Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), says the Nigerian judiciary is constantly manipulated to favor influential politicians accused of corruption in Nigeria.
Falana said so on Tuesday in a paper titled “Sentenncing Rich And Poor Convicts In Nigeria: An Unbalanced Scale,” delivered at the inaugural public lecture of the Department of Public and International Law, Faculty of Law, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo, State. of Oyo, according to a statement by Tayo Soyemi of Chambers Falana and Falana.
He condemned the impunity in some neighborhoods which has made the rich and influential “untouchable” while the poor and disadvantaged suffer for these crimes.
He said: “Since they have money, they can influence and manipulate the justice system in their favor. Therefore, these people commit crimes and get away with them. Due to corruption and an extremely compromised system, they might even have the support of the government.
According to him, some people who were arrested for crimes, were found guilty, sentenced and imprisoned but were never found in any correctional center while unemployed young people are serving prison terms in place of wealthy convicts.
He also condemned the government’s involvement in cases involving the wealthy. “For political reasons, the trial and sentencing of the wealthy is often hampered,” he said.
Falana noted, “Judges could even be forced to favor these wealthy offenders against their own will. But there is often no one to speak on behalf of the poor, who often have no voice of their own. On the rare occasions when the wealthy are convicted, they are usually pardoned by the president and state governors.”
He also described corruption as a major factor against the proper administration of justice in Nigeria. “Often, wealthy defendants engage in delaying tactics that frustrate and force the state to enter into a plea bargain with them.”
“Judges give lighter sentences to convicted wealthy defendants or resort to subtleties to free them. How else could someone who embezzled pension funds worth billions of naira be sentenced to just six months in prison, but another who stole a cheap telephone handset could be sentenced to ten years in jail? imprisonment? »
Falana spoke out against the growing injustice against the poor as more attention is given to cases involving the rich as opposed to the poor.
The lawyer highlighted plea bargain cases including that of Tafa Balogun, the former Inspector General of Police involved in the N17 billion saga; the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Dieprieye Alamiesiegha; Lucky Igbinedon, the former Governor of Edo State, who was fined N3.5million after reaching a plea bargain with the EFCC to reduce the 191 charges against him on one count.
He also cited the case of John Yusuf who embezzled 27.2 billion naira from the pension fund of retired police officers; Ms. Cecilia Ibru, former Managing Director and Managing Director of Oceanic Bank Plc.
He added: “The case of FRN v. Abdulrasheed Maina is one of the few that made a small difference: Maina who was charged with criminal offences, punishable under Articles 11(2)(a), 15 (3) and 16(2)(c) of the Prohibition of Money Laundering Act, and also acted in breach of the Advance Charges Fraud Act, was in November 2021 found guilty and sentenced to eight years in prison, after being found guilty on all 12 counts the Economic and and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) preferred against him and his company, Common Input Property and Investment Limited.
“The court ordered Maina and his company to confiscate approximately 2.1 billion naira which was traced to their bank accounts, along with another sum of $223,396.30 from the federal government, after which he confiscated ordered that the company be liquidated. at the top. He also ordered the confiscation of the two prime properties of Maina in the Life camp and Jabi neighborhoods of Abuja, from the government, as well as the auction of a bulletproof car and an exotic BMW 5 Series car which were found in the premises of the condemned.
He added: “Between 2005 and 2006, a federally appointed Board of Inquiry found that 197 defendants tried, convicted and imprisoned for drug trafficking were not found in any correctional center in the country.
“At the end of their trials, members of a syndicate of prosecution and defense lawyers, clerks and guards took heavy bribes from the convicted and allowed them to escape from prison.
“It was found that the convicts returned to infamous business. I raised the matter with the NDLEA authorities who assured me that the convicts would be arrested and sentenced to serve prison terms. But that was the end of the story.
“On July 10, 2015, Chief Justice of Anambra State, Honorable Justice Umeadi visited all prisons in the state with the aim of decongesting the prisons. His Lordship revealed that some detainees had no records in the jails. The scandal was well reported at the time.
“Because inmates are incarcerated by warrants issued by judges and magistrates, correctional center authorities are challenged to explain who authorized the ‘imprisonment’ of inmates without records.
“Detainees awaiting trial represent no less than 75% of the country’s prison population. The majority of inmates, including convicts, are poor. The few wealthy and ruling class members who are imprisoned are usually pardoned by the president and state governors in the exercise of their powers under Section 175 of the Constitution.
“Upon the recommendation of President Muhammadu Buhari, the Council of State has just approved the pardon of a number of convicted persons, including two former state governors imprisoned for laundering billions of naira.
“Since the Constitution provides for the equality of all citizens before the law, all other persons convicted of theft, fraud and money laundering must be pardoned and released.
“There can be no moral or legal justification for imprisoning the poor who steal spaghetti and noodles to feed their family members while those who loot the treasury are granted clemency or pardon.
“In conclusion, allow me to call on the poor who constitute the majority of poor victims of the institutionalized criminal justice system to unite and fight for socio-economic justice and equality before the law.
“In particular, indigent defendants are advised to notify the attorneys of the Legal Aid Board and Public Defender’s Office in each state of the Federation to provide them with counsel whenever they are arrested, detained or charged. of a criminal offence.
“It is the responsibility of the state to assign lawyers free of charge to citizens who earn less than the national minimum wage of Naira 30,000.00.
“The law is not neutral in a class society. It is made and enacted by wealthy legislators to serve the interests of the wealthy. Judges interpret the law to favor wealthy and powerful people in society.
“Big lawyers hired to defend the wealthy exploit the loopholes and intricacies of the law to free their wealthy clients. Therefore, the poor man who stole noodles from Abuja for food was jailed by a higher court. Even though he had nothing left to eat, the judge sentenced him to 6 months imprisonment or a fine of 20,000 naira.
“But the former senior civil servant who laundered $9.8million and £74,000 has been freed by the Federal High Court. The judge blamed the EFCC for failing to prove the case beyond all reasonable doubt!
“The disparity in the sentencing of convicts rich and poor in Nigeria is one of the negative factors affecting the administration of criminal justice in the country. The major factor behind this problem is the dysfunctional justice system run by the Nigerian courts.
“Because of the class character of society, courts and law enforcement tend to favor wealthy convicts over poor convicts. This problem has caused the public to lose hope and confidence in the country’s judicial system.
“Drastic major steps must be taken to address the problem of disparity in sentencing, in order to ensure justice, fairness and equality before the law, for all convicts.”