Lagos lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa, says President Muhammadu Buhari ought to be properly advised on human rights issues amid to the on-going anti-corruption crusade so that he is not accused of vendetta.
Corruption has become a big issue in Nigeria. What is your take?
Apart from the scourge of military coups, no other thing has dealt more harm to Nigeria than corruption.
Once a leader comes in and says ‘I want to fight corruption’, it gingers the people because corruption has led to the collapse of infrastructure and so many other things; for a leader to endear himself to Nigerians, all he needs to do is to assume office and proclaim anti-corruption war.
Have we always had this with past leaders?
Of course, virtually every leader had claimed to attempt to fight corruption.
As a matter of fact, former President Olusegun Obasanjo started this with ICPC and EFCC.
Some people criticised it then that it was not necessary
No. What some of us said at that time was that the two bodies shouldn’t be set up to the detriment of the other agencies of government like the police because the police is everywhere while the EFCC is only in Lagos and Abuja.
Do you agree with the claim that some form of witch-hunting is going on?
When Buhari was campaigning, he made war on corruption a campaign issue and, since he came to power, that has been our national anthem. You wake up in the morning, it is anti-corruption, you go to the toilet, you evacuate anti-corruption and it has now become the only song we hear and it seems to have become a distraction.
We support the war against corruption because it has eaten deep into almost every facet of our national life.
In the judiciary, an emergency should be declared because what is going on there is not normal.
If you really want to fight corruption, the gateway to that battle is the judiciary because the President cannot fight corruption.
When you talk about fighting corruption, you’re talking about the Office of the Attorney General and the courts and the statutory law enforcement agencies like the ICPC and EFCC, but, if you can follow me to the offices of some of these agencies, you will discover that we are not serious about fighting corruption.
In the EFCC office in Lagos, for instance, there are no tables; no electricity; the operatives I’ve met several times using their personal stationeries, personal computers to conduct investigations.
You may want to find out why high-profile cases collapse in court.
Manpower is not enough. There is no method of research to properly investigate a corruption case.
Let me tell you what they do: When you get a Yahoo-Yahoo (Advance Fee Fraudster) person, an ordinary person who has no money, you beat him up, hang him, get confessional statement from him; and the next day he is in court; he has been so intimidated and battered and he has no lawyer. In a week’s time, the case is done away with and you get a conviction.
So what happens in high-profile cases?
Ha, in that instance, when you get a public figure who has resources, he goes there with, maybe, two SANs. So, when he sits with you, he folds his hands, waits for you to bring all the evidence you have. You try to force him to write something, the refuses. So, you carry your half-baked corruption charge against him to court and lawyers pick it and begin to tear it to shreds. Then, in another one week, you come with another amended charge and, the following week, you come again, from 101 counts, you reduce it to 50 and then you reduce it to 10 and eventually the case is struck out. Remember Timi Sylva and Fani-Kayode’s cases. The problem really is not EFCC’s; look at the budget and find out how much was earmarked for the agency.
After the EFCC may have finished – even if it had done a thorough job – you will still take your case to court.
Go to courts in Lagos today, electricity is not there. The average number of cases before a judge in a day is about 50. There is no way a human being can conduct a serious trial of 15 cases in a day.
Let’s talk about the independence of the judiciary
The executive arm of government has hijacked the judiciary.
The judicial workers have been fighting for the past five years to liberate the judiciary because the judiciary in almost all the states is in the hand of the Commissioner for Justice in terms of funding because he who pays the piper dictates the tune. The judiciary must go cap in hand to get its funds from the commissioner. The same thing happens at the federal level.
Most judges in Lagos have an average of 20 judgments (outstanding) to deliver, over 30 rulings. In every country, the executive implements policies and it can seize people’s land by force or imprison people anyhow. But when the judiciary is effective, it curtails the excesses of the executive. Therefore, it is in the executive’s interest to stifle the judiciary by starving it of funds.
A senator has a personal assistant on research, another on media and so on; the same thing for a minister. But go to the court and see what a judge goes through. He sits in the court from 9am to 3pm before he rises and goes to his chambers. Then he starts to research into cases. Check all the lives of the retired Chief Judges in Lagos, they have one form of illness or the other on account of their years in service. We are not caring for these people. Investment is not made in the judges. All we are hearing about this so- called anti-corruption war is about arrests, bail or no bail, handcuffs and so on and, when the cases collapse, you will turn round to accuse the judges of corruption.
What actually is your problem with the anti-corruption war?
During the campaign, a documentary was aired on AIT which some people considered offensive. The PDP, through its spokesperson, hammered Buhari. So, when I saw Raymond Dokpesi in court, I have an idea why he is being tried even though there are allegations against him. I saw the PDP spokesman in court and I understand why. I also understand that in 1985 when there was a coup against Buhari, some officers played prominent roles then and one of them is Dasuki; so I saw him in court and I have an idea why. After Ayo Fayose’s tenure as governor of Ekiti, I expect to see him in the EFCC office. So, people raise the issue of vendetta. We must advise the President correctly.
