The Wig & Skirt, By Funke Aboyade, Email: Olufunke.email@example.com
Last week’s judgment against Dr. Erastus Akingbola by Mr. Justice Burton of the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice, London made interesting reading. Which is why we have taken the extraordinary step of devoting two pages to our law report this week. Even so, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface; for Jude Igbanoi who writes the law report section deciding what to leave out was no easy task, he remarked in fact that it was the longest judgment he’d ever edited. I, however, was fascinated by the language of the judgment. I learnt a new word too - pertinacity. I rather enjoyed the brutal frankness of Justice Burton too. ‘Load of baloney’ His Lordship scoffed (rather, I thought, like an American judge might), at paragraph 130 page 6o of the judgement, assessing the evidence of one of the witnesses for the defendant. As in ‘I am afraid to say, notwithstanding the pertinacity of Mr Chaisty, that this account (in paragraphs 125 to 129 above) cannot be described as anything other than a load of baloney’.
Inevitably many will compare this case with the James Ibori UK trial, even though one was civil and the other criminal. Both men were tried and discharged by the courts here, in circumstances many considered odd. In fact, in the Akingbola trial the judge had very scathing remarks for counsel who, as it turned out, did not appear to be involved in the matter. His remarks that they be debriefed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and never again darken the doorstep of the court in any matter concerning Akingbola, were quite remarkable. The EFCC has since begun another prosecution in the state High Court. It is noteworthy that the courts in England, in relatively swift trials, however had no difficulty in finding against both men. Our interview this week presents, amongst other things, a reminder as to why it is rare to have interlocutory appeals in cases or trials in the UK, hence eliminating unnecessary delays. Interestingly, part of the trial was conducted in Lagos via video link. There are certainly things we could pick up from the trial and implement in furtherance of our justice sector reform.
Another similarity many will draw in both cases is that both men fled Nigeria to avoid prosecution (or persecution - depending on what side you were persuaded by) only to end up for the worse abroad. Fleeing your troubles and heading abroad is definitely not the way to go any more –not even to a ‘safe haven’, for the extradition option can and will be explored. It will then be a case of from frying pan to fire. More, many countries now have very strict anti-corruption laws.
The UK Bribery Act 2010 for instance imposes very strict liability and criminalises private, as well as public, sector corruption. Going forward, one supposes we will now see persons in trouble with the law opting to take their chances here than fleeing abroad. Of course, if we on our part tighten up our laws and eliminate all procedural loopholes frequently exploited by counsel to delay or dilate trials, such potential fugitives will soon discover that there’s no hiding place for them at all on earth. Which may then naturally motivate many, in both public and private sector alike, to: (a) act within the confines of the law or (b) be less inclined to be involved in acts of corruption or (c) realise that even if everyone (or every bank else) else is manipulating the law (or share prices…) and seems to be getting away with it, sooner or later it will be every day for the thief and one day for the master…and that it’s better not to be the scapegoat.
It was not difficult at all then to choose this week’s cover. The topic is of course Akingbola. The subject of our interview, Segun Osuntokun, is a partner with the firm of solicitors, Berwin Leighton Paisner that represented Intercontinental, and subsequently Access, Bank.