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The burden of prosecuting high profile corruption cases

| May 14, 2012 More

It was disgusting to the ears when the news broke on May 3, 2012, that a certain Adamu Abubakar who was arrested on March 19, 2012 at Darazo Market in Bauchi State while trying to spend a fake N500 note with an orange seller in the market was on May 2, 2012 sentenced by Justice M. T. Salihu of the Federal High Court sitting in Bauchi. From the news report, Adamu (a.k.a. Damina Suruku), 18, was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. He was found guilty on a four-count charge of dealing, altering and being in possession of fake Nigerian currency notes, charges which were brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Also recently, one Sani Ahmed was remanded in prison custody by Justice B. O. Quadri of the Federal High Court, Gombe, on a two-count charge of counterfeiting and being in possession of counterfeit N1000 note. Ahmed was apprehended at a business centre in Gombe metropolis where he was found to be using a computer to scan the N1000 note, which he would then print out, cut, and trim to size.

As commendable as these efforts may be, many Nigerians are of the opinion that the EFCC’s effort in ensuring that smaller thieves are sent to jail is not replicated in the way the agency has handled high profile cases involving not a few former governors whose cases are in various courts in Nigeria. Some of these high profile cases have lingered for over six years; yet some have not progressed beyond the plea stage.

The truth is that, unlike the ‘smaller’ corrupt public and private officials who have not stolen enough to secure the services of senior advocates of Nigeria (SANs) as defence counsels, the high profile corrupt officials hire as many SANs as possible, pay them millions of naira to bamboozle the judges with legal technicalities and continue to prolong their trial, even when they are convinced that they are irreversibly on the path of perdition. Some of the high profile cases that have suffered severe setback from the time of arraignment till date include those of ex-Governors Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), and Abubakar Audu (Kogi).

On April 27, 2012, the EFCC secured a landmark victory in its suit against Orji Uzor Kalu at the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, when the panel of three justices, led by Ejembi Eko, struck out the appeal by the former governor and his company, Slok Nigeria. The judge further ruled that the ex-parte order of May 31, 2007 by Abia State High Court asking the Federal High Court to stay all proceedings against Orji Uzor Kalu was a racquet suit aimed at frustrating his arrest and subsequent prosecution. Kalu has the services of Awa Kalu (SAN) and others.

On March 3, 2010, the EFCC arraigned Abdullahi Adamu, former governor of Nasarawa State, alongside 18 others on a 149-count charge of fraud to the tune of N15 billion before Justice Ibrahim Buba. Buba was later transferred to Asaba and replaced with Marcel Awokulehin. On Tuesday, April 27, 2010, Justice Awokulehin voluntarily withdrew from presiding over the fraud case, citing personal reasons and in conformity with his conscience. Justice David Okorowo took over the case and the accused filed a motion asking for the quashing of the case against them. But the judge in his ruling said the former governor had a case to answer, a development which made Adamu and his co-travellers to file an appeal, followed with a stay of proceeding motion while the appeal lasts. On March 3, 2011, the EFCC filed a 15-paragraph counter-affidavit opposing the application for stay of proceedings. Between May 24, 2011 and September 28, 2011, the case suffered four adjournments without hearing due to pre-election matters. In appeal number 123/2011, the ex-governor is at the Makurdi Division of the Court of Appeal challenging the ruling of the Federal High Court. Three times the case was mentioned; three times the judges did not sit to hear it. The case was again adjourned till June 5, 2012. Adamu boasts of the services of counsels like Abdullahi Ibrahim, M. E. Ediru and Onyechi Ikpeazu, all SANs.

Yet another is Jolly Nyame, who was first arraigned by EFCC on July 13, 2007, on a 41-count charge of stealing, criminal breach of trust, diversion of public funds, bribery and misappropriation of funds to the tune of N5.5 billion belonging to Taraba State government. The ex-governor immediately sought to quash the charges against him as he filed an application on October 10, 2007 claiming there was no prima-facie case against him and that the court lacked jurisdiction to try him. But Justice Adebukola Banjoko dismissed the application for lacking in merit. However, Nyame proceeded to the Appeal Court, which equally dismissed the application on February 24, 2010. He further went to the Supreme Court to seek the same relief. Upholding the ruling of the lower court, the Supreme Court, in its ruling read by Justice Olufunlola Oyelola Adekeye, said that the FCT High Court has jurisdiction to try Nyame. The ability to proceed to the apex court and come back to continue trial at the high court while still keeping the services of the SANs is an evidence of the former governor’s financial war chest. The case has been adjourned till May 24 and 25, 2012 for continuation of trial at the High Court of the FCT, Abuja.

Abubakar Audu, ex-governor of Kogi State, was originally arraigned on November 30, 2006 on an 80-criminal count charge of fraud and embezzlement of public fund to the tune of over N4 billion while he was governor of Kogi State between 1999 and 2003. The charge suffered several setbacks as he had thrice proceeded to the apex court and returned to the High Court of Kogi State where his trial is on-going before Justice Saidu Tanko Husseini. His lead counsel, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), had asked the court to adjourn the case sine-die since the case was before the Supreme Court. But prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, told the court that Audu has employed several delay tactics to frustrate the case for six years. Among such tactics, Jacobs said, was a medical letter the defence counsel read to the court on March 31, 2011, purportedly written by the accused person’s doctor that Audu would be hospitalized for 30 days, when in fact he was on his gubernatorial campaign train.

It would be recalled that the court had on January 24, 2012 refused the application for stay of proceedings in the N4 billion corruption charges against the ex-governor. But at the resumed hearing of the case on April 24, 2012, the court registrar, one Rasheeda, came to inform the court that Justice Husseini was indisposed and therefore would not be able to sit for the day’s proceedings. The case now comes up on June 6, 2012 for continuation of hearing.

There is no doubt that the process of bringing high profile corrupt officers to book is not as straightforward as many Nigerians assume it should be. The EFCC is understandably at its best in the prosecution of high profile cases in Nigeria, in view of circumstantial and environmental challenges being faced. There is congestion of cases – or it is made to be so – particularly criminal cases in the regular courts at various levels. As it stands, the much talk about special court for corruption cases, as being discussed by the leadership of the apex court, remains the only way out as the benefits are self-evident.

The initiative, no doubt a novelty, is meant to enhance the war against corruption by facilitating speedy conclusion of corruption cases within a reasonable period. Second, it will restore public confidence in the anti-corruption war and the judicial system under which it is being prosecuted. However, like all public policies and programmes, the success of the initiative will depend on the implementation. Nigerians are waiting, and sooner than later, all the former governors who have cases to answer, like James Onanefe Ibori, former governor of Delta state, will be brought to book.

Category: Bauchi State News

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