• 55 Nigerians stole N1.35tn in seven years, presidential panel alleges
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja and Eromosele Abiodun in Lagos
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), has disclosed that he authorised the raid on the homes of judges and their subsequent arrest by the Department of State Services (DSS), following the refusal of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to act on the petitions sent to it on allegations of corrupt practices by the affected judges.
Malami equally disclosed that the decision to arrest and invade residences of the judicial officers was premised on allegations of economic crimes, terrorism and narcotic crimes, adding that he was simply complying with Section 15(5) of the 1999 Constitution, which vests the state with the obligation to deploy all of its powers to abolish corruption.
The AGF made the revelation yesterday when he finally appeared before the House of Representatives ad hoc committee investigating the invasion of property and arrest of persons for reasons outside the general duties of the DSS.
The DSS last month raided the homes of eight judges and arrested seven of them for alleged corruption. One of the judges, Supreme Court Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja, last week on multiple-counts of corruption, money laundering and fraud.
Malami appeared before the committee after it threatened to issue a warrant of arrest, following his failure to appear or send a representative to two previous sittings.
Malami told the committee that the action of the DSS, including the midnight raid on the homes of the judges, was within the confines of the law, as there was reasonable evidence.
He further explained that the operation could have been conducted at any hour any moment and without restriction.
He also maintained that investigating matters of economic crime was not the exclusive preserve of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), because he as the AGF could also decide which agency to deploy to tackle any matter of corruption.
EFCC last week informed the committee that the DSS had overreached itself by delving into matters of corruption, insisting that it was the exclusive preserve of the commission and ICPC by virtue of the Acts establishing both agencies.
But Malami said: “The state was in receipt of multiple petitions of corrupt practices by the judicial officers and there was further apprehension that if immediate steps were not taken, the possibility of dissipating existing evidence that were believed to have been kept within their respective domains will eventually be tampered with.
“Arising from the responsibility created and established by Section 15 of the constitution, the state had to act.
“I had no objection that the operation would be carried out at night because I have taken time to go through the administration of Criminal Justice Act and I was convinced that this operation could be conducted at any hour, any moment without restriction.
“To the question of which agency has the responsibility of executing it, my response to that derives from the fact that multiple petitions were written to the Office of the AGF, DSS, EFCC and a lot of other agencies of government, and to my mind, I have a discretion to look, weigh the situation and decide which agency against the background of the petition will act for the purpose of ensuring that the obligation of the provisions of Section 15(5) of the constitution are carried out.”
He added: “I asked EFCC and DSS and another agency to investigate because they were in receipt of several petitions on the same subject and I was informed by the DSS before the search and arrest and I did not object.
“The DSS presented a formal report to me before and after effecting the search and arrest, they informed me that the operation will be done at any hour without restriction.”
The AGF also explained that the raid was carried out because the NJC refused to act on the petitions sent by his office and to other agencies accusing the judges of corruption, revealing further that the NJC said it could only act on petitions that were backed by sworn affidavits.
I felt there was no reason the petitions could not be looked into on their own merit, he added.
Malami said he also advised the DSS to write the NJC to look into the petitions it (DSS) also received against the judges, and got the same response for supporting affidavits.
“So we had a situation where there were reasonable grounds for suspicion for commission of corruption and we had a body saddled with the primary administrative responsibility of looking at such things first, but seemed not to be cooperating in that respect.
“Meanwhile, when the issue of commission of corruption practice is established, the executive has the responsibility of investigation without recourse to the judiciary,” Malami said.
55 Nigerians Stole N1.35tn
Malami’s testimony on the arrest of the judges came just as the Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, yesterday in Lagos revealed that 55 Nigerians allegedly looted N1.35 trillion from the country in seven years.
Speaking during an interactive session with the media and civil society organisations (CSOs) to mark the committee’s first anniversary, he said corruption has been one of the most damaging obstacles to the development of Nigeria.
