The Crumbling Anti-corruption War

0

The acquittal of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal was a rude awakening for those leading the war against corruption, writes Tobi Soniyi

The decision of the Code of Conduct Tribunal upholding the no case submission of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, who was charged with alleged violations of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers was perhaps the wake up for those in charge of the anti-corruption war. The judgement clearly shows that an anti-corruption war built on a witch-haunt is unsustainable.

The judgment is also an indication that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way the anti-corruption war is being waged. 

However, rather than accept this reality, the government in its typical panic-mode style adopted its usual face-saving approach by rushing to file an appeal that it will seek to amend in the next few weeks. 

The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, (PACAC) which has the penchant for blaming defence lawyers and the courts for whatever glitch the anti-corruption war suffers, is becoming circumspect. No longer able to hide its frustration, it finally accepted that something was wrong somewhere. The committee, until now, was in denial.

The chairman, Prof Itse Sagay, blamed the Presidency for lack of diligence and thorough job on how to nail corrupt people, which he said, was partly responsible for the losses recorded by the government in the fight against corruption.

He said: The Federal Government, particularly the President and Vice-President, who were elected into office principally to eliminate corruption, must go back to their drawing board, search and scan the constitution and other laws to draw the requisite irresistible power to deal firmly with this terrible scourge of our times, otherwise we are all dead.”

A member of PACAC, Professor Femi Odekunle, was more forthright in his criticism of government handling of corruption cases.

He noted that lack of diligence by some senior government officials had also contributed in no small measures.

Odekunle wondered how serious the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), was committed to the anti-graft war and further questioned the honesty of the Code of Conduct Tribunal chairman, Mr. Danladi Umar.

While he should be condemned for thinking that rule of law should be circumvented in the fight against corruption, he deserved commendation for raising the case against the CCT chairman. He said: “It is said that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. In this regard, I ask, what were the details and the resolution of the EFCC matter on Danladi Umar’s bribery case? I don’t know, I’m just asking. 

“Is the Attorney-General of the Federation, who is to lead the anti-corruption fight, going by the way things have been going in the past two years, as committed as others who could have done the job better? 

“I have no answers but I believe if they are answered, it will give us an insight into the cause of our current dilemma in the fight against corruption.”

 To begin with, how will the Attorney General of the Federation, justify his decision to allow Umar remain as CCT chairman when he is in possession of overwhelming evidence that put Umar’s integrity in issue?

Danladi Umar would probably by now not be sitting as the tribunal chairman if the minister had acted on the file he inherited from his predecessor in office, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN. 

Acting  on a report signed by the then Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Lamorde, Adoke recommended to the then president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan to relieve Umar of his job for admitting that he met, privately in his chambers, with a retired customs officer standing trial before him.

 Adoke also directed the EFCC to prosecute Umar for alleged collection of bribe.

The former justice minister’s recommendation was based on the report of the EFCC into a petition by a retired Comptroller of Customs, Mr Rasheed Taiwo that Umar demanded N10million bribe from him to quash the case against him. 

Adoke had in a letter to Jonathan dated 7th May, 2014 with reference number: HAGF/SH/2014/Vol./41 advised the president to initiate move ‎to remove Umar from office as chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal because of the allegation of corruption against him.

Adoke in the letter said: “‎I am of the humble opinion that the current state of affairs by which the tribunal is unable to seat while the institution is increasingly diminished by the pall of suspicion, should not be allowed to fester as it will expose the institution to public ridicule and undermine this administration’s efforts to combat corruption.

“In the light of the foregoing therefore, Your Excellency may wish to initiate the necessary steps for the removal of the chairman.” 

These and many more shocking revelations ‎are in the office of Malami. But what did the justice minister do? He mounted a stiff defence to protect Umar when the issue was raised.

Also in the file are; the statement of Umar himself where he admitted meeting privately with the petitioner in his (Umar) office at the CCT, statement made by his personal assistant, Mr Gambo Abdullahi, Umar’s bail application, letter to former president Jonathan by the two other members of the tribunal,  among others.

In his statement, Abdullahi, the Personal Assistant to Umar  admitted collecting N1.8million from Taiwo on behalf of his boss, Umar. However, Gambo later recanted and ‎claimed that he collected the money for himself.

In its investigation report dated 24th June, 2014, signed by its Executive Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, the EFCC said: “Available circumstantial evidence suggests that the tribunal chairman might have indeed demanded and collected money from the complainant through his personal assistant. 

“Efforts made to recover the telephone handset used by Justice Umar proved abortive, as he claimed that he had lost the telephone in 2012. Justice Umar also admitted that he met privately with the complainant in his chamber at the tribunal. This is a most unethical and highly suspicious conduct on his part.”

The commission also said that there was overwhelming evidence to prosecute Umar’s PA because he, “could offer no coherent excuse for receiving N1.8million into his salary account from Taiwo, who is an accused person standing trial at the tribunal,” the commission added.

EFCC said the N1.8million had been recovered‎. The commission also stated that Umar’s PA tried to cover up the reason for which the money was paid to him by making contradictory statements.

Two days later, precisely on 26th June, 2014, the AGF wrote back to Lamorde recommending Umar and his PA, Abdulahi for prosecution.

Consequently the commission prepared a draft charge containing two counts against Umar and his PA. Curiously, however, the charge was never filed but it was exhibited in a suit filed by a group to compel EFCC to prosecute Umar. 

