Femi Babafemi, EFCC spokesman, responded to TELL’s questions via email
Nigerians feel that plea bargain does not guarantee justice in the anti-corruption war. Is it really inevitable?
Plea bargain is one of the best global practices in criminal trials basically to avoid time waste, dispossess accused persons of the proceeds of crime at little or no cost to the prosecution. Besides, it comes as a middle way solution to the endless delays encountered in the trial of corruption cases in this part of the world. That is, if conviction is not coming as expected, one can at least deny the accused the benefits of the proceeds of the alleged crime. However, the commission's chairman has never hidden her discomfort with plea bargain and that explains why she has painstakingly stood by her cases which figure continues to rise in the courts. This explains why the only high profile conviction ever recorded through the normal court trial in the history of the commission today is that of Olabode George and five others and it was recorded by her. We have only had two exceptions to her tenacity in this regard – the cases of Cecilia Ibru and Lucky Igbinedion under compelling circumstances. So, if out of about 70 high profile cases she has taken to court, only two have been determined through plea bargain that will show that it’s not really an option we are comfortable with. Again, this explains why she started the campaign for the setting up of special courts to try corruption cases as far back as 2008. We believe that this court with special rules will fast track the trial of corruption cases in a manner that a high profile case will not last more than a year before it is determined. That way, the option of plea bargain will no longer be attractive in criminal trials.
Why did it take the commission over four months, after their loss of immunity, to go after the ex-governors?
A criminal investigation, especially one involving high profile persons, is not such that you wake up one day and start making arrests. A lot of work goes into it, especially discreet enquiries. In other [climes], some of these investigations undertaken and concluded by the EFCC in three to six months take as much as three to five years especially when movement of funds has to be traced from one point to another, sometimes to other countries. And all these have to be done quietly. When all these are going on, the commission is working but that’s the very stage some people say there is lull in our activities. It only becomes public knowledge at the point of arrest, which is the way it is done anywhere in the world. So, what is happening now is not unusual.
Many people are sceptical about the outcome of the court processes being filed by EFCC, given the previous cases stalled at the courts. What are the guarantees that this will not go the way of the other cases?
This is a major challenge, which has made the establishment of special courts to try corruption cases inevitable. These delays are basically caused by all manner of applications filed by defence counsels not to vindicate the accused but to frustrate trials and stall them. Whereas by virtue of the provisions of the EFCC Act, many of these applications ought not be heard or allowed to halt the trials by the courts but unfortunately the reverse is the case.
Is the arrest a circus show?
The justice system is a chain. In the chain, the EFCC by virtue of its mandate has a responsibility to prevent the commission of an economic crime (but) when the crime is committed, it has the responsibility to investigate, arrest and file charges against the accused in court. That is the point where basically our responsibility ends. From there, another stakeholder in the chain takes full control. What is left of us is to monitor and await decisions of the courts. We are not in a position to deny accused persons bail even though we, more often than not, oppose bail applications but when they’re eventually granted, we are helpless because our powers or control ends at the arraignment in court.
Goje appears to be alleging political victimisation that Mrs Waziri is after him because her husband lost a senatorial seat to him (Goje)?
Accusation that he is being persecuted politically is an impotent blackmail. The onus is on him to defend himself against the criminal charges against him. Did he do them or not? That is the real issue. I am not aware he is from the same senatorial district as Senator Waziri. Even if he is, what has the politics of Gombe State got to do with the work of EFCC? Does it mean that if someone is from the same state as any EFCC official or the spouse, such a person cannot be investigated? That means the Commission won’t do any work because there is nobody in the Commission that does not have a state of origin. So, that accusation is illogical and of no relevance to a criminal prosecution.