The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting over 103 high-profile cases. At least six of the cases were filed 10 years ago. Why are the trials still pending in courts? ROBERT EGBE asks.
Criminal trials lasting several years are not peculiar to the Nigerian judicial system. In India, for instance, 1,680,865 criminal cases have lasted longer than 10 years as at October 15, 2017, according to the country’s National Judicial Data Grid (NJDG). Overall, more than 22 million cases are pending in India’s district courts, six million of which have lasted longer than five years.
In Nigeria, how long do criminal trials last?
Last October, Nigeria’s foremost anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), published a list of 43 high-profile cases it has been prosecuting since 2007. It said it secured 125 convictions in 2016 alone.
Last month, it was reported that the anti-graft agency had made details of 60 more high-profile cases available to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. Thus, 103 of such cases filed by the EFCC between 2007 and 2015 are pending in courts.
Six of the cases stand out for two reasons: they began 10 years ago and involve former governors for alleged money laundering and fraud. A few others have been on for a little less longer. They are as follows:
Perhaps the most-talked about case involving the EFCC is the one instituted by Peter Odili, who governed Rivers State for two terms, from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007.
On December 12, 2006, the EFCC issued an interim investigative report and prepared a draft of 223 charges against Odili, accusing him of embezzling N100 billion.
On January 31, and February 26, 2007, at the twilight of his tenure, Odili approached two courts in the state capital where he filed two cases through his Attorney-General, Mr. Odein Ajumogobia (SAN). The cases were filed on behalf of the state.
The first case was before Justice PNC Agumagu of the Rivers State High Court, Port Harcourt, where Odili urged the court to declare, among others, that the “House of Assembly for Rivers State is not entitled to surrender to any person, body, or organisation (including ICPC and EFCC, or any other investigative body), or share or abdicate its powers of control over the public funds of Rivers State as vested in it by the Constitution.
The second case was filed before Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt. It had the EFCC, the Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly, Rivers State House of Assembly, and the Clerk of the House as defendants.
The suit sought a declaration that the EFCC is not entitled to share the powers of the Rivers State House of Assembly under the Constitution. It also sought, among others, an injunction restraining the EFCC from sharing the powers of the Assembly and also from disseminating, and distributing or acting on the report of investigation it carried out into the administration and management of the funds appropriated by the Rivers State House of Assembly.
On February 16, 2007, Justice Agumagu delivered his judgment, declaring that the EFCC, as an organ of the executive arm of the government, had no right under a federal system to inquire into the accounts of Rivers State.
The judge also restrained all the defendants from giving the EFCC access to the accounts of the state.
The suit before Justice Buba of the Federal High Court also went into full trial and in a judgment delivered on March 20, 2007, Justice Buba upheld the plaintiff’s prayers.
Two months after leaving office, Odili returned to Justice Buba’s court where he filed a suit in his personal capacity against the Attorney-General of the Federation and the EFCC.
The judge granted his prayers and restrained the EFCC from arresting, detaining, or prosecuting him. It also granted a perpetual injunction restraining the EFCC from using its interim report, which the court had earlier declared null and void.
Following a petition against the judge, the National Judicial Council (NJC) examined the judgment and found no irregularity.
Case status: The Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property Chairman, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, confirmed to The Nation that the EFCC’s appeal against the judgment is pending at the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division.
The EFCC charged former Plateau State Governor Joshua Dariye at the Federal Capital Teritory (FCT) High Court, Gudu, with N1.162 billion fraud.
Dariye is facing a 21-count charge bordering on breach of trust and diversion of N1.162 billion Plateau Ecological Fund. The trial commenced in October 2007 before Justice Adebukola Banjoko, but the case could not proceed because Dariye filed an application challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
He argued that he should be tried in Plateau and not in Abuja but his application was dismissed by the lower court. However, the matter dragged on until 2015 when the Supreme Court ordered him to return to the Abuja High Court for trial.
At the last hearing at the High Court on October 10, 2017 Dariye closed his case and applied for a written address.
Case status: Adjourned till December 7, for written addresses.
Former Enugu State Governor Chimaroke Nnamani was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Lagos in 2007, on a N5 billion money laundering charge. The ex-governor was docked alongside Sunday Anyaogu, his then aide and six firms linked to them. The firms are Rainbownet Nigeria Limited; Hillgate Nigeria Limited; Cosmos FM; Capital City Automobile Nigeria Limited; Renaissance University Teaching Hospital and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School.
The case was re-assigned to Justice Charles Archibong following the transfer of Justice Abubakar, now of the Appeal Court, out of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
Again, the case was re-assigned to Justice Mohammed Yinusa, after Justice Archibong (now retired) was also transferred out of the Lagos Division of the court.
According to the charge, Nnamani allegedly conspired with other accused persons to launder funds from the state treasury, especially monies meant for the local government areas of Enugu State.
On November 18, 2014, the EFCC prosecutor, Kevin Uzozie, obtained leave of court for a separate trial of the companies, which were arraigned alongside Nnamani.
Uzozieargued that the matter had been stalled several times on account of Mr. Nnamani’s frequent applications to travel abroad for medical treatment.
Mr. Uzozie said from the records of the court, it was clear that Mr. Nnamani had always applied to court for leave to travel out of the country on grounds of ill-health.
“It is a scandal that a criminal case which the law says must be speedily concluded has not even proceeded to trial seven years after it was filed,” he said.
On May 19, 2015, the four companies pleaded guilty to a 10-count amended charge.
Case status: Trial has been delayed by Nnamani’salleged illness.
The EFCC arraigned former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu in 2007, on a 96-count charge of money laundering.
However, Kalu challenged the competence of the charge and the power of the EFCC to prosecute him. This preliminary issue was argued up to the Supreme Court, delaying trial.
After a lengthy legal battle, the apex court in 2016, ordered Kalu to stand trial. In October 2016, the EFCC re-arraigned Kalu, Udeh Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited at the Federal High Court in Lagos on 34 counts of laundering N3.2billion, to which they pleaded not guilty.
The defendants allegedly diverted about N3.2billion from the Abia State treasury while Kalu was the governor.
Case status: Trial ongoing.
Former Taraba State Governor Jolly Nyame was arraigned by the EFCC for alleged stealing and diversion of state funds in 2007. The EFCC accused him of 41-count charge of criminal misappropriation of N1.64 billion state funds.
He challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Gudu, to try him up to the Supreme Court. But the apex court ruled that he had a case to answer and his trial recommenced in 2016.
Case status: Following the conclusion of his testimony, the EFCC continued Nyame’s cross-examination on October 12, 2017.
The trial of Senator Danjuma Goje, a former governor of Gombe State, began in 2007. But following his re-election as governor in 2007, his trial could not proceed because he was immune from prosecution.
Goje is being prosecuted for alleged conspiracy and money laundering at the Federal High Court, Plateau State.
At the continuation of trial on September 26, 2017, the EFCC presented four witnesses, who testified as the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th witnesses.
Case status: Justice Babatunde Quadri adjourned till November 20 and 21 for continuation of trial.
Saminu Turaki, who served two terms as governor of Jigawa State, from 1999 to 2007, was arraigned before Justice Binta Murtala Nyako of the Federal Capital Territory High Court on July 13, 2007 on a 32-count charge of misappropriating N36 billion while in office.
But his trial could not continue because, according to the EFCC, he absconded after being granted bail.
On May 3, 2013, a Federal High Court in Dutse, the Jigawa State capital, issued a warrant for his arrest for serially failing to appear before the court.
At a book launch in Abuja on July 4, the EFCC re-arrested Turaki. He was in EFCC custody for 14 days, but was released on the order of Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Case status: Trial commenced on September 28, 2017.
Other long criminal trials
On August 28, 2008, former Oyo State Governor Rasheed Ladoja was arrested by the EFCC over allegations of non-remittance of the proceeds of sale of government shares totalling N1.9 billion during his administration.
He was briefly remanded in prison by the Federal High Court in Lagos on August 30, 2008 and granted bail on September 5. The case went to the Supreme Court, which dismissed Ladoja’s interlocutory appeal.
The EFCC re-arraigned the former governor at the Federal High Court in Lagos last December, for allegedly converting N4.7 billion from the state treasury to his personal use. He was charged along with Waheed Akanbi on eight counts of money laundering and unlawful conversion of public funds.
Case status: Trial ongoing.
The EFCC, on November 22, 2012 re-arraigned Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Peter Fayose, on a 27-count charge of conversion of public funds amounting to N416,138,360.75 at the Federal High Court, Ado-Ekiti.
The EFCC accused Mr. Fayose of stealing the state’s funds during his first stint as governor between 2003 and 2006.
The agency called three witnesses in the case before Fayose was sworn in as governor in October 2014.
Case status: Struck out due to the immunity Fayose enjoys as governor under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.
Culled from The Nation