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EFCC, Igbinedion and Plea-Bargaining

By Erasmus Ikhide
 Published  December 23rd, 2008

It is mind numbing that it’s truer as speculated earlier by a number of columnists; especially Okey Ndibe of the Sun newspaper and Sahara Reporters, that Farida Waziri, the chairperson of the Nigerian anti-graft agency, Economic and Financial Crime Commission EFCC, prefers to remain thick in the head than to ensure that economic criminals are brought to justice. She is, from the outset more inclined to protecting the kleptomania ex-governors from prosecution to fulfill her part of the bargain – for they brought her to head the commission – perhaps under oath; that should she succeeds Nuhu Ribadu as boss of the EFCC she would ensure that none of the ex-governors faces the wrath of the law of the land.

It felt like a ballistic missile had hit me when I read a day earlier on the cyber space, precisely on December 17, 2008 that the 191- count charge against the former Governor Lucky Igbinedion were narrowed down to one after a plea bargain the ex-governor entered into with the EFCC. I plough back in time into what Mr. Femi Babafemi, the commission’s spokesman told Nigerians at the behest of his boss, Mrs. Farida Wazairi in the wake of Chief Cletus Ibeto’s arrest that. Hear him: ‘‘Also yesterday, the chairman of the commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, expressed opposition to plea-bargain strategy being used by the anti-corruption agency, saying it was wrong, and unhelpful in the crusade against corruption in Nigeria’’.

It is scandalous that after the judgment that was handed down on Igbinedion on December 18, 2008 by Justice Abdul Tafarati at the Enugu Federal High Court to hear the same Mr. Babafemi in a press statement saying that the outcome of the exercise at the court in Enugu fall short of the EFCC’s expectation. He said: "It is believed that the essence of a plea bargain is not only for suspects to forfeit the proceeds of crime but that such should go with a sentence which will serve as deterrence.” ‘‘In view of this development, the Chairman of the EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri has instructed the commission’s counsel to file an appeal against the verdict immediately.’’ “The commission will rather go the long way of prosecution than to settle for a plea bargain verdict that has no bite or will not serve any deterrence purpose.’’

Mrs. Farida Wazari is a study in dishonesty; a hallmark that taunted and tarnished her bellicose career with a tainted background as a former head of Special Fraud Unit SFU, of the Nigerian Police Force, while in Lagos. That she has reversed herself against her initial stance on plea-bargain and, shamelessly allowed the criminal ex-governor Lucky Igbinedion to get away with a slap on the wrist must be conceptualized on her appointment. She owns her appointment to the commission on the compromise that she would do no justice in the cases against ex-governors who have plundered their various states, however brazen, to the detriment of Nigerians.

This is a credibility problem for Yar’ Adua led administration that had his mandate legitimated by a supremely corrupt Supreme Court by 4-3 Justices, with the incubus Justice Niki Tobi who is more PDP than a judge. No serious minded government in the vanguard of curbing corruption will ever retailed a detestable fellow as Mrs. Farida Waziri who is blowing hot and cool, deeply enmeshed and ensnared in the cankerworm she is set out to check.

Any surprise that the ruling given by a judge at the Federal High Court in Enugu, on December 18, 2008 fined Lucky Igbinedion a paltry of N3.5 million, with no option of jail time for the egregious crime of plundering the Edo State treasury for eight-year. The judgment is in compliant with the ‘‘plea bargain’’ agreement entered into by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission with the former governor to return a fraction of all that he pilfered while the state laid in ruin.

Edo State and its people are the ultimate losers in that judgment. The N3.5 million and three properties were awarded to Federal government in that bizarre judgment. It is up to Edo State government to cede to Federal government what rightly belong to her because it is having a son who preferred to enrich his luxuriant moustache that an eagle can perch each dawning day of the years than to minister to the basic needs of the people. And with this judgment Luck is permitted to keep his N4.4 billion loot, palatial houses in Nigeria , the UK , USA , South Africa , and Canada and multibillion oil tank farm he is trying to build at Apapa, Lagos .

Between 1999 and 2007, the big wealthy states that collected more money from the federation account than any other were rivers, N621.8b; Delta, N561.4b; Akwa Ibom, N495.2b; and Bayelsa, N452.3b. Edo State was number 20 on the list with N196.6b, and Cross River was number 25 with N195.3b. But are u surprise that aside the clean cities left behind in Cross River by ex-governor Donald Duke in the ambient of peace, and the heritage called Tinapa and Obudu Ranch as enduring monuments whose local and foreign attraction has earned the state, and still earning it a great deal of internally generated revenue? What we had of Lucky Igbinedion’s eight years of moustache tendering and its lavished enrichment was visionlessness of the first order; dishonest leadership that has deepened the state’s poverty index and unemployment and insecurity, while the poorly governed people groaned hopelessly at the mercy of his killers’ squad who dared any dissenting oppositions to have their voices muffled or pay the ultimate prize with their lives. The other day you were at a private function in the nation’s capital city Abuja , where the criminal salutes the Nigerian totemic flag as you; strutting freely as if nothing has happened!

No nation worth its sorts with baying intensity from the wreckage of mindless yester year’s governance as Nigeria with checkered history of reckless leadership quotient can redeem itself from the pang of corruption with plea-bargaining. A plea bargain is a process in which the defendant arranges a ‘deal’ with the prosecution. A plea bargain essentially means that a defendant charged with multiple crimes will plead guilty to a certain charge in order to escape going to trial for a more serious charge. The drawbacks inherent with ‘‘pleas guilty’’ is that the system as a whole doesn't do what the people count on it to do, which is to sort out the guilty people from the innocent people. It doesn't do that because the guilty people and the innocent people are all faced with the same pressure to plead guilty since they can not face the risk of continuous legal-guessing their acquaintance or charge with criminality. Plea-bargain in exchange for justice, in my studied opinion, is criminal in itself. The former Republican Illinois Governor, George Ryan, United States, who is currently serving out a 6-year prison sentence after being convicted on racketeering and fraud charges; as was revealed by a decade-long investigation which began with the sale of driver’s licences for bribes and led to the conviction of dozens of people who worked for Ryan when he was secretary of state and governor spokes volume of how to treat criminal in positions authority. May we seek other means to have ex-governor Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion behind bars as long as possible now that Justice Abdul Tafarati and EFCC have forced a giant camel through the eye of a needle?

Erasmus Ikhide is the of  Research, Constitutionalism andCommunications African Democratization, CAAD.

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