Minnesota attorney speaks on US anti-corruption law with Nigerian legal community

Friday, March 29, 2019
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Among the many challenges that African nations face in growth in today’s global economy, corruption remains the top culprit. This issue is widespread across the continent and has been the greatest enemy of progress in most African economic and political sectors for decades. In an attempt to ameliorate and eventually eradicate the problem, the Nigerian government partnered with the United States Department of State in hosting a two-day training for judicial officers. According to American Federal Judge Louis Sands, the workshops goals was to share best practices in the principles of rule of law, judicial independence, transparency, and integrity.

The delegation of judges and attorneys from the United States consisted of court of appeals judges from around the country it also included Nigerian born, U.S. based attorney and anti-corruption specialist Herbert A. Igbanugo of Minnesota. Igbanugo boasts an impressive legal resume in Minnesota where he was formerly a partner of the Nation’s largest black owned law firm, Blackwell Igbanugo.

The Nigerian government’s attempt to crack down on corruption by providing anti-corruption training for the nation’s legal judges was a step in sustaining the country’s democracy. In his statement to the committee chief judge of Nigeria’s high court justice Ishaq Bello said “if democracy must grow in any society, an independent judiciary and adherence to the rule of law must be sustained.”

The jurists that participated in the workshop had already been previously selected by the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, İbrahim Tanko Muhammed. Their primary position after the election was to act as leading roles in any electoral disputes that might have risen after the election. It was important for the Nigerian government that these jurists were equipped and empowered with the resources they need to make sound decisions that are independent of personal gains. Justice Sands advised the judges to open judicial hearings for the public to observe to ensure transparency.

In maintaining an open judicial policy the American judges also shared past findings of corruption within the American legal system. They went over specific examples from previous court cases and worked to explain the changes that took place after the corrupt discoveries. The negative effects on the legal process that corruption leaves was also discussed.

Igbanugo’s presentation to the Nigerian jurists was on the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and was one of the highlights of the session where he called judicial corruption the “queen mother” and most sordid of all corrupt behavior inflicted on the Nigerian citizenry, lamenting that “the tentacles of corruption run far, wide, and deep in the judicial branch of most African nations.” He concluded by stating that “it is uncontestable that long-term sustainable economic and social development requires democratic governance rooted in the rule of law.”

The second day of training featured one on one sessions with the jurists and the floor was open for a question and answer session. The jurists were able to express their concerns and limitations in the current Nigerian justice system. Amongst them was the current law that stipulates judges to mandatory retirement after serving in the judicial system regarding the length of the term. In the United States judges are permitted to continue to work in the legal field often times choosing to enter the private sector for more lucrative pays. The Nigerian jurists brought this concern as a limitation because the judges do not have the autonomy to pursue lucrative legal opportunities after the end of their terms. This limitation might pressure some to make decisions based on personal interest. Another limitation that they face is in the lack of resources in the courtroom. Most courtrooms lack a transcriptionist and reporters shouldering the responsibility of recording everything in the trial on the judges.

The attendees were able to depart from the event with insights and expanding of knowledge on judicial ethics, rule of law, transparency, and best practices in handling post-election challenges. The two-day event was held approximately ten days before the Nigerian election was stated to take place of February 16, 2019 (the elections were postponed until February 23) in Abuja Nigeria.

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