Rift over prosecution of high-profile cases ends as Justice minister creates central body
The tussle between the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and that of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the prosecution of high profile cases seems to be resolved.
This is because the EFCC has reportedly surrendered the file of 103 high-profile cases to the office of the AGF. The request by the AGF to have those files had been a source of controversy between the two parties culminating in public accusation against the anti-graft agency for frustrating the war against corruption. The EFCC were reluctant in complying with the request and urged the office of the AGF to exercise its powers by handling its own cases without waiting for the EFCC.
The disagreement was such that senior lawyers and other well-meaning Nigerians had to call on the presidency to weigh in on the matter. Just last week, the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN) announced plans to create a central body that will coordinate all criminal prosecutions in the country. And that appears to have done the magic.
Malami had accused the EFCC leadership of “manipulating and misusing intelligence to the detriment of the fight against corruption and financial crimes in Nigeria.” He had said: “The EFCC is now in a state of paranoia, as it dreads the effort of the government to have an independent NFIU, which it has stood against stoically since 2006.
“As it presently stands, the NFIU staff are all deployed by the EFCC to serve in the interest of whoever is its current Chairman. This has to stop if it must conform to the new thinking and global best practice. Nigeria cannot be an island of its own. It cannot fight corruption in isolation”. The NFIU stands for Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, the Nigerian arm of the global financial intelligence Units.
Last Tuesday, Malami revealed the policy reforms that will give his office more powers over EFCC, while presenting the ministry’s report for 2016/2017 legal year.
The new body, to be inaugurated in October, will comprise a Coordinating Centre for all federal government criminal justice agencies as well as an investigation unit. The minister said the coordinating centre has become eminently necessary because of lack of effective cooperation and collaboration among the criminal justice and security agencies in Nigeria.
He said the centre would undertake the following functions: “promote and enhance quick and easy coordination of all federal criminal cases within the country; Enable the office of the AGF to checkmate abuse and or proliferation of criminal cases in Nigeria;
“Facilitate centralization and easy access to information for a robust and effective criminal justice system in Nigeria; Address such anomalies that leads to consistent rejection of vital/relevant evidence in the course of prosecution and whittle down the probative value of such evidence owing to inappropriate investigation.”
The unit, he maintained, shall coordinate and form part of every investigation in Nigeria for a robust investigation and successful prosecution of such cases. The core function/mandate of the Investigation Unit shall consist of the following: “To advise every security agency carrying out investigation on the best lawful and admissible means of such investigation for effective prosecution thereafter;
“To actively form part of every sensitive and important investigation, as a synergy to successful investigation and prosecution of such cases; to ensure that every evidence obtained maintain the nature, value and form admissible in law court as well as to ensure that every investigation is comprehensibly and conclusively conducted.”
Agencies that will come under the supervision of the coordinating centre include Department of State Services (DSS); Nigeria Police Force (NPF); the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC); the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Others are the National Agency for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP); the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA); the Directorate Military Investigation (DMI); and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
Also, the Special Adviser to the President on Prosecution, Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, had earlier called for “a collective approach against corruption in the country” and asserted that the EFCC and ICPC were not co-operating with the AGF’s office in the prosecution of high profile cases.
He based his assertion on Section 150 and 174(1) of the constitution, which empowers the office of the AGF to serve as a supervisory role over EFCC. By virtue of this section and as the country’s Chief Law Officer, the AGF has powers to take over cases and can discontinue cases already pending in courts.
He said: “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”.
But EFCC’s Head of Legal and Prosecution, Gbolahan Latona, at an 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.
A Port Harcourt based senior advocate of Nigeria, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe commended the AGF for setting up the committee. According to him, the AGF is absolutely correct in setting up a central body that will coordinate all criminal prosecutions in the country.
He said: “The AGF is absolutely correct. He has proposed what he supposed to do. There is too much vicarious groups in the country seeking to prosecute. You have the Custom, Immigrations, Police, EFCC, ICPC etc in a country that has an Attorney General. The consequence of this is that most prosecutions are initiated in malice without due regards to public interest. So if you have such a central body that will filter all these, it will be in the best interest of the nation and the administration of criminal justice system. What he has proposed to do is the best in the circumstance. I endorsed it and applauds it.”
Similarly, Norrison Quakers (SAN) believes that what the AGF is currently disposed to do is not outside the ambit of the constitution or his powers. “For me, I just feel rather than set up commitee because if you looka t the constitution, it says: the power vested on him can be exercise by him or members of his department. Therefore, the Ministry of Justice is empowered to oversee all legal matters particularly as it regards prosecution. So in setting up a commitee in the manner he has done, he can also appoint independent prosecutors or legal advisers or legal practitioners outside his Ministry and vest such person with power to also look into all these issues and give requisites recommendations or advise. What he wants to do is in line with the constitution and section 174 is clear on this,” he pointed out.
In his reaction, human rights lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa advocated the separation of the office of the AGF with that of the Minister of Justice. For him, the combination of those two offices is at the root of some of the conflicts that emanates in prosecutorial challenges.
He said: “The Minister of Justice is a politician, while the AGF is a statutory office created by the constitution. Until we are able to separate the politician from the lawyer, there will always be a repeat of this situation.”
Another Lagos-based lawyer, Wale Adekola, laments the negative effect of the frosty working relationship between the two offices. “At the inception of this administration, the kernel of its promise centered around fighting corruption in addition to security and restoring the economy on the path of progress,” he noted, adding that while the EFCC is charged with the responsibility of carrying out arrests and investigation of financial and related crimes, the office of the AGF is to prosecute such offenders in the courts.
“This is well espoused under Section 10(1) of the EFCC (Enforcement) Regulations 2010. This clearly shows that there must be a strong partnership and harmonious working relationship between these critical bodies if the fight against corruption is to be meaningful and successful,” he stated.