Although both the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission have played down their differences over the prosecution of high profile corruption cases, there is a mutual suspicion between them, writes Tobi Soniyi
A government that came to power with a promise to fight corruption can ill-afford a bickering between the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Economic and Financial Crimes Corruption.
Unfortunately however, the crack in relationship between Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN and the EFCC became a public knowledge when on Monday August 26, the representative of the AGF who is also the Special Adviser to the President on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla at a forum in Lagos told the gathering that EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) were not co-operating with the ministry in the prosecution of high profile cases. EFCC and ICPC not cooperating with the AGF? That sounded unbelievable!
According to him, about 31 pending corruption cases might have been compromised, because the anti-graft agencies have refused to furnish the AGF’s office with the particulars of the cases.
He therefore called for a collective approach against corruption in the country.
However, EFCC’s Head of Legal and Prosecution, Gbolahan Latona, who represented the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu at the event refuted the allegation.
He said: “We are not working at cross purposes with the office of the attorney general of the federation; we are co-operating with them. We have a wide range of corruption cases in concert with state agencies.”
He said the AGF’s office did not need to wait for the EFCC before it could fight corruption, adding that it had the power to prosecute without waiting for the EFCC’s investigation. That response, many believe, is insulting to the AGF.
Perhaps, in an attempt to play down the rift, On Thursday, August 3, the justice minister while speaking at a press briefing in Abuja said there was no rift between his office and the EFCC. The denial is understood. There ought to be no rift between a supervisor and the office he supervises. But the exchanges between Obono-Obla and the EFCC’s head of legal clearly showed that there was indeed a rift. Insiders too knew of the existence of the rift.
The existence of a rift was further confirmed by a publication of The Cable. Citing an EFCC official, the online publication reported that Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the EFCC, was served with a letter from the office of the AGF seeking compliance with the regulation on the prosecution of serious cases, usually understood to mean high-profile investigations.
Malami was said to have accused Magu of breaching section 10(1) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Enforcement) Regulations 2010.
The report said: “The regulation mandates the EFCC to forward the outcome of investigations along with its recommendations to the AGF in cases or complaints that are “serious or complex”.
“A case is considered “serious or complex” if it has significant international dimension, involves money or assets of a value exceeding N50 million or requires specialised knowledge of financial, commercial, fiscal or regulatory matters such as the operations of the markets, banking systems, trusts or tax regimes.
“It is also considered serious if it involves allegations of fraudulent activities against numerous victims, involves a significant loss of money by a ministry or department or public body, is likely to be of widespread public concern or involves an alleged misconduct which amounts to economic sabotage.
“After the EFCC must have conducted the investigations, it is then left to the office of the AGF to decide whether or not there are sufficient grounds to initiate prosecution, according to the regulation.”
The Cable further reported that EFCC officials believed Malami is seeking to take over the prosecution of cases handled by the commission in order to water down the anti-graft war, “but sources at his office said he is trying to reassert himself ‘having been persistently sidelined by the anti-graft agencies under his supervision'”, the online publication added.
No doubt, the AGF has a supervisory role over EFCC. Besides, as the nation’s Chief Law Officer, the AGF has powers to take over cases and can discontinue cases already pending in courts subject to the relevant provisions of the constitution. Sections 150 and 174(1) of the constitution are very instructive in this regard.
Senior lawyers believe that the AGF should take the blame for the situation he found himself. He has woefully failed to assert himself. One senior lawyer said: “Nobody can try this with Mohammed Adoke, SAN. He will not take it. They know that the AGF is weak. That is why they are undermining him.”
Apart from that, many have had to doubt the AGF’s commitment to the fight against corruption. Even people within the cabinet. Not long ago, precisely after the Code of Conduct Tribunal had discharged and acquitted the Senate President of corruption charges, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN and a member of the committee, Prof. Femi Odekunle queried the commitment of the AGF to the corruption crusade.
Odekunle had said: “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? The AGF was forced to issue a statement saying that he was committed to the anti-corruption war. He said he expected Sagay and others to know better.
The perception that the AGF is weak and uncommitted to the anti-corruption war might have strengthened the EFCC in its decision not to cooperate with the AGF. If that is the case, the proper step to take would be to relieve the AGF of his appointment. As long as he remains the AGF, the EFCC is answerable to him.
Also, the EFCC must have found the minister’s decision to set up a National Prosecution Coordination Committee on High Profile Cases, unnecessary. Obviously, it will be difficult for the EFCC to trust a committee that is made up of twenty members.
Besides the Attorney-General, who is the Chairman of the Committee, the members are: Mr. Taiwo Abidogun-Solicitor-General/Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dipo Okpeseyi, SAN, Mr. Chukuma Machukwu, SAN, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, the Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (just nominated as ICPC chairman), Mr. M.S. Diri, Ministry of Justice, Mr. Pius Oteh, Esq., Okoi Obono-Obla Esq., Mrs Juliet Ibekaku, Mr. Abiodun Aikomo, Esq., Mr. Kehinde Oginni, Esq,, Mr. Salihu Othman Isah-Special Adviser, Media & Publicity to the Attorney-General, Al-Amin Ado Ibrahim, from the Office of the National Security Adviser, Nafiu Yakubu, Tunji Oluborode, Esq., Eric Onokif Ifere Esq., Mrs Diane Okoko, Temitope Adebayo, Esq., DIG Abdulrahman Yusuf, rtd, and Mr Sylvester Imhanobe, Esq, Secretary to the committee.
Alas, why should EFCC handover sensitive investigation reports to such an incongruous committee? There is no way the committee can further the fight against corruption. The committee has been in existence for a while now and barely has anything to show to justify its existence. Perhaps, the EFCC would not have hesitated to handover the files to the AGF if there is no such committee. To restore confidence and re-invigorate the anti-corruption war, the AGF should disband the committee.
To save this administration further embarrassment in the anti-corruption war, there is an urgent need for the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo to summon a meeting of the agencies involved in the anti-corruption war and give opportunity for everyone to express his or her views with the aim of reconciling their differences.
The administration was built on a tripod: the fight against corruption, building a strong economy and ensuring security. With the biting economic condition in the country, it is difficult for the government to claim success in this regard. Although, this government refocused the fight against Boko Haram terrorists and achieved some level of success, there has been a resurgence in terrorists activities in recent times. Lastly, with the catalogues of failures recorded in the anti-corruption war, claiming success in the anti-graft war will be difficult.
Since the government can not afford to allow the fight against corruption to fail, there is an urgent need for a radical restructuring of the fight against corruption. The time is now.
The existence of a rift was further confirmed by The Cable, an online publication. Citing an EFCC official, the online publication reported that Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the EFCC, was served with a letter from the office of the AGF seeking compliance with the regulation on the prosecution of serious cases, usually understood to mean high-profile investigations.