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The judiciary, the fight against corruption and the democratic process

By Awa U. Kalu, SAN
IT is not contestable, that this country disentangled itself from military rule in 1999 having witnessed military participation in politics from 1966 through 1979 and then again from 1984 until 1999 as earlier stated. Military rule has had its consequences on the nature of politics in Nigeria. It is also not in doubt that the disentanglement arose from the enthronement of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) over and above all other laws.

Justice Ademola and his wife, Olabowale at Abuja court recently.

The preeminence of the extant constitution raises the presumption that all acts of organs and agents of government, whether Federal, State or Local would be in accordance with the letters and spirit of the Law and the Constitution itself. In that light, when the Obasanjo administration as well as successive administrations anchored their policies on an avowed war against corruption, it was taken for granted that all such policies would be implemented on the basis of an adherence to democratic ethos and norms.

Clearly, the Obasanjo administration was on point when it created a legal and institutional framework to aid the war.

Criticism and  cynicism

For instance, it was during the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo regime that the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were created by statutes. Both enabling statues survived judicial scrutiny of different strata of the judiciary.

President Buhari’s accentuation of the war has certainly led to the acclaim and in some instances criticism and cynicism nationally and internationally in acknowledgment of strides made in widening the theatres of the anti-corruption war, thus warranting the suggestion in same quarters, that the war is going on well. For the avoidance of doubt, the barricades that have been erected to protect the public till have been well received in some quarters yet some concerns remain.

In the interest of the discerning reader, the obvious steps include (but are not limited to); the establishment of an Inter-Agency Asset Tracing team to centralize the management of recovered assets to curb the re-looting and mismanagement of recovered funds. In that connection, the EFCC has been beating its drums of triumph having recovered billions of looted funds.

The Presidential Initiative on Continuous Audit (PICA) was set up by the President to strengthen controls over government finances through a continuous internal audit. There is also the deployment of Bank Verification Number (BVN) for payroll and social programmes including all banking transactions. Reportedly, this has scared so many persons from visiting funds that were hidden in multiple accounts. There is also the New Whistle-Blowing Policy, which encourages innocent ‘bystanders’ who have excellent and verifiable information on the whereabouts of looted funds to blow their whistle. This is in recognition of international best practice designed to establish transparency in the recovery of missing or looted money.

Other fallouts from the intensified war against corruption include; the arrest of Colonel Sambo Dasuki, Ex-National Security Adviser (NSA) to the President whose continued detention despite favourable rulings allowing bail has been greeted with alarm by some human rights activists. More damaging for the image of the war is the raid and arrest of three Supreme Court Justices including the Justices of the Court of Appeal and Judges of the Federal High Court. Of interest is the fact that Justice Adeniyi Ademola was arraigned, tried and was acquitted. In furtherance of the determination of government to wage the war against corruption in a relentless manner, the Federal Government removed from office, Babachir David Lawal who was Secretary to the Federal Government. The Federal Government also sacked the Director General of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency.

More controversial, is that the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information and Culture published a list of alleged treasury looters, which prompted human rights activists as well as numerous Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to question whether there is still a boundary between defamation and transparency in governance. To name and shame a person without giving that person his day in court seems to suggest that government is willing to sacrifice the sacred constitutional principle, which presumes a person innocent of crime until the contrary is shown.

These days, the information highway is busy with traffic at high speed and to railroad somebody who in the end may be innocent unto that highway is a point that requires caution. The gap between innocence and guilt is one that can only be bridged by giving an alleged criminal a chance to test allegations made against him. Given the constraint of space, it is necessary to point out that most of the steps taken in the war against corruption have been challenged in Court and without any shred of doubt, pressure is mounting on our Courts to fashion a judicial policy that in the long run create a balance between cleansing the Augean’s table and ensuring that innocent persons retain their hard earned reputation.

An attempt will be made in a further article to indicate without equivocation that, not much will be gained from bundling every suspect to Court and in that regard, it is recommended that the option of plea bargain which has now found statutory blessing in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act should be fully experimented on for the benefit of the nation.


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