Last Monday, the N10 billion money laundering case filed against Mr Erastus Akingbola, former Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank Plc, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the federal high court was struck out on account of sloppy prosecution.
The trial judge, Charles Archibong, had nothing but harsh words for the EFCC defence team of five Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) led by the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president.
As if that was not enough, the judge ordered the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) not to re-engage any of the lawyers he dismissed as incompetent if the case has to go back to court since it was only struck out and not dismissed. A few days before the dramatic end to that corruption trial, the Halliburton case was similarly struck out for want of diligent prosecution. The trial judge, Abdullahi Umar, had equally indicted the legal team for failing to ensure the presence of their witnesses in court. Given its international dimension, the careless handling of this particular case has exposed the country to unwarranted ridicule. Instructively, some of the foreigners who bribed Nigerian officials to the tune of $180 million have been convicted abroad while those who short-changed the nation for personal gains have been let off the hook at home due to the incompetence of the prosecution team.
We note particularly that for the past two years, all the high profile cases involving House of Representatives Speaker, former Governors and erstwhile bank chiefs were all dismissed one after the other either due to shoddy investigation or poor prosecution. There have also been cases of conflict of interests as some of the SANs on the payroll of the EFCC turned round to defend accused persons being prosecuted by the commission. Given all the shenanigans, it is then little wonder that that Nigerians have lost faith in the ability, or even willingness, of the current administration to bring to book those who have corruptly enriched themselves at the expense of the public.
The foundation for what is happening today was laid in 2008 when Mrs Farida Waziri took over the leadership of EFCC and disbanded the team of the investigators, many of whom had been trained at enormous costs. Following that, a number of SANs with no record of successful criminal prosecutions were asked to handle serious cases for the EFCC. That was how the stage was set for incompetent prosecution by the commission. Cases in which investigations had hardly been concluded were hastily rushed to court with full media coverage.
As the cases were being thrown out of court on technical grounds, one after the other, Mrs Waziri started to blame the judiciary and defence counsel for "frustrating the anti-corruption war". At a stage she embarked on a campaign for the establishment of a special court for anti-corruption cases. The situation was compounded by the present Federal Attorney General who apparently took advantage of the incompetence of the EFCC to file nolle prosequi to terminate over ten pending cases. There were also a few cases that were settled through questionable plea bargaining deals which made a mockery of the criminal justice system: convicts were allowed to part with some part of their loot in exchange for ridiculously low fines or short jail terms.
With that, the prosecution of grave economic and financial crimes has become more of a comedy rather than the deterrence that it was meant to be. But this sort of infamy cannot continue. As foundation Director of Operations for EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Lamorde contributed to the early success recorded by the commission which he now heads. He therefore has the opportunity to restore its lost glory. To do that, he should remove all corrupt investigators and lawyers that have in recent times brought shame to the EFCC. All the cases struck out on technical grounds should also be properly investigated and taken back to court as soon as possible.