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Judiciary and corruption (2)

by Dele Sobowale
Laws grind the poor; rich men rule the law
—Oliver Goldsmith, 1728-1774; (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATION, p122).
RECENTLY, China condemned three people to death for manufacturing fake drugs meant to be exported to Nigeria. By so doing, China had in one quick step put a check on those who wanted to get rich by exporting death to Nigeria.

The case from start to finish lasted less than six months. Meanwhile, the Nigerian importers of the fake drugs, who will actually be responsible for marketing those fake drugs, knowing them to be harmful, will, if convicted, and after a protracted court case be sentenced to no more than two years in prison or given an option of fine, so small, as not to constitute a deterrence to future commitment of the same crime.
The recent conviction of Bode George and five others by Justice Oyewole, in Lagos State was remarkable for two things.

First, it was started and finished in a record time, judged by the situation in other cases and in other courts. Second, the judge actually handed down a jail sentence. But, even by the standards of other cases, involving less privileged people, and decided in the same Lagos State, that judgment was perhaps too lenient. People have been sent to ten years in prison for stealing only a fraction of what was reported to have been mismanaged by the NPA gang. Important as that might be, the most infuriating part of the judiciary’s deliberate or inadvertent collusion with those charged by the EFCC is the long delays and the almost hostility the anti-corruption faces in most courts.

James Ibori’s case which has been turned into a charade can serve as proxy for others pending in the courts. This particular case has demonstrated, as no other, how those expensive lawyers, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, and judges have conspired to delay justice. Granted, the great Dr Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784, had pronounced that, “A lawyer has no business with the justice or injustice of the cause which he undertakes”.

But deliberate delay, aimed not so much as arriving at a just decision in a country like our own leads to two unintended consequences. One it emboldens others bent on committing similar atrocities. Two, it discourages those organs – ICPC and EFCC – established to fight corruption. Arraigned on 170 counts in 2008, to which fresh charges had since been added, Ibori’s defence lawyer challenged the jurisdiction of the Kaduna High Court, handling the matter. Ibori lost at the lower court but won on appeal. The case was re-assigned by CJ to Asaba Federal High Court.

The case became a sort of comedy as the trial judge promised twice to deliver judgment only to postpone the judgment date. This has led to speculations that the judge’s “hands might be tied.” Several questions arise from this, but let us ask just two.

Is the judge not aware that “justice delayed is justice denied?” If Ibori is guilty as charged, why is the court afraid to say so? Second, if Ibori has no case to answer, why not acquit and discharge him; not only from the odium associated with being charged as felon but from the trauma of having a stain on his name – assuming he has any to protect? Right now, justice is not being done to the two sides – the people of Delta State whose money is involved and Ibori who continues to parade himself as an innocent victim of malevolent political enemies.

From information available to us, other cases concerning Ibori in London and elsewhere, are held up until the Asaba court decides whether or not he had abused his office. There is also the question of who owns the $15 million with which he allegedly tried to bribe Nuhu Ribadu and which is domiciled in the CBN. Delta state is the third richest state in Nigeria but it can make good use of $15 million any day..

As astonishing as the delays experienced in Ibori’s case is, it pales in comparison with other cases decided or yet to be decided. Lucky Igbinedon was actually convicted by a Federal High Court in Asaba after being arraigned on 191 counts.

Plea bargaining was allowed but given the enormity of the charges, the fine imposed by the trial judge left everyone wondering if His Lordship has any interest in fighting corruption. Igbinedon was handed a small fine which was promptly paid and he walked out a free man despite proof of mismanagement of over N4.3 billion. The EFCC is appealing the verdict.

Ayo Fayose, the former governor of Ekiti state, the poorest in the Southwest and one of the poorest six in Nigeria, was arraigned on counts since 2007. Almost two and a half years after, the substantive case has not been touched. The defence lawyer keeps filing one frivolous application after another in a bid to deliberately prolong the trial. Here again, one is constrained to ask if the trial judge and the defence attorneys realize that for Ekiti State N1.2 million is a fortune.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the SANs representing the accused persons don’t give a damn about the people whose funds have been mismanaged. They also care less that the international community represented here by ambassadors must be wondering if making a “killing” from the cases is more important to our SANs than joining the fight against corruption.

At the moment, over forty high cases are pending and this series of articles will bring to the public’s attention how, in case after case, the bar and the bench are collaborating to impede justice and indirectly to promote corruption. The piece had been written before Thursday’s judgement in the Ibori case.


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