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As Trial of Ex-Govs Continues : Plea Bargain Is Illegal, Encourages Stealing – Justice Kayode Eso

By Jide Ajani

Eminent retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Kayode Eso, says the concept of PLEA BARGAIN is not only illegal but it also encourages stealing.

The 86-year old jurist made it clear that it is both anathema to an anti-corruption war and it equally sends a corrupt signal about the government’s war on corruption.

Eso spoke just as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC,  explained that the courts have the final say on PLEA BARGAIN.

Meanwhile, fresh posers have emerged regarding the deal disclosed by the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, Mr. Sam Saba, about a “restitution” it entered into with some allegedly corrupt former state governors on its books.

The governors have since been let off the hook, according to the CCB Chairman.
The eminent jurist’s and the EFCC’s positions came amid the trial of some former governors for alleged corruption.

In an exclusive interview with Sunday Vanguard,  Eso pointed out that part of the problem with the war on corruption in Nigeria is the “type of punishment against corrupt public officers”.

According to him, “they have the notion of coming out and say plea bargaining. They bargain with the judge, bargain with the accused person, he returns half of the money, then they give him some hairy-fairy punishment. Go and serve three months in prison and the three months will, of course, be in the hospital.

Justice Kayode Eso

“This is an encouragement for other governors to steal when they come.  There is no plea bargaining in our law. The importation is wrong.

“To me, it is corruption to bring plea bargaining into the law of Nigeria”.
The retired Justice used the “issue of (a former state governor in the South South zone) who was alleged to have stolen billions and billions of naira. They said they had this system of plea bargaining. They asked him to plead to some most minor terms there and then he was fined three million naira which he picked out of his purse and paid there.

It sent a notion that it had been pre-arranged that it would not be more than three million. “Now, after that, they started to gloat and shed crocodile tears and said the punishment was not adequate. Of course, the punishment can never be adequate when they import this issue of plea bargaining.

“Plea bargaining is actually not our law. And they come around and say it is done in other countries; Nigeria is not any other country. Nigeria is Nigeria not just any other country. We never had plea bargaining. It is corruption for anybody who imports plea bargaining into our law”.

In what may be the position of the EFCC, the Commission’s Head, Media and Publicity, Femi Babafemi, explained in an article titled PLACING EFCC MANDATE IN PROPER PERSPECTIVES, that “the contentious issue of plea-bargaining is not an EFCC construct”.

According to him, “It is an issue of global jurisprudence and the local criminal justice system is only adapting it as a practical way of mitigating the effects of corruption on the polity.  Again, the judiciary has the final say on the fate of an accused person seeking plea-bargain”.

Further explaining some of the constraints of the Commission in effectively prosecuting offenders, Babafemi said “to underscore the significance placed on conviction of any accused person, the EFCC has been advocating  the establishment of Special Courts for the trial of all corruption cases. This is a novel proposition which is bound to fast-track judicial processes on corruption cases.  We cannot expect to achieve expeditious resolution of cases of economic and financial crimes through our regular courts unless the rules are amended as in the case of Lagos State”.

In the meantime, fresh perspectives are being introduced into the deal between the CCB and some former state governors who were said to have been let off the hook after the consummation of such deal.

Sunday Vanguard’s earlier publication of an investigation regarding the chasm between some commissioners in the CCB and their chairman, Mr. Saba, and more particularly regarding the Bola Tinubu trial, drew the Chairman to explain that the former governor of Lagos State was not singled out for trial.

During Saba’s press briefing on Tuesday, September 27, 2011, he explained that the CCB decided to drop the cases instituted against some ex-governors after they admitted guilt and made restitution to the Federal Government, specifically naming the former governor of Jigawa State, Saminu Turaki, among those that benefited from the said process.

Though he declined to reveal the identity of other indicted ex-governors who embraced the ‘plea-bargain’ option, the Bureau Chairman ,however, divulged that 15 former governors would soon be charged to court for allegedly lying in the assets declaration forms they filled and filed while in office, adding that some of their assets are currently undergoing intense verification.

“I want to assure you that verification of the assets of some of the ex-governors is still ongoing including that of even those who are still in power”,the CCB Chairman stated

However, in Part One of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution as amended, the illegality of PLEA BARGAIN is brought further home as maintained by Justice Eso.

Section 3, d and e state as follows, that the CCB shall:
“(d) ensure compliance with and, where appropriate, enforce the provisions of the Code of Conduct of any law relating thereto;
“e) receive complaints about non-compliance with or breach of the provisions of the Code of Conduct or any law in relation thereto, investigate the complaint and, where appropriate, refer such matters to the Code of Conduct Tribunal”.

All through the 1999 Constitution, there was no where the issue of discretionary power of the CCB was mentioned, therefore, rendering  Eso’s contention correct.


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