Is this new wave of prosecutions for real?

Is this new wave of prosecutions for real?

Our courts were on overdrive this past week, churning out interesting rulings and judgments. In Kano, the court ordered the former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, and two of his sons to be remanded in prison custody until the next hearing of the case two months away. They are charged for allegedly collecting N1.3 billion kickback (bribe) from Dantata and Sawoe Construction Company.

It was heart-rending, however, for his supporters who, as has become the tradition now with the prosecution of high profile accused persons, held a protest or rally outside the court in solidarity with their principal or ‘hero’. But the judge couldn’t be bothered by such shenanigans. We always see that happen, especially with former governors. I recall how some Nigerians travelled from Nigeria to the United Kingdom to stage similar protest before a London court where former Governor James Ibori was standing trial for money laundering. That did not stop the court from convicting him. And he has remained in jail since then.

Note, however, that Lamido is still a mere accused person until the prosecution can prove its case ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. And that isn’t often a walk in the park. It requires serious work and water-tight evidence while at the same time trying to remove or discredit any doubt that the defence team may raise. It is often easier to destroy a case than build it. This is a fact often misunderstood by the public, hence their disappointment with the judiciary whenever an accused person is not found guilty.

While the Lamidos and their supporters went away crest-fallen, former Governor Ihedi Ohakim of Imo State had a reprieve. He was granted bail in his case where he is being prosecuted for money laundering and failure to disclose all his assets in his declaration submitted to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) during investigation.

Yet in another decision, another court nullified the sham local government elections conducted by then Governor Rotimi Amaechi a few days to the end of his tenure, against every sound reasoning, apparently to spite the next state administration. The court’s decision was to be expected after Amaechi flagrantly went ahead with the elections despite an interim order from the court not to proceed. So now, who takes responsibility for the public funds and precious human resources and other inconveniences suffered as a result of the callous action of the then administration, all in the name of politics?

Back to the Lamido case, one is happy that the EFCC, which for many had been in hibernation, seems to have bounced back to life. But one is also cautious that merely charging accused persons to court is not enough to ‘celebrate’ that corruption is being tackled. We have passed a similar road before. Flash back to 2007 when several of the governors had just completed two terms in office. Nearly all of them were taken to court. They included Lamido’s predecessor, Ibrahim Turaki; Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia, Jolly Nyame of Taraba, Boni Haruna of Adamawa, Joshua Dariye of Plateau, Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu, Adamu Abdullahi of Nasarawa and George Akume of Benue.

Many would still recall the dramatic images of many of those ex-governors being brought to court and then to prison custody in very humiliating manners to the jubilation of hapless citizens who thought it was comeuppance yet. Alas, their excitements were misplaced. Before long, all the accused persons were as free as can be. Some of them were at the time already holding other political offices including sitting as senators.

I have previously observed how we prosecute high profile accused persons in Nigeria. And the pattern often goes this way. The EFCC or similar investigating body hypes about the evidence it has about the accused, dramatically arrests the accused and dramatically brings the accused to court. The drama trends in the media and in gossip centres for a while. In court, the judges would initially refuse bail and after a few appearances they may grant bail because the accused, being a powerful citizen, would have enough high profile friends who can meet the bail conditions as sureties.

At other times, the accused suddenly falls ill (some even collapsed in court) and their defence lawyers would plead that their clients need to undergo urgent treatment in a foreign hospital. That is not surprising since the government officials had since rendered our local hospitals almost useless to attend to serious ailments. In the case of Peter Odili, former governor of Rivers State, he would have none of such. He simply got a perpetual injunction from the court against his prosecution and I am still at a loss as to why the government has not deemed it fit to appeal against that ruling to set it aside.

In any event, after all the drama, just few months after, everybody seems to forget about the entire thing as the trials drag on and on until the case slips away from citizen’s memories and we wait for another round of drama.

The one way to ensure that all the pending cases are speedily and comprehensively disposed off is to have serious-minded, result-oriented and non-partisan persons appointed as attorneys general. But ultimately, we would need to have the proposed amendment of the Constitution to separate the office of the attorney general from that of minister of/commissioner for justice.

First published in The Niche newspaper of July 12, 2015.

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