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(By Sylvester Udemezue)

Good evening, dear Professor & distinguished learned silk, sir. It’s President Vladimir Putin of Russia who once observed that in order for any fight against corruption to succeed, “those who fight corruption should themselves be clean.” In view of this, and on account of your recent public statements regarding some stakeholders in the fight against corruption in Nigeria, I have chosen to approach you to seek clarification on some questions that have been bothering my poor heart.

Sir, you were recently quoted as having declared that the Judiciary was not a “reliable partner” in Nigeria’s anti-graft war. The Nation Newspaper report came under the headline, “Sagay to Judiciary: You’re hostile towards anti-graft war.” Similarly, on July 19, 2020, TheNigeriaLawyer blog quoted you as having alleged that “AGF Malami is not a reliable partner” in the antigraft war. It came under the headline, “AGF, Malami, Not A Reliable Partner In Anti-Graft War — Sagay, SAN.” Earlier, on that same July 19, 2020, a Special Prosecutor with the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property, Mr. Oluwatosin Ojaomo, was reported by the Punch as claiming thus: “How Malami is undermining Buhari’s anti-corruption war — Special Prosecutor.” Previously, on July 06, 2020, THENIGERIALAWYER, had published a news report under the title, “Sagay Asks Buhari To Remove EFCC, ICPC From Malami’s Control.” Meanwhile, on or about July 06, 2020, the Ag. Chairman, Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, was arrested, detained, and later suspended from office. He is now being investigated on allegations of “corruption.” As a matter of fact, dear Professor, sir, on July 07, 2020, there was a major news headline: “Prof. Sagay Distances Self From Statement Defending Magu.” (the Punch Newspapers). Perhaps, you see Mr Magu also as “unreliable,” at least judging from recent developments.

Sir, you would recall that sometime in 2019, Hon Justice Ayo Salami (retired PCA, and the current Chairman of the Special Presidential Panel investigating Mr Magu) had claimed that Nigerian lawyers were encouraging and condoning corruption. Is this not another way of saying lawyers are not reliable partners in the antigraft war? See “Senior lawyers aid corruption with opaque charges for election cases” (published on thenationonlineng). To this is then added the reported Presidential explaination published under the headline, “How lawyers, judges are slowing down Nigeria’s anti-corruption war” (see premiumtimesng).

Now, respected Prof, my questions to you are, if the AGF, if the lawyers, if the courts, and if the suspended EFCC Chairman, etc are all “unreliable partners,” please tell us, for God’s sake, who is the reliable partner? Who do we look up to, to rescue this country from the evil clutches and strongholds of corruption and decadence? Who would go for us? Please, help me with clarification in this wise because I am confused. Objective answers, please, sir.

Meanwhile, with due respect, sir, I don’t think you people are entirely correct; I don’t think the lawyers, the judges, or the AGF are the real problems here. I think the reason some of you think or suggest that lawyers are “unreliable partners” is because lawyers represent accused persons and perhaps make it impossible for overzealous state bully-prosecutors to illegally secure convictions and imprisonment and as fast as the prosecutor wants. Respectfully, sir, I do not think merely securing conviction is the most important yardstick for measuring the rate of progress and effectiveness of a criminal justice system or of an anti corruption crusade. In all of the civilized world, leaders and governments, do not take pleasure in the incarceration and imprisonment of its citizens. Long detention without trial, irregular arrests, abuse of major prosecutorial responsibilities as seen in the desperate quest (by state prosecutors in Nigeria) to pursue and secure conviction at all cost, only help to make corruption more sophisticated and looters much wiser; high rate of convictions does not reduce corruption neither does it deter prospective looters.

ANY STATE PROSECUTOR WHOSE SOLE AIM IS TO SECURE THE CONVICTION OF AN ACCUSED PERSON AT ALL COST IS AN IRRESPONSIBLE PERSECUTOR WHO DESERVES TO NOT BE ASSIGNED ANY PROSECUTORIAL ROLES IN ANY COURT OF LAW & JUSTICE. The principal objective of criminal prosecutions and trials is to secure justice and not to secure conviction. Justice is a three-faced sword: (1)Justice for the state/society; (2) Justice for the alleged victim and (3) Justice for the accused person. A responsible, professional State prosecutor must be fair, just, and impartial in handling any case and must not turn himself into a persecutor. The role of the prosecutor in a criminal case was aptly captured by Mr Justice SUTHERLAND of US Supreme Court in the case of Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78, 88, 55 S.Ct. 629, 633, 79 L.Ed. 1314)):

“The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all; and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense a servant of the law, the two-fold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor—indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.” Do our prosecutors apply this model in Nigeria? Without due process of law, the fight against corruption becomes corruption itself. No wonder, Christopher Dawson declared, “As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy.”

