In this essay, I aim to bring to attention the stumbling block that the judiciary in Nigeria has become in taming elite corruption that has devastated the country. With a fragile democracy whose institutional framework is weak, Nigeria needs to build trust among its population in order to achieve lasting economic, social and political development.
The single most devastating menace and threat to political and economic stability in Nigeria is elite corruption whereby educated persons placed in charge of public administration help themselves and their usually large families with the common wealth of Nigeria. This accounts for the most reason that public utilities and infrastructure are shamelessly in perennial disrepair resulting in frequent avoidable deaths and low quality of life. The fact that these deaths are usually non-discriminatory does not bother successive elites in public administration.
We have had cases of former heads of health establishments die on foreign hospital beds due to lack of comparable facilities in Nigeria. A few years ago, a former Minister for Works who failed in the responsibility to design, build and maintain Nigerian roads died from injuries sustained from a road accident caused by bad roads on his way to his hometown. Expectedly, he left behind an estate worth billions in assets. Despite these and many other cases, current government officials and others continue to embezzle billions of public money as if that will add a second to their life.
Though elite corruption doesn’t add to the lives of the corrupt persons and their families, it destroys the fabric of the society and turns the majority to destitution in the midst of plenty. It leads to untimely waste in lives of some of the bests and potential bests of the country as we have seen with pipeline explosions and avoidable air and road accidents. For this and many other reasons that can be imagined, elite corruption deserves to be tamed urgently.
I have supported the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), a body formed by an act of law to combat financial crime in Nigeria, in all its activities unconditionally because of the foregoing. The EFCC is fighting the most important fight in Nigeria and so deserves the support of all.
The EFCC has recorded unprecedented progress in unearthing and cracking cases of corruption starting with the erstwhile police boss, Mr. Tafa Balogun and including dozens of state Governors, Senators, Federal Ministers and other private individuals. However, the punishments have not been commensurate with the seriousness of the offences. While petty thieves spend decades in prison and most times are forgotten in prison cells, high-profile thieves are aided by best lawyers and sometimes connive with Judges to prolong court processes indefinitely or receive light sentences. Some lawyers have become prominent for their defenses of every high profile thieves caught by EFCC. I recognize that it is their professional calling to do so, but they seem not to appreciate the damage caused by elite corruption. Or, not as outraged as I am.
In the case of the former Inspector General of Police, despite the billions of naira in cash and landed property he stole, he got only 6 months jail time and have since returned to society, probably stealing more through other means. In many other cases such as that of the former governor of Kogi state, the courts have granted bail despite good evidence of corrupt enrichment in abominable proportion. The former Kogi state governor is boldly and shamelessly planning to contest the next election as Governor of Kogi once more. Former Senate President who was caught with seeking, receiving and then forced to return millions of Naira of bribe is still in court and continuing to be a member of the Senate while the court case enjoys prolonged adjournment.
Just recently (Feb 19, 2007), the court handling the case of the former chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, over his self-enrichment of over 10 billion naira meant for the development of the cruelly impoverished Niger Delta was adjourned by 1 month. Courts in Abia state have shielded the mother of Abia State Governor from answering questions on her role in the shameless stealing from the treasury of Abia that in entrusted to her son. Similar cases of court injunctions preventing the EFCC from either effecting arrests, investigating corrupt persons abound in different parts of Nigria.
When will the courts realize that cases of elite corruption are emergencies that deserve to be dealt with expeditiously?
The code of conduct tribunal with the responsibility for handling cases of improper conduct of current government officials is even worse. The tribunal gives long adjournments as if the processes are child-plays.
Why is the judiciary not passionate about the need to tame the corruption monster in Nigeria? Why is the protection of some human rights so important when majority of Nigerians have been impoverished by the unscrupulous exercise of these rights by the elites? Who will read the riot act to the Judiciary if it refuses to appreciate the emergency created by elite corruption in Nigeria and the need for urgent, tough and unconventional speedy discharge of justice?
Why does the judiciary in Nigeria lack the political will to combat elite corruption? The answer to these questions may not be far-fetched. Nigerian Judiciary may itself be a corruption haven that needs to be tamed. Or does the Judiciary need help with data on the levels, types and costs of elite corruption to the Nigerian society? Does Nigeria need a separate agency with similar powers as the EFCC dedicated to the combat of corruption in the Judiciary?
Could it be that the judiciary does not have the capacity to handle the peculiar cases of elite corruption? In that case, in what way can it be helped to handle these cases? Will technology help?
The debate on the topic of Nigerian judiciary and corruption in Nigeria needs to start now and continue until a solution is found. I have asked questions in this essay, I invite Nigerians to add to these questions and let’s seek solutions to the problems created by the Judiciary as an impediment to combating elite corruption in Nigeria.