Collapsed corruption cases in Nigeria point to weaknesses in justice system – lessons for Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 July 2018:

Sierra Leone’s newly elected SLPP government led by president Julius Maada Bio is entering uncharted waters, with the publication of its investigation report into the management of the country’s affairs by the former APC government of president Koroma.

The report is replete with instances of massive corruption by ministers and officials. Over a billion dollars is estimated to have either been stolen or misused, according to the report.

On Thursday, 5 July, the former vice president Victor Foh and the former minister of mines – MInkailu Mansaray, were arrested and later granted bail.

Both are accused of corruption and abuse of office, awaiting court trial.

The people of Sierra Leone are anxious to see that those found guilty of corruption are sent to prison.

But many are apprehensive about the country’s weak justice system.

There is very little trust in the police, law officials and judges.

All those whose names are in the government transition team report have been told to submit their travelling documents to the police; and police said they will ensure that they do not leave the country. But already, several have left the shores of Sierra Leone, including the former president.

The newly appointed head of the Anti-Corruption Commission – Francis Ben Kaifala has declared war on corruption and sounds very confident of winning the fight. But cynics are already doubting whether those accused in the government’s report will ever face justice.

But as Oludara Akanmidu writes in theconversation.com,  Nigeria is failing to prosecute banking executives charged with fraud due to deep weaknesses in the justice system.

So what lessons can be learned from what is happening in Nigeria, if the authorities in Sierra Leone are to successfully prosecute those reported to have committed serious crimes relating to misappropriation of public funds and abuse of public office?

This is Oludara Akanmidu’s report:   

Nearly ten years ago the Central Bank of Nigeria conducted a deep assessment of the country’s banks. The 2009 exercise exposed large-scale fraud committed by a number of CEOs.

To save the banking system from collapse, the Central Bank took over a number of institutions and spent billions saving others. In addition, criminal charges were laid against five CEOs for offences which included fraud, market manipulation, concealment and grant of credit facilities without adequate security.

Only one case has been prosecuted successfully. The others appear to be stuck in an unending cycle of dismissals, appeals and re-trials.

The bank saga and the failure to bring the bank executives to justice underscore the fact that the Nigerian justice system isn’t working.

The problems – the subject of a great deal of discussion – range from judicial corruption to a lack of judicial independence to delays in the justice system.

The cases of the bank executives provide a useful case study through which to examine the weaknesses of the Nigerian judicial system.

These include the capability of prosecutors and the ability of the court system, including judges, to actually bring cases to fruition. This is particularly true in corporate cases which are often difficult to prosecute under the criminal law.

Judicial Corruption

The fact that Nigeria has a number of corrupt judges is common knowledge in the country. Over the years, there have been various allegations of corruption in the judiciary.

In 2013, two High Court judges were suspended and recommended for retirement by the National Judicial Council for misconduct bordering on corruption.

Similarly, in 2016, a raid carried out by the Department of State Services revealed that cash worth USD$800,000 had been found in the homes of senior judges suspected of corruption.

Judicial corruption reduces public confidence in the country’s justice system. This means that suspected incidents of directors’ misconducts are less likely to be reported given the prevailing belief that justice is unlikely to be served.

Similarly, it can affect the attitude of investigators and prosecutors who might have less incentive to investigate and prosecute cases diligently.

While it would clearly be an exaggeration to accuse all judges in Nigeria of corruption, it is reasonable to conclude that corruption remains a problem.

But since none of the judges involved in the trial of the bank executives have been accused of corruption, it’s necessary to look to other causes for the failure to bring the bank executives to book.

Delays in the justice system

One of the main problems in the bank executive cases has been endless delays in the judicial process. The trials’ time line tells the story.

Criminal proceedings started in 2009. About six years later, in 2015, the Court of Appeal struck down the case against two of the executives on the basis of lack of jurisdiction of the trial court.

A declaration of lack of jurisdiction means that the court lacks the power to try the particular case. In itself this isn’t a bad development. After all, compliance with relevant rules on jurisdiction is essential to ensuring justice is done.

But the fact that it took six years for this decision to be reached highlights severe delays in Nigeria’s court system.

Following the Court of Appeal’s decision, the High Court, in deference to the superior court, dismissed the pending case against the third bank executive.

In another turn of events, a year later, in 2016, the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision and ordered a re-trial of the bank executives. This meant that, nearly 10 years after the initial trial, a fresh trial was started, and with it room for further appeals.

There is currently no end in view. While appeals and cross appeals are inevitable parts of litigation, the lengthy time spent on them is not.

This delay has been attributed to several factors. Initially, the trials suffered from several unwarranted adjournments at the request of the defence lawyers.

Another weak spot has been the prosecuting authority. The unit responsible for prosecuting these kinds of cases, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, has been severely criticised for its inefficiencies.

To worsen the problem, the trial judges were changed several times. One judge was elevated to the Court of Appeal while a few others were transferred to different divisions of the court leading to a fresh trial each time.

These issues significantly delayed trial proceedings.

Potential inequality

Another question to consider is whether the failure to successfully prosecute the directors is a reflection of the difference in the treatment of high-profile offenders versus ordinary Nigerians.

Cecilia Ibru, the only bank executive who was convicted, was sentenced to just six months in prison and required to forfeit shares and other assets worth over USD$1.2 billion.

Compare this with the case of David Olugboyega, an armed thief, who was sentenced to death after being found guilty of a £50 robbery.

Granted that armed robbery carries the death penalty, however, it seems that carting away millions of money should attract a stiffer penalty.

In addition, rich offenders can afford well skilled lawyers who can devise different strategies to delay, or prevent, successful prosecution. Poor offenders don’t have this benefit.

The recently introduced Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015, which aims to promote speedy dispensation of justice, promises to improve the situation. Time will tell.

About the author

Oludara Akanmidu is a Lecturer in Law at De Montfort University.

2 Comments

  1. Your article is useless and baseless about Nigeria, any country that compares itself to Nigeria or uses it as a reference, always falls like a dying tree.

    Stop compelling small Sierra Leone with Nigeria, Your country will ever fail. You are a stupid and local journalist, try to travel to Nigeria and you will keep quiet.

    We only have politicians who are corrupt; you are talking about Obasanjo reign; he was not fighting corruption, he was witch hunting and he destroyed many things and that is what SLPP will do.

  2. There may be many similarities between Sierra Leone and Nigeria apart from the facts that they are both African countries and there are many Sierra Leoneans who can claim direct Nigerian ancestry – thanks to slavery and other factors.

    But since independence from the British in the 60s the two countries have plotted different courses – casting aside military coups and counter coups. Nigeria, it seems,has managed to somehow plot a more progressive course than Sierra Leone in nearly all spheres including militarily.

    The Nigerian Military commander, Maxwell Coby, epitomised this claim when he drove Johnny Paul Koroma out of Sierra Leone, having told the BBC before then, that if the order came from Lagos [presumably Dodan Barracks] for him to take Freetown he would – and he did. By this time the Sierra Leone army was not even a shadow of its former self.

    However when it comes to official corruption Nigerians have always had trouble to stamp it out because of its level of sophistication and lack of political will and thoroughness, supplemented by a lack of any oversight to discern what the judges are up to.

    Sierra Leone will only fail this time if President Bio turns out to be a wimp just like Ernest Koroma before him, that is now being exposed as perhaps the worst thief we have ever had as president.

    To ensure that the jurists now being empaneled to investigate those on the list drawn up by the transition team and execute their duties professionally, President Bio should create a team that would shadow them on all technicalities of the law to avoid arbitrary conclusions and bias which could lead to unfair exculpation or indictment.

    Certainly this costs money, but everything should be done to make corruption a taboo in the future unlike what became the norm under Siaka Stevens, Joseph Momoh and Ernest Koroma. This time convicts should face the real prospect of spending some time in jail – only then can mother Sierra Leone be saved.

    I believe we have jurists locally who can stand up to the best the world can produce, if offered the conducive environment.

    This is why I believe President Bio should bring Charles Margai back to his side in some anchoring capacity. The man fears no one and could make fully grown men tremble in their trousers while sweating blood.

    You don’t want to stand alone in this fight President Bio .It is quite possible that Nigeria continues to fail to fight corruption because of this.

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