The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has said that some suspected pension thieves on trial are threatening its witnesses in a bid to undermine evidence established against them.
Bello Yahaya of the EFCC Operations Department disclosed this at a ‘sensitization workshop on the importance of protecting witnesses’ identity and addresses,’ which was organised by the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action in Abuja.
The EFCC operative noted that, because of the stolen funds at their disposal, the unnamed pension thieves try to entice witnesses in order to stop them from turning up in court to testify in their trial.
“Presently we are prosecuting a case of pension scam and our witnesses are being threatened. Some are being told to leave the country or relocate; some are told to change phone numbers. Some are even offered new means of livelihood because the suspects have the money,” he said.
A judge of the Abuja High Court, Justice Adebukola Banjoko, noted that challenges encountered in the attendance of witnesses was one of the biggest handicaps in the prosecution of criminal cases in the country.
Justice Banjoko stressed that the security agencies involved in criminal prosecutions, particularly the police, are most times not able to manage their witnesses.
“There is a lack of capacity to track down the witnesses. At the commencement of cases, the witnesses are identified and known, but along the line, due to delays in the trial, some of them travel or relocate,” she said.
The judge also expressed reservations at the practice whereby prosecutors produce their witnesses “in piecemeal” when they could bring them all at once.
The judge also spoke of a need for an effective witness protection programme, especially in terrorism trials.
“What are the safeguards put in place? This is very crucial especially in terrorism cases where they (witnesses) feel that their lives and that of their family members are in danger,” the judge said.
Justice Banjoko added that several cases had been lost because prosecuting counsel failed to prepare their witnesses for the trials when they were called to give evidence.
“You find out that a lot of witnesses that come to court have no clue (about the trial) and they end up messing up the case,” she said.
The Deputy Director of PRAWA, Yinka Lawal, said the workshop was aimed at addressing challenges encountered in the administration of witnesses.