Plea Bargaining and the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria: A Moral Critique


Author: Sule Peter Echewija, Department of Philosophy, Federal University Lafia, Nigeria

Published: October 14, 2017

Citation: Echewija, S. P. (2017). Plea Bargaining and the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria: A Moral Critique. IAFOR Journal of Ethics, Religion & Philosophy, 3(2).


The idea of “justice” normatively reflects “justitia” in the Roman worldview: “fiat justitia, ruat caelum” (may there be justice though the heavens fall). That is, justice must prevail no matter whose ox is gored. In its corrective schema, justice is connected to the ideas of just desert. Justice in this sense is possible through a just law couched within the principle of retributivism (where punishment is proportionate to the severity of crime). This idea must remain intact if criminal justice, as a form of social control, is to attain the moral and political legitimacy to which it aspires. Unfortunately, these ideals are constantly at risk in Nigeria’s criminal justice system, especially in the prosecution of corrupt crimes where convictions have largely been plea bargained. Plea bargaining exploits the insubstantiality of Nigeria’s criminal codes and its proponents argue from a cost-benefit analysis stance that pits cost against justice. This prima facie approach inexorably leads to the following questions: what are the requirements of justice? Is criminal justice concerned with justice to the offender or victims of crime? Is a court ruling necessarily just? The paper attempts to answer these questions in showing that justice transcends mere court rulings and is underpinned by certain moral ideals: a moral operating principle of the judicial process and the degree to which a people or victims of crime perceive their penal system as just. The current application of plea bargaining in Nigeria fails to satisfy these moral requirements of justice.


justice, plea bargain, weak laws, crime severity, proportionate punishment