In the past few months a colleague of mine, Ms. Jamila Suleiman and I have spent valuable hours grappling with the intractable problem of corruption in Nigeria. It has been a hard slug, unglamorous work and has been difficult for our voices to be heard above the din of euphoria ushering in a new Nigerian government.
The context in which we find ourselves is a narrative reinforced by the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan indicating more than anytime in recent history Nigeria's destiny has been derailed by the impunity of corruption. The people of Nigeria did not seek nor did they provoke an assault on their freedoms and their way of life, which was visited upon them by the past corrupt rulers and their cronies. They did not expect nor did they invite a confrontation with this unspeakable evil that has befallen Nigeria. Yet the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari must realise that the true measure of the strength of Nigerians as a people must be how they rise to master that moment to break ourselves free from the yoke of corruption at this time.
It has been reported time and time again, the determination of the new administration to address the slide and commence the trial of all those responsible for the grand larceny of the Nigerian resources. Ordinarily we would offer wholehearted support to such a crusade in normal climes but the juncture Nigeria is at is not normal or sustainable. It is now a fact that corruption is now the number one means of wealth accumulation in Nigeria, it is also clear that all of the institutions set up to prevent, address and prosecute the scale of corruption have not functioned.
Since 2008 there has been no successful prosecution of what I call political corruption, many of the cases are parked at ‘plea’ stage and a few of those that have proceeded have been bungled or settled on ridiculous terms by the prosecuting authorities. The question is why is this so? I shall draw from the paper recently accepted in the Journal of Law and Criminal Justice, USA, ‘The Problematic Of Competing Or Reconcilable Paradigms in The Adaptation Of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Model In Addressing Crimes Of Corruption In Nigeria’, written by Olu Ojedokun and Jamila Suleiman to deal with some of the issues and offer a way forward.
We noted in the paper that the traditional function of any penal justice system is to bring about a sense of justice to societies and to individuals inflicted with injury. Professors Okonkwo and Naish in 1990 offered the elements of retribution to and rehabilitation of the offender and also of deterrence to would be offenders as determinants for the achievement of justice. Over passage of time the belief has been that the concept of justice can be achieved through recourse to the court system, which provides a judicial penal system of justice characterised with jail terms or life sentences for offenders when found culpable. Establishing culpability therefore results in the imposition of sanctions; thus sanctions aim to impose justice by punishing perpetrators of crimes. However, according to my doctoral thesis of 2006, the form and the question of sanctions remains one of the most complex issues facing criminal justice. I have previously argued that ultimately, sanctions need not only aim to punish perpetrators of crimes but also to restore peace and repair fractured societies. But our concern in present day Nigeria is actually the exploration of how and why Nigeria may move beyond the traditional adversary role of its penal system in addressing crimes of corruption to a justice system that seeks to restore the Nigerian polity; thus restorative system by use of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and secondly, whether such a restorative justice system will constitute a competing or reconcilable process to the traditional. In other words the scope of that paper raised the theorisation of the possibility, appropriateness and the validity of an alternative penal
justice system in addressing the crimes of corruption.
I return to the principle surrounding the President’s determination to prosecute all, in principle it represents a very good sentiment but the Nigerian State neither has the capacity nor expertise to successfully prosecute all the looters and the only winners will be lawyers if we proceed down that route. The government therefore needs to be creative, and set out a process of amnesty which draws back all the stolen funds and then draw a line once the institutions have been cleansed and strengthened. This is where the combination of judicial stick and TRC carrot should emerge as a potent force in flushing out corrupt officials who refuse to play ball and adopt a "wait-and-see" approach rather than give up stolen wealth. Looters will be shamed by the publication of their names and the terms under which refunds in exchange for amnesty is granted and will in short be under probation.
In conclusion we must locate the clue as to why the stalemate seems to have arisen in the fight against corruption. Nigeria’s legal system places much emphasis on retributive rather than restorative justice and given rise to lack of remorse on the part of offenders who demand proof of their culpability during trial rather than show remorse, one must questions why the sentencing and custodial option should be adopted and thereafter public funds are spent again to decongest the prisons. We are in danger of ending up with a legal system proffering stiff penalties, which are in reality unenforceable and making a mockery of the whole system. I therefore urge this government to consider our paper and consider the use of Restorative Justice options such as plea bargaining, bail process and victim-offender mediation as this will
take cognisance of the underlying issues involved in these offences, which ranges from sociological, psychological and economical.
I end this piece for now by stating in the face of unspeakable sufferings, mindless corruption, previous government induced go-slows and roadblocks, now is the time for Nigerian heroes. We of the chattering classes on the Internet space and on the ground in Nigeria will do what is hard in order to achieve what is great. This is a time for Nigeria heroes and we must reach for the galaxy of stars and the glories set beyond it.
Dr Olu Ojedokun is of the Lead City University, Ibadan.