: Former NIMASA boss dragged into a waiting bus by EFCC officials

After the May 29 take over of government by President Muhammadu Buhari, the country woke up to news of arrests of alleged corrupt former public office holders, some of whom were held over wide range of allegations. The need to tackle corruption cannot be over-emphasised in a country, where public and private institutions have performed abysmally, due to graft.

But following the forceful re-arrest of the immediate past Director General, Nigeria Maritime and Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Dr Ziakede Akpobolokemi, at the premises of a Federal High court, last week, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, lawyers have raised concerns over the way the commission intends to prosecute corruption cases.

It will be recalled that Akpobolokemi, who was first arraigned on December 7, was re-arraigned on December 8 on fresh charges. But on December 14, after he perfected the bail condition, was picked up by security operatives, which the EFCC later said were its operatives, noting that he was still being probe.

The case of immediate past National Security Adviser, NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd) is also of interest, as he had been arraigned and re-arraigned by the EFCC over the same and different charges in court. Vanguard Law and Human Rights sought the views of lawyers on the development.

Excerpts:

The former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA and chieftain of All Progressives Congres, APC, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, who noted that the commission lacks proper training, faulted the commission over arrest of suspect after granting bail and same perfected.

He said, “One would have expected that after so many years they should have gotten over this very amateurish way of approaching prosecution. By the time you make an arrest one would expect you are ready with your charges, so that whatever happen, in 24 hours max imum you arraign the suspect in court. Speaking truthfully, my view if EFCC is that they have lack of proper training, which has led to mishandling of a few things.

“There is no justification for ill prepared arraignment. Ideally, you should have everything in place, completed your investigation and have your witnesses ready before you go to court. Probably, I am not too sure, one of the problems they have is the idea of 100 or more charges against an individual. I believe that the lesser the charges the more effective it will be better for prosecution.”

According to him, the high profile cases have taken on a pattern of one negotiating the trial and arrive at a plea bargain and at the end the defendant is let off with minimum punishment.

The APC chieftain maintained that it is wrong if people are granted bail and subsequently arrested, saying “what I know of a fact is that in practice you normally do not arrest a person when the court has granted him bail.” Akeredolu asserted that the proper thing for the commission to do is to do when a court grants a suspect bail is to come up with fresh charge against the individual and withdraw the former charge.

“What the EFCC is doing is an act of brigandage, using the media to promote what they are doing. It’s very unfortunate that they don’t carry out enough investigations to collate enough evidence on cases of corruption, especially on the ongoing probe of arms purchase,” he added. Former Chairman, NBA- Ikeja branch, Mr Monday Ubani, opined that what the commission is doing is just to show to Nigerians that they are performing their duty.

Ubani explained that not having enough evidence against the suspects leads to arraignment and re arraignments, which is causing embarrassment for both the commission and suspects. “This show of recklessness must stop and they should face the reality by pursuing the fight against corruption with the zeal it deserved. Arresting suspects and re-arresting them after arraignment and bail is an embarrassment.

“We have to remember that a suspect is presumed innocent until he is found guilty by the law court. Whoever is arrested will suffer embarrassment which will be monumental and irredeemable if they are not found guilty,” Ubani added. He called on the EFCC to ensure that they do things according to the law and carry out investigation deeply before rushing to court for prosecution.

“If it is only two count charges that they can sustain in trial, let them go for that. This is the only way the corruption battle can be won. On arrest, It is wrong for the EFCC to arrest in court premises. I wonder what is happening these days. Things have changed for the bad. Before now, nobody dares arrest anybody in court premises. It is very wrong and it is illegal. Yes, as an agency established by law, they must respect the law as well,” Ubani maintained.

The executive director, SERAP, Mumuni Tokunbo, stressed that what the EFCC is doing is an act of brigandage, using the media to promote their work. “While it may seem too early to judge the EFCC, under this new administration, a look at the initial start suggests that there may be some level of seriousness this time around. It appears early to pass final judgment on the body for now.

“On the issue of re-arrests of some persons after bail, it may well be due to discovery of other devastating offences for which they need to offer explanations. So, one cannot say they have acted outside the purview of the law. It is very unfortunate that they do not carry out enough investigations to collate enough evidence on cases of corruption, especially on the ongoing probe of arms purchase,” he asserted.

