Friday, September 14, 2007

The Attorney-General's Saga:International donors worry

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The Attorney-General's Saga:International donors worry

INDICATIONS have emerged that some foreign donors are becoming worried over the sustainability of the anti-graft war in Nigeria following the recent altercation between the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Andoakaa and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Specifically, sources close to some international donors in the United States (U.S.), said with the internal rancour going on within the Nigerian government regarding the style and means of operations of the EFCC, their focus may be shifting towards the Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), which has recently announced its preparedness to name an independent counsel.

Incidentally, the Attorney-General and the EFCC chairman have both been invited by the New York-based Nigerian Lawyers Association to address the lawyers yearly dinner. This year's dinner is coming up tomorrow.

Ribadu would be the keynote speaker, while the AG would also be speaking at the dinner, which attracts very top Federal Government officials and distinguish Nigerians yearly.

Last week, two Nigerian lawyers, Femi Falana and Kayode Oladele in a statement in the U.S. objected to the plans of the ICPC to create the office of independent counsel, a move sources close to a US-based international donor said reflected the ongoing worry over the EFCC's fate among donor bodies.

But another Nigerian lawyer based in Washington, DC, a certified U.S. special consultant on Nigerian laws, Emmanuel Ogebe, argued that the need for an independent counsel was now imperative to move forward the anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria.

According to Ogebe in a brief statement, the solution to the jurisdictional concern between ICPC, EFCC and the Attorney-General's office lies in the appointment of an independent counsel who will consolidate and coordinate as a corruption clearing house and czar in Nigeria.

Ogebe added that the funding is critical and should be made available for such an independent counsel basically as a means to keep Nigeria's anti-corruption war constitutionally grounded.

Donor community sources have said that it was not difficult to interpret the debate over the need for the creation of an independent counsel in Nigeria as partly a funding and turf battle since the Independent Counsel would take out a substantial chunk of what the EFCC is currently doing.

Falana and Oladele said the establishment of the office of independent counsel in Nigeria would be a duplication of the role of the EFCC.

The current dispute between the Attorney-General of the Federation, and the EFCC over the means the anti-corruption agency was conducting its business may affect international support and funding that the EFCC has been getting.

There is concern in the international donor community that there seems to be deep internal cleavages regarding the EFCC, and there are conflicting signals from different Nigerian government sources on the means of prosecuting the anti-corruption war.

At the peak of the crusading role of the EFCC, the agency had made tremendous inroads internationally that it is fast becoming a model on an international scale for anti-corruption management and planning. But recent claims that the agency itself may have been abusing the rule of law is beginning to be noticed by international donors, many of which have continuing funding programmes with the EFCC.

Diplomatic and official sources said that most of the foreign donors, including the European Union (EU), UNDP, UN, USAID and other western countries like Canada and the Netherlands were fully aware of the misunderstanding that had developed between the EFCC and the new Attorney-General bordering on the prevalence of the rule of law.

For instance, the EU sources said it had committed about $32 million to the EFCC since 2003, while the UN through its office of Drug and Crime recently signed a $700,000 funding agreement with the EFCC.

"Other international donors and agencies actively backing the EFCC include the World Bank. Sources added that the strength of the EFCC among international donors is its perception as an independent anti-graft agency securing results through a lawful pursuit of official looters and curtailing systemic corruption in Nigeria."

However, some of the donors are now said to have become confused with the claims also coming from Nigerian government officials that the EFCC have in the past adopted extra-judicial means against some of those that have been prosecuted.

Some international donors are unsure who to believe. Others attribute the development to the change of administration, while many have now mandated their Nigerian offices to pay greater attention to the deeper currents of the dispute between the EFCC and the Office of the Attorney General.

Sources added that President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua's rising perception as an ardent defender of the rule of law has only complicated the situation for EFCC in some international circles.

Before now, a review of the anti-corruption agencies in some selected developing countries including Nigeria, Vietnam, and South Korea conducted by U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Center in Norway, a centre affiliated with the Transparency International rated EFCC very high but observed that critics have accused the government of interfering in particular with the activities of the ICPC.

Of the EFCC, the report said it has gained more credibility with the public for its effectiveness, while the ICPC according to the report has been criticised for not being sufficiently proactive.

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