A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), says politically-exposed persons facing corruption charges do not deserve bail.
“Since victims of grand corruption including armed robbery and kidnap suspects are not usually admitted to bail, those who are charged with looting the treasury should no longer be granted bail,” Falana said.
While expressing worry that many of the ongoing high profile corruption cases may not be concluded before 2019 when President Muhammadu Buhari would have finished his term, Falana also made a case for the creation of special courts.
The activist lawyer expressed these views in a paper he delivered on Thursday at the roundtable on anti-corruption war convened by the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, University of Lagos, where he was the keynote speaker.
The roundtable, which was chaired by the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), had a former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, Dr. Femi Aribisala and Dr. Ayo Obe as discussants.
In his paper titled, “Rule of Law and Treatment of Politically-exposed corruption cases,” delivered on his behalf by Mr. Wahab Shittu, Falana said if the Buhari government did not undertake an urgent reform of the criminal justice system, including creating special courts, its anti-corruption war efforts would amount to nothing.
He also took a swipe at the Nigerian Bar Association and the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who had called on Buhari to respect the rule of law, saying they were not sincere.
He said, “The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria has urged the government to fight corruption under the rule of law. On its own part the NBA has censored the Federal Government for violating the human rights of certain suspects. But neither the BOSAN nor the NBA has deemed it fit to caution the members of the legal profession who are determined to frustrate the prosecution of corruption cases.
“As far as both bodies are concerned, human rights are the exclusive reserve of the bourgeois. Hence, the tenets of the rule of law are only invoked when the trial of VIPs is involved, while human rights are violated in Nigeria when the looters of the treasury are arrested and detained for a few days without trial.”
Falana wondered why BOSAN and NBA did not talk of human rights when “70 soldiers were recently tried in camera, convicted and sentenced to death for demanding weapons to fight the well-armed terrorists,” and why the two bodies were not bothered about the plight of “40,000 out of the 52,000 prison inmates who are awaiting trial under dehumanising conditions.”
In his opening remarks, Sagay lamented that highly-placed Nigerians who were once celebrated are now the same set of people being exposed as “looters, bandits and locusts.”
“I fear that Nigerians may become so sated with this daily diet of financial brigandry that they may no longer feel shocked, disturbed, angered and determined to see justice served on the guilty and their stolen property recovered,” Sagay said.
He linked the daily woes of the country in form of poverty, poor roads, poor power supply, poor health care and so on to corruption.
Ezekwesili, Aribisala and Obe advised the Federal Government to put in place measures that could deter corruption.
Also speaking on Thursday at the special congress and public lecture organised by the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago Iwoye, chapter, Falana said judges who granted frivolous perpetual injunctions in cases of corruption and lawyers who filed for such injunctions were scuttling the anti-corruption war in the country.
Falana, who was the guest lecturer at the event, also attended by the President of ASUU, Isa Fagge, noted that the neo-colonialist nature of capitalism being practised in the country had produced a set of wealthy Nigerians who “are bigger than the nation’s laws.”
He said, “The criminal justice system has been hijacked by the corrupt and looters of the public treasury and their lawyers. It is only in Nigeria that an accused will ask his trial to be suspended.
“Many of the governors who faced corruption charges, their lawyers had asked for their trial to be suspended, and judges granted this. How would a lawyer also plead with a judge that a criminal should not be arrested?
“Someone who stole millions of naira getting perpetual injunction not to be arrested and prosecuted, lawyers must allow cases to go on.”
Falana, who spoke on the topic: ‘The limits of anti-corruption law’ said there was nothing close to equality before the law in the country, as the wealthy and influential Nigerians get lighter punishment while the commoners get stiffer penalties in the criminal system.
He said, “In Edo State, someone was sentenced to three years imprisonment for stealing bush meat, another one who stole handset in Osun State was also sentenced to seven years imprisonment.
“But corrupt public officials prefer to be remanded in Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s custody or being remanded in Kuje Prisons.
“Let me tell you, EFCC cells have beddings and mosquito nets, and I have been detained in Kuje Prisons twice, it is one of the best prisons in the country. Why didn’t they take them to Kirikiri or Ikoyi or Ijebu Ode Prisons?
“And whoever have been detained in police cells would know that they sleep on bare floor, and a bucket put at a corner to serve as container for their faeces.”
He noted that with the way the cases of corruption were being handled by the EFCC currently, and given the incessant injunctions being granted, the government might not get more than five convictions.
To tame the lawyers involved in this practice, he called for publication of the names of those being tried for corrupt practices and those of their lawyers.
He specifically asked ASUU to also join in the fight against graft.
Fagge, on his own part, said the universities had deviated from their original role of carrying out research and making it available to the society.
He also noted that corruption had continued to thrive because no one had been brought to book.
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