Published February 16, 2021
Friday Olokor , Adelani Adepegba and Oladimeji Ramon
Prominent senior lawyers and civil rights groups have said the anti -corruption war of the President , Major -General Muhammadu Buhari ( retd. ) , is not only marked by double standard , but has also been abandoned.
The senior lawyers and groups, including Mr Femi Falana , Chief Mike Ozekhome and the Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, who spoke to The PUNCH specifically condemned a court verdict on a former Governor of Zamfara State , Abdulaziz Yari .
Recall that a Federal High Court in Abuja had on January 16 ordered the final forfeiture of N 700 m linked to Yari .
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission had claimed that Yari kept the funds in accounts in banks , using his two companies , Kayatawa Nigeria Limited and B . T . Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited.
In her judgment, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu , held that Yari could not prove how he got the funds while or before serving as governor of Zamfara State between May 29 , 2011 , and May 29 , 2019 .
But unlike a former Governor of Plateau State , Senator Joshua Dariye and Rev Jolly Nyame of Taraba State , who were handed various terms of imprisonment , the FHC ordered forfeiture of funds linked to Yari .
Ozekhome , SAN, in his comment stated , “ I’ ve always insisted that the anti -graft war by the Buhari government is not applied in an even -handed way and manner . It is most selective, opaque and lacks integrity . It is therefore outright corrupt .
“ When you use corruption to fight corruption , you can never win. That is why Transparency International in its latest corruption index rates Nigeria even more corrupt than its 2020 rating . And as usual, government megaphones and hirelings always kick .
“ In their myopic estimation , corruption starts and ends with the giving of bribe or stealing public money . They cannot appreciate that corruption is worse when you are selective, dispenses political favours, appointments in a nepotic , sectional , prebendalistic and cronystic manner.
“ They can ’ t understand that corruption is encouraged and nurtured when you jail Joshua Dariye , Jolly Nyame , Ngilari and insist on re -arranging and trying Orji Uzor Kalu who had been discharged by the Supreme Court.”
He wondered why Yari was asked to refund money and allow to go home scot -free without any punitive consequences
On his part , Falana said the Federal Government was frustrating anti-graft war .
He said, “ Since 2003 , former governors and former ministers indicted for corruption and money laundering were charged before the courts by the anti -graft agencies. The cases of former governors Dariye and Jolly Nyame which commenced in 2007 were inherited by the Buhari administration .
“ Orji Kalu ’ s ( ex – Abia State governor ) case also commenced in 2007 . He has been charged de novo based on the orders of the Supreme Court.
“ But in 2019 , no ex governor was charged with graft offences even though they lost their immunity. No ex -minister was charged with corrupt practices . The Federal Government has quietly halted the war against corruption .
“ Hence , indicted public officers are now being asked to forfeit part of their loot and sin no more . From the information at my disposal , investigators and prosecutors attached to the anti -graft agencies have been completely frustrated.
“ In fact , the regime has sent some of them on indefinite suspension for embarrassing some highly influential corrupt elements.
A former President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights , Mr Malachy Ugwummadu , said he was not surprised .
He stated , “ I think this is an old debate because even the anti- corruption campaign has been structured in segments . One is that no person should be allowed to enjoy illicitly acquired wealth. And that is the basis on which the law has been developed to the point that upon mere suspicion that an amount of money standing to the credit of a particular person could not possibly be legitimately earned money , government can approach a court for an order of final forfeiture of that money if the purported owner is unable to justify its ownership.
“ Number two is to take advantage of such forfeiture to proceed to prosecution . It is only then that it will be clearly established that crime does not pay ; that you may temporarily short – change the system but ultimately, you will be cornered by the law .
“ So, beyond mere forfeiture, the law is robust in terms of prosecution , once there is water -tight evidence that this money is stolen or diverted or illegally acquired and that is the only way to ensure deterrence ; that is the only way to point out how public officers should not be behaving .”
A former Vice -President of the Nigerian Bar Association , Mr Monday Ubani , said , “ If somebody ’ s property has been forfeited in accordance with the law , it means that that person has committed an offence . So, the forfeiture should be followed by prosecution , unless there is a plea bargain to the contrary. In the absence of any plea bargain , it will be very difficult for government to convince anyone that they have allowed somebody who has committed a crime to go scot – free on the grounds that he has forfeited property . Forfeiture is part of the consequences of crime but the offender must also be prosecuted . ”
A former Secretary , Nigerian Bar Association , Afam Osigwe , SAN , observed that the failure of the ICPC to prosecute Yari calls to question the transparency of the nation ’ s criminal administration process .
He also noted that the decision to apply different standards to different individuals accused of corruption was curious .
Osigwe also wondered why the N 700 m found in Yari ’ s bank account was forfeited to the Federal Government and not to Zamfara State Government .
The Senior Advocate stated , “ In cases of assets forfeiture , a number of questions have to be asked: is assets forfeiture the only proceeding to be taken against the person ? If the facts that led to the proceedings disclosed the commission of an offence , shouldn ’t there equally be a criminal prosecution for that offence from where that money , illicit wealth, as it were , was gotten from ?”
“ Should the money not be traced to the original source so that if it was money taken from the coffers of the state government that the state government should take back its money . If money was stolen from the state or local government and it is forfeited to the federal government , it would be akin to robbing Peter to pay Paul. ”
Speaking in a similar vein , another Senior Advocate , Ifedayo Adedipe , revealed that the prosecuting agencies regularly commit errors of procedures , adding that they needed seasoned prosecutors to handle their briefs.
He argued that the way the anti-graft agencies were fighting corruption gives room for many corrupt people to escape justice .
He said, “ Concerning forfeitures generally , I think a lot needs to be done there . I sympathize with our country because speaking objectively, a lot is wrong.