‘Leadership of the bar must forge cooperation with federal government agencies in order to fight corruption successfully’
It is obvious that there is no love lost between the anti-corruption agencies and the Bar. The agencies view members of the Bar as inhibiting their effort in getting conviction against alleged corrupt suspects, while members of the Bar believe they have a duty to defend all accused persons. How to forge a synergy between both parties with a view to tackling corruption formed part of discussions in a session on how to prevent illicit cash outflow from Africa at the just- concluded International Bar Association (IBA) conference in Washington D.C. JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, who was at the conference engaged Chief Albert Akpomudje (SAN) on the sidelines of the event on some of the issues raised. Akpomudje is of the view that the leadership of the respective Bar associations in Africa must forge a partnership in order to achieve the result.
What do you think is the best way to approach the issue of getting illicit cash flow out of Africa addressed?
The best way is being advoated now. You cannot be in an island of your own. These people in the past may not have had the best intentions for African countries, but now they are getting worried that if they dont do anything to checkmate the syphon of illegal wealth out of Africa, it is going to boomerang on everybody in situations like financing terrorism. So, they are the people now taking the initiative to try and assist. I think we should take advantage of this.
There is a contribution to the effect that it is high time we began to file legal actions against such countries. Do you think that would work?
Jurisdictional issues would always be there. If you say file an action, which court are you going to file it? Is it in your home state? If it is in your home state, you will get favourable answer, perhaps at the world court. You know that the world court cannot be a floodgate of all types of litigation. There must be some special peculiar cases.
So, it is good enough if there is proper proceedure in place where you can institute an action that is legally enforceable at the end of the day. Not just doing it to get world and press attention and at the end of the day, you achieve nothing. That is what I am not too sure of. Have we got that kind of proper position in place where people can sue and get result? Within the same country, yes. But outside? I’m not sure. And don’t forget that the money we are talking about is abroad.
The narrative is that multi-national coporations assist in tranporting these funds out of Africa?
Of course, that is the way they do to us but unknown to our people. For example, when they privatise Delta Steel Company (DSC), the allegation was that people were making profit and they were taking them back to their country. A huge federal government project was privatised and at the end of the day, what they were supposed to have invested in this country was going out. Before you know it, the federal government changed its mind and give it to another company.
Unless we get genuine people who can draft good contracts, whereby our people will benefit. That is where we lawyers come in. A lot of us are not sincere. We are after what we will get as fees. Whatever the client wants you to do, is what you will do. Most of us can not resist opposition or trying to suggest something contrary to what the clients wants to do. At the end of the day, they say the client has the last say; it is what they want you to do that you should do. There is a contradiction, but again, the conscience! As you are doing it and you sense that there is danger; that the country would loose, of course your conscience should tell you not to proceed, if possible blow the whistle.
In what way do you think the respecitve bar associations can partner with their anti-graft agencies?
In fact, after the session, I took up George Etomi. I said you made a proposal which was fine but why didn’t you suggest ways we can assist. We discussed and one of the ways is that the leadership of the Bar must try to forge cooperations with government agencies whereby, even at the point of investigation, you can get them very senior lawyers pro bono to assist and tell them what to do. You will find out that investigations are not thorough enough in respect of most of the people who are being charged to court.
And by the time they get a smart lawyer, they get off the hook and it is not the fault of the lawyer. They even attribute some of these things to lawyers because we defend the accused. Of course, that is part of our duty to defend. So, if there is a kind of cooperation between these investigating agencies and the Bar associations, where people can voluntarily on their own say I want to assist, it would work out. But if it is the way their do it now; where they give you the brief because they know you and want to popularise you, then we will never get results.
In line with this kind of thought, the NBA president in his inaugural speech said the EFCC should be stripped of its prosecutorial powers and EFCC took up the association in response.
I think the NBA president was compelled somehow to say so, having regard to what is happening in the investigation process. EFCC once a petition comes in or once they sense that they are going to investigate you with modesty, they treat you the way they like. Another thing they do is that when they are inviting you, the press is also invited and they beam their cameras on you. Once you have done that to somebody, even if at the end of the day you found out that there is nothing against him, you have put his name into disrepute. Some Nigerians would just conclude that he used his money to get himself out.
So, investigation can go on without the world knowing. I think it is because of all these antics. EFCC is particularly bad but the ICPC appears to some extent better. Invite a person and talk to him. May be, by doing that, you might be able to obtain more information. But when you want to ridicule the person, he would already be scared that EFCC invited him . So, you found out that they trample on the rights of some of those they are investigating.
Do you think that that proposed synergy would happen in Nigeria with the kind of distrust among both parties?
That can happen but at a very high level. The attorney general of the federation has to be involved, even the head of state has to encourage it. After all, he is the one who is telling everybody that he wants to fight corruption. This is one of the ways he can say yes, let us see how we can because since all these hue and cry, no case has been concluded other than the ones they got people to return allegedly stolen funds and we don’t know what happens thereafter. It can happen but at the very high level where both parties can work together, streamline and say at what point can you come in and help? It is all for us to assist in achieving the end result – getting at the looters.
What in your opinion do you think is the high point of the issues raised in the last panel?
There is need for cooperation and there are some international agencies or bodies that can assist us fight corruption. But it is like most people do not know of their existence or they don’t know the extent to which they have information. So, this one is a kind of inhibiting prosecution of corrupt cases. But from what they have discussed, there are so many of them such as World Bank and IMF. It is for us to take advantage of these bodies and find out what they do, what we can get from them and how they can assist us. Then, we build globally, we must not do it in isolation. I think that is the way out.
Apart from the session on anti-corruption, which other session appealed to you?
First, all the keynote speakers are meant to showcase America to us. You will see that they are not prepared speeches. They just want to tell us what America is doing in every particular direction and all of them seems to be related to each other – terrorism, corruption, cyber-crime and others, all interwoven. And all they are doing is to tell us how they are fighting it and encourage other countries to try and go along with them. They say America is the Police of the world, but they are trying to say, ‘we have a human face to it; we are doing it transparently and we ourselves do not believe we can do it alone. If you do not cooperate with us, it would be hard, so we want to carry everybody along’. That is the message they are sending to everybody. So the conference is basically to showcase America to us.