By Gboyega Akinsanmi
A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, yesterday faulted a proposal by the leadership of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) that Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should be stripped of its prosecutorial powers.
Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), also lamented the regressive approach of the state and local governments to the fight against corruption and corrupt people in the country.
He rejected the proposal in a statement he personally signed, arguing that the campaign “to have the EFCC divested of its prosecutorial powers is essentially designed to weaken it.”
At its 56th annual general conference held in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, between August 21 and 26, the NBA President, Mr. Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, had demanded that the EFCC be stripped of prosecutorial powers and limited to investigation.
Rather than allowing the anti-graft commission to prosecute cases it investigated, the NBA president had canvassed the establishment of an independent prosecution agency to prosecute cases investigated by the EFCC.
In a statement he issued yesterday, however, Falana x-rayed diverse battles waged to weaken the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the EFCC by some members of the NBA.
In Nigeria, he acknowledged that the federal and state ministries of justice “prosecute cases which have been investigated by the Nigeria Police. But in the prosecution of such cases, it is always a herculean task to secure the attendance of police prosecutors as they may have been transferred when they are required to give evidence in criminal courts.”
He said many cases “are usually struck out for want of diligent prosecution. Based on the frustrations encountered by various ministries of justice, the parliament decided to warehouse the investigation and prosecution departments of several government agencies including the EFCC.
“Since the EFCC has secured more convictions than the other agencies which combine investigative and prosecutorial powers, the campaign to have it divested of prosecutorial powers is essentially designed to weaken it,” the human rights lawyer explained.
He, however, argued that the campaign to strip the EFCC of its prosecutorial power would have been extended “to other agencies clothed with powers to investigate and prosecute criminal cases like the ICPC, Nigeria Police, the armed forces, EFCC, National Food and Drugs Administration Commission, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Road Safety Commission, National Deposit Insurance Corporation and Nigeria Drug Law Enforcement Agency.”
He, therefore, noted that the renewed campaign against the EFCC “is not unconnected with its temerity to charge some senior counsel to court for alleged corrupt practices. In a demonstration of solidarity, the NBA has mobilised scores of lawyers to defend the accused persons.”
He lamented the regressive approach of the state and local governments to the fight against corruption and corrupt leaders, noting that the federal, state and local governments “have joint responsibility to fight the menace of corruption and abuse of office.”
However, the senior advocate said the state and local governments “have never involved themselves in the fight against corruption. Indeed, the state governments do not even assist the EFCC and ICPC in the investigation and prosecution of public officers and contractors who are alleged to have stolen public funds belonging to state and local governments.
“Although the fight against corruption is one of the cardinal programmes of the ruling political party, the 21 state governments controlled by it have not deemed it fit to team up with the federal government in fighting corruption,” he explained.
Rather than stripping the EFCC of its prosecutorial powers, Falana advocated that the anti-graft agencies and the Attorneys-General should work together in the prosecution of all economic and financial crimes.
He, also, asked the NBA “to prevent lawyers from further frustrating the prosecution of corruption cases in the courts. Although the ACJA has substantially addressed the crisis of delay in the prosecution of criminal cases, it should be noted that the application of the law is limited to federal courts.
“Apart from Lagos State and few states that reformed their criminal justice system, other states have not jettisoned the colonial criminal procedure laws. The NBA may wish to pressurise such state governments to adopt the ACJA in order to fast track the trial of criminal cases in the state courts.”
He, therefore, urged the progressive extraction of the legal profession “to restrain bar leaders from giving the dangerous impression that Nigerian lawyers are comfortable with the large scale corruption in the country.
“As a matter of urgency, the NBA should be retrieved from the overbearing influence of a cabal of lawyers trying desperately to use it to frustrate the prosecution of criminal elements who have willfully inflicted eternal agony on the masses through the criminal diversion of the commonwealth.
“All patriotic lawyers should ensure that the anti-graft agencies have the autonomy to operate without intrusion from public institutions and private bodies. As corruption will always fight back to protect some vested interests the anti-graft agencies should be prepared to collaborate with the trade unions and other mass organisations in the fight against corruption.”