Buhari: How Not To Fight Corruption, By Oluwagbohunmi Aduralere


Corruption as a National Culture
In Nigeria, it is plausible to say that not being corrupt is an aberration while being corrupt is the norm! The immediate past administration even saw differences between stealing and corruption.
To Jonathan and his disciples, stealing was not corruption. Haba! This long and cumulative years of ‘authority stealing’ and engorgement by past and present sleazebags, and venally corrupt individuals has not only ruined our political and bureaucratic institutions, it has  also turned our national wealth into an ‘eatery’ in which people take their turn to eat or are invited  to ‘come-and-eat’.
In Nigeria, to say that corruption has reached a level where the government and the governed should rise up and fight this terminal disease is an understatement. It has even been said that government officials are not just corrupt but that corruption is official.  
Corruption seems to have become “normal” In Nigeria. Virtues such as; incorruptibility, honesty, and uprightness have become an aberration while being corrupt is the ‘normative’ behavioral pattern and an eccentric quality defining Nigerian citizenship.
Corruption is now so much wide spread that it can be regarded as national culture. 
The menace of corruption in both public and private organization is corrosive to the extent that Achebe (1984), his book, ‘The Trouble With Nigeria’ warned us; Corruption in Nigeria has passed the alarming and entered the fatal stage and Nigeria will die if we keep pretending that she is only slightly indisposed.
Thirty years after Achebe’s passionate warning, rather than reducing, the menace is evidently on the increase to the extent that, Nigeria is now synonymous with corruption. Corruption can now be described as the ‘Fundamental Directive of National Policy’, and Nigeria could be registered at the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja under the trade name; ‘Aggravated Corruption PLC.’ 
Plea Bargaining and the Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System
In a desperate attempt to curb the menace, the Obasanjo’s administration instituted the fight against corruption by creating EFCC and ICPC, the urgency in ensuring the recovery of stolen assets made the EFCC to adopt plea bargain in prosecuting corruption cases levied on high profile individuals and politically exposed persons. 
For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the concept, a plea bargain, also known as plea agreement, is an agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concessions from the prosecutor.
This may mean that defendant will plead guilty to a less serious charge or to one of several charges, in return for the dismissal of other charges; or it may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to the original criminal charge in return for a more lenient sentence
However, the practice of plea-bargaining in Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System lack basic constitutional provisions and it was employed by anti-graft agency to ensure quick conviction of offenders and recovery of ill-gotten wealth.
Its practice in Nigeria presently lack moral context, it is shrouded in secrecy, with no clear-cut process and procedure, and unfortunately, corrupt judges are exploring the loopholes in the constitution to further abuse the concept through misuse of judicial discretions by giving lenient and patronizing sentence to those who have stolen our collective wealth.
The application of plea-bargain in Nigeria is illegal, unjust, and immoral. Judicial decisions emanating from the plea-bargaining, grants undue reward to high profile individuals, while the poor are gnashing in prisons for relatively lower offences.
The punishment and abuse of the concept in the corruption cases levied on high profile individuals is self evident. The former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, who mismanaged over 17 billion naira, had his 70 criminal charges reduced to 8 counts with 18 months imprisonment through a dubious plea deal.
The former Governor of Edo state, Lucky Igbinedon, also entered into a plea deal after he mismanaged over 25 billion naira and the plea deal he entered with the state saw his criminal charges reduced from 191 counts to just one single count.
He was only asked to pay 3.6 million naira for his 2 years prison terms. Similarly, the former Governor of Bayesal state, Diepreye Alaimeisaighia was also involved in reckless spending of over 50billion naira and received only two years imprisonment after his 23 criminal charges were reduced to 6 counts.
The former CEO of the defunct Oceanic bank, Mrs, Cecilia Ibru stole over 200 billion naira capital belonging to the depositors and customers of the bank,  she equally entered into plea deal with the prosecutor, while her 25 criminal counts were reduced to just 3, and she was dubiously sentenced to six months for mismanaging over 200 billion naira.
The same lenient judgment was handed over to John Yusuf, a former director at the police pension fund, Yusuf was only asked to pay a fine of N750, 000 for spearheading and looting over 27 billion naira belonging to retirees. Evidently, from the above cases resolved through the application of plea bargain, it is plausible to say that there are no correspondences between crimes and punishments.
Why Plea Bargain is Not ‘a Good’ Option
While the immediate past administration lacked the moral rectitude and the political will to fight corruption, the much needed change that we clamored for is here; and as’ Mr. Integrity” sets to correct the impasse, as shown by his speech during his recent visit to the US, when he said;
 “I will introduce a new system of plea bargaining that will allow those who have stolen assets and funds to return them-but if they do not take that opportunity we will pursue them through the courts.” 
While Buhari’s ‘new system of plea bargaining’ would not even involve the court-a kind of back-door arrangement where those who enriched themselves illegally would be asked to return it, his ‘new system of plea bargaining’ would not only undermine the overall objective of punishment, which is deterrent; it will also lack the much needed transparency that is required to successfully prosecute the corruption cases that are instituted against high profile individuals who are swimming in the ocean of criminal opulence.
For us as a nation to get out from the recurrence decimal of corruption in both political and economic spheres, I would like to encourage Mr. President not to see plea bargain as a veritable option in the fight against corruption.
Although plea bargain ensures quick recovery of ill-gotten wealth and save time and cost of prosecution, it also undermines the whole essence of the criminal justice system.
Plea bargain may encourage a situation in which the accused may steal recklessly, hoping to part with a percentage of the stolen assets in the ensuing plea bargaining while keeping some to be enjoyed after serving a light sentence of imprisonment.
It should not be a subject of debate that any ‘legal’ concept that allows a corrupt official to barter a percentage of looted funds for justice is an encouragement and not deterrence to corruption. The creation of an opportunity for a corrupt individual to escape justice by simply sharing his loot with the state will always create the urge to steal more.
 It should be noted that the essence of legislating against crime is to deter people from committing it. The only way people could be deterred is by transparent and effective punishment. If punishment is to be compromised, then, the question of deterrence is jettisoned, and the war against corruption is defeated.
So, as we struggle to make corruption a thing of the past in Nigeria, it should be known that increasing the threat and severity of punishment across all types of crime will decrease the rate at which those crimes are committed.
On a final note, adopting plea bargain  or ‘ a new system of plea bargaining’ as being proposed by the president to prosecute venally corrupt individuals is like using corruption to fight corruption; is like using judicial corrupt practice to fight economic corrupt practice.
The economic sphere becomes a space for corruption, while the judiciary becomes a space for escape for the few who are caught through the dubious application of plea bargaining.
 Oluwagbohunmi Aduralere, postgraduate student, department of Sociology, University of Ibadan

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