Some decades ago, Jeff Smith was one of the most promising young democrats in the United States. A political science Doctorate Degree (PhD) holder- turned politician, Smith was a Missouri state senator, the subject of an award-winning documentary, and a man with a seemingly limitless future. Many figured that he could have been a congressman, a U.S senator or governor. What he became instead was a federal inmate. In a fall from grace as cinematic as it was unlikely, Smith was brought down by a penny ante campaign-finance scandal, pled guilty to obstruction-of-justice charges and went to prison for a year.
His experience on the inside is the centerpiece of his new book, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison. Part personal memoir, part academic treatise, part political polemic, Mr. Smith Goes to Prison is a required book for anyone interested in learning more about life on the inside, the history of crime and punishment, and the issue of criminal-justice reform. Smith, now a free man (and a professor at the New School), narrated what he discovered when he went to prison and how the experience changed his views forever.
Unfortunately in Nigeria, we cannot boast of politicians such as Smith. I mean politicians, who would be ready to accept guilt, serve jail term and thereafter, use their prison experience to teach others how to live a corrupt-free life. Instead, we have politicians who in the face of incriminating evidence, would still plead not guilty, and use state resources to fight the state. It is happening now, it has happened previously and would still happen in the future if care is not taken.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, recently recorded a major victory in their fight against corruption. To their delight, Gabriel Daudu, a former member of the Kogi State House of Assembly, was convicted of N 1.4 billion fraud.
Daudu, who was once the Chairman of Ogori/Magongo Local Government Area of Kogi State, was first arraigned in 2010 on 208 counts bordering on money laundering and embezzlement of public funds. There were 47 exhibits and 13 witnesses, thereby proving that the charges against him were not unfounded. He was then found guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” by Justice Inyang Ekwo, at the Federal High Court in Kogi State.
Justice Ekwo declared that he was found guilty on 77 out of the 208 counts and would serve a two-year jail term for each, which amounts to 154-year imprisonment. However, in a turn of events, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, asked another judge, Justice P.M. Ayuba, to take over the case. This switch gave Daudu’s lawyer a chance to appeal for a review of the 154-year jail term. Justice Auta reportedly returned the case to Justice Ekwo. According to a press release by the EFCC, although, Daudu is still guilty of all the 77 counts, he will only serve a two-year jail term, instead of the 154 that was originally stated by the judge.
Is the judiciary corrupt?
Over the years, the appropriate punishment for corrupt officials has been a subject of debate in Nigeria. Knowing fully well that it is quite easy for public officials to wriggle their way out of an extensive jail term, other forms of punishment, including the death sentence, have been suggested by various factions.
However, there is a weak link, Nigeria’s feeble and corrupt laws. The process of trial and prosecution for corrupt officials is usually drawn out and this enables the growth of impunity. If a public official could embezzle N1.4 billion and was sentenced to only two years in jail, whereas a petty thief was sentenced to death by hanging, there is obviously an imbalance in the judiciary.
If the judiciary (which should be the embodiment of law and justice) is corrupt, then the cycle of corruption will continue to roll until Nigeria is swallowed up in its mire.
This takes my mind to the ongoing amendment of the EFCC Act in the National Assembly. The House of Representatives is working on the amendment of the Act to prescribe 20-year jail term for any politically exposed person, PEP, and those working in the private sector convicted of economic and financial crimes.
The amendment bill to the EFCC Act, 2004 sponsored by Bassey Ewa (PDP Cross River), is also seeking the creation of special economic and financial crime courts.
The bill also seeks to “provide for quick recovery procedures for stolen assets; implement active pursuit of cases, build capacity and improve trust and cooperation with foreign counterparts, as well as ensure adequate funding of the commission.”
The bill defines corruption offences to include: “the bribery of national public officials, bribery of foreign public officials and officials of public international organisations; embezzlement, misappropriation or diversion of property by a public official; trading in influence; abuse of functions; illicit enrichment; bribery in the private sector; embezzlement of property in the private sector and laundering of proceeds of crime.”
According to the proposed amendment to Section 18 of the EFCC Principal Act, “all convicted persons shall serve an imprisonment of a term not less than 20 years and have their ill-gotten property, accounts, or investment confiscated by the government.” It, however, provided for plea-bargain for any accused person who accepts to refund the total amount standing in his/her name, who shall be convicted for not more than two years. The bill also proposed that any company found guilty of contravening the Act, shall be banned from transacting business activities in Nigeria and have its assets and finances frozen.
If the amendment scales through, which I believe it will, and receives presidential endorsement, it means that a politician/public office holder can steal all he can from the public treasury, and when caught, submit the amount that was traced to him and pocket the rest, or in the case of the Kogi man, serve two years in jail and come out to enjoy his loot. What a nation. On one hand we say we are practicing the western type of democracy, on the other, we ‘africanize’ or do I say ‘nigerianize’ our brand of democracy to suit our personal desires. God have mercy.


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