Faults NBA president’s call for reduction of commission’s prosecutorial powers
Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has taken a swipe at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) for demanding that its prosecutorial powers be whittled down. According to EFCC, such call should not be made by a bar peopled with suspected rogues and vultures incapable of being professional and objective in the on-going anti-corruption war.
The Head, Media and Publicity of EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, who rebuked NBA in a statement yesterday, disagreed with the association’s proposition, which specifically stated that the role of the commission be limited to investigation alone.
The NBA had at its 56th Annual General Conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State advocated the reform of EFCC and the Judiciary. Its President, Abubakar Mahmoud, who delivered his inaugural speech shortly after being sworn in as the 28th President of the NBA at the occasion, called for the review of the broad operations of the EFCC as an investigative and prosecutorial agency, recommending that the commission should be limited to only investigation.
But Uwujaren said the commission viewed with concern, the call by the NBA president that the EFCC be stripped of its prosecutorial powers and deplored the views.
He lauded Mahmoud’s pledge to reinvent the association by reclaiming its moral high ground through a campaign for ethical rectitude by members of the bar, quoting him: “The NBA under my watch will fight judicial corruption. We shall make the legal profession unattractive for corrupt lawyers.”
“This,” the EFCC spokesman pointed out, “is reassuring considering the evidence that senior members of the bar have become complicit in cases of corruption and money laundering, leading to the EFCC, arraigning two members of the inner bar for acts of corruption.”
He therefore argued that, “A bar populated or directed by people perceived to be rogues and vultures cannot play the role of priests in the temple of justice.”
Uwujaren noted that, “The commission’s discomfort over this seeming innocuous proposition, stem from the fact Mahmoud was silent on the reason for his position.
“More importantly, the commission cannot comprehend how the redefinition of EFCC’s mandate in narrow terms, ultimately whittling it down, fits into the clamour by Nigerians and the vision of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration for a vibrant and courageous anti-corruption agency.”
“Instead, Mahmoud’s suggestions appears perfectly in sync with a cleverly disguised campaign by powerful forces that are uncomfortable with the reinvigorated anti-graft campaign of the EFCC and are hell-bent on emasculating the agency by stripping it of powers to prosecute with the tame excuse that an agency that investigates cannot also prosecute,” he added.
According to Uwujaren, the question Nigerians must ask the Mahmoud-led NBA is, what is wrong with EFCC prosecution, adding that “Mahmoud is in a position to answer this question”.
The EFCC Spokesman noted that the NBA President was the Attorney General of the Federation’s counsel in the trial of former Delta State governor, James Ibori, at the Federal High Court, Asaba, a case which EFCC lost in questionable circumstances.
He alleged that “the same ingredients from that case were used to fetch Ibori a 13-year jail term in London”, and that “Mahmoud is also the commission’s counsel in the appeal against the infamous perpetual injunction from arrest and prosecution by former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, which is still pending before the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, many years after it was filed”.
Uwujaren considered it too much of a strange coincidence that the suggestion to strip the EFCC of its prosecutorial powers is being floated few months after the commission, in unprecedented fashion arraigned some senior lawyers for corruption.
For the avoidance of doubt, he stated, the commission had recorded more convictions in the last one year than all the states and federal ministries of justices combined.
Against this background, he added, the current campaign appeared to be self-serving, intended to create a cabal of untouchables who could be investigated but may never be prosecuted.
“The EFCC however wishes to reassure Nigerians that there will be no sacred cows in the renewed fight against corruption in Nigeria,” he stated.
Uwujaren, however, said that the EFCC appreciates the NBA’s acknowledgement of the commission’s strategic place in the fight against corruption in Nigeria and the modest achievements that it has recorded so far.
He said the commission also welcomed the suggestion for reform, saying that its “Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, has repeatedly stated in his public pronouncements, the agency is open to suggestions that will improve its operations as it cannot pretend to have a monopoly of ideas on how to fight corruption”.