Disquiet over ex-governors delayed anti-corruption cases

By SUNDAY DOMINIC

There has been rising disquiet over protracted investigations or
prosecution of some former governors, most of whom left office over 11
years ago, including some senators. About 15 former governors, 24
senators are being prosecuted in various courts on allegations of
corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
While being prosecuted on allegations of corruption, most of them get
tickets of political parties to contest elections, mostly, into the
National Assembly.
In all the cases, two governors, former Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba
State, and former Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State were found
guilty and imprisoned accordingly by the court. They have, however,
gone on appeal.
Former Governor Rashidi Adewolu Ladoja of Oyo State was found innocent
and therefore acquitted by the court on the charges of corruption
against him. Former Governor Danjume Goje of Gombe State was also
recently cleared of the 19-count charges brought against him and some
officials who worked in his administration.
While these are relative achievements EFCC could celebrate, greater
number of cases has continued to be delayed. The delays precipitate
suspicions and skepticism that the legal system subtly rewards persons
facing allegations of corruption in Nigeria. Stakeholders expressed
perturbation that the reward extend to the allocation of tickets by
various political parties to individuals still standing trials on
corruption allegations for elections into public institutions.
While the constitution disqualifies convicted persons from contesting
elections, those delaying judgments on corruption suits over many
years, are conceived to be reaping from the alleged corruption, with
opportunities for further benefits or more corruption.
Several senators being prosecuted for alleged corruption are also
former governors. They merely retired from the State Government House
to the National Assembly. They continue to enjoy protection even when
they no longer have immunity, essentially, outside the hallowed
Chamber.
Former Governor Dariye was prosecuted for alleged diversion of about
N1.2 billion. Former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala is being prosecuted
on allegations of money-laundering; his trial commenced in 2011 at the
High Court, Ibadan, Oyo State.
Late Governor Abubakar Audu of Kogi State was facing prosecution on
about N10 billion corruption allegation at the time he contested the
governorship election on the platform of the ruling All Progressives
Congress, APC, before his sudden death.
Several stakeholders in the Nigerian project watched with
consternation how a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja adjourned the
suit against a former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, in
March 2019 on the excuse that the defence counsel was absent from the
court due to slight ailment.
Reports had it that Justice Ramat Mohammed adjourned the trial of the
former Benue State Governor at the resumed proceedings due to the
absence of the lead defence counsel, Joseph Daudu, who was said to be
under the weather.
Former Governor Suswam and former Commissioner for Finance in Benue
State, Okolobia Okpanachi, are being prosecuted by the EFCC on nine
count charges of alleged diversion of N3.1 billion.
They were alleged to have diverted proceeds from the sale of shares
owned by Benue State Government, as well as Benue Investment and
Property Company Limited.
More so, Suswam is still facing another case of alleged threat to
national security in his encounter with the Department of Security
Service, DSS, officials, who on stop and search operations, were said
to have purportedly found arms in the car of the former governor. With
all the cases pending, the former governor was given the PDP ticket to
contest for the Senate in Benue State in the 2019 General Elections.
Many stakeholders in the polity express the belief that issues like
this threaten national interest, national security and economic
development.
Also, a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, is being
prosecuted by the EFCC on allegation of N3.2 billion impropriety. Yet,
the APC offered him election ticket for the Senate. More so, the
former Abia State Governor was observed to be in the vanguard of the
re-election campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari at the inchoate
stage of the mobilization of support.
Some stakeholders argued that while the former governors and many
others cannot be stopped from participating in electoral contests
because they have not been convicted, the delay in their conviction or
being acquitted, application of technicalities to prolong proceedings
on the suits, obstruct both justice and development; keep recycling
them in the system and hinder other people with goodwill from gaining
entrance into the system.
In a media interaction with this Reporter, the Assistant Executive
Director of the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, Princewill
Akpakpan, was of the view that the prolongation of the corruption
suits involving former governors reflects the intricacies of the court
and legal processes. He said that the EFCC often over-blow most of the
cases. He remarked that the Commission does not conduct detailed
investigations before it proceeds with arrest and prosecution of
suspects.
The CLO Assistant Executive Director advocated that the EFCC must get
ready first; be in possession of necessary facts before commencing
prosecution.
“EFCC is counting the number of cases prosecuted in court not how many
convictions. The Commission wants to show Nigerians that the officials
are working; that President Muhammadu Buhari is fighting corruption.
EFCC is interested in slogans of fighting corruption; targeting
people, not substance,” Akpakpan declared.
The CLO Assistant ED also stated that in the circumstances of judicial
intricacies, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of
Justice, Ibrahim Malami, has a duty to intervene and legally lubricate
the process to extricate the complexities and ensure that the Federal
Government succeeds in the prosecution of corruption cases.
Akpakpan advocated that Malami ought to be doing constitutional
interpretations, approach the Supreme Court, expand the law, and lead
Federal government legal team to prosecute suspects. He decried that
the AGF and Justice Minister has not been seen to be performing these
functions.
The CLO Assistant Director acknowledged that there is presumption of
innocence on those standing prosecution in court; adding that the
defence counsel does not have the burden to prove his client’s
innocence but the prosecution counsel has the burden to prove the
guilt of the accused. He, therefore, said that those former governors
facing prosecution on corruption allegations cannot be stopped from
contesting elections since they have not been convicted by the court
of law. He decried that this is the point the AGF is expected to
intervene to speed up these cases into conclusion for subsequent
affirmative actions, but has not been doing so.
Some have argued that cases of alleged impropriety and security
threats constitute political liabilities on individuals who carry them
over into governance. “The situation is disturbing if this country
must move forward,” they declared.

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