Recent months have seen fraud and bribery return to the headlines. Reports emerged of alleged corrupt payments in a case involving a former oil minister; the High Court cast doubt on the ability of a Nigerian bank to enforce an English fraud judgment obtained against a former bank chief executive; and a former House of Representatives committee chairman on trial for extorting a bribe succeeded in further delaying his trial.
A former speaker of Nigeria's House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, was recently acquitted of charges of improperly awarding contracts and embezzling funds while in office. When criminal cases end in this fashion, it is usually because the case was either poorly investigated, poorly presented to the court, or both.
The Supreme Court recently reversed a decision affirming the conviction of a high-profile political appointee for improprieties while in office. The decision has been condemned as "perplexing", likely to "encourage corruption in the country" and "the latest in a long line of judicially orchestrated set-backs for the fight against corruption in Nigeria".
Several significant developments in anti-corruption actions related to Nigeria have occurred outside the country. A prominent case involves four British nationals charged with conspiring to bribe Nigerian officials. However, frustration remains that none of the Nigerian officials who are alleged to have taken bribes have been charged with any offences in Nigeria. In addition, many corruption cases have stalled in the court system.
The Court of Appeal recently overturned the convictions of two former members of Sani Abacha's entourage, who had been accused of involvement in the murder of an enemy of the Abacha regime. This ruling reflects what many consider to be the two biggest obstacles to the adequate investigation and prosecution of criminal cases: lack of capacity in law enforcement agencies and lack of political will to empower such agencies.
In two recent decisions the Federal High Court has held that although the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has the power to seize assets and seek interim forfeiture orders, it is not entitled to appoint an agent to manage forfeited assets without an express order of the court. However, the validity of these decisions has been questioned and clarification from the Court of Appeal is now awaited.
There have been mixed signals about Nigeria's ability and willingness to address corruption. However, public outcry in response to the lenient punishment handed down to an individual accused of embezzling from the police pension fund seems to have provided impetus for change. The Judicial Council has dismissed corrupt judges and the Bar Association has initiated a challenge to the anti-money laundering law.
The shadow of foreign anti-corruption and anti-money laundering enforcement actions continues to hang heavily over Nigeria. The past few months have witnessed new enforcement activity, all heavily linked to previous action taken in the United Kingdom and the United States and by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The government's fuel subsidy system caused a public outcry when issues of inherent corruption came to light. An investigation was launched, but no one was prosecuted. However, individuals accused of involvement in the fraud - including family members of high-profile politicians - were recently arraigned before the Lagos High Court. Could this indicate an increased effort to address corruption?
It is more than three years since the Central Bank of Nigeria moved to take over a number of banks. Several bank executives were subsequently brought before the courts. Of the seven prosecutions commenced, only one has been concluded. Two such pending cases have generated interest recently, demonstrating the problems encountered by judges, prosecutors and defence counsel alike.
An English court's recent conviction of James Ibori, former governor of Delta State, on charges of fraud and money laundering is just one of several instances in which fraud committed in Africa has resulted in convictions outside Africa. The case adds justification to the perception that the Nigerian authorities – for whatever reason – are content to leave fraud and corruption prosecution to other jurisdictions.