The Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District, Smart Adeyemi, recently proposed the introduction of Shari’ah law to fight corruption in Nigeria. Adeyemi stated this at a media retreat organised by the Senate Press Corps in Lokoja, Kogi State. The retreat had the theme “Democracy and Development in a Federation: Roles of Media, States and Parliaments”. Senator Adeyemi hinted that he was working on Bills to amend the Acts establishing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and would soon be introduced in the Senate.
According to Senator Smart Adeyemi, “If we want this country to be great, we must look at some Acts of parliament, more so the ones that have to do with anti-graft agencies. Very soon I’m coming back to the chamber to bring bills on ICPC and EFCC. I want us to introduce Mosaic Law, what you call Shari’ah law. By the time you cut the hands of 10 or 20 people in this country, nobody will want to steal again.” Oga Adeyemi continued, “If you say that is too harsh, let us have mechanised agriculture of about 200, 250 acres. Once you are involved in corruption, you will spend your life farming for us. We must look at how we can make Nigeria a better place.”
Even for the sake of appreciating the value of Shari’ah, Senator Smart Adeyemi deserves commendation. However, his proposition is not without some imperfect dimensions. This is the line of thought which this discourse seeks to explore. It does not really follow that the introduction of Shari’ah law would forestall stealing particularly of public funds. Even in countries where Shari’ah is the exclusive law that guides the way of life of citizens, thieves are yet caught. The benefit of Sharia’ah is that the application of such laws brings criminal activities to the barest minimum. It would be recalled that Zamfara was the first among northern states of Nigeria that announced the implementation of Shari’ah law in the early years of the Fourth Republic. The wrist of a thief convicted by a Shari’ah court in Zamfara for stealing cows was amputated in March 2000 after the convicted middle-aged man, Bello Jangebi, failed to appeal against the judgment within the 30 days allowed by law.
Two decades later, specifically in June 2019, Governor Bello Matawalle of the same Zamfara state alleged that his predecessor, former Governor Abdulaziz Yari, had misappropriated billions of naira. Few weeks ago, Governor Bello Matawalle approved the setting up of a commission of inquiry to probe the alleged misappropriation of over N107 billion by the immediate past administration of former Governor Yari; being the total sum of money discovered to have been misappropriated from 2011 to 2019. Though it still remains an allegation which former Governor Yari has denied, how come over a huge sum was pilfered from public funds in a state where a thief had his hand amputated after conviction?
It looks as if the conviction and the amputation of Bello Jangebi’s hand probably marked the suspension of the implementation of that section of the Shari’ah law. With all the economic and financial crimes being reported on a daily basis in the conventional media, how many of the suspects have the courts convicted for their mind-boggling theft cases? What you hear about is the sentencing of persons who steal goat, chicken, bicycle, mobile handset, clothes, motorcycle, bottle of palm oil, packet of soap, bag of rice, semovita or sugar. Many public officers who are prosecuted for various offences relating to misappropriation of public funds, most often, never get convicted. In most cases, trials of such officers suffer setbacks.
It is actually not a case of lack of deterrent laws as Oga Smart’s declaration tend to suggest. Even the existing common law in the country, as weak or obsolete as some aspects of it may appear, can still serve some off-putting purposes if appropriately applied. It is more, in the opinion of this writer, a matter of non-application (or sometimes misapplication) of the existing laws. In order words, it is not the problem of absence of proper provisions in the existing law that is responsible for the non-conviction of treasury looters. The extent to which enforcers of the law go to apply relevant sections is arguably the problem. It is mis-application of the law when a treasury looter found guilty of stealing billions of naira is given an option of fine in the sum of N750, 000 only in lieu of a prison term. It is non-application of the law when judgement in the trial of a public officer standing trial for embezzling hundreds of billions of naira is delayed until after he has passed on.
Before we call for the introduction of Shari’ah, it is pertinent to first show enough concrete efforts in the application of the existing common law. How do we start calling for the introduction of Shari’ah when even the common law or penal code that is in use in parts of the country has not been fully applied? Perhaps, it would have been more apt if Distinguished Senator Smart Adeyemi had smartly called on his colleagues to pass the bill on the creation of a special crimes court to try corruption cases. This executive bill has been before federal lawmakers for years.
Speaking at the national summit on ‘‘Diminishing Corruption in the Public Service’’ organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation which held in November 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari called on the national assembly to fast-track the passage of the Special Crimes Court Bill; urging the judiciary to embrace and support the creation of such a court. The Special Crimes Bill 2016 was drafted by the Professor Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption.
Although President Buhari declared that the passage of the bill was a specific priority of his administration’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020, it is yet to see the light of the day four years after it was sent to the national assembly. If brother Smart Adeyemi would give me the privilege of giving him a suggestion, I would advise that he suspends the bill he’s planning to present on the introduction of Shari’ah. My Oga Smart should rather search for the Special Crimes Bill of 2016 in the shelves of the national assembly archives and dust it for representation. While I pray to Allah (SWT) to guide my distinguished senator to find the copy of the bill, I also pray that He (SWT) grants him the wisdom to convince his colleagues to pass it, amin.