Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Attorney-General, Corruption and the EFCC

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The Attorney-General, Corruption and the EFCC

By Seyi Olu Awofeso

NIGERIA'S Minister of Justice and attorney-general, Michael Aondoakaa, has been flexing a muscular erection lately, and is about now getting into the mood of shredding an already frail, public trust in President Yar'Adua's ability to prosecute official thefts without self-imposed restraints over his concerns for the political status of the accused persons.

The attorney-general last week issued a statement saying he wants to preserve a "prohibitive injunction" issued by a state high court in Umuahia, so as to avoid his own committal to prison as the attorney-general in breach. And so, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must be pushed out of court, and stopped from prosecuting ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, said the hilarious attorney-general. In terms, the injunction at issue states that no one should arrest (or prosecute?) ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, pending a determination of a Civil Rights case that Kalu had filed in Umuhaia, which case may take several years to decide; and is thus tantamount to impunity, when placed against the criminal charge filed by the EFCC, that ex-Governor Kalu, along with his mother, stole close to N20 billion of Abia State funds.

Attorney-General Aondoakaa, however, did not say he was looking at the justification or legality of the injunction itself; as he ought to, or that he intends to intervene in the Umuahia state high court, so as to have the injunction set aside. Merely affirming without critiquing the Umuahia state court's injunction exposes this vignette as another foil on the probable intent of the attorney-general to side-step the substantive matter of financial corruption underlying this case.

So far, there is no concrete step taken by President Yar'Adua as convincing proof that this administration is combating or will seriously fight corruption. For no sooner a corruption matter arises than the Yar'Adua administration invokes a procedural reason, for non-action, as happened again a fortnight ago, over the N638 million renovation expenses of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Under Nigerian law, a House committee's investigation is not a condition-precedent to Police or EFCC's arrest, investigation or prosecution of the Speaker for (suspected) financial corruption.

President Yar'Adua, however, publicly mis-stated the law as firstly requiring a House Committee's investigation. Such a complete mis-understanding of the legal notion of due process is fraught. And worse; it is curious that the invocation of "rule of law" by Yar'Adua's administration has always been made in clearly defensive contexts, and invariably; always redounding to the benefit, freedom, and, sometimes, escape of criminally indicted persons.

An attorney-general who intends to uphold the public good by combating corruption could have begun his "intervention against the EFCC" with an affidavit of urgency, filed before the Umuahia state high court; showing the egregious nature of the injunction granted ex-Governor Kalu, and demonstrating the (urgent) intent of Yar'Adua's government to argue to have that injunction re-considered for cancellation.

Nigeria's attorney-general, however, took neither of those sensible steps which would have properly laid the foundation for his seamless takeover of the case from the EFCC, without his legal nitpicking at press conferences, or, the fisticuffs of his DPP in open court. For all that, and while still hesitating to draw the inference of a likely complicity by President Yar'Adua in all of this predictable muzzling of corruption cases in Nigeria; done by bringing corruption case files under President Yar'Adua's political control, it is at least certain that the injunction issued by the state high court in Umuahia will be further assessed by the international legal community, for its consistency or otherwise with Nigeria's current rating as a country with the 10th most corrupt judiciary in the world.

* Awofeso is a legal practitioner in Lagos

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