Nigeria: The Fight against corruption and the rule of evidence

Adeniyi Bamgboye
Adeniyi Bamgboye

Few weeks ago, the nation woke up to the news of how the Department of State Service, DSS, raided the homes of some judicial officers including two Supreme Court justices in search of evidence of alleged corruption against them. The search was said to have birthed the recovery of huge sums of local and foreign currencies. This led to their immediate arrest and detention.

Well, I’m a chartered accountant by profession, not a lawyer, so, I can’t categorically state whether the action of the DSS was legally right or wrong. That isn’t the motive behind this article. Just like every other self regulated profession; the public should be in a position to expect individual professionals to comply with some form of ethical standards. This is because the individual can’t operate without affecting or being affected by the environment in which he/she operates. An individual is expected to be morally good, morally fair and to prefer to choose good over evil.

Judges are not exempted from all these ethical rules as they are citizens sworn to give a true verdict according to the evidence presented in a court of law. So, when people say they deserve some respect, I totally agree, because the position of a judge in a society can be likened to that of a priest whom should be treated with utmost respect. It is disheartening to see a judge being arrested and demystified. These are supposed to be men of rare integrity, high moral standards and demonstrable antecedent. The Judiciary, which is the arm of government they belong, is also seen as the last hope of the common man. There has been an avalanche of unsubstantiated allegations of bribery and corruption against some of these judges in the past. Even the Presidency gave us a snippet few months ago about the murkiness of our judicial waters.

It is no longer news that corruption indices has increased astronomically in recent years in Nigeria. A skeletal scan through the pages of several newspapers now depict cases of persons who fraudulently diverted public funds in the past and former public holders standing trials in different courts for one case of economic crime or the other.

On November 13, 2009, a former Louisiana representative, William J. Jefferson, was sentenced to 13 years for bribery, the longest sentence ever handed down to a US congressman for bribery. On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, a former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori was also sentenced to 13 years by Southwark Crown Court for his crimes and his property confiscated by the UK government. I think James Ibori would have either been acquitted or his case remained inconclusive if his trial had taken place in Nigeria. What both men have in common is the 13 years sentence. The main reason why these two cases were successfully brought to a logical conclusion was because the investigators in both climes (USA &UK) adhered strictly to rule of evidence.

Evidence is all means by which an alleged matter of fact is established or disproved. Evidence is legally admissible in court under the rules of evidence because it tends to support or prove a fact. Evidence is distinguished from proof in that the latter is the result or effect of evidence. For instance, a forensic accountant can obtain documents and statements that show that a bank account has increased substantially. This is an evidentiary fact from which an inference may be drawn relative to the ultimate or principal fact, namely, that the subject was involved in a profitable activity. Direct evidence is that which proves the existence of the principal or ultimate fact without any inference or presumption. It is direct when those who have actual knowledge of them by means of their senses swear to the very facts in dispute. It may take the form of admissions or confessions made in or out of court. Circumstantial evidence is that which tends to prove the existence of the principal fact by inference. The courts recognize the use of circumstantial evidence as a legitimate means of proof. Evidence also may be classified as oral, documentary, and real.

Our law enforcement agencies must gather solid evidence to support an investigation of a crime that too often takes much time and effort to gather and compile. The information and evidence gathering technique used should be clinical and tilted towards near- perfection in order for it to achieve its desired objective. With this, the suspect will have no other choice than to opt for either a plea bargain or other soft landing alternatives because he knows he is about to be exposed and caught red handed. They should also get their facts and evidences right before arresting or apprehending suspected offenders. Failure to do this will only amount to grandstanding, unnecessary media hype and mere showmanship. They must have some knowledge of the rules that allow evidence into court. No prosecutor wants evidence that is not admissible. If inadmissible evidence is entered into court, then the defendant has grounds on appeal to get his conviction thrown out. Without evidence, there is no case. Evidence from any part of the world is admissible, provided that it is obtained in a proper and legal manner.

The war against corruption in Nigeria is not insurmountable, we will surely win it.

 

Adeniyi Bamgboye is an advisor on accounting, audit, tax and business. He holds an MBA in financial management and a member of Association of Certified Chartered Accountant (ACCA-UK), Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and the Chartered Institute of Taxation of Nigeria (CITN). Contact: 08060603156 (Text only) bamgboyeadeniyi@yahoo.com.

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