Sunday, December 6, 2015 8:17 pm
Last week, some of the principal suspects implicated in the probe of the $2.1 billion and N643 billion arms gate were nabbed by the Economic and Financial Commission. Pursuant to the ex parte orders validly issued by the courts the suspects have since been detained for the purpose of investigation. But in a desperate move designed to divert the attention of the Nigerian people and the international community from the grave allegations of reckless and criminal diversion of the public funds earmarked for arms procurement to prosecute the war on terror, some reactionary politicians have accused the Buhari administration of engaging in impunity for detaining the suspects beyond 48 hours without trial. In challenging the detention of the suspects by the EFCC a senior lawyer was alleged to have said that “a magistrate court has no power to issue a holding charge warrant”.
With respect, the detention of the suspects is in strict compliance with the rule of law. The attention of the “critics” ought to be drawn to sections 293-299 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 (ACJA) which stipulate that a suspect arrested for an offence which a magistrate has no jurisdiction to try, shall within a reasonable time, be brought before a magistrate court for remand. The order which shall be for a period not exceeding 14 days may be further extended provided that if the investigation is not concluded within 28 days the court may summon the appropriate authority to show cause why the suspect should not be unconditionally released. Suspects who are remanded in custody are at liberty to ask for bail or apply to the appropriate high court to secure the enforcement of their fundamental right to personal liberty. In view of the clear and unambiguous provisions of the law it is misleading to insist that a magistrate court lacks the power to grant the application filed by the EFCC for the detention of the criminal suspects.
As corruption is already mobilizing to fight back the Buhari administration should ignore the reckless campaign of calumny of certain people who have lost their sense of shame. As far as they are concerned the suspects should be left alone to enjoy their loot while soldiers are losing their precious lives due to lack of adequate weapons. The federal government should ensure that all individuals and corporate bodies indicted in the criminal diversion of public funds are made to face the full wrath of the law. The anti graft agencies should disregard the cheap blackmail, speed up the investigation and charge all indicted suspects to court while the courts are enjoined to conduct the trial of the suspects under the ACJA which requires that the trials be conducted day by day. The federal government should open a dedicated account to warehouse the recovered loot with a view to using the fund to provide equipment for the armed forces, create jobs for our army of unemployed graduates and fix our dilapidated public schools, hospital and roads.
However, it is pertinent to correct the error in respect of the extent of the amount of money involved in the arms gate. The well publicized $2.1 billion is the foreign component of the loot. The actual amount stolen is $2.1 billion and N643 billion. The total missing fund is $6 billion. In the light of the earth-shaking and ear-aching revelations oozing out of the EFCC to the effect that a handful of individuals cornered and shared the huge fund earmarked for the procurement of military hardware to prosecute the war on terror all the convicted military officers and soldiers who have been convicted including the 70 who were sentenced to death should be released forthwith. As I have repeatedly maintained the soldiers were committed and sentenced to death for asking for weapons to fight the terrorists. They were ordered to fight with unserviceable equipment on the ground that there was no money to purchase new weapons. In the process, the well-equipped insurgents routed and massacre thousands of the country’s ill-equipped soldiers due to the diversion of the fund set aside to purchase equipment. The suspects must bear full responsibility for committing such grave crimes against humanity. Consequently, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 we have applied for a certified true copy of the report of the arms procurement panel with a view to ensuring that some of the suspects are prosecuted by the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Femi Falana is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria