EDITORIAL: Establish Special Anti-Corruption Courts Now

In the recent past, Nigerians have been crestfallen by the turn which high-profile corruption cases in the country has taken.

As suspected treasury looters were discharged and acquitted in spite of seeming overwhelming evidence, patriots across the land have been seething with anger, frustration and sadness mixed with a sense of helplessness and a tinge of hopelessness.

And this can be traced principally to two reasons: increased popular awareness that a handful of citizens have corruptly cornered the resources of Nigeria, and a growing popular awareness that the ordinary machinery of justice cannot deal adequately with the situation.

Virtually every day, the media carried reports of stolen billions in local and foreign currencies, and how suspects exploit the weak criminal justice system to evade justice.We recall some of the recent reversals recorded as Government continued its losing streak in high profile corruption cases over the last two quarters:
• the discharge and acquittal of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal of the 18-count charge of false declaration of assets brought against him since September 2015

• the discharge and acquittal of Bala Ngilari, the first Nigerian Governor to be ever convicted of corruption. He had been sentenced to five years imprisonment without the option of a fine on corruption charges

• the unfreezing, on the orders of a court, of $5 million in the Skye Bank account of former First Lady Patience Jonathan

• the lifting of a court-imposed restriction on the account of a lawyer who collected N75 million in legal fees from Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose

• a ruling discharging and acquitting Godsdday Orubebe, former Minister of the Niger Delta, in a N1.97 billion fraud case brought against him.

Of course, almost every Nigerian is now familiar with the story of how in December 2009, a judge, sitting at a Federal High Court in Asaba discharged and acquitted a former governor, James Ibori of the 170-count charge of corruption brought against him. Ibori was to be later hunted down by British authorities, extradited from the UAE to the United Kingdom and convicted on same and related charges. (Some commentators have suggested that the Ibori verdict marked the tipping point for the integrity of Nigerian jurisprudence.)

It is hard to see how corruption can be successfully fought in our regular courts where some judges have specialised in granting interlocutory or perpetual injunctions to restrain the anti-graft agencies and the police from arresting,
investigating and prosecuting politically exposed persons.

Apart from the class solidarity usually extended to politically exposed persons by judges in all capitalist societies, the situation is compounded in Nigeria by judicial corruption and professional misconduct on the part of some senior lawyers involved in the defence of corruption cases.

We applaud Government for coming to the realisation that the anti-corruption battle cannot be won through the regular courts, and for sending to the National Assembly, a bill which provides for the establishment of a Special Crimes Court. This court would serve as a superior court of record to allow for speedy trial of certain offences, including economic and financial crimes, terrorism, money laundering and corruption offences and related matters.

The bill has gone through one reading in the National Assembly and no more. We urge the legislature to give this bill the attention it deserves. Indeed, it is our hope that the bill becomes law by the end of the year.

Given our political patronage system, it is highly unlikely that anything other than the prosecution of the highest-ranking culpable Nigerians will fundamentally alter the deeply-rooted patterns of graft and resultant primitive wealth accumulation of certain elite. Without substantial changes in this regard, the injustices of our country’s corruption problem will persist.

Special anti-corruption courts must be established without further delay. (TNE)

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