On “Com­mon Law” and pun­ish­ing top lawyers

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

This week­end, for­mer gover­nor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamiesieigha re­turned to his maker. He would be re­mem­bered for many things in­clud­ing jump­ing bail in the United King­dom af­ter be­ing ar­rested for money laun­der­ing to re­turn home to his safe coun­try Nige­ria where he had no fear of the law. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, he was in Dubai re­ceiv­ing med­i­cal at­ten­tion when news got to him that Her Majesty’s Gov­ern­ment was is­su­ing an ex­tra­di­tion or­der to get him back to the United King­dom to once again face Com­mon Law. He re­turned to Nige­ria in a pre­cip­i­tate man­ner where he died.

Dubai has be­come a safe place for peo­ple with le­gal cases that in­duce them to stay far from Europe un­til the James Ibori saga. Un­for­tu­nately for him, the Dubai author­i­ties ac­cepted the ex­tra­di­tion re­quest from the United King­dom where he was suc­cess­fully pros­e­cuted for money laun­der­ing and jailed. Given this history, it was un­der­stand­able that DSP Alamiesieigha did not feel too safe in Dubai and opted to re­turn to his safe coun­try. Why is Nige­ria so safe for peo­ple en­gaged in mega cor­rup­tion while the same peo­ple are at great risk when tried abroad?

I am cur­rently read­ing the fas­ci­nat­ing story that Strive Masiyiwa, CEO and founder of ECONET Wire­less has posted on his blo­post on his ex­pe­ri­ence with cor­rup­tion in Nige­ria. He was asked to pay $9 mil­lion as bribe, half of it to James Ibori for fa­cil­i­tat­ing the take­off of ECONET. He re­fused and Mr. Ibori al­legedly told him “pay or I will chase you out of the coun­try”, he still re­fused and was chased out. The com­pany was given to V-Mo­bile and he claims that they promptly paid the bribe. He re­ported the case to the Amer­i­can author­i­ties and V-Mo­bile was pun­ished and had to leave the coun­try. He also tells the story of his in­volve­ment in pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence to the United King­dom “Pro­ceeds of Cor­rup­tion” unit to suc­cess­fully pros­e­cute a Lon­don lawyer who de­vel­oped a “spe­cial pur­pose ve­hi­cle” to sell Akwa Ibom shares of ECONET and laun­der the money. The lawyer is in jail in the United King­dom but Nige­ria re­fused to ex­tra­dite the politi­cians who re­ceived the bribes and they are all free in safe Nige­ria. So many lawyers and com­pany ex­ec­u­tives who gave or fa­cil­i­tated the giv­ing of bribes to Nige­rian politi­cians are in jail to­day in the United States, United King­dom, France and Switzer­land but those who re­ceived the monies in Nige­ria are free and en­joy­ing the fruits of the crim­i­nal acts.

I re­mem­ber once ask­ing a board mem­ber of the Cen­tre for Democ­racy and De­vel­op­ment who teaches law at Manch­ester Metropoli­tan Univer­sity why in the United King­dom cor­rupt per­sons are tried and go to jail and in Nige­ria they are tried, tried, tried again and re­leased af­ter ten or fif­teen years. Don’t we have the same Com­mon Law I asked him? We have the same law he re­as­sured me, but we dif­fer sig­nif­i­cantly in how we ap­ply them. Lawyers and judges are not stupid and many of them are ac­tu­ally very in­tel­li­gent he said. In the United King­dom, when a lawyer en­gages in in­ter­minable in­junc­tions to de­lay a case, ev­ery­one knows ex­actly what is hap­pen­ing. The judge could send the lawyer to jail for per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice and the bar as­so­ci­a­tion may fur­ther pun­ish the lawyer for bring­ing dis­re­pute to their hon­or­able pro­fes­sion. Pre­cisely be­cause of this fear of sanc­tions, lawyers in the UK de­sist in wast­ing the time of the court. In Nige­ria how­ever, when a bril­liant lawyer de­lays a case for ten years, he is con­sid­ered a bril­liant de­fender of the prin­ci­ple of fair hear­ing and goes smil­ing to his bank with a con­sid­er­able per­cent­age of the looted funds.

One thing that has been sci­en­tif­i­cally proved about cor­rup­tion is that when the sys­tem is able to pun­ish those in­volved in cor­rupt prac­tices the quan­tum de­creases steadily. When there is im­mu­nity for en­gag­ing in cor­rupt prac­tices how­ever the quan­tum and scale of cor­rupt acts grows as­tro­nom­i­cally. Since the height of Nuhu Robadu’s suc­cesses in the Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Crimes Com­mis­sion (EFCC), con­fi­dence has re­turned fully to the prac­ti­tion­ers of grand cor­rup­tion in Nige­ria. We have had too many Honourable At­tor­ney-Gen­er­als that have used the lan­guage of the rule of law to un­der­mine the ef­fi­cacy many cor­rup­tion tri­als in our courts for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons. Some­times, they have re­sorted to plea bar­gains to make mega loot­ers es­cape with their loot and with­out pun­ish­ment. In other cases, they have sim­ply re­fused to dili­gently pros­e­cute per­sons charged with cor­rup­tion. Nige­ria is to­day the only coun­try in the civilised world where cor­rupt per­sons could get court in­junc­tions stop­ping the pros­e­cu­to­rial agen­cies and the courts from in­ves­ti­gat­ing and pros­e­cut­ing their cor­rupt acts.

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