Cases of large-scale corruption against senior politicians run on for years in the courts and hardly lead to convictions, with some of the rare convictions getting presidential pardon, Daily Trust findings show.
At least 14 former governors have been standing trial for many years, with no end in sight for their cases, which typically involve allegations of stealing dozens of billions from public coffers. A number of former ministers and Federal lawmakers have also been facing long-drawn graft trials, being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Some of the longest-running corruption cases involve formers Governors Peter Odili (Rivers), Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa), ChimarokeNnamani (Enugu), Attahiru Bafarawa (Sokoto), Orji Kalu (Abia), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Saminu Turaki (Jigawa), Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Rasheed Ladoja (Oyo) and Ayo Fayose (Ekiti). Most of these cases started at least 7 years ago.
While his counterparts have been charged to court, Odili has never been arraigned because of a perpetual injunction against arrest which he obtained in March 2008 and which still subsists.
Other corruption cases against former governors dragging on in the courts are of Mohammed Danjuma Goje (Gombe), AliyuAkweDoma (Nasarawa), Adebayo Alao-Akala (Oyo), Gbenga Daniel (Ogun) and Timipre Sylva (Bayelsa).
The cases have been stalled mostly by series of objections raised by the suspects, while EFCC has also been blamed for lack of diligent prosecution.
Former Governors Lucky Igbinedion of Edo and Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa are the only ex-governors who have so far coughed out part of the money they stole, through plea bargains.
Their Adamawa counterpart Boni Haruna was on trial for six years until January this year when he was cleared by a court on the eve of his appointment as minister.
A former Plateau governor, Mr Michael Botmang, had been on trial since July 2008 for pocketing N1.5 billion state funds up till the time of his death in January.
Perhaps the most dramatic alleged corruption case involving a governor was of Odili, not least because the amount in question was unprecedented.
In December 2006, EFCC issued a report of investigation into the Rivers State finances in which it said over N100 billion was diverted under Odili.
But the State High Court, based on a case filed by the state government, ruled that only the House of Assembly is empowered by the Constitution to supervise and investigate the utilisation of state resources.
Armed with this judgement, the Rivers State Government then proceeded to the Federal High Court which in March 2007 nullified the EFCC report and issued a perpetual injunction restraining the commission from investigating the state government.
The EFCC tried to continue its investigation of Odili regardless, arguing that his name did not appear in the injunction document, but Odili fought back. On March 5, 2008, the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt answered his prayers.
“The subsisting judgment of March 2007 by this court is binding on all parties,” Justice Ibrahim Buba said in a ruling. “Therefore there is a perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting, detaining and arraigning Odili on the basis of his tenure as governor based on the purported investigation.”
In October 2008, EFCC challenged the perpetual injunction at the Court of Appeal, but no judgement has yet been given six years after, because of what a source close to the matter said was lack of diligent prosecution and official interference.
Another source cited long adjournments by the appeal court as among factors delaying conclusion of the case. “There were times when the EFCC counsel traveled to Port Harcourt five times consecutively but the case was not heard,” the source said.
Daily Trust learnt that in one of the longest delays, there was a time the matter was not heard for up to 21 months. After a court sitting on it on March 15, 2012, the case was only heard again on January 30, 2014.
A source involved in the case said after the January sitting, the case was adjourned to June 12 and subsequently to November 26.
“During the June 12 sitting, the panel of judges granted the leave to the prosecuting counsel to file their amended brief. The judge fixed November 26 for definite hearing. All issues that had to do with applications have been dealt with,” the source said.
When contacted on the Odili case, EFCC spokesman Wilson Uwujaren told Daily Trust: “The Odili case is at the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The EFCC had since appealed the perpetual injunction against investigating Odili.”
In a biography published last year, Odili said the allegations in the EFCC report were “false and contrived” in order to force him out of the People’s Democratic Party presidential primaries. He said he went to court to obtain the injunction when a gale of arrests hit former governors, as “it is only a tree that you can threaten to cut down and it will continue to stand waiting for you to do so.”
But Odili’s case, which is almost eight years old, is not the only one that seems to go on perpetually.
Of the first set of four former governors to be prosecuted after they left office in May 2007, not one of them has had his case concluded.
In the subsequent cases, only the ones of BoniHaruna, Igbinedion and Alamieyeseigha reached stage of judgement on the substantive matter.
While graft cases run on for years, some of them that resulted in conviction ended up getting presidential pardon.
Alamieyeseigha, who was convicted of multi-billion fraud in 2007 and had to forfeit assets to the government, was granted a presidential pardon by President Goodluck Jonathan in March 2013.
Also, Chief Bode George, who was jailed for 30 months in October 2009 for an N85 billion scam in the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), was pardoned after he had served out his jail term.
But in December 2013, the Supreme Court upturned his conviction and ruled that George was “wrongfully” tried with a law that does not exist.
‘Some judges lackadaisical’
Commenting on the long-drawn graft cases, former chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) Justice Mustapha Akanbi said in Ilorin that some judges are lackadaisical in adjudicating corruption cases.
“I think largely the problem is that some of the judges are lackadaisical when it comes to handling of anti-corruption cases,” said Akanbi, who is also a former President of the Court of Appeal.
“We had an instance where an accused person asked for bail, the judge simply discharged and acquitted him which not even a first year law student would do. If there is an application for bail, you either grant it or refuse.”
Akabi, who spoke to Daily Trust, also said, “And then of course we have found some judges making order that you should not investigate a particular case especially when it involves some of the big men.
“I am thinking of the time we wanted to investigate the President of the Senate and the Speaker and an order was sprung on us that we should not investigate, that is against the grains of the law and I believe that the judge should know that.”
He said in such cases, “you can’t do anything but to appeal and I remember in that case, (former Senate President the late Evans) Enwerem was discharged and acquitted. We appealed to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal and ordered the re-arrest of the accused person. Unfortunately, I had left, whether he was re-arrested or not I don’t know but I have not heard that he was prosecuted.”
On presidential pardon, the ex-ICPC boss said “the whole thing is suspect and it is unfortunate because you are encouraging other people to commit crimes and get away. It is the same thing with plea bargaining when you say, ‘you can return part of the money and chop the rest.’”
A rights activist and director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Center (PLAC), Mr Clement Nwanko, said Jonathan’s administration lacks political will to fight corruption.
“When a president says that people mistake stealing for corruption, then you can understand what that means in terms of giving political strength to the authorities charged with anti-corruption to deal with the issue,” Nwanko told Daily Trust.
“If there is no political will, it means that the investigators are not bringing good cases to the judges. And if they are not bringing good cases to the judges, the judges can only work based on the cases before them and sometimes those cases are not constructed in a way to give the judges the right impetus to conclude trials,” he said.
Another lawyer, Abubakar Sani, said all the stakeholders, including the courts, defence counsel, prosecution and the EFCC, should be blamed for the delays in prosecuting graft cases.