As several high profile corruption cases by the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari crumbled in court, the government has belatedly decided to look at how it prosecutes these types of cases.
This follows several losses including the court order unfreezing of the account of lawyer Mike Ozekhome, in which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission claims that the 75m naira ($244,500) in his name were the proceeds of corruption. The next high profile loss was the acquittal of judge Adeniyi Ademola and his wife on corruption charges. There was also the unfreezing of the account with $5.8m belonging to former First Lady Patience Jonathan.
The next setback was the acquittal of Godsday Orubebe on charges of misappropriating 1.97bn naira ($6.42m). This was said to have prompted a meeting over the weekend between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Attorney-General Abubakar Malami and heads of the Department of State Service (DSS) and the EFCC. Osinbajo reportedly told those present to ensure prosecution cases were watertight.
It is pertinent to note that the Vice President is a Professor of Law, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a very experienced lawyer. The Attorney-General is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, although his legal competence was called into question by Junaid Mohammed, a Second Republic member of the House of Representatives: “The attorney general of the federation, as far as I’m concerned he the chief law officer of the country…. I’m aware that this joker, the attorney general who had been practising in Kano – he was a charge-and-bail lawyer in Kano.”
Notwithstanding Mohammed’s disparaging remarks, fighting corruption was a central feature of Buhari’s campaign for the presidency and therefore a key pillar of the mandate given to him and Osinbajo by the Nigerian people. It is really odd that a lawyer of the Vice President’s standing didn’t know that to succeed in fighting corruption, his government needed to take a serious look at empowering the prosecuting agencies and improving their case management and criminal procedures capacity to ensure watertight prosecutions.
Most observers knew that case preparation in Nigeria was a joke. The International Development Committee of the UK’s Parliament said in a report in July last year that: “A central component of DFID’s [Department for International Development] anti-corruption strategy in Nigeria is supporting enforcement agencies’ capacity and ability to detect, investigate, prosecute and convict those who engage in corrupt behaviour. While DFID, the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] and the NCA [National Crime Agency] are delivering a cross-Government approach to strengthening judicial systems in Nigeria, we have heard that this approach is overlooking a valuable resource in the form of UK-trained advocates, including in the UK-based diaspora and practising in Nigeria.
“We urge DFID to make use of the large number of UK-trained lawyers who may be motivated to help drive reform in the judicial system, including the UK-based Nigerian diaspora. The Vice President, with whom DFID works closely and who studied law in the UK, can serve as a key figure in rallying a powerful network of reformers, both in Nigeria and abroad.”
The British government knew Nigerian agencies had problems with “capacity and ability to detect, investigate, prosecute and convict” corruption suspects and were providing some support. But it appears that despite, having an experienced lawyer like the Vice President at the helm, a government that came in with a mandate to fight corruption did not have a strategy for ensuring the prosecution agencies had the tools to do the job.
Recent events with the failure of prosecutions have shown that for two years this government did very little to improve the institutions and systems for fighting corruption and their flagship anti-corruption agenda was empty sloganeering that was doomed for failure.