Justice Waheed Olaifa (rtd), has described plea-bargaining as a bad compromise which is eroding the integrity of the judiciary and deepening the culture of corruption in the country. Olaifa who spoke with journalists shortly after he bowed out of the bench, noted that plea-bargaining was a strange element in the Nigerian legal system. He said: “Plea bargaining is not in our own law.
Instead of allowing plea bargaining and releasing accused persons, government could allow corrupt officials put down some of the stolen money and still be tried in the court of law. “In criminal cases we recover items allegedly stolen and still punish the offenders. It would be double jeopardy for the person found guilty. However, they can ameliorate their jail term having recovered the stolen money. “The present situation is such that encourages corruption because the corrupt person will put his mind on settlement having stolen more than enough,” he said.
Also, he observed that the use of capital punishment should not be encouraged, because “we are more enlightened than that. ” The jurist attributed slow dispensation of justice in the country to the use of old legal apparatuse. According to him, “We are still using some of the old rules. The police always face hard time bringing accused persons to court. Usually, they complain that they don’t have enough money to bring suspects to court. ” “The police as well as the Ministry of Justice often complain that they don’t have sufficient resources to bring witnesses to court. The police are really handicapped and they need to be helped. In some cases the Investigating Police Officer might have been transferred from the jurisdiction of the court. In such a situation how do you sort ongoing case? ,” he asked Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State By Tunde Sanni Deputy Chairman of Rules and Business Committee in the House of Representatives, Hon. Sunday Adepoju, has opposed plea bargaining as a means of acquitting corrupt political office holders and officials. Adepoju, who represents Ibarapa East/ Iddo federal constituency of Oyo State, told journalists in Ibadan that plea bargaining is a tacit way of encouraging corruption in high offices.
The lawmaker also argued that plea bargaining was another way of short changing the government, saying the money that such corrupt office holders usually return fall short of the money embezzled. The lawmaker described as barbaric, the scam in the police pension office, saying “one wonders what the fate of this country will be when those who are to superintend the pension of some people end up eating such money. ” According to him, corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of the society as he called for a holistic approach towards curbing the menace on the nation’s quest for progress.
Adepoju hinted that opposition members in the National Assembly are ready for the pursuit of Sovereign National Conference (SNC) adding that there is the need to talk about how to restructure the country. His words: “Anybody who thinks that the National Assembly will solve the problem is just joking. The PDP-led government has the majority in the House. Whether we like it or not, we are able to stamp our feet and say no on some issues just because we have those that are well focused in the opposition. But the PDP-led government will not like that. That is what is happening in the National Assembly. According to him, national conference cannot be compromised as it is in the interest of the nation. He said those that were opposed to the inauguration of Sovereign National Conference (SNC) did so for selfish reasons. He lamented that majority of those who were against dialogue lacked intellectual capacity to proffer solution to national problem. “How many of us are knowledgeable enough to solve the nation’s problem? Either sovereign or ordinary conference, we have to sit down and dialogue on how we want to be ruled. We know that Nigeria is not going to break but each nationality has to come up with their agenda at a roundtable.
On probity, he said: “Not every member is credible at the National Assembly. If we say we are all credible, we are just playing to the gallery. There are lots of undercurrents, things happening behind the scene. ” By Kunle Akogun The Senate Monday said the use of the rule of plea bargain has failed to achieve the end of justice but merely serve the cause of the rich. Expressing this view while declaring open the Senate’s public hearing on the plight of persons awaiting trial, the Senate President, Senator David Mark, represented by the Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, said the ontroversy surrounding plea bargain had arisen from its misapplication. The public hearing was conducted jointly by the Senate Committees on Interior and Judiciary, with a view to finding a solution to the problem of congestion in Nigerian prisons. Ndoma-Egba said: “The question is, has the plea bargaining as it is implemented today, met the objectives of society? Why is it protecting the high and mighty,” Ndoma-Egba questioned. Ndoma-Egba noted that plea bargaining should have been deployed in helping to address the problem of prison congestion by tackling the problem of awaiting trial inmates. It has been used to protect the big men in our society who have committed heinous crimes against the state, leaving out majority of other offenders who should have been captured. Plea bargaining should be deployed to achieve the end of justice and not to protect those considered to be the big people in our society,” he said. According to him, having over 33,000 persons out of a total of about 48,000 inmates on the awaiting trial list is an indictment on the nation’s judicial system.
He urged the stakeholders to come up with creative means of tackling the problem of awaiting trial persons with a view to decongest the prisons and provide proper reformation for convicted inmates. In his presentation, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, who was represented by the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Lawal Gunmi, told the public hearing that as at April 2011, the total number of inmates was put at 48,632, out of which 34, 390 were awaiting trial. He said: “Our justice system is not working in full throttle,” adding that as a result, the awaiting trial persons are on the increase.
Gunmi noted that the situation had a worsening effect on the condition of the prisons and the welfare of prisoners. He said out of the N57. 7billion budgeted for prisons in the 2012 budget, a total of N5 billion was earmarked for prisoners’ ration, amounting to N250 daily. He said: “N250 daily ration is not a realistic feeding budget per day for prisoners. It must be increased to reflect the present economic realities. ” On the reasons why the awaiting trial persons were on the increase, Gunmi blamed the police for frivolous arrest of suspects without proper investigation, only to use it as an avenue for extortion.
He also blamed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for arresting suspects before commencing investigation into the matter, thereby causing congestion in prisons. “The court will henceforth be reluctant to remand a suspect when an investigation has not been carried out,” he said. He hinted that a proposal was underway for the amendment of the Constitution to give powers to the Chief Justice of the Federation to regulate the conduct of justice regarding the corruption cases in courts and make rules for expeditious trial of cases.
Gunmi noted that there was need for the adoption of non-custodian sentences as a way of decongesting prisons, while encouraging the visit to prisons by judges to ensure the release of inmates whose detention were not in conformity with the law or who had spent more than the time they would have been in prison if they had been convicted for the offences they were accused of. The Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, in his presentation, said the ministry had already embarked on the decongestion of prisons since 2006, noting that the project had cost the Federal Government a whopping N8. 2 billion. He however noted that some of the counsels employed in the project had not been diligent, with some of them abandoning the project and some producing fictitious reports. Adoke said the ministry had reviewed the project and was embarking on strict monitoring of counsels involved. Also in her presentation, the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Inumidun Akande, noted that the prison administration should be delisted from the exclusive list to allow states to assist in the maintenance of prisons in the country.
She said besides adopting the non-custodian sentencing, the enabling structures must be put in place to ensure that it works, adding that there should be probation and community service officers in place before it could be implemented. Akande also recommended that the Constitution should be amended to forbid the detention of suspects beyond two months, as it would ensure that lawyers do not seek frivolous adjournments for cases.