This weekend, former governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamiesieigha returned to his maker. He would be remembered for many things including jumping bail in the United Kingdom after being arrested for money laundering to return home to his safe country Nigeria where he had no fear of the law. According to reports, he was in Dubai receiving medical attention when news got to him that Her Majesty’s Government was issuing an extradition order to get him back to the United Kingdom to once again face Common Law. He returned to Nigeria in a precipitate manner where he died.
Dubai has become a safe place for people with legal cases that induce them to stay far from Europe until the James Ibori saga. Unfortunately for him, the Dubai authorities accepted the extradition request from the United Kingdom where he was successfully prosecuted for money laundering and jailed. Given this history, it was understandable that DSP Alamiesieigha did not feel too safe in Dubai and opted to return to his safe country. Why is Nigeria so safe for people engaged in mega corruption while the same people are at great risk when tried abroad?
I am currently reading the fascinating story that Strive Masiyiwa, CEO and founder of ECONET Wireless has posted on his blopost on his experience with corruption in Nigeria. He was asked to pay $9 million as bribe, half of it to James Ibori for facilitating the takeoff of ECONET. He refused and Mr. Ibori allegedly told him “pay or I will chase you out of the country”, he still refused and was chased out. The company was given to V-Mobile and he claims that they promptly paid the bribe. He reported the case to the American authorities and V-Mobile was punished and had to leave the country.
He also tells the story of his involvement in providing evidence to the United Kingdom “Proceeds of Corruption” unit to successfully prosecute a London lawyer who developed a “special purpose vehicle” to sell Akwa Ibom shares of ECONET and launder the money. The lawyer is in jail in the United Kingdom but Nigeria refused to extradite the politicians who received the bribes and they are all free in safe Nigeria. So many lawyers and company executives who gave or facilitated the giving of bribes to Nigerian politicians are in jail today in the United States, United Kingdom, France and Switzerland but those who received the monies in Nigeria are free and enjoying the fruits of the criminal acts.
I remember once asking a board member of the Centre for Democracy and Development who teaches law at Manchester Metropolitan University why in the United Kingdom corrupt persons are tried and go to jail and in Nigeria they are tried, tried, tried again and released after ten or fifteen years. Don’t we have the same Common Law I asked him? We have the same law he reassured me, but we differ significantly in how we apply them. Lawyers and judges are not stupid and many of them are actually very intelligent he said.
In the United Kingdom, when a lawyer engages in interminable injunctions to delay a case, everyone knows exactly what is happening. The judge could send the lawyer to jail for perverting the course of justice and the bar association may further punish the lawyer for bringing disrepute to their honorable profession. Precisely because of this fear of sanctions, lawyers in the UK desist in wasting the time of the court. In Nigeria however, when a brilliant lawyer delays a case for ten years, he is considered a brilliant defender of the principle of fair hearing and goes smiling to his bank with a considerable percentage of the looted funds.
One thing that has been scientifically proved about corruption is that when the system is able to punish those involved in corrupt practices the quantum decreases steadily. When there is immunity for engaging in corrupt practices however the quantum and scale of corrupt acts grows astronomically. Since the height of Nuhu Ribadu’s successes in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), confidence has returned fully to the practitioners of grand corruption in Nigeria. We have had too many Honourable Attorney-Generals that have used the language of the rule of law to undermine the efficacy many corruption trials in our courts for political reasons. Sometimes, they have resorted to plea bargains to make mega looters escape with their loot and without punishment. In other cases, they have simply refused to diligently prosecute persons charged with corruption. Nigeria is today the only country in the civilised world where corrupt persons could get court injunctions stopping the prosecutorial agencies and the courts from investigating and prosecuting their corrupt acts.
The central problem we face is that for decades, perpetrators of grand corruption have been allowed to use specific interpretations of procedures in the principle of Nigeria’s Common Law, to enjoy immunity against conviction for their corrupt action. The legal profession has been largely complicit in the process because they have become financial beneficiaries of the system. In the United Kingdom, the place of origin of our Common Law tradition, the judicial system allows for successful prosecution of corruption. British judges have been able to balance the tradition of the strict interpretation of procedure by introducing the principle of equitable remedy and therefore returning to the merit of the case in delivering their judgements. In their system, justice delayed is also justice denied. Nigerian jurisprudence can learn considerable lessons from this dimension of the British tradition in reviving the capacity of our courts to successfully prosecute cases of corruption.
As the crisis of confidence in the ability of our Common Law tradition to effectively handle anti-corruption cases continues to grow, those of us who are not lawyers have to enter the fray and insist that lawyers who subvert the course of justice to protect corrupt persons must begin to pay a price. We know that in other Common Law countries, their judicial systems are able to effective handle anti-corruption cases.
We also know that by the time three or four Senior Advocates of Nigeria have been sent to jail for devising “special purpose vehicles” to facilitate corruption and money laundering, things will begin to change for the better. I understand that some reforms have been carried out that makes it impossible to delay cases interminably through the appeals process. That is not enough; the impunity of lawyers who facilitate corruption must also end. For the anti-corruption struggle to gain its élan, it is imperative that the administration of justice is able to do its work and deliver justice to all. We need to identify the loopholes in Nigeria’s Common Law legal and judicial process that blocks the successful prosecution of anti-corruption cases. If President Buhari can successfully lead the reform process in our justice system and lead us to the promised land where the mega looters of our national resources will be hiding in Tibet or Tonga to avoid facing the Nigeria justice system, we will be able to transform our country for the better. In this desired outcome, Senior Advocates of Nigeria would be making their fame, but not as much money, by using their skills and intellect to send the corrupt to jail.
Professor Jibrin Ibrahim, Chairman of Premium Times Editorial Board, is Senior Fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, Abuja. He also holds a professorial chair in International Relations at the Babcock University in Ilishan, Ogun State.