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Anti-graft war: when a nation's No1 law officer becomes helpless

By Kali Gwegwe
July 6th, 2011

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A new but sad vista was added to the myriad of reasons why not much have been achieved in Nigeria’s much talked-about war against graft despite the huge amount of human and material resources invested in it. As a matter of fact, it was tales of helplessness and absence of zeal that were brought to the fore when the immediate past Attorney-General of the federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke volunteered answers during the screening exercise of ministerial nominees at the National Assembly in Abuja on Thursday, 30th June, 2011.

Clearly, his opinion about the EFCC and ICPC were not unexpected. Adoke was quite aware that of recent, the nation’s two anti-graft agencies have become very unpopular among members of the National Assembly. This is not unconnected with the bitter experiences of the former speaker of the House of Representatives; Mr. Dimeji Bankole and other principal officers. He therefore capitalized on this unique opportunity to play to the gallery without counting his teeth.

Without doubt, Adoke’s comments about EFCC and ICPC carried marks of occupational fatigue and ‘do as you wish’ attitude. All of these are dangerous and unexpected of the No. 1 law officer of a country that’s desirous of winning the battle against corruption. As Attorney-General of the federation and Minister of Justice, Adoke had both teeth and voice but for reasons best known to him alone; refused to bark simply because the fierce looking leadership of both the EFCC and ICPC hanged a charge of ‘interference’ on his neck. This is novel in the history of anti-graft crusade.

To many observers, it was shocking to hear that the EFCC and ICPC lacked the required capacity to do thorough investigation and collation of evidences to secure the conviction of persons charged with corrupt practices. This cannot be true. Perhaps, the former law officer was only trying to polish the fact that officials the nation’s two anti-graft agencies do collect gratification and deliberately leave openings to enable accused persons escape the long arm of the law.

There is already this cloudy opinion in some quarters that the fast becoming culture of rift between the office of the Attorney-General of the federation on one hand and those of EFCC and ICPC on the other are the handiwork of some well heeled apostles of corruption in and outside the country. It started in the early days of the late President Musa Yar’Adua’s administration. The then attorney-general, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa and the leadership of EFCC and ICPC never agreed to put their kernels in one basket. It therefore became extremely difficult for government to wage an effective war against corruption. Some analysts are of the opinion that these unnecessary disagreements are mere smokescreens rehearsed and deployed to distract and eventually deceive unsuspecting Nigerian masses.

Let no one, including Mohammed Adoke stand on the Vaswani brothers’ case to undress the EFCC and ICPC in front of Nigerian masses. The truth is that, right from 2000 when the ICPC was inaugurated; the office of the Attorney-General of the federation has never wanted to fight corruption. They have rather been busy rubbing drums of grease on the elbows of Nigeria’s many and powerful apostles of corruption. To support this opinion, let’s consider the submission of Adoke as it concerns the Halliburton scandal. According to him, “I decided to confront the issue once and for all. I called for the reports and went