office as a step that showed a renewed determination of the Commission to fight corruption.
“We have just convicted an ex-governor. So, there is improvement. There has never been the conviction of an ex-governor”, Magu had stated shortly after.But considering the number of arrest made by the Commission and the sensation that accompanied their arrests and consequent arraignment, many have wondered about the delay in prosecution and low conviction of the high-profile corruption cases.
This, no doubt, has become worrisome, given what some Nigerians described as poor investigation and media trial.Aside other factors that may pose some challenges to the Commission, such as sluggish judicial system and lacuna created in the Constitution as well as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2014), which create opportunities for endless adjournment and other privileges to the accused, many still held that proper investigation prior to arrest will guarantee, not only more convictions but also, quicker dispensation of justice.
While President Buhari, in one of his outings stressed that “when cases are not concluded, the negative impression is given that crime pays”, experts maintain that unless the accused is confronted with facts, conviction remains a mirage.
It was perhaps, to facilitate prosecution and likely conviction that necessitated federal government’s establishment of a 20-man National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC), headed by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The Committee, which was inaugurated May last year, was charged with the responsibility of ensuring effective prosecution of corruption and other high-profile criminal cases in the country.
To facilitate the Committee’s task, it was gathered that the Justice Ministry created 20 prosecution teams with four members each and had requested all agencies exercising Police powers to recommend five experienced investigators to support the committee’s work.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ozekhome, blamed both the delay in the prosecution and low rate of convictions in the high profile corrupt cases, not only on lack of proper investigations but also on ill motives.
According to him, the anti-graft agency places the questions before answers and presumed the accused guilty before trial, through the instrumentality of the media.
He said: “EFCC has not been able to secure more conviction because the trials are politically motivated and are done in the media without proper investigation.
“So, they convict people on the pages of newspapers, in the television and on the social media, and by the time they finally go to court, you discover that there are no evidence to convict the people. That is the reason their cases collapse like a pack of cards.”
The SAN added that in a society where the accused is presumed innocent until found guilty by the law court, investigations ought to have been diligently carried out even before the accused is invited by the prosecuting authority for questioning.
“Truth is that our criminal justice system, under Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution, provides that the innocence of the accused is presumed until found guilty. It is different from the French Model where the accused is presumed guilty until proven otherwise.
“Under Nigerian law, you must prove a case against an accused person beyond reasonable doubt.“Any doubt is resolved in favour of an accused person because it is better for 10 gentlemen to escape justice than for one innocent soul to be unjustly convicted.
“So, what EFCC does is to work from the answers to the questions rather than from the questions to the answers. They first detain a person before they start investigation so as to wear out the person and make him to incriminate himself”, Ozekhome said.
He further described the anti-corruption crusade of the present administration as a collective attack on perceived political enemies and critics of government.
“Otherwise, why, in a sane society, would you detain a person like former governor Gabriel Suswam of Benue State for nearly three months without granting him bail?
In civilized countries, you first investigate the matter thoroughly, then you pick up the suspect and ask him questions based on the investigation and within the next 44 to 48 hours, you are charging him to court.
“But here, they will first detain the person before they will begin to look for evidence they will use to prosecute the accused. Such a dubious system, which is collective, especially against opponents and critics while you are shielding those in your government who have been serially accused with serious allegations, some even indicted by state judicial panels, such a system cannot work.”
“So, cases must continue to crumble because they are never properly investigated. That also means that government fights corruption within the system by using sweet-smelling perfume while fighting corruption against enemies, oppositions and critics using insecticides and pesticide.
“That is the reason the anti-corruption war has not caught up fire. They have made the war like us against you; you people against we people. Today, the anti-corruption war does not belong to Nigerians, it belong to few people in government.
“As far as I am concerned, there is no anti-corruption war, what is happening is recovering of illicit loot from people, especially politicians and their military collaborators. That is not necessarily fighting corruption because as you are doing that, you have not put in place, structures to prevent further corruption. In fact, corruption today is stronger than it was before. It now walks on its hands, legs, heads and buttocks because it is not controlled,” Ozekhome said.
Agreeing with the SAN on the issue is an Abuja based lawyer, Mr. Jeph Njikonye. He equally attributed low conviction mainly on hasty arrest and trial. According to him, most of the investigations leading to arraignments were not effectively carried out.
Njikonye said: “Some of the investigations that resulted in arraignments were done hastily. When this is done, there might not be available evidence to secure conviction.”
He also believed that another reason the Commission has not made appreciable impact in the area of conviction is because some of the cases were mere political witch-hunt without and as such, lacked necessary evidence for conviction.
“Some of the prosecutions were also political, where there are no material evidence to prosecute at the first instance and the prosecution is initiated probably to track down supposed political opposition. These are some of the factors that have impacted on the inability of the prosecuting authority to secure necessary convictions.”
Njikonye however stated that it would be wrong to believe that every prosecution will lead to conviction. “But I must point out that it is not mandatory for the prosecutor to secure conviction at all cost and by all means. Probably, what happens mostly is that midway into the case, it is dawn on the prosecution that there are no enough evidence to secure conviction, then, it slows dawn the process. But all the same, conviction is not secured by all means. The prosecution must provide evidence beyond reasonable doubts,” he maintained.