A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), has tasked citizens and victims of corrupt deeds of politicians to sue the Federal Government following the granting of state pardons to convicted former governors.
Falana asked citizens of the states, who ought to have benefited from projects that monies meant for them were siphoned by the politicians who are granted state pardons, to seek redress in court by challenging the reasons for such pardons.
He stated this yesterday in a paper titled: ‘Sentencing rich and poor convicts in Nigeria: An unbalanced scale,’ delivered as the Inaugural Public Lecture of the Department of Public and International Law, Faculty of Law, Ajayi Crowther University, Oyo.
Speaking on the heels of the pardon granted by the Council of State to Dariye, Nyame and 157 other persons already convicted by the courts, he challenged the downtrodden and oppressed persons to be united in the demands of their rights under the law.
Condemning what he termed the manipulation of the justice system to favour influential politicians facing corruption charges, Falana said: “Some personalities in the society seem to be the ‘untouchable.’ Since they have money, they can influence and manipulate the justice system in their favour. Consequently, such persons commit crimes and get away with them. Owing to corruption and abysmally compromised system, they could even have the backing of the government.
“By the nature of the state, we’re a capitalist system. You have seen differences between the rich and the poor. I’m appealing to the poor, to be united to demand for their lives, just like the rich members and the ruling class are united in exploiting the system to protect themselves and to shield themselves from persecution. And even when they are persecuted very rarely, they have a way of granting themselves pardons.”
“So I’m challenging people who constitute the majority in our country to be organised in the demand for their lives. Victims of corruption can see that they have the right to sue. They can sue the Federal Government. I sue the President from time to time, I cannot sue his person, but I can sue him in his official capacity.”
He further cited cases where certain politically-exposed persons got lenient sentences, including that of the former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Andrew Yakubu; former Minister of Water Resources, Sarah Ochekpe and former Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, among others.
“There should be a stop to the impression that there is a special law for the rich. We have a dysfunctional law system in the country where people commit grievous sins and get away with them. It appears the rich are higher than the law.
“The primary aim of the justice system is to bring people to face the law and if acquitted, we clap for you. The criminal justice system is designed to curb the excesses of society but in Nigeria, the poor only go to prisons to become hardened criminals.
“In this country, poor people go to jail even if there are options of fine but no member of the ruling class goes to prison when there’s an option of fine. The law is not neutral, it is made and enacted by the rich. Some persons convicted, sentenced and jailed are never found in any correctional centre, while unemployed young people serve prison terms in lieu of rich convicts,” Falana stated.
Falana also said: “Political interference: another issue is the interest of the government in cases involving the rich. For political reasons, the trial and conviction of the rich are often interfered with.
“Judges could even be coerced into favouring those rich offenders against their own will. But there is often no one to speak for the poor, who often have no voice of their own. On the few occasions that the rich are convicted, they are usually granted pardons by the President and state governors.
“Corruption: this is also one of the major issues affecting the fair administration of justice in Nigeria. Oftentimes, rich defendants engage in dilatory tactics, which frustrate and compel the State to enter into a plea bargain with them.
“Judges award lighter sentences to convicted rich defendants or resort to technicalities to free them. Otherwise, how could someone that embezzled pension funds worth billions of Naira be sentenced to only six months imprisonment, but another who stole a cheap telephone handset be sentenced to 10 years imprisonment?”