by Cheta Nwanze
“The EFCC often fail to successfully prosecute high profile criminal cases because aside the fact that they conduct shoddy investigations before rushing accused persons to court, in some cases, up to 200-count charges are brought before the court, a procedure which makes mockery of the constitution and the laws” — Justice Mahmud Mohammed, Chief Justice of Nigeria, 2014 to 2016.
Where do I begin? Things are really bad. So bad that we don’t even know process when it hits us in the face. It’s all well and good catching trips and thinking this is bants, but guys, this shit is deadly serious. When a prosecutorial body does not appear to know that it has a major role to play in securing convictions, then we have a huge problem.
Now let’s look at the latest drama, because that is what all this is.
Announcements are made; people scream and/or hail. In some cases, the accused make it to the EFCC’s offices, maybe are detained for a few days, then they escape with a slap on the wrist. In other cases, noise is made about how much has been seized, then the people are made into monsters, then along the line, the prosecutorial bodies start asking for a secret trial. In still other cases, the prosecutorial bodies come up with a ridiculously high number of counts, seeming to forget that when you take someone up on so many counts, you have to prove each one. When the case is then justifiably thrown out, all sorts of people begin to line up on our airwaves to talk about how corrupt the judiciary is.
Make no mistakes about it, they are right. There is something rotten in our judiciary. However, there is a danger in this single story. The other side of the story, is that there is something rotten as well, in our prosecutorial bodies.
Take the James Ibori saga as an example. In public perception, Ibori was guilty of all the crimes he was accused of. But that is not how the law works. In law, you have to prove, with evidence, that this person did all you accused him of. Never has there, in the history of jurisprudence, save in a kangaroo court, has a court convicted someone, after incompetent prosecution.
In Nigeria, granted there were the shenanigans of creating a special court for Ibori in Asaba, but the fact is this — the prosecutors threw a battery of 187 counts at him at the time, forgetting that when you throw that many, first, from a resource prioritisation point of view, you’ve spread yourself very thin, so you’ve made it easy for the defence to punch holes in your work. It also suggests that you’ve simply thrown everything conceivable at the accused, in the hope that something will stick. That is guesswork, not investigative work. It’s that kind of thing that drives the statement by the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, with which we started this piece.
In the Ibori case, a few years later, the same man was in court in the UK, and got convicted because the Crown Prosecution Service, charged him on only 10 counts.
This is painstaking work, this is competence. The British prosecutors very likely looked at ALL the man was accused of, took a look at the evidence available to them, then decided that 177 of those accusations would be impossible to prove, dropped those charges, focused on the ten, and bingo, they nailed their man.
Just so you will understand that this is how competent investigative and prosecutorial bodies work, let’s quickly, tell the story of Al Capone. Capone was a ruthless killer, leaving a trail of over a hundred bodies. He oversaw the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929. He was a bootlegger. He was a pimp. He was a thief. He bribed judges. He bribed politicians. In the end, he went to prison. Al Capone did not go to prison for murder. He did not go to prison for bootlegging. He did not go to prison for bribery and corruption. He did not go to prison for theft. He did not go to prison for forcing women into sexual slavery. In the end, Al Capone was undone, because the prosecution was only able to conclusively prove, that his income did not match the taxes he was paying. All the other things he did, legally, could not be proven, so the smart prosecution left them alone.
Now, let’s talk about the foolishness that we are seeing in the current media trials. Our government organs here, know that the Nigerian proletariat is two things — emotional, and badly educated. Emotional in the sense that when they throw out stories of monies seized, people react immediately. Badly educated in the sense that the few times we do ask questions, we tend not to ask the right questions. So they capitalise on this, and do their media trials, winning some sort of moral victory, but never getting the high profile convictions necessary to serve as a deterrent to other would be treasury looters. The EFCC, as an example, has not had a high profile conviction of a government official since Tafa Balogun, yet rather than blame their own lack of diligence, they are quick to undermine our judiciary.
We do not want to see what happens when the judiciary collapses. We have had a judiciary that despite not being effective, has managed to keep a lid on so many of the man bites dog cases we see in our customary courts. It appears we are finally about to unleash the dragon of anarchy that follows a total judicial breakdown.
Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija