On “Common Law” and punishing top lawyers
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.