I cannot understand why people are saying human rights must be subsumed under a war against corruption. We cannot say that people will no longer be granted bail because they are facing corruption charges. Corruption trial, terrorism trial will come under human rights. Felony is a bailable offence.
Section 36 of the Constitution says people are presumed innocent until proven guilty so you cannot just keep people in detention. And the reason is that if the man is found not to be guilty, he would have suffered for an offence he was not guilty of. So you allow him that presumption.
Look at the case of Dasuki. J B Daudu is standing for him. He has been the eye of the law in this country. He was the President of the NBA. Why should any reasonable person expect or think that Daudu would encourage his client to jump bail, knowing the consequences?
It seems we are being hypnotised with this anti-corruption war. Look at the high-profile cases and all you hear are stories about bail or no bail and EFCC arresting this and that but when you get to the real trial you don’t get to hear anything because it would seem the proper investigation has not been done. That is what some of us have been saying and that is what we want reversed – encourage the EFCC operatives to conduct proper investigation. Look, there is nothing in bail. The real deal is when you march your suspects to court and confront them with hard facts.
In one high profile case here in Lagos, bail became the main issue and people were coming to court in ‘Aso Ebi’. Keyamo, standing for EFCC, said ‘grant the man bail on self recognisance and I will face the trial proper. He got a conviction here in Lagos until the Supreme Court upturned the verdict years after.
But when the issue is all about vendetta, ‘oh, he’s the spokesperson of the PDP, let’s put him in handcuffs and humiliate him’, you might not get anywhere. This was a man you arrested in his house and he did not resist arrest. What is going on is not trial.
What do you have against this government because it would seem you have something against it?
Me? That cannot be true. I have no grievance against this government or the war against corruption. We are blessed with the President that we have, a devout Muslim, a well-trained soldier who is disciplined. We are blessed as a nation with the Vice President, a professor of law, a SAN, a pastor in the RCCG, who rose to the highest position of Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice and revolutionised the judicial system in Lagos. But we must guide them right. We cannot say because we have idols in government, then we should shift the goal post of justice. In any clime, we know the conditions under which you can grant somebody bail, but we cannot now say because we are fighting corruption, so we must change the rules arbitrarily and say ‘let the accused prove his innocence’, I cannot support that.
When people went to court in February 2015 to try to stop Buhari from contesting, I was in court in Abuja spending my resources to defend the President that he should be allowed to contest. The judiciary was independent at that time because Jonathan did not interfere.
The Attorney General made a statement that judges are going to be sent to jail because they are granting bail to suspects according to the Constitution!
Some people are of the view that once suspects are granted bail, the case drags on and on and appears never to be concluded?
To prosecute Chief Ibori, the UK government spent millions of Euros, sending investigators, combing virtually all over the world and, by the time the charge was presented, he had no choice, the evidence was overwhelming. Can we do that in Nigeria? How many lawyers does the EFCC have? Only two prominent lawyers are helping EFCC prosecute its cases – Rotimi Jacobs and Festus Keyamo. Any SAN you approach to handl an EFCC case would not agree.
Would you agree to prosecute on behalf of the EFCC?
I have called them to say I am ready so that we can fight this anti-corruption war together but that is a private matter.
But talking about bail, I cannot sit here and encourage what is going on because it would turn round to haunt every other aspect of our lives.
A husband, angry with his wife, can push to lock the wife up because then it would no longer be anti-corruption. It cannot work.
But the gravity of what these people have done, the lost lives, infrastructure deficit?
The gravity of a crime is defined by a charge and the law. In Nigeria today, bail comes in three categories, misdemeanour, felonies and capital offences.
With the law today in Nigeria, any offence is bailable.
What of terrorism? Because there is a debate now on the gravity of terror…
(Cuts in) Look, if you want us to have a debate, that is another matter. But if you are discussing the law, then the law is the law. Human rightm is intrinsic, you cannot remove it from that individual’s being.
I have no problem with anybody being arrested and re-arrested and charged. The reason for the argument on the bail matter is that if somebody is being charged, you must have had your evidence – bank statement and all that – before you even charge him. If the issue is not about witch-hunting or just arbitrary punishment, once you charge him repeatedly over and over, people will see through that and concluded that you are just doing what you’re doing to just punish the individual. The multitude of charges is not a problem for me, bail is not a licence for freedom forever.
What do you expect this government to do that it is not doing?
I would have expected this government to hand over the judiciary to the Vice President to say ‘this is your field, please take it over, reform the judiciary so that when we take a case to court, we can be sure of the outcome’. And please, let us do proper investigation so that when we take a case to court, we would have successfully prosecuted the individual and not all the needless energy on bail and media trial because if the case is not strong and the accused is set free, people will turn round to blame judges for corruption.