This concluding part of the report focuses on the clamours for the creation of special courts for corruption trials and the credibility of the trials.
By Mike Ebonugwo & Bartholomew Madukwe
DELAYED trials: Sign of corruption fighting back — Quakers, SAN
Also speaking on the matter, a legal luminary, Norrison I. Quakers, SAN, had this to say: “Overtime, in prosecuting the anti-corruption agenda of the Buhari led-administration, a cause for concern has always been the dreaded forces of corruption fighting back with media reports of mind-boggling revelations of criminal diversion of public funds even within the present administration despite several ongoing criminal trials of politically exposed persons, PEPs.
This led to the introduction of the ‘Bill For An Act To Protect Persons Making Disclosures For Public Interest And Others From Reprisals’, also known as ‘Whistle-blowers Bill’, the Witness Protection Programme Bill and the Bill on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Between Nigeria and other Foreign States.
“Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015 has made laudable provisions to curtail delays in criminal justice administration. Section 396 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 provides that upon arraignment, the trial of the defendant shall proceed from day-to-day until the conclusion of the trial.
“Where day-to-day trial is impracticable, the Act provides that parties shall be entitled to only five adjournments each. Similarly, Section 306 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 prohibits any stay of proceedings in criminal trials.
Creation of special courts
“Whereas, there has been clamours for creation of special courts to combat corruption, there is need to have a cursory understudy of some underlining factors fanning the flames of corruption. Remarkably, a strikingly abysmal investigation by the prosecuting agencies provides a veritable avenue for defence attorneys in discharge of their responsibility to their clients by virtue of the Cab Bank Rule guiding legal practitioners and the Constitutional Presumption of Innocence of an accused to make a convincing argument in view of the onus of proof beyond reasonable doubt strapped to the prosecution like the hangman’s noose.
“Of note, the duties and responsibilities of a lawyer to his client, are aptly captured in the words of the iconoclast- Lord Denning (Master of the Rolls), C. A. England 195 viz:
“The duty of counsel to his client in a civil case or in defending an accused person is to make every honest endeavour to succeed.
He must not knowingly mislead the court either on the facts or on the law, but short of that, he may put such matters in evidence or omit such others as in his discretion he thinks will be most to the advantage of his client.
So also, when it comes to his speech, he must put every fair argument which appears to him to help his client towards winning his case. The reason is because he is not the judge of credibility of witnesses or of validity of arguments.
He is only the advocate employed by the client to speak for him and present his case, and he must do it to the best of his ability, without making himself the judge of its honesty. Cicero makes the distinction that it is the duty of the judge to pursue the truth, but it is permitted of an advocate to urge what has only the semblance of it.
“Of note, the workload of the judges handling criminal trials of politically exposed persons is an issue of concern. So, shouldn’t there be an increase in the number of Judges? Similarly, isn’t there need to decongest our prisons to create room for these politically exposed persons? Should the independence of the judiciary not be re-examined? Is the compensation for whistle blowing considering the risk involved adequate?
“Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 provides that upon arraignment, the trial of the defendant shall proceed from day-to-day until the conclusion of the trial. Where day-to-day trial is impracticable, the Act provides that parties shall be entitled to only five adjournments each.
“Succinctly, sincerity of purpose of all stakeholders in the administration of criminal justice is the panacea for the numerous challenges confronting the speedy prosecution of politically exposed persons in Nigeria today.”
Credibility of the trials
But while acknowledging the anti-corruption stand of the Buhari administration, some observers are wont to disagree with the position that government spirited efforts to bring politically-exposed persons to book through the EFCC and the courts derive from noble and fair motive.
Since 2015, the argument has gained ground in several quarters that the anti-corruption campaign was selective and skewed to punish only vulnerable members of the opposition deemed as having committed acts bordering on fraud and corruption while in public offices.
Indeed, it is said this impression has continued to cast a question mark on the credibility of the trials of the politically-exposed persons and raises issues about whether they are not being persecuted for political reasons.
Apart from that, there are also strong insinuations that politically exposed persons who are members of the ruling APC are treated as sacred cows instead of being prosecuted like others of the opposition parties.
Some critics who share this view claim this was responsible for the increasing trend whereby many members of the opposition PDP have decamped to the ruling party ostensibly to seek protection from EFCC harassment and prosecution in court.
They readily cite the case of a certain former South-South state governor whose protracted trial for alledgedly looting the treasury of the state was speedily dispensed of as soon as he left the PDP to join the APC.
Although the EFCC filed fresh charges and brought 50 counts against him, the judge had freed him without pleas taken.
Elizabeth Korede, a legal expert, is one of those who share this sentiment. While acknowledging that corruption is a very difficult thing to fight, she also posited thus: “The present administration is actually picking on specific people. If this government wants to fight corruption, it should ensure that whosoever is indicted goes through due process, not taking some matters serious and being unserious with some. “Take for instance the appointment of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, Director-General, Mr Ahmed Rufai Abubakar. This is somebody who has ben alleged to have committed fraud. Meanwhile, there are people whose cases weren’t as serious but yet they were sacked”.
It was on the basis of this that she advocates the position that: “Those delayed cases, most of them involve individuals who are opposed to this administration. The Buhari government merely brought back their cases to make it look as if they are serious in fighting corruption”.
Additional report by Wahab Abdulahi