In 2015 the incumbent president was ousted and a candidate who had partly campaigned on a pledge to address corruption and recover as much misappropriated money as possible was elected. President Buhari's election was followed by what appeared to be a spike in enforcement activities relating to alleged corruption, misfeasance in public office and capital markets and related infringements. While most of this renewed activity was connected to ongoing proceedings and investigations, some was undoubtedly a consequence of the election results.
Many former government officials left the country before Buhari was sworn in to office. One individual, who according to media reports was heavily involved in improper conduct, was reportedly arrested in the United Kingdom in October 2015, where she was said to be undergoing treatment for cancer. Some commentators suggested that this was another example of Nigeria exporting the enforcement of its anti-corruption laws.
Buhari's election success was due to a coalition of the main opposition parties and defectors from the then-ruling party. The solidity of this alliance was quickly called into question when the National Assembly elected its principal officers. The new majority party's preferred candidate for senate president (the third-highest position in Nigeria's political hierarchy) was defeated as a result of an alliance between the former ruling party and members of a faction of the new majority party. This alliance also resulted in the first-ever election of the deputy senate president from the opposition party . Unsurprisingly, the majority party's senior members were unhappy and many felt that retributive action would be taken against the senate president, who had led the rebellion.
Many claim that this retribution took the form of charges laid against the senate president before the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The charges include allegations that he had made false asset declarations while he was a state governor . While criminal in nature, these charges carry no criminal penalties. However, they would result in disqualification from elected office.
Administration of Criminal Justice Act
In high-profile criminal prosecutions in Nigeria, well-funded defence counsel will usually inundate the court with many legal challenge motions and appeal any adverse ruling to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court if necessary, usually obtaining a stay of proceedings during the pendency of the appeals. As the judicial process in Nigeria is slow and the Supreme Court is now hearing appeals filed as far back as 2006, prosecutions fought in this manner tend to make slow progress.
In an effort to address this problem, in 2015 the National Assembly passed the Administration of Criminal Justice Act which, among other things, sought to put an end to delays in the conduct of criminal trials involving interlocutory appeals. The senate president's counsel sought unsuccessfully to obtain orders from various courts preventing his trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal . An attempt to obtain a stay at the Court of Appeal also failed. While it appeared that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act was achieving one of its objectives, this is doubtful; in November 2015 the Supreme Court approved a stay of proceedings pending the hearing of the appeal pending before it.
At the end of 2015 the media was full of stories about 'Dasukigate', concerning former-President Jonathan's national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki. Dasuki had initially been retained by Buhari, but was eventually dismissed in July 2015. Shortly afterwards he was arrested and charged, initially with unlawful possession of arms. He was released on bail and subsequently applied to the court for an order directing that his passport be released to him so that he could travel out of Nigeria for medical treatment. However, according to media reports, law enforcement agencies laid siege to his home before he was eventually arrested, this time on charges relating to how funds appropriated for the purchase of arms and equipment to aid the fight against the Boko Haram terrorist group had been diverted and used for other purposes.
It is alleged that instead of using the funds to equip the military, Dasuki had made payments to various persons, primarily for the purpose of funding Jonathan and the People's Democratic Party's election campaign. Allegedly a total of $2 billion was misappropriated and the list of people alleged to have received funds from Dasuki includes media owners, former ministers, former governors, serving military officers, contractors and People's Democratic Party officials. This total includes $300 million which was recovered from the Abacha family and returned to Nigeria from Switzerland.
The People's Democratic Party has condemned the actions against Dasuki, describing them as part of the government's 'witch hunt' against it. However, a high-ranking All Progressives Congress member was also recently arrested in connection with this matter, and it is yet to be seen how this will affect the accusations that the pursuit of Dasuki and others is aimed solely at the People's Democratic Party.
Dasuki faces three additional sets of charges relating to these funds. Although he has been granted bail he remains in custody, resulting in renewed criticisms of the government. It is clear that the full scope of the alleged improprieties is yet to emerge and that this case will test:
- the government's willingness to take action against persons involved in the misappropriation of government funds;
- the government's commitment to the rule of law; and
- the courts' robustness in the face of defence counsel efforts to avoid defendants going to trial.
Dasukigate has also generated debate about the propriety of the government's investigation into how security funds are expended. The manner in which the government expends funds appropriated for security purposes is subject to no scrutiny or oversight. Consequently, such funds have long been suspected to be one of the primary sources of funds misappropriated by state governors and federal government functionaries. If the recently initiated actions relating to security funds are successful, they could set a precedent for the future scrutiny of such funds and their use.
For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502) or email (email@example.com). The Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore website can be accessed at www.sooblaw.com.
This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.