Commission insists it should still retain prosecutorial powers
By Nsikan Ikpe
Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has taken exception to the suggestion by the new president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Abubakar Balarabe Mahmoud, SAN, to the effect that the anti-graft agency would do better if it was also not a prosecuting agency.
Mahmoud, had made the remark at the 56th Annual General Conference of the bar in Port Harcourt, Rivers State where he was elected.
“We need to define its mandate more narrowly and more clearly… I strongly recommend that the EFCC be limited to investigation… while prosecution should be handled by an independent resource prosecution agency,” he had stated.
Responding however, the EFCC, in a statement by its head of media, Wilson Uwujaren, bluntly stated that its “discomfort over this seeming innocuous proposition, stem from the fact Mahmoud was silent on the reason for his position.
“More importantly, the Commission cannot comprehend how the redefinition of EFCC’s mandate in narrow terms, ultimately whittling it down, fits into the clamour by Nigerians and the vision of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration for a vibrant and courageous anti-corruption agency.
Instead, EFCC said that Mahmoud’s suggestions appears perfectly in sync with a cleverly disguised campaign by powerful forces that are uncomfortable with the reinvigorated anti-graft campaign of the EFCC and are hell-bent on emasculating the agency by stripping it of powers to prosecute with the tame excuse that an agency that investigates cannot also prosecute.
“The question Nigerians must ask the Mahmoud-led NBA is, what is wrong with EFCC prosecution? Mahmoud is in a position to answer this question.
“He was the Attorney General of the Federation’s counsel in the trial of former Delta State governor, James Ibori at the Federal High Court, Asaba, a case which EFCC lost in questionable circumstances. But the same ingredients from that case were used to fetch Ibori a 13-year jail term in London.
“Mahmoud is also the Commission’s counsel in the appeal against the infamous perpetual injunction from arrest and prosecution by former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, which is still pending before the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, many years after it was filed.
“It is too much of a strange coincidence that the suggestion to strip the EFCC of itsprosecutorial powers is being floated few months after the Commission, in unprecedented fashion arraigned some senior lawyers for corruption.”
For the avoidance of doubt, the Commission said it has recorded more convictions in the last one year than all the states and federal ministries of justices combined.
Against this background, it said that the current campaign appears to be self serving, intended to create a cabal of untouchables who can be investigated but may never be prosecuted.
The EFCC, however, reassured Nigerians that there will be no sacred cows in the renewed fight against corruption in Nigeria.
it said it also commends the commitment of the new NBA leadership as articulated by Mahmoud, to reinvent the association by reclaiming its moral high ground through a campaign for ethical rectitude by members of the bar.
“The NBA under my watch will fight judicial corruption. We shall make the legal profession unattractive for corrupt lawyers,” he had said.
This, the EFCC said is reassuring considering the evidence that senior members of the Bar have become complicit in cases of corruption and money laundering, leading to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arraigning two members of the inner bar for acts of corruption.
It said that a Bar populated or directed by people perceived to be rogues and vultures cannot play the role of priests in the temple of justice.
The EFCC said it appreciates the NBA’s acknowledgement of the Commission’s strategic place in the fight against corruption in Nigeria and the modest achievements that it has recorded so it.
It also welcomes the suggestion for reform, stressing that as the Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu has repeatedly stated in his public pronouncements, the agency is open to suggestions that will improve its operations as it cannot pretend to have a monopoly of ideas on how to fight corruption.