While the conviction of Nyame is reassuring, the EFCC has to do more in the crusade against corruption
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) scored a major victory last week with the conviction by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, of a former governor of Taraba State, Reverend Jolly Nyame. After a trial that lasted 11 years, Nyame was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of the sum of N1.64bn belonging to the state. It is a positive development that should buoy the anti-corruption agenda of the current administration that has been marred largely by tardiness and application of double standards.
While we congratulate the EFCC for securing the conviction, we also urge the anti-graft agency not to relent in its bid to prosecute all the other former public officials, including those who founded, or have lately joined, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). From the abandoned corruption case involving the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal to the reinstatement and promotion of a dismissed civil servant, Abdulrasheed Maina, the joke in Abuja is that the broom, symbol of the ruling APC, was designed to sweep corruption under the carpet, especially for friends of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
However, the Nyame verdict is significant in several respects. It is a positive indication that treasury looters would no longer find it so easy to enter into “plea-bargain” and go home with just a slap on the wrist. It is also an indication that corruption cases will no longer take forever to decide upon. That will be a clear departure from the past when corrupt politicians usually employed the services of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) to frustrate their trials by raising frivolous objections and deploying all manner of delay tactics. While our laws still provide that the burden of proof in criminal trials lies on the prosecution, and the right of fair hearing remains entrenched in the Constitution, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) has made criminal trial less cumbersome for judges.
Meanwhile, the anti-corruption agencies may also need to up their game. In explaining why convictions were not easily secured, former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, once argued: “Experience has shown that whenever our law enforcement agencies are stampeded to arraign suspects, the end result is usually the discharge of such suspects by the courts ostensibly for want of evidence. Nigerians must therefore allow our law enforcement agencies to conduct painstaking investigations that will ultimately satisfy the standard of proof required in criminal cases.”
In taking on board that point, there should also be a strict adherence to the rule of law by the EFCC. Parading suspects who are still standing trial with placards carrying criminal inscriptions as was done last week to former Kaduna State Governor, Muktar Yero and a few other politically exposed persons, is not right and could compromise the integrity of the anti-corruption agency. It is also important for the EFCC to understand that it needs to do more work, especially in view of the acquittal last Friday by the Court of Appeal of a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi, who had been charged with an alleged fraud of N2.6 billion.
We, however, recognise the challenge of the EFCC. At practically all levels, there seems to be a misconception about what governance is all about. The tragedy of that misconception could be seen in the manner in which pubic officials and their families now openly flaunt ill-gotten wealth. It is therefore no longer lost on Nigerians that corruption is fast becoming a way of life for those who claim to be serving them. And they can see a nexus between that and their growing poverty.
While the conviction of Nyame should send a strong message, we hope those in authority will recognise the urgent need for a comprehensive and effective anti-corruption strategy that takes into account the fact that the legitimacy of our government and that of critical institutions is gradually being eroded.
While we congratulate the EFCC for securing the conviction, we also urge the anti-graft agency not to relent in its bid to prosecute all the other former public officials, including those who founded, or have lately joined, the ruling All Progressives Congress