United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Monday fingered archaic method of investigation and prosecution as reason for low rate of convictions so far secured in law courts by the successive governments in Nigeria.
It said there was no way a cime committed with 21st century method could be properly investigated and prosecuted with the 19th century method, saying there would be gap which would make conviction difficult if not totally impossible.
An official of UNODC who doubles as world renowned expert in investigation and prosecution, Stephen Anderson, spoke on Monday in Lagos at the workshop on Corruption Casework and Anti-Money Laundering, where he was one of the facilitators.
“What I do believe is that corruption in Nigeria, as it is around the world is a 21st century problem. Corruption uses a 21th Century method. But I think, in Nigeria one of the problems is that we are investigating 21th Century crimes with 19th Century technology; with 19th Century means; with 19th Century logistics; not even 20th Century, 19th Century,” said Mr Anderson, who worked with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) between 2013 and 2015.
He said that the out-dated approach used by law enforcement agencies put them at a disadvantage when investigating and prosecuting high-tech corruption cases.
“As a result, it is difficult for investigators and prosecutors. It’s hard for them to get all the evidence that they need. It’s hard for them to get all the documents they need. It is hard for them to get all the electronic means that they need.
“So, it is very difficult for investigators to get all the tools they need. Even simple things like gas millage so that they can go speaking with witnesses.
“There is a problem with go getting documents because often when they go to banks for documents, banks claim they are unavailable, or banks tip-off the suspects.”
He said problem persists during prosecution.
“I respect Nigerian judges. I think they are working under difficult conditions but again they are prosecuting 21 century crimes with 19th Century means.
“It is a shame that courts in Nigeria are so overworked that they are unable to conduct speedy trials. They are unable to carry trial on a day by day basis.
“Instead of cases lasting a matter of weeks they last literally years. Witnesses forget things, evidence get lost, people lose interest in the case. It is very difficult. Trials here take too long.
“One thing that I have noticed here is that judges, instead of having a court reporter to electronically record the evidence, they have to take handwritten notes.
“I understand there are reasons for that but again that is a 19th Century means of conducting 21th Century trials.
“You can do that but they will result in a very ineffective criminal justice system where it takes too long to investigate cases, where it takes too long to try cases. And as a result there are far too few convictions of criminal cases,” he said.
He suggested that one of the short term measures the country can adopt to ramp up the rate of conviction of corruption cases is to synergise the investigative and prosecutorial stage of corruption.
“One of the weaknesses I see in the investigation and prosecution of crime here is very often what happens is that for the most parts, cases are assigned to investigators and they work on the cases without even speaking with the prosecutors and when they are done with the investigation, they sent it to the prosecutors.
“And the prosecutors look at the cases and send it back. It takes a long period of time.
“This is contrary to international best practice. International prosecutors are assigned to the case at the very beginning so an investigator knows what he or she has to do to make the case presentable in court.
“Investigators don’t waste their time considering things that are unimportant to prosecutors in court. And so when the investigator is done with the case, he or she would have been working with the prosecutor throughout the investigation.
“So, as soon as the case is done being investigated, it is ready to be prosecuted,” Mr Anderson said.
Also, speaking at the event attended by judges, prosecutors and senior investigators, the country representative of UNODC, Cristina Albertin, described the poor conviction rate as the “greatest challenge in the fight against corruption”.
“Among the many reasons for this situation is the fact that cases hardly proceed to full hearing because the accused persons raise numerous interlocutory applications which end up obscuring the real issues before court,” she said.
She, therefore, called on stakeholders in the criminal justice system to exploit the opportunities provided by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
“The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which was enacted with support from UNODC, has made a bold attempt to streamline procedures and to prevent abuse of court process.
“I hope all stakeholders will use this new law to ensure that criminal cases (including corruption and money laundering) are adjudicated in a manner that is both expeditious and fair to all parties concerned, including the accused persons, the complainants, the victims, and the general public,” she said.