Legal Thoughts on How to Cripple Nigeria’s Corrupt Political Class

Barrister Adeyemo

By Akintunde Adeyemo (JD)

Since its inception, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (“the EFCC”), a statutorily created law enforcement agency that investigates financial crimes in Nigeria, has experienced a significantly low conviction rate; and, in complex cases, accused politicians continue to legally outmaneuver the EFCC.

Additionally, because the EFCC refuses to investigate some close associates of President Buhari, say, Governor Ganduje, who was recently reported to have been caught receiving a bribe, concerned Nigerians have raised some legitimate questions about its independence.

Furthermore, because the EFCC, like other law enforcement agencies in Nigeria, are under the direct control of the presidency, critics believe that it cherry-picks who, or who not, to prosecute.

By the way, this troubling relationship between the EFCC and the presidency precedes this current administration; in fact, since the founding of the EFCC in 2003, past administrations had exercised an absolute control of the agency.

In the scheme of things, it is difficult to convince most Nigerians that the EFCC is a neutral organization, for they see it as a pawn that can be easily manipulated by whoever is occupying Aso Rock. In my own opinion, relative to their counterparts in developed countries, the EFCC is an independent organization on paper only, for it is a corrosively politicized organization.

Furthermore, because the EFCC has ineffectively investigated and prosecuted financial crimes, I strongly believe that some of its statutory responsibilities should be amended. In the past, I had argued that the EFCC should be limited to investigating crimes, and the prosecution of those investigated crimes should be done by the Ministry of Justice; that is, career prosecutors, not EFCC-appointed prosecutors, should make a determination as to whether a particular case should be litigated.

That being said, we must find a way to strengthen the judicial ecosystem in which the EFCC operates.

Speaking of the Nigerian judicial system, which is primarily tasked with adjudicating these cases, it must be fundamentally overhauled. In this article, I will highlight some changes (creative solutions) that should be made, knowing that there are other fundamental changes that are urgently needed, too.

These creative solutions will further help Nigeria to fight, among other things, money-laundering, bribery, and corruption schemes.

Here are my suggestions: First, the democratization of the prosecutor’s office. Second, the removal of the mandatory retirement age for justices. Third, the abrogation of an absolute immunity from prosecution while in office.

The democratization of the prosecutor’s office promotes transparency, accountability, and independence: When chief prosecutors are elected every four years, and they are not beholden to politicians, they tend to be more productive and tough on crimes, including fighting money-laundering, corruption, and bribery schemes.

Let Nigerians directly elect their chief prosecutors (minister of justice and career prosecutors should be exempted), and elected chief prosecutors can hand pick their subordinates (career prosecutors). It’s a simple idea that can destabilize the corrupt (political) ruling class, for we’re trying to draw a wedge between them and the currently compromised system, ultimately empowering our institutions: Let’s divide and conquer the elite class by creating a justice system that holds them accountable.

As an elected prosecutor, if you’re tough on fighting political corruption, you will be rewarded with higher office by the electorate (this gives elected prosecutors the audacity to go after powerful politicians of all stripes without any fear of retribution – they only have to fear we the people, for we can refuse to reelect them).

These elected prosecutors will even have the power to go after corrupt judges, and there are many of them in Nigeria. Additionally, we should also try to democratize the appointment of some justices at the state level; like chief prosecutors, some of them should also be elected by the electorate.

At the federal level, though, we should abrogate the president’s power to nominate the chief justice of the Supreme Court, for this selection should be made among currently serving associate justices.

Additionally, to strengthen our judicial system, mandatory retirement age should not apply to some federal judges.

It is a no-brainer that elected prosecutors, fearful of what voters might think of them, tend to aggressively prosecute crimes. In the United States, this practice has helped to solidify the rule of law.

In Nigeria, however, prosecutors get their orders from their masters, corrupt politicians: Under this shady arrangement, prosecutorial and judicial independence, essential to the rule of law in a constitutional democracy, are completely compromised.

Moreover, this type of shady arrangement allows incumbent political leaders to intimidate their political enemies; if these political enemies are elected, a cycle of retribution continues: If foreign investors have no confidence in our political system, they won’t be so sanguine about investing in Nigeria; in fact, because of some these uncertainties, some investors are quietly exiting Nigeria.

I know critics will argue that that some of these proposals won’t totally eradicate corruption. True, can you defeat terrorism? No, but you can decimate it. If proper mechanisms are put in place, and some of the highlighted proposals are incorporated into our existing laws, money-laundering, corruption and bribery schemes can be drastically reduced.

Emotional outburst is not a strategy; hopelessness is not a strategy: Our leaders are counting on those; as citizens, to ensure that the rule of law is strengthened in Nigeria, we must continue to chide Nigerian politicians to adopt the global best practice and other creative ideas that are likely to mitigate corruption in Nigeria.

If you’re serious about fighting corruption in Nigeria, and in addition to the whistle-blower policy, we should seriously consider these ideas.

You cannot effectively fight corruption with the system we currently have, for its efficacy has been seriously questioned; you’ve to come up with creative ways to do that. During this election, you have the opportunity to speak up; you have the opportunity to vote for your preferred candidates, and you’ve got to start talking about creative ideas that are capable of dismantling their (politicians’) entrenched corrupt system.

Akintunde wrote in from Lansing, Michigan, United States.