According to him, “Using the World Bank’s rates and costs, one-third of this stolen amount could have provided 635.18 kilometres of roads, built 36 ultra modern hospitals (one per state), built and furnished 183 schools, educated 3,974 children from primary level all the way to tertiary education (at N25.2 million per child) and also built 20,062 units of two-bedroom houses.
“Corruption is Nigeria’s greatest challenge and is directly associated with the current economic decline, high poverty rate, reduced life expectancy, mortality and the deteriorating living standards experienced by citizens.
“Beyond its developmental implications, the promotion and strengthening of democratic institutions and values are diminished; corruption is the enemy of development and good governance.”
He added that the crusade against corruption on the side of the federal government went comatose from 2007 largely due to a leadership deficit.
“In fairness to President Umaru Yar’Adua, his health challenges prevented him from defining his stance against corruption, although it must be acknowledged that he publicly declared his assets.
“President Goodluck Jonathan fared far worse than his predecessors in tackling corruption. His tolerance for corruption was reflected in the sunset of the activities of the anti-corruption agencies under his watch and other exponential increase of other vices no doubt fuelled by corruption.
“For example, it is widely believed that insecurity escalated because of the embezzlement of $2 billion through the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) under the leadership of Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.), who allegedly diverted the money appropriated to fight the insurgency.
“The problem of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry reached a zenith with multi-billion dollar subsidy scams while President Goodluck Jonathan looked the other way.
“At the same time, other vices spread like cancer — kidnapping, import duty waivers, financial recklessness, a profligate legislature, corrupt judiciary, etc. There was no single high profile conviction for corruption under his watch yet there were allegations of high profile corruption within the cabinet.
“Jonathan’s legendary comment that stealing is not corruption underscores his perspective on corruption and remains a watershed in the history of the anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria. Under his watch, corruption brought Nigeria to its knees,” Owasanoye said.
He observed that if judges strictly complied with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, high profile cases would be quickly determined.
According to him, rather than being firm, some judges indulge lawyers who go out of their way to delay cases for their clients by abusing court processes.
Owasanoye said: “If you do a thorough analysis of the all the high profile cases that are hanging in the courts, they are not hanging because investigations were poor. It is because the suspects are manipulating the court system.
“If you accuse me of corruption and I have a good defence, why should I want the case to go on for 10 years? I should be the one insisting on no adjournment. I would want my case quickly dispensed with so I can clear my name, but that’s not what you get.
“So while there’s need for thorough investigation, we should understand that the reason the corruption fight is slow is because of the high tolerance of the courts of the shenanigans of lawyers.
“Once the judges stamp their feet and say: ‘We’ll not entertain adjournments, these cases must proceed,’ you will see a change. We’ve seen these situations in this country before. We need to get the narrative right.”
Owasanoye noted that corruption was thriving because Nigerians had become tolerant of it, adding that the government cannot fight corruption without the public’s support.
“For as long as we tolerate corruption, it’ll continue to thrive. We need to show our revulsion for corruption,” he said.
Owasanoye said banks were part of the problem also, as they now help some ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to hide funds which ought to be in the Treasury Single Account (TSA).
“They do this in the name of private banking. It is a violation of the law and attack on the government,” he said.
Similarly, the Chairman of PACAC, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN) blamed judges for the delay of high profile corruption cases in court.
Prof Sagay said those who complain of rights violation when they are arrested on corruption allegations ignore the fact that the rights of millions of Nigerians have been violated through graft.
“There are social, economic and cultural rights. Each time billions of naira is looted, people’s rights to education, health and social services are violated,” he said.
Sagay urged Nigerians to join the fight against corruption, as the consequences affect everyone.
He also asked CSOs to do more to help rid the country of corruption. “CSOs of today have gone to sleep. For this fight to be effective, we need their support,” he said.
He also urged labour leaders to join the battle and avoid getting compromised.