Corrupt politicians and the rule of law

Recently, the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Farida Waziri declared that corrupt politicians would not be allowed to contest the 2011 general elections.  She made the remark in Abuja when she received a delegation from the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) led by the chairman, Sam Saba.

She said that allowing persons whose cases were pending in courts to contest the elections would make a mockery of the nation’s democracy.  She said that such persons, through their counsels, “deliberately stall their trial for obvious reasons”.

She said: “I can see some of them printing posters; the world will laugh at us if we allow these corrupt politicians to continue to participate in the polity. We will stop them because they have been stalling the trial; we will not allow them to participate in the 2011 elections.” We recall that in the build up to 2007 election, some politicians including the former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar were banned from contesting the election by Farida’s predecessor, Nuhu Ribadu, but Atiku got a reprieve from the Supreme Court about five days to the election.

At that time indictment by administrative panels of enquiry was all that was required to stop a politician from running for an office but the law has since been changed. Under the present dispensation, only judgment by a court of competent jurisdiction can be used to stop a politician from running for office. The apex court ruled on that.

Again, it is generally accepted in the British legal system which Nigeria operates that an accused is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. That doctrine is still in operation.

It is these premises that we urge the EFCC boss to thread carefully and softly to allow the courts to decide the cases pending before them. What the anti-graft commission should do is to urge the judiciary to speed up the cases to ensure that the cases are decided before filing of nomination papers for election. While we appreciate the commission’s need to ensure that individuals who have no regard for the common till do not come close to positions of authority that will give them opportunity decide how the common wealth of the nation is used, it is necessary to state that in all situations, consideration should be given to the rule of law.

However imperfect it may be, democracy is built on the rule of law. Society will recede to the proverbial state of nature if the rule of law is not observed. We urge the EFCC not to dabble into political issues as it can be misconstrued. The propaganda fallout from such an exercise can cause so much distraction which the commission may not be prepared for.

More importantly, the commission should not take law into its hands. If it does that it stands the risk of being seen as serving partisan interests. The idea behind the establishment of the EFCC is a noble one because most of the problems Nigeria is currently face have their roots in corruption. Those noble ideals must mu pursued dispassionately and tenaciously in order to achieve a better society. That purpose will, however, not be achieved by any action that can be seen as an infraction of the rule of law.

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