The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has stated clearly that in the ongoing pursuit of treasury looters, returning what was stolen will not be sufficient ground to set anyone free. He insisted that there must be restitution in which case those found culpable will still have to face the wrath of the law and, if found guilty, sent to jail. This ought to be music to the ears of most Nigerians.
This has always been our stand in this effort by the Muhammadu Buhari administration to not only rid the country of corrupt tendencies but also that anyone found to have benefitted from the illicit process did not go unpunished.
From what is going on in the Armsgate, it is obvious that the nation has been unfairly treated by those who, by hook or crook, found themselves in the corridors of power. To this extent, it is our view that those caught and proved guilty must face the legal consequences even if they volunteer to return all or part of what they corruptly acquired.
In standing against any pressure to succumb to plea bargain, we observe that corruption has been responsible for the hardship many Nigerians are experiencing. In the case of the Armsgate, we also add that all those involved should be tried for mass murder of soldiers sent to war without arms and innocent civilians who got caught in the cross-fire.
Having said this, it is pertinent that the prosecuting officials avoid media trial during which accused persons are found guilty even before they have an opportunity to take a plea in court. That, in our view, will be against the cause justice and rule of law.
Furthermore, we recall past instances where cases of corruption collapsed in court as a result of shoddy investigation and incompetent prosecution. In such situations, the judicial system was ridiculed and justice itself was stood on its head. At that time, there were insinuations of political interference and condemnable manipulation which saw deals made openly in court by conniving prosecutors and all too willing defence counsels.
This political interference, we regret to observe, is about to rear its head with President Buhari’s reported clearance of all his ministers of corrupt tendencies when, in actual fact, Nigerians know better based on information in the public space. We consider his position on the matter a bit hasty especially as some of his ministers were key players in the old system as well as in the circumstances that resulted in the mess he is trying to clear. President Buhari himself knows this much.
In our opinion, it is imperative that the anti-corruption campaign must cut across party lines for it to be credible and reflect the nature of the president and his much vaunted integrity. Transparency must be the watchword of whoever is saddled with this onerous responsibility of executing this task. Nigerians and even the international community will find it unacceptable if they are told that all opposition politicians are corrupt and those in the ruling party are stainless.
In the meantime, we commend the minister’s claim that a crack team of prosecutors are on standby to pursue the courtroom arm of the campaign. But we warn against any form of complacency on the part of the government and its officials. The investigations and the subsequent charges must be made to stick without any unintended technicalities. Corruption has the wherewithal to fight back and it will attempt to do so.