By Taiye Agbaje, NAN
The judiciary is the arm of government that protects the rule of law and ensures the rule of law; it interprets the law and protects the rights of the individual or the group of individuals and entities.
And in doing so, the court also exercises judicial powers to try criminal offenses taking into account the provisions of the law.
One of these provisions is the negotiation of sentence within the framework of the Nigerian criminal justice system. Lawyers are divided on the effectiveness of plea negotiations as a tool for the administration of justice. While some legal practitioners think it helps the system, others see it as full of flaws that make it prone to abuse.
According to a Lagos-based jurist, Josephine Ijekhuemen, the doctrine was imported from the US criminal justice system into Nigeria’s corpus juris.
She said regulatory frameworks that introduced the concept of plea bargain in Nigeria include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment etc) Act and the subsequent Criminal Law Administration, ACJL, of the State of Lagos, as part of efforts to recover the stolen flights. funds.
“Sentence negotiation is a new practice. It became popular during anti-corruption trials in which some individuals, mainly the elite, negotiated for lesser sanctions,” she said in a recent interview with the News Agency of Nigeria.
But for Abdul Ibrahim, SAN, plea bargaining is not only related to corruption cases, but could also be applied to other crimes.
“When it comes to corruption cases, I think it’s not the plea bargain itself that’s the problem. It’s how plea bargaining works and how you get there that’s the problem,” he said.
Citing an example, Mr Ibrahim said: “A man embezzles 5 billion naira and you asked him to return 2 billion naira, that’s not too good.
“But if 5 billion naira is stolen and you get 4.7 billion naira back, leaving the others you can’t find, I think it’s fine.
Another jurist, Afam Osigwe, SAN, said that in all parts of the world where the government takes the fight against financial and economic crimes seriously, plea bargaining is one of the instruments adopted to avoid lengthy trials.
Mr Osigwe, however, warned that the practice should not be abusive.
According to him, there is nothing wrong with a plea bargain, even the US government sometimes resorts to it, and in this way the government makes a lot of money because the idea is to recover the stolen wealth.
He, however, said what should be of concern to Nigerians is the extent to which the plea bargain provisions are transparent.
But Jubrin Okutepa, SAN, said plea bargaining as practiced in the Nigerian justice system is prone to abuse, pointing out that there are guidelines on how people can observe plea bargaining. and its consequences as established by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC.
PACAC was created to intensify anti-corruption advocacy in private sectors and business associations as part of anti-corruption efforts.
Mr Okutepa said that in looking at the guidelines set by the committee, it would work if there was a will on the part of the state to pass it and also a will on their part not to breach the guidelines by not granting state pardon. to looters.
He called on states to put in place sufficient funds and technological equipment to nip in the bud some of the scientifically organized crimes in terms of money laundering and other corruption-related offences.
However, Balarabe Musa, former governor of the former Kaduna state in the second republic, described the plea bargain as “the height of corruption in the system”, which made political leaders even more culpable.
“Plea bargaining sends the wrong message that everyone is free to fly and once you get caught the worst you can do is plea bargain with the government or political leaders and in the end you will be working with something substantial.
Mr. Balarabe recalled that the issue of corruption or any leader stealing public funds and getting away with it was not part of the country’s political game during the merger period until 1965.
According to Elias Offor, the plea bargain introduces restitution into criminal jurisprudence in a very clumsy way.
“Because of the way it is practiced in Nigeria, it encourages transplant. A case of serious embezzlement which warrants the death penalty in some countries will be granted a release by plea bargain after which the culprit walks down the road undisturbed. Plea bargaining as practiced in Nigeria flouts the laws of the land,” he said.
“The introduction of plea bargaining into the criminal jurisprudence of Nigeria through the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and domesticated versions in various states is a welcome development,” said the National Welfare Secretary of Nigeria. ‘Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Kunle Edu.
His words: “It also reduces the cost of criminal prosecution. So I see plea bargaining as a win-win arrangement between the prosecutor, the defendant, the court and also the general public,” he said.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Osita Enwe, believes that to effectively use plea bargaining as a shield against prosecution, the plea and bargain should take place after an arraignment, adding that any such deal was acceptable to the court. .
Citing Section 14(2) of the EFCC Act, Mr. Enwe argued that the section allows the Board to enter into a plea bargain only with an accused and not with a mere suspect.
However, Federation Attorney General Abubakar Malami, SAN, said the abuse of the plea bargain due to a procedural loophole in the law is responsible for public distrust of the arrangement. .
Mr. Malami, while speaking through Federation Solicitor General and Federal Ministry of Justice Permanent Secretary Dayo Apata, during a virtual stakeholder roundtable for the “Guidelines Review on plea bargaining for federal prosecutors,” said the process was open to abuse.
He said section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, “provides the general legal framework for the application of plea bargaining”, but noted that the provision was insufficient to ensure the protection of the public interest and prevent abuse.
“I think this provision can also be deployed effectively to tackle compounding offenses that are in some laws, but without any procedural details to facilitate its application.
“This gap is responsible for abuses in the composition of offenses that have reinforced the current public skepticism of plea bargaining in general,” Mr. Malami said.