We have been told that President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) is shopping for fearless and corruption free judges who will adjudicate matters in the proposed anti-corruption court that his government is planning to establish, either as new courts or as specialized divisions within the existing High Court system. These judges and courts are expected to speedily but fairly try corruption cases that will be brought before them as against the existing system where court cases go stale and eventually disappear.
We have also heard from every one of the country’s anti-corruption agencies that the main reason for the slow pace of prosecution of corruption cases in the country has to do with some judges accepting bribes and refusing to move cases forward. I believe Nigerians generally agree with this observation. However, what Nigerians, including myself, do not understand is why anti-corruption agencies that were established to fight corruption appear to be lacking the competence and expertise to go after corruption in our judicial system. After all, judges do not enjoy immunity.
Whenever these anti-corruption agencies are confronted with questions as to why corrupt judges are still operating in the country’s judicial system their common reply has been “we need evidence to move against them” I can factually establish here in this article that the lack of evidence is not the reason why the anti-corruption agencies are not going after corrupt judges. I will cite one incontrovertible example involving a case where the hunter became the hunted.
In 2014, Justice Gladys Olotu of the Federal Court was prematurely retired for a list of offences including ownership of the following assets listed below:
Shares in Ossimo Investments Limited, a private family company. As at December 31, 2012, her estimated value of investment in the company was put at N825 million;
Shares in Unity Nominees Limited, a private family Company valued at N165 million as at December 31, 2012;
1, 030 units of shares in GTB; 20, 890 units of shares in Oando. She is also alleged to be a partner in Investment Company Limited, which has shares in Access Bank, First Bank, GTB, Julius Berger Nigeria, Oando and UBA;
An uncompleted three-bedroom Town House located at City Scope, Lagos. Property valued at N20 million was acquired in 2006; a four-bedroom bungalow located at Karshi, Nasarawa State, acquired from the Nigerian Navy in 2009 valued at N10 million; a plot of land at Kjah Nasarawa State valued at N2.5 Million in 2010; a plot at Kuruduma Abuja acquired in 2012 for N2.8 million;
Six plots of land at Ogba Village, Benin, Edo state for N480, 000 in 2005; three plots of land located at Oben Village, Benin valued for N2.2 million; blocks of 4 six-bedroom flats acquired in 1979 valued for N16 million; one uncompleted twin 5-bedroom duplex, via a Lagos State government allocation for N10 million; one block of 4 three-bedroom flats via Edo State Government Allocation valued at N10 million; and
A plot of land at Guduwa Estate acquired in 2001 via FCDA allocation for N800, 000; a plot of land located at Lugbe, Abuja for N200, 000 and a plot of land at Ugbor, Edo State acquired via Edo State Government allocation for N600, 000.
The above allegations did not come from anywhere else but from Nigeria’s supposedly leading and world renowned anti-corruption agency, the EFCC. Justice Olotu’s retirement in March 2014 was based on the “establishment” of the above allegations against her by the EFCC. As I write this article no single criminal charge has been proffered against Justice Olotu, nor has a single kobo been recovered from her unexplained wealth despite the EFCC having civil forfeiture laws at its disposal. In fact, it was Justice Olotu who turned around and sued the EFCC and the federal government over her retirement. That matter is still before the courts and the same corrupt judges who would not want to set a precedent against a federal judge who was prematurely retired for having an unexplained net worth of over N2billion.
From the above it should be clear to the average Nigerian that EFCC’s failure to arrest and prosecute corrupt judges has got nothing to do with the lack of evidence. In an era of “change” when the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies appear to have woken up from their long slumber, all Nigerians read about are “invitations” and “investigations”. We hardly read about prosecutions and convictions of the movers and shakers of Nigeria’s criminal world. This so called war against corruption is the only modern day war without casualties! When can Nigerians awake to the news of the arrest of scores of judges across the country and the television sets filled with images of judges in handcuffs and being herded into Black Marias? This is how you fight serious crime around the world. Inviting judges for questioning and investigating them in perpetuity does not stop or reduce corruption in the judiciary. What does is the arrest, prosecution and jailing of judges like Gladys Olotu.
