Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu yesterday warned judges and lawyers involved in election petition tribunals against money laundering.
He said they must not allow the corrupting influence of money and other inducements to influence the process and determine the outcome of petitions.
Magu, in a statement, noted that many judges wrongly see Election Tribunals and Appeal Panels as potential gold mines.
“Consequently, we want to remind all lawyers, judges, elected public officials and members of the wider society not to use the Election Petition Tribunals as conduits for siphoning public funds because there is a huge price to pay for such.
“The EFCC has the statutory powers to monitor, track, investigate, arrest and prosecute such and other offences.
“Our Commission shall exercise such powers throughout this election period and beyond in the interest of building a corrupt-free democratic society where probity and accountability are enthroned for good governance.
“The guiding principle of the EFCC on this matter is simple and straightforward: the right of choice of Nigerian voters is sacrosanct, and justice is not for sale,” Magu said.
According to Magu, all lawyers and judges at the Tribunals have a responsibility to dispense justice without inducement, fear or favour.
He said with the international community watching, Nigerians have a patriotic duty to act responsibly, and portray a good image for Nigeria.
“The principal actors at the Tribunals comprising petitioners, defendants, lawyers and judges have greater roles to play in this than the rest of us.
“The EFCC wants to strongly state that the rights of Nigerian voters to freely choose their leaders are sacrosanct and that their choice should not be thwarted on the altar of corrupt material inducement by anyone,” Magu said.
Urging Nigerians to come out enmass to vote tomorrow, Magu said elections are the only way they can collectively build a free, stable and prosperous democratic society for the benefit of all citizens.
The statement adds: “As a law enforcement agency, our first duty is to advice all parties in the electoral process to abide by all rules and regulations of the electioneering process.
“This advice is necessary, because, following the conclusion of the elections held last week, the battleground is now shifting to the courtrooms for election litigations.
“This will be more so when the Gubernatorial and State Assembly Elections are held this weekend.
“In anticipation of the flood of petitions that may be received at the end of the elections, the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Ibrahim Muhammad, has already sworn in the members of the Election Petition Tribunals on 26th January 2019.
“As the Tribunal members get set to begin handling complaints from aggrieved parties and contestants, millions of Nigerians are placing high expectations on its just and fair outcome.
“Hence, the EFCC has the responsibility of reminding all those that may be involved in the litigations that the courts are temples of justice where only the facts of the case(s) should determine the outcome.
“Deploying monetary and other non-monetary externalities will be a fruitless and harmful exercise that must be avoided by all means.
“Beside contestants, the attention of members of the Bar and Bench, and other stake holders, is hereby drawn to the dangers and perfidy of allowing the corrupting influence of money and other inducements to influence the process and determine the outcome.
“This is necessary, because, many Judges wrongly see Election Tribunals and Appeal Panels as potential gold mines, desperately lobbied and continue to lobby, to be included as members.
“Some ‘smart’ judges lobby and salivate to be posted to states, criminally conceived as the juiciest gold mines.
“This uncontrolled and suicidal temptation of acquiring undue riches overnight is already enticing and trapping a certain number of lawyers and Judges with possible prosecution and certain professional ruin.
“Therefore, all lawyers, judges, state governors, top government officials, politically-aligned businessmen and other stakeholders should be wary of this undesirable and ignominious fate.
“The Tribunals should be allowed to operate in accordance with due process, devoid of using illicit monies and means to negatively influence the course of justice.
“The EFCC possesses ample information on how the perversion of justice with ill-gotten money is initiated, organised and executed by individuals and groups within the political, bureaucratic and judicial systems of the nation.
“The EFCC also possesses information on how the beneficiaries of corrupt monies receive, hide, transfer and invest the loot at home and abroad in order to conceal their true source.
“We want to make it clear that, in this day and age of the information technology, international legal instruments and Mutual Legal Assistance between countries across the globe, there is no hiding place for corruption and money laundering no matter how witty or crafty the perpetrators may be.”
Magu cited an example of a money laundering case that arose from a previous election.
“After the 2015 elections, a gubernatorial candidate from one of the South-South states hired the services of a lawyer (SAN) to file a petition at the Election Tribunal over the outcome of the election.
“When he was eventually sworn into office, he paid an astronomical and heart-wrenching N1.4 billion to the lawyer from the coffers of the state for ‘services’ rendered before he became governor.
“The EFCC was following the money trail and discovered that a large part of the sum was diverted and shared between several accomplices, all of whom are now standing trial at the Federal High Court for violating the provisions of the Money Laundering Act 2011.
“I conclude by recalling what Chief Robert Clarke, SAN, said recently on the centrality of the judiciary and corruption to our nation’s quest for survival.
“He said: ‘Corruption has eaten deep everywhere in Nigeria, and if corruption creeps into the judiciary, that is the end of the nation.’ This is a warning we must all take very seriously,” Magu said.