To cut grass or weed with an un-sharpened cutlass is to labor in vain. To bring a knife to a gun a fight is to expect your death. These metaphors are exactly what are passing as norms in our Nigeria. We have lacked the will to employ a cut-throat solution to a very crippling crime–financial transgression. Financial corruption is so deep-rooted and entrenched in all the fabrics of Nigeria society that one could make a compelling point that it is indeed our culture. Lip service to this problem has been detrimental yet we have employed the same over and over again. Even when EFCC was commissioned, the agency was never given proper and sweeping tools to do its job, thus allowing criminals to hide under the existing due process and compromise some of our judges. Some of our laws and their due process as they are right now have loopholes and are quite susceptible to manipulation, leaving those who are supposed to be in lock-up roaming the streets.
As it is right now, our legal procedures and due processes are being maneuvered to shield those of the most egregious financial crime and drag out the judicial process up to the point of a serious case being forgotten by the public. Due to our judges’ discretion in sentencing, most of these criminals, when convicted, are being slapped with the lightest of sentence, hence no deterrence effect. Former Governor Igbinedion, despite the patent billions of naira misappropriated or stolen under his governorship, was only required to pay back a mere 3 million naira and was off the hook. Same goes for the former Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun who was given a 2-year jail sentence for being caught with over one billion naira. Delta State governor James Ibori is still walking around the country hiding under the legal precept of “innocent until proven guilty” despite his unexplainable astronomical wealth while he was a governor. The list of politicians who need to be brought to justice goes on and on. Peter Odili, is smiling in our faces notwithstanding the visibly poorer state he left Rivers State and apparent enrichment of himself from the State treasure chest.
If we are serious about fighting the financial crime segment of corruption, I suggest we should, for financial crime only, change the fundamental legal tenet of “innocent until proven guilty” to “guilty until proven innocent.” If you are accused of a financial crime and there is a prima facie evidence to corroborate the accusation, you should be thrown in jail until you are able to exculpate yourself. Say if you are given a contract and it was not done or done ineffectively, you should be automatically jailed until you can prove your innocence using your own resources. If you are in charge of a ministry and you cannot account for all funds released to your ministry and there is no reasonable level of visible change in your ministry, you should be automatically locked until you can explain and justify what happened to funds allocated to your ministry. In addition, sentencing should be taken away from the discretion of judges. A stiff mandatory sentence should be set up for each million of naira stolen, misapplied, or misappropriated. For example, if a suspect is unable to prove his/her innocence, he/she should be sentenced for mandatory 5 years in prison for stolen amount between one million naira and five million naira, 10 years mandatory prison time for amount between 5.01 million naira and 10 million naira, and so on. This judicial system would pose no more a risk of an innocent being imprisoned than the status quo already does. However its deterrent value would be more potent as people would think twice before engaging in financial shenanigan when they know a strong accusation alone would jeopardize your liberty. Also if you are thrown in jail upon a prima facie evidence supporting accusation against you, it would be harder for you to manipulate the system while in jail than being a free man hiding behind innocent until proven guilty mantra.