Following the dismissal of charges against James Ibori by now retired Justice Marcellus Awokulehin and the issuance of perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from ever investigating, arresting or prosecuting the former governor of Rivers States Peter Odili, the husband of Justice Mary Odili now of the Supreme Court, many Nigerians felt the decisions were purchased probably for billions of Naira and both judges would have been involved in the shady deals. However, we did not have hard evidence. But if the absence of hard evidence is the reason why our judiciary continues to be littered with corrupt judges, why has the EFCC not commenced the prosecution of Justice Gladys Olotu almost two years after “establishing” serious allegations against her?
Despite constant denials, Nigerians always knew before now that the EFCC could only prosecute those the government wanted it to prosecute. We also know that corrupt judges have not helped matters. However, the EFCC must look at itself in the mirror and ask: are we doing our best to fight corruption in the judiciary in particular and Nigeria in general? An honest answer should be a resounding NO.
In addition to its lack of “liver” in going after the most corrupt in the society and using them as examples, the EFCC has also demonstrated a lack of competence and holistic perspective of the legal terrain in which it is conducting its war. Few examples will suffice.
EFCC demonstrated its myopic vision of the intersection between the ability to conduct criminal investigations and prosecutions when the court issued a perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from ever investigating Peter Odili. A competent anti-corruption agency and its lawyers would have immediately seen the dangers inherent in the precedent’s effects on its ability to investigate and fight corruption in the country and then fought the issue all the way to the Supreme Court and the National Assembly. But not this EFCC! Despite allegedly looting Rivers State of hundreds of billions of Naira Peter Odili is a free man because the court said the EFCC cannot touch him. My view of perpetual injunction against a law enforcement agency is that of an absurdity. A court cannot, with all due respect, perpetually prevent a lawfully constituted body from carrying out its responsibilities. That will be a recipe for anarchy. If the EFCC made a mistake then it can correct the mistake now. The DSS or FIRS which were not covered by the injunction as they were not parties to the process can commence new investigations of theft and tax evasion against Peter Odili and let him raise the issue of the perpetual injunction as a defense. This will provide the government a fresh opportunity to legally attack the fraudulent concept of perpetual injunctions within our legal system under the current political climate. Corrupt judges are the traders in the market where perpetual injections are sold.
Another area where the EFCC has demonstrated incompetence or sheer fraudulent connivance with corrupt judges and the accused persons is in the nature of the charges it laws. Why the EFCC will lay money laundering charges against a person accused of stealing billions of Naira is beyond my imagination. This is because upon conviction for money laundering as a crime the judge has the option of imposing a fine rather than jail time. The fine is a set amount and not a multiple of the stolen amount or in addition to jail time. The facts underlying most money laundering charges will also support fraud, theft and other charges that carry minimum jail terms. Only the EFCC can explain why it sometimes opens this prosecutorial loophole for judges and accused persons. Before the EFCC claims innocence or naivety it should explain to Nigerians why it is not resorting to civil forfeiture laws in cases where an accused who stole billions has been fined a paltry sum in exchange for not going to jail even after its attention has been drawn to such a possibility? If we cannot send looters to jail at least we should be able to get our money back.
As much as I support the contention and legal provision that every citizen should assist law enforcement agencies in solving crimes, my position is that a person facing potential criminal charges does not have an obligation to assist the EFCC in solving the crime he/she is accused of because the right to remain silent or not to incriminate oneself is superior to the duty to assist in solving crimes. It still baffles me that we have not seen cases of those invited for questioning by the EFCC not refusing to speak upon honoring the invitation to appear because the EFCC has no right to compel a potential accused to speak. Imagine a situation where millions or billions have been traced to an account belonging to an individual or company that has not establish the accumulation of such money through income or corporate tax payments and other empirical methods and there are laws providing for the forfeiture of such monies. Should the next step not be the arrest and prosecution of such individual or company rather than invitation and investigation?
Corrupt judges are not just going to disappear from our judicial system simply because the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies are crying complaining. The benefits accruing from the judges’ malfeasance and betrayal of oath of office are too juicy to give up for simple rantings that carry no consequences. Like leaches, these corrupt judges will tenaciously glue themselves to the system and continue to suck on it until they are violently and mercilessly yanked off and destroyed. This is the lesson the EFCC must imbibe if it is to make any headway in the fight to rid our judicial system of corrupt judges.