Lawyers and a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) have expressed divergent views over the unending signals from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), which are capable of eroding the gains made in the fight against corruption.
The Executive Director of the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, in a statement, said the latest in the long line of embarrassing missteps undermining the fight against corruption was the recent query by Malami to the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu.
“Curiously, the AGF’s grouse, which elicited the query to Magu, is that the EFCC has gone ahead to charge the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Justice Danladi Umar, who had earlier been exonerated by the commission in 2015. For us, it is quite disturbing that the AGF has increasingly created the impression that his role is to harass and breathe down the neck of the acting EFCC chair at the slightest pretext.
“To our mind, even if the EFCC had earlier cleared the CCT chair of any wrongdoing, but now has evidence to support his prosecution, we see no reason why the chief law officer would be miffed about it.
Therefore, “CHRICED rejects the notion that there are sacred cows on the basis of their position or professional affiliations. If anybody, no matter how highly placed, has a case to answer, they should be made to face the due process of the law,” Zikirullahi said.
He listed the reinstatement of a former Chairman of the Presidential Task Team on Pension Reform (PTTPR), Abdulrasheed Maina, to the civil service before public outcry forced the government to sack him, and the recent recall of the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Usman Yusuf, as evidence that Malami was not living up to his exalted office.
He said what the petty squabbles with the EFCC showed was that the AGF was not elated by the effort being made by the anti-corruption agency to recover stolen monies and assets, and then wondered why Magu, whose work had been applauded by the international community, including the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), would be facing harassment from the AGF.
“CHRICED, therefore, calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to take bold steps to rescue the anti-corruption war from close appointees who seem to be unhappy with the milestones that have been recorded thus far. It is clear to us that an AGF who is constantly irritated by the bold steps being taken by the EFCC to fight corruption, is not on the same page with his principal, the president. The earlier the president shows these kind of people the exit door from his cabinet, the better for the course of ridding the nation of the cankerworm of corruption,” Zikirullahi said.
However, a law teacher, Anthony Agbonlahor, backed the AGF on the decision to query the EFCC chairman over the filing of fresh charges against the CCT chairman.
Agbonlahor said the EFCC’s volte face after already absolving Umar of any wrongdoing could raise doubts on the minds of the people on the anti-corruption war.
“The EFCC does not have the prerogative to approbate and reprobate with respect to a given set of facts. Before now the EFCC had appeared before a senate committee, and they have even put up a report to the attorney general, viz-a-viz the presidency, that Umar, the chairman of the tribunal, had no case to answer; that no prima facie case had been entered against him and therefore, he was qualified to continue to hear the Saraki case. What then informed the volte face; the somersault?” he asked.
“Law is not vindictiveness; it is not persecution or prosecution. The query is that you had before now said the man had no case, is there any new facts you have now discovered after you wrote the last report?” he asked.
Also speaking, Barrister E.M.D. Umukoro said though the AGF had supervisory powers over the CCT boss as he had over all prosecuting agencies, including the EFCC, he should not overstep his powers.
“The EFCC, like other anti-graft agencies, is independent and answerable to Mr. President and in addition, may be to the legislature, to the extent that they also exercise oversight functions over government agencies,” he said.
He, however, said the AGF could only support the agencies by formulating guidelines to advice and guide them, adding that to continue to query the EFCC could negate the EFCC Act.
“So, for the attorney general to do so is certainly not only a misstep, but a miss firing on all cylinders. An error and a clear signal of the inter-agency rivalry within this present administration. This is certainly a draw back on the anti-graft campaign,” he added.