EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde
By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
A bill seeking to curb the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice to stop criminal proceedings or interfere in cases being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday scaled through the second reading and was referred to the Constitution Review Committee.
However, a similar bill for an act to amend the EFCC Act of 2004 to provide that the removal of the chairman of the anti-corruption commission shall be subject to the ratification by two thirds majority of the Senate was not so lucky as it suffered a setback and debate on it suspended to enable the Chairman of the Rules and Business Committee to study the document.
Also at the sitting of the House of Representatives yesterday, the negative comments credited to former President Olusegun Obasanjo against the National Assembly almost threw up an avalanche of reactions from enraged lawmakers that were eager to fire back at the elder statesman, but the
situation was quickly arrested by the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, who referred it for investigations by the Ethics and Privileges Committee.
The bill on whittling down of the powers of the AGF with regard to his supervision of the EFCC, which was sponsored by a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) from Lagos, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, generated a lot interest and contributions from members of the House.
Speaking on the bill, Gbajabiamila said it had become “extremely” important to do something to strip the AGF of the ouster powers as experience had shown that the occupant of the office had, in most cases, abused its application.
Key motive of the bill, according to Gbajabiamila, is to ensure that the function of the EFCC to prosecute corrupt persons is not in any way hampered through the interference of any higher authority.
He urged his colleagues to support the bill and not see it from the “parochial” angle of political interest as the matter is at the very head of the fight against corruption.
After a heated debate, which saw members from across the political divide bring up arguments for and against it, the bill finally sailed through when put to vote by the Speaker.
Not even the determined efforts of those who opposed it could sway support against it as it was referred to the Constitution Review Committee for further scrutiny.
Earlier while contributing to a debate on the bill, Hon. Nkiru Onyeaguocha, representing Abia State, said there were times when the Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice might become a tool to protect political interest, since the office holder is a politician.
This, she argued, would endanger justice.
Another lawmaker, Hon. Kamil Akinlabi, said the bill was necessary so as to insulate the EFCC from undue interference from the office of the attorney-general.
Going down memory lane, Hon. Bitrus Kaze from Plateau State, reminded his colleagues of several instances where the attorney-general’s office had been used to pervert justice in high profile cases with great deal of public interest .
Leading the pact of opposition to the bill was Hon. Patrick Ikhariale, who argued that there was nothing so significant about what the bill seeks to achieve.
He said the powers that the AGF wielded was intended to protect individuals or organisations from the excesses of institutions like the EFCC.
Another bill that seeks to alter the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by separating the Office of the AGF from that of the Minister of Justice also sailed through second reading.
From the way the bill garnered support, another move through a bill to transfer the powers of the president to remove the EFCC chairman to the Senate did not sail through.
A point-of-order raised by the Deputy Leader of the House, Hon. Leo Ogor, to the effect that the amendment being canvassed by sponsors of the bill was clashing with the provisions of the constitution, nailed it.
The EFCC Bill, sponsored by Hon. Christopher Etta from Cross River State, also sought to ensure that members of the board of the commission were not made up of political appointees or persons, who by their antecedents, are not well-disposed to support the cause of justice and the fight against corruption in the country.
The Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who took over from Tambuwal midway into House deliberations, succumbed to wise counsel to subject the bill to further consideration by the Committee of Rule and Business until next Wednesday.