Judges-wig

The courts were awash with money laundering cases in 2015. President Muhammadu Buhari has urged the judiciary to do more in 2016 to help recover looted funds and punish impunity. What can the judiciary do to give lawbreakers their just deserts? ROBERT EGBE writes.

In his New Year address last Friday, President Muhammadu Buhari presented his wish list to the judiciary. While promising to intensify the anti-graft war, he said: “I urge the courts to support our efforts and help in the recovery of stolen funds by speedily concluding trials and showing that impunity no longer has a place in our country.”

All eyes will be on the judiciary to see how some high profile cases which began last year will be resolved.

The arms scandal

Fed Govt vs Dasuki and Co

Heads have continued to roll in the $2.1billion arms scandal involving former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Mohammed Sambo Dasuki and all eyes are now on the judiciary to ensure quick dispensation of justice.

He is facing three cases before the Federal High Court, Abuja and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Maitama, Abuja.

Dasuki is being tried alone on a five-count charge of money laundering involving about N84.6million and illegal possession of firearms before the Federal High Court, Abuja. Trial in the case is expected to open in early January.

The former NSA is also involved in the case of alleged diversion of over N20 billion involving former Minister of State for Finance, Bashir Yuguda and former Sokoto State governor, Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa, among others.

In the third case, Dasuki is being tried with an ex-Director of Finance and Administration in the office of the NSA, Shuaibu Salisu, former Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Aminu Baba-Kusa, and others in a 19 count-charge bordering on criminal diversion of funds. Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf has since granted them bail and fixed January 21 for commencement of trial.

Fed Govt vs Dokpesi

Businessman, Raymond Dokpesi, was arraigned on December 9 at the Federal High Court, Abuja on a six-count charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Dokpsei and his company – Daar Investment and Holding Company Limited – were accused of accepting N2,120,000,000 from Dasuki, for the last presidential campaign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) without going through due process. Dokpesi, who pleaded not guilty to the charge, has since been granted bail. Trial is expected to open in the case on February 17.

The economic cases

The fines imposed by regulators against businesses and the resultant suits have thrust an unusual role on the courts this year: an economic one.

Although the cases are not criminal, their resolution by the courts will go a long way in discouraging the culture of impunity in business by both government and private companies.

Such cases include those initiated by MTN Communications Nigeria Limited against the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Guinness Nigeria Plc against the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) vs Stanbic IBTC Holdings Plc saga is another case in point.

If these decisions go against the companies, the fines would substantially boost the government’s revenue by N1.06 trillion as well as launder its anti-impunity credentials.

MTN vs NCC

On October 26, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) fined MTN Communications Nigeria Limited N1.04trillion ($5.24billion) for its alleged failure to register about 5.2 million subscribers within a given deadline.

In two separate suits filed before the Federal High court, Abuja by an Abuja-based lawyer, Abubakar Sani, and another by MTN in Lagos, a declaration is being sought to declare the fine unlawful.

Guinness vs NAFDAC

A N1billion fine imposed by NAFDAC on Guinness “as administrative charges for various clandestine violations of NAFDAC rules, regulations and enactments over a long period of time,” led to a court case on December 23.

The company asked the court to restrain NAFDAC and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) from enforcing the sanction pending the determination of the suit which has been adjourned till February 8. The parties have, however, begun settlement talks.

Stanbic IBTC vs FRC

The N1billion fine and other sanctions imposed on Stanbic IBTC by the FRC over the financial institution’s audited accounts for 2013 and 2014 has been challenged at the Court of Appeal after the bank lost at the Federal High Court.

What the judiciary can do

However, experts have suggested that to help the government meet its goal of reducing corruption and curbing impunity, judges must not only merely preside over cases, they must also find ways to up their game.

One useful tool judges can rely on is the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015

During a workshop organised last month by the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS) and the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption (PAAC), speakers, including Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), represented by PACC chairman Prof Itse Sagay (SAN); and Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami (SAN) identified the benefits of the ACJA.

A communiqué issued at end of the workshop focused on sections 306 and 396 of the ACJA and suggested that for cases to be adjudicated with the urgency required, the Act must be given purposive interpretation and application by the courts.

“The courts are enjoined to give literal interpretation and full effect to sections 306 and 396 of the Act so to avoid unnecessary and frivolous interlocutory applications which are meant to delay trials, especially of corruption cases.

“The courts should adopt the wasted costs mechanism to deter counsel from seeking frivolous adjournments.”

Appellate courts should also not entertain interlocutory appeals emanating from corruption cases in defiance of provisions of the ACJA.

It was suggested that the ACJA should be further amended to provide for sanctions for non-compliance with its provisions.

Participants also urged the judiciary to develop a strong national judicial policy which should prohibit the abuse of interlocutory applications and injunctions.

“The Federal Government should endeavour to pay the salaries of judges regularly and make provisions for their security and retirement benefits.

“States of the Federation which have not already done so should domesticate the ACJ Act using the Federal Act as a template.

However, the government also has a role to play.

The communiqué, signed by CSLS President Prof Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), added: “The Federal Government should make adequate budgetary allocations to enhance the implementation of the innovative provisions of the ACJA, including payment of witness expenses, training and motivation of prosecutors, investigators and judges in the light of the huge workload occasioned by the Act.”

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