Then, the judges who must decide cases before them based entirely on available admissible credible evidence and principles of law, not based on the opinion of the prosecutor or the state nor based on media trial. When the prosecutor is unable to advance sufficient evidence to substantiate his case in court, what do you expect the court to do? Manufacture or fabricate evidence against the accused person? Is it not the duty of the prosecutor to prove the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt, in an adversarial criminal justice system, such as ours is? Are doubts not supposed to be resolved in favour of the accused? Does suspicion ground a criminal offence/charge? Should the courts be swayed by unlawful media trial?

Dear sir, let’s call a spade by its name, if we want the fight against corruption in Nigeria to work as effectively and efficiently as similar projects work in some other countries, then certain principles and attitudes must be in place, and honestly respected. May I put forward the following suggestions, the pursuit and realization of which, I believe, would help nip corruption in the bud in Nigeria:

(1). Good and Inclusive Governance: this has been absent in Nigeria for decades. Bad governance is the best cause and the worst promoter of corruption. Our plight in Nigeria is best captured by Che Guevara: “Cruel leaders are replaced only to have new leaders turn cruel.” David Hume put it more succinctly: “the corruption of the best things gives rise to the worst.”
Until we enthrone good, transparent, and selfless governance, we might never get it right in our fighting against corruption.

(2). Political Leaders and Governments must enthrone equity and equality as their core guiding principles. These extend to respect for the federal character principle in the constitution (see Chapter 2), tolerance of opposition and of dissent.

(3). Modernism and modernization of the processes of governance: deployment of ICT, paperlessness, and use of the internet as a leadership tool for implementation of all government policies and programs.

(4). Diversification and reduction of the cost of governance: government has no business being involved (beyond playing the role of a regulator) in telecommunication, banking, power generation and distribution, oil/minerals exploration, mining, refining and distribution, and so many others.

(5). Respect for human rights and strict observance of rule of law, due process, and democratic constitutionalism. Corruption of rule of law is worse than economic corruption and financial crimes.

(6). We ought to concentrate on the root/causes of corruption and stop scratching the surface by unnecessarily dwelling on who aids it, and who does not; who is a realiable Partner and who is not. If we remove the causes, the environment would become infertile for corruption which would then die a natural death. Let’s adopt the criminologist’s approach, and let it coexist, side by side the arrest-and-prosecute approach.

(7). The next is illustrated in the words of President Vladimir Putin, “those who fight corruption should be clean themselves.” Corruption cannot fight corruption. Those appointed to drive the crusade must themselves be above suspicion. “Power doesn’t corrupt people, people corrupt power.” says William Gaddis. If we elect the same corrupt politicians every time, that’s a very clear message that we don’t want a change. There’s a saying that, “Diapers and politicians should be changed often. Both for the same reason.” According to George Orwell, A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims… but accomplices.

(8). The eightieth is seen in the words of Eduard Shevardnadze (Georgian politician and diplomat) “Corruption has its own motivations, and one has to thoroughly study that phenomenon and eliminate the foundations that allow corruption to exist.”

(9). The ninth has to do with building strong institutions and deemphasizing the role of personalities. To this end, hear Rigoberta Menchú, a Nobel Prize laureate: “Without strong watchdog institutions, impunity becomes the very foundation upon which systems of corruption are built. And if impunity is not demolished, all efforts to bring an end to corruption are in vain.” Hear Leo Tolstoy, “since corrupt people unite among themselves to constitute a force, then honest people must do the same.”

(10). The tenth is found in Olusegun Obasanjo’s declaration that “fighting corruption is not a one-night affair.”

In conclusion, If we think of, and do ,the right thing, as is done in some other countries, we would get good results like they.

If we ignore the above concepts and principles, it still boils down to the words of Steve Magee who once was of the opinion that corruption persists and blossoms in some countries because, in those countries, “Corrupt governments are run by corrupt politicians that run corrupt law enforcement agencies.” As an alternative to government by corrupt people, Turkish playwright and writer, Mehmet Murat ildan has suggested that, “Instead of politicians, let the monkeys govern the countries; at least they will steal only the bananas!”

Thank you so much, dear Prof.
Sylvester Udemezue