Two members of the tribunal, Justices Robert Odu and W. Agwaza Atedze also wrote to Jonathan. They called on him to investigate the allegation that the chairman demanded N10 million bribe so as to save the tribunal from embarrassment. 

Another letter, written by the former Secretary to the Federal Government, Anyim Pius Anyim to the EFCC chairman was also in the file. In the letter, Anyim said that the tribunal could no longer sit because of the allegation against the chairman. Malami knew this much but believed that Umar must remain the chairman of the CCT.

 Rather than give consideration to these weighty issues raised by his predecessor, Malami ignored them. In the bid to nail Saraki at all cost, EFCC issued a statement contradicting itself by saying that it had cleared Umar when the commission knew that that was not true. The office of the AGF also defended Umar. When Umar failed to deliver the judgment they wanted, they shamefully made another u-turn and said he was under investigation. 

The drama did not end there. To save, Umar, his personal assistant who admitted collecting money from the ex-customs officer, was charged not for collecting bribe but for one flimsy offence that if convicted, would walk out of court free. The report of EFCC’s investigation of the petition by the ex-customs officer and his testimony speak volumes. But enough of that for now.

To save the war against corruption, the justice minister may need to pause for a while and review his own methodology. Shortly after he was appointed, the minister suggested to President Muhammadu Buhari to constitute a National Prosecution Coordination Committee on High Profile Cases (NPCC). The committee has a long list of membership (twenty). At the time the committee was created, the EFCC was on top of its game. All the minister needed to do was to help existing anti-corruption agencies to function better. Rather, he chose to undermine them by creating the bogus committee. The result is the confusion that has permeated the entire anti-corruption war. For a Presidency that promised to reduce deficit and run a lean administration, adding an unnecessary committee, such as the NPCC, was an unnecessary burden.

According to a statement issued by Salihu Isah, the spokesperson to the minister, who is also a member of the committee, NPCC was constituted pursuant to the powers vested on the AGF  as the nation’s Chief Law Officer as contained in Section 174(1) of the 1999 Constitution. 

“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria under Section 174(1) vested the powers on the Attorney General of the Federation to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria, other than a court martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly.

“The AGF is also to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person. He is equally charged to discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person. This is the position of the Constitution.” 

According to him, the committee is also to guarantee prompt contact and synergy between investigators and the prosecutors of high profile criminal cases, manage information to the public on such cases as well as to ensure strict compliance with the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.

He said further: “For its terms of reference, the NPCC is to advise the AGF on the exercise of his prosecutorial powers in Section 150 and 174 of the 1999 Constitution, prepare the policy strategy document for the coordination of investigation and prosecution of high profile criminal cases in Nigeria and to also collate the list of such cases as well as assigning them to prosecution teams. 

“The committee will scrutinize the proof of evidence and charges in high profile criminal cases in the country before arraignment. In addition, it will receive and analyse reports from the investigation and prosecution teams engaged to handle such cases.” 

First, there appears to be no legal basis upon which the mandate of the committee can be justified. With due respect to Isah and the AGF, the provisions cited above cannot be the basis for setting up a committee to coordinate prosecution of high profile cases. The minister should simply exercise that power by going ahead to take over any case he wants to take over. Setting up a coordinating committee to do so will result in avoidable duplication, waste of resources and serve as a disincentive to those working at EFCC who are taking a lot of risk to fighting  corruption.

Above all, it will also slow down the fight against corruption. Other questions begin for answers include‎: How will the committee determine high profile cases? Where will the funding of the committee come from? How will the committee relate with anti-corruption agencies? Are members of the committee not likely to jeopardize or compromise ‎investigation being carried out by anti-corruption agencies? The more the number of people who have the details about an investigation the more the chance that the investigation will be compromised. 

The advisory mandate is also not tenable. The AGF has a retinue of  lawyers advising him. This is aside from the Solicitor General and other lawyers working in the Ministry of Justice. The AGF can also seek advice from those at the helms of affairs at the EFCC and ‎the Independent Corrupt Practice and other Related Offences Commission. Many public spirited lawyers will also willingly give the AGF advice for free.

“In persuading the government to constitute this committee, ‎the AGF has just succeeded in selling a dummy to ‎the Federal Government,” a lawyer at the Ministry of Justice told our correspondent.

We already have too many agencies dealing with corruption but yet, corrupt acts are on the increase. 

Former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Dr Chidi Odinkalu couldn’t be faulted when he said: “There was a time in Nigeria when public integrity institutions were just three: the police, civil service and the judiciary. Many would argue that public values were better then and these institutions performed stronger. Today, there is a formidable alphabet-soup of anti-corruption and public integrity agencies, which includes the Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-Corruption Reforms (TUGAR); Intelligence and security agencies created by the National Security Agencies Act (SSS, DMI, DIA, DMI), Budget Office, the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR); Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB); the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); Federal Ministries of Finance; Justice; and of Foreign Affairs; the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC); the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); NAPTIP; NDLEA; NEITI; the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), the Nigeria Police Force (NPF); the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (OAuGF); the Public Complaints Commission; TUGAR and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Indeed, there is now an Inter-Agency Task Team of Anti-Corruption. To this, we can now add a Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACA). 

 “The distribution of functional competence between these multiple agencies can often be overlapping, confused, and confounding. Unsurprisingly, Nigeria’s crisis of public integrity has grown in direct proportion to the inflation in public integrity institutions.”

To Odinkalu’s list, we now have to add the National Prosecution Coordination Committee on High Profile Cases (NPCC).