There is disquiet in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) over the Federal Government’s decision to take over high profile cases from them. New Telegraph’s investigation revealed that the anti-graft agencies are particularly worried about public perception of the decision.
Also, lawyers in the Federal Ministry of Justice are grumbling with the decision of the Attorney general of the Federation (AGF) to transfer high profile cases to the newly established National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC). The statements of EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, recently confirmed the frustration of the agency over the development. Magu lamented that some people had been scheming to appropriate the functions and powers of the commission.
He described these people as “dark forces”. The AGF and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) had, two weeks ago, instructed all the prosecutorial agencies – EFCC, ICPC, the Police, the Department of State Services (DSS), as well as the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) –to compile all the high profile cases they are handling with the bid of handing over same to the committee.
Such high-profile cases, which the AGF said he would determine, will now be handled by the NPCC. A statement by the AGF had noted that “the intention is not to distract the heads of these agencies, but rather to engender smooth synergy between the committee and the agencies.”
Notwithstanding the assurance, New Telegraph gathered that many staff and operatives of the antigraft agencies think differently. A source, who spoke in confidence on the issue, said: “Well, you know I’m not competent to speak for the agency (EFCC), but what I know is that most of my colleagues are not happy with the decision.
“Look, the enthusiasm, zeal, dedication and seriousness with which the chairman is driving the commission now, deserve applause. “He should not be distracted; he should be allowed to do the marvellous work he has been doing.
“Do you think our operatives, who carry out painstaking investigations, and others who work assiduously to draft charges, will be happy that this is happening?” Another source, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “The feeling is that the Federal Government has no confidence in the anticorruption agencies, by its decision to set up the prosecution council. “The feeling here, naturally, is that of frustration.”
When New Telegraph sought the reaction of the EFCC’s spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, to the setting up of the committee and taking over of high-profiled cases from the agency, he said: “I don’t know anything about that.”
In her response, spokesperson for the ICPC, Mrs. Rasheedat Okoduwa, said: “I have no reaction to this; absolutely none.” Some of the lawyers in the Federal Ministry of Justice, who spoke with New Telegraph in confidence, said that the AGF is giving to outsiders, works that could be handled by them. According to them, constituting a committee to do the works they are paid to do is a scheme by the AGF to take care of his friends.
They said that the decision was also contrary to the promise made by the Federal Government to run a lean administration. The lawyers further noted that there is no legal basis upon which the mandate of the committee can be justified.
They also noted that the provisions cited by the AGF couldn’t be the basis for setting up a committee to coordinate prosecution of high profile cases. Already, the NPCC has taken over the forgery suit against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu and two others. The four defendants have been arraigned before an Abuja High Court over alleged forgery of the Senate Rules and Procedures 2015.
The defendants pleaded not guilty and were consequently admitted to bail. The annual vacation of the court had made the case to be on hold for now. In a telephone chat with New Telegraph, the media aide to the AGF, Salihu Othman Isa, stated that the first high profile case the committee will handle is that of Saraki’s forgery suit.
He added that such is a bid to fast track the trial as against how high profile cases are being delayed. In the meantime, the decision by the Federal Government to set up the NPCC has elicited divergent views from two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), Chiefs Mike Ahamba and Mike Ozekhome. While conceding to the AGF the right to take over cases in the overriding public interest, Ozekhome, however, concluded that the decision may well be an alleged expression of lack of confidence.
“I wholly support the AGF on this bold, even if belated move, in his bid to cleanse the Augean stable of its socio-political excrement. He has the undoubted powers to do this under section 174 of the 1999 Constitution, in the public interest and in the interest of justice, fair play and restitution.
“It’s sure a loud, not subtle, vote of no confidence on these agencies who are forever found deficit when it comes to hunting down the real criminals. But, when it comes to being manipulated and teleguided to overwhelm, intimidate, brow beat and harass profiled persons, political opponents and well-meaning critics of government, they become extra zealous and trigger happy. “Where have they been and why have they not solved high profile cases?” On his part, Ahamba also agreed that the AGF derived his power from the constitution.
“The AGF enjoys the power to do what he has done under Section 174 of the Constitution. Nothing to do with vote of confidence or absence of it,” Ahamba said. The AGF had inaugurated the committee and also appointed 11 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) to prosecute the cases.
He added that to fastrack the work of the committee, the ministry had created 20 prosecution teams with four members each and had requested all agencies exercising police powers to recommend five experienced investigators to support the committee’s work.
“The aim is to ensure effective investigation and prosecution of high profile criminal cases in Nigeria,” he stated. The minister said that the committee was not a duplication of the existing anti-corruption agencies, but would collaborate with such agencies for effective service delivery.