Why Nigerians Don’t Trust Plea Bargain – AGF

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  • Says new guidelines will address lacuna in the law that fuels public scepticism about plea bargain.

The Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, has said the abuse of plea bargain due to procedural lacuna in the law is responsible for public distrust of the arrangement.

Mr Malami, represented by the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, spoke on Tuesday at a virtual stakeholder roundtable for the “review of the plea bargaining guidelines for federal prosecutors.”

He said section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, “provides the general legal framework for the application of plea bargain”, but noted that the provision was inadequate to ensure the protection of public interest and prevent abuse.

He said, “I believe that this provision can also be effectively deployed to address the compounding of offences which features in some statutes but without any procedural detail to aid its application.

“This lacuna is responsible for abuses in compounding of offences which had strengthened the current public scepticism about plea bargaining in general.

“In spite of the laudable provisions of section 270 of the ACJA, there is no doubt that these provisions are inadequate to guide the prosecutor and the defendant in reaching a plea bargain that ensures the protection of public interest, the interest of justice and prevents abuse of legal process.”

Many Nigerians have become distrustful of plea bargain after its application in some high profile corruption cases provided corrupt former governors and other top public officers to route get away with a slap on the wrist for mind-boggling looting of public treasury.

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Notorious among such cases are the ones involving former Governors Lucky Igbinedion of Edo State and Diepreye Alamieyeisegha (deceased) of Bayelsa State, who got sentences that helped them to either escape prison or spend little time there despite their pleading guilty to embezzlement of humongous amount of public fund.

‘New guidelines will address lacunas’

Mr Malami said noticed deficiencies “informed the development of the draft guidelines” on plea bargain.

He said benefits of effective deployment of plea bargain to include, reduced financial cost of prosecutions, speedy trial process, removal of uncertainty of trials, quick return of stolen assets, among others.

He said, “As you are well aware, the justice system in our nation is currently fraught with a lot of challenges which prolong adjudication time and most times frustrate parties.

“The effective deployment of plea bargain provisions will therefore, reduce the financial cost of prosecutions, hasten trial process, eliminate uncertainty of trials, enhance the quick return of stolen assets, and generally enhance the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

“The purpose of the Draft Guidelines is to promote standardization and consistency in Plea Bargain (including compounding of offences) by Federal Prosecutors as well as ensure that the principles of accountability, equity, integrity, and transparency are observed in reaching plea bargain agreements across the board.

“The draft provides further support to the existing Code of Conduct and Prosecutorial Guidelines for Federal Prosecutors which generally regulate the conducts and actions of Federal Prosecutors in the exercise of their prosecutorial discretion.”

He said the draft guideline was developed by the Administration of Criminal Justice Reform Department in collaboration with Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Programme (RoLAC) and other experts.

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