Abuja – Some Nigerians have expressed their views about the use of Plea Bargain to fight corruption in the country.
Among them were Legal experts who spoke on Wednesday in Abuja, saying that Plea Bargain remained an option in the country’s legal jurisprudence to reclaim governments’ stolen funds and property.
They urged relevant authorities to perfect the act in order to reduce spending on prosecution of cases of corruption.
On the widespread assertion that the system often aborted justice, the legal experts said plea bargain provided room for government to recover part of looted funds that could have been totally lost.
Jubrin Okutepa (SAN) said his position before now was that plea bargain in the manner it was being operated was subject to abuse.
Okotepa said there were now defined guidelines and parameter on how people could observe plea bargain and its consequences as put up by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).
The PACAC was set up to scale up advocacy against corruption in private sectors and professional associations as part of efforts to fight corruption.
Okutepa said looking at the guidelines set up by the committee, it would work if there was a will power on the part of the state to push it through and also a will power on their part not to defeat the guidelines by not granting state pardon to the looters.
He called on states to put in place sufficient funds and technological materials that would nip in the bud some of the scientifically organised crimes in terms of money laundering and other corruption related offences.
He condemned the general saying that the plea bargain was a slap on the judiciary.
“Let me correct an impression; judiciary is not a prosecutor, it is not investigator but the judiciary only acts on the cases brought before it.
“So, if the states are serious about fighting corruption then the investigative apparatus must be strengthened, it must not use investigation as a source of income.
Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said plea bargain would save the government the money to prosecute and also save the accused the harassment of standing trials.
He said it was a way of saying that “the loot we have traced to your account, concede certain percentage of it to the government and you go with the rest’’.
“It is better to allow plea bargain to work in our system because a case on such can run for 10 years at the end of which government will lose the case and the looters will smile home with the loot’’.
Balarabe Musa, former Governor of the old Kaduna State in the second republic, described plea bargain as the height of corruption in the system which made the political leadership even more guilty.
Musa said in a civilised country a thief was supposed to be prosecuted and if found guilty, he should be punished in accordance with the law, “but unfortunately Nigerians have coined another way to escape punishment’’.
“Plea bargain is sending a wrong message that everybody is at liberty to steal and once you are caught the worst you can do is to plea bargain with the government or political leadership and in the end you would work away with something substantial.
“If this is not nipped in the bud it will eventually lead to the destruction of the society.
Balarabe recalled that the issue of corruption or any leader stealing public funds and getting away with it was not part of the country’s political game during the period of amalgamation till 1965.
Mr Tunde Aremu, Campaign Manager, Action Aids (Nigeria) said that plea bargain being an option in the fight against corruption was one of the most inappropriate ways to fight corruption.
He said treasury looting had led to the death of so many people in the country.
“When you talk about plea bargain you are telling people that they can steal and there would always be a way out.
“You are saying people can steal money and come back under certain negotiation, conditions and give government a certain percentage and get away,’’ Aremu said.
He said the way forward was that anybody that was caught looting the treasury must face the full wrath of the law, and be sent to jail for stealing public funds.