According to another lawyer, Mr. Johnson Balogun, EFCC’s idea of filing 32, 50 and in some cases, 150-count charges is not helping the anti-corruption agencies to sustain or establish their cases. “It is high time they realised that it is better to convict an accused on a reasonable five-count charge, than to allow a 50-count charge to drag for many years, at the expense of tax payers, without any reasonable outcome at the end of the day.

“We also read about how the agencies spurn court orders, like the case of the former NSA who was granted bail but rearrested the same day. Though the agencies have the right to investigate corruption allegations, but such ought to be done within the ambit of the law.” Mr. Elenu Samson, also a lawyer, urged the anti-graft agencies, especially the EFCC, to have a re-think over its prosecutorial strategies.

He said: “We have been saying it, even the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed also said it recently, that anti-graft agencies, especially the EFCC, should have a re-think over its prosecutorial strategies. In my own view, I think there is need for all the anti-graft commissions to be overhauled. Aside the fact that they conduct shoddy investigations, you discover that their investigators are yet to learn the rudiments of obtaining statements from suspects.

Most times you see the prosecutors bragging that an accused made confessional statements, only for such statements to be discredited during trial. If they are lucky in some cases the court will order trial-within-trial to ascertain the voluntariness or otherwise of such statements.

“Another disturbing trend is the idea of demonising suspects in the media even before actual trial commences ýin court. This is very wrong and should be condemned. What remedy goes to an accused person if he or she is convicted in the court of public opinion only for the court to discover that the charge against such person lacked substance? That ugly trend has started again with the current ‘Dasukigate’.

“Every day we hear and read in various media outlets how billions of money was allegedly diverted from the office of the former National Security Adviser. What happens if in the course of trial it is established that the funds were legitimately disbursed? Will the anti-graft agency go back to correct the impression already created in the mind of people? These are what we are talking about. File your case before the court and give the judiciary the chance to do its work,” he noted.

On his part, Mr. Okereke Anya, urged the Federal Government to increase its funding to the anti-graft agencies. He maintained that the anti-graft institutions should be commended for what they have done so far.

“It is easier for people to condemn, but has anyone asked how much fund these anti-corruption agencies operate with? How do you face people that allegedly looted billions of dollars with a neatly empty purse? Let us not forget what the former EFCC Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri said, ‘when you fight corruption, corruption will surely fight you back. I am not against media trial. Sometimes it is better to name and shame perceived corrupt persons to serve as a deterrent to prospective ones,” he added.

The legal practitioners called on the anti-graft agencies in the country to properly investigate corruption cases before rushing suspects to court. A Law Lecturer at LASU, Dr Gbenga Ojo, pointed out that the fight against corruption by this government was a welcome development. “There is no doubt that President Buhari has the pedigree for fighting corruption. At least as a military head of state, he has demonstrated this clearly without bias or party affiliation.

Then the fight against corruption was total and cut across the board. All politicians irrespective of their party’s affiliation were affected. Now, under this dispensation, it is a totally different ball game. He is now the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with a political affiliation. He is President on the ticket of All Progressives Party {APC}.

“This is the first impediment in the fight against corruption. It becomes more complex, that APC is an affiliation of different political parties inclusive of some PDP members that joined the APC. We wait to see whether the President Buhari will have the courage to apply the “big stick” against corrupt politicians in his party.

Of course, we can refer to the case of the Senate President and the “trial” before CCT as example of fighting corruption across the board irrespective of party affiliation. But this is not taken seriously. Why did the government wait until Dr Saraki outsmarted some APC members in the quest for leadership of the Senate, before his wife suddenly became a suspect and interrogated by the EFCC and the husband arraigned before CCT.

“Why did they not arraign him when he joined APC from PDP?. Why did they not arraign him, when he delivered Kwara and part of Kogi State to APC?. Why did they not arraign him after serving two terms of eight years as the Governor of Kwara State?. There are so many ways that his arraignment is not devoid of politics and show of power by this government.

“It is very important that in his fight against corruption, all politicians irrespective of the political party must be disciplined. Selective prosecution of members of PDP alone will put a dent on the fight against corruption. So far this appears to be the case. We are waiting for the day that some of the “big wigs” in APC will be arrested and prosecuted on account of corruption except the government is saying that all members of his party- ACN, CPC, APGA and ANPP.

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