Special Courts For Corruption Cases: To Be Or Not | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Special Courts For Corruption Cases: To Be Or Not

Posted: Sep 11, 2015 at 12:17 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The clamour for the establishment of special courts to try corruption cases has been loud and long drawn. This is not unexpected given that abuse of public funds and other financial malfeasance have been the bane of development in post-colonial Africa. It is more so when those who otherwise should have been punished for their misdemeanours in public office not only seem to have gone scot-free but have become the heroes the society worshipped.

Editorial cartoon

Editorial cartoon

It is said that oil-rich Nigeria has lost not less than a whopping $700bn to official corruption since independence. No other career or preoccupation seems to be as lucrative as gaining access to public funds via political power.

To the layman on the street, therefore, all members of the political class are glorified felons who, once allegations are levied against them, and whether substantiated or not, must be summarily apprehended and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment or death without any investigation or trial. This is understandable given that as richly endowed with human and material resources as Nigeria, the quantum and quality of social amenities are nothing to write home about.

Yet it is a technical subject that can only be domicile in a technical domain when we talk about bringing wrong-doers to justice. This is because justice itself is tripartite when crime is an issue. There must be justice for the state, justice for the accused person and justice for the victim. The starting point is to have  a clear definition of what constitutes an act of corruption and what does not.  To that extent former President Goodluck Jonathan was misunderstood when he said ‘corruption’ is just a euphemism; and that what is dressed up in the vocabulary is simply the act of ‘stealing’

With the Statutes of General Application that began to apply from January 1, 1900, the Nigerian legal system is adequately founded on the Received English laws. Critics of the various constitutions and laws, which Nigeria has had, might have reasons to condemn the ones that were retroactive and unjust, but with its rich history of learned men at the bar and the bench, the jurisdiction has fared quite well in the sub-region.

In both substantive and procedural laws, the administration of criminal justice in Nigeria is both water-tight and robust enough to ensure that there is no miscarriage of justice. Barring cases of corrupt judicial officers who for pecuniary gains could compromise evidence and investigation, the judicial process is such that matters before the court, with two contending parties, would ensure the punishment of offenders.

One of the things that is seen as aiding corruption in Nigerian legal system is the idea of ‘plea bargain’. It is often condemned as a way in which corrupt public officials escape justice having been given very light sentence after fleecing so much. Yet it is actually the answer to shop-worn aphorism of ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.

As the saying goes that the wheel of justice grinds slowly and steadily. The doctrine and practice of ‘plea bargain’ are as enunciated in Sections 75 & 76 of the Administration of Criminal Act, Laws of Lagos State. It says that after charges have been read and before plea is taken, both prosecution and defence counsel are allowed to plead guilty to the least offence having agreed to restitute on substantial charges. The result is that cases are timely disposed and fast-tracked and endless rounds of litigation are avoided.

It is not every trial that must end up in the conviction of the accused. Otherwise there would be no need for adjudication. And there can be no rule of law in democracy unless the court intervenes. This is the reasoning behind the rule that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty. And the onus of proof in crime is on the prosecution and not on the accused person.

It would therefore be fruitless to think that special courts must necessarily exist to sentence accused persons to prison or death. What is needed is a judicial process that is more responsive to technological developments and a judiciary that is so strengthened in such manner as to guarantee its independence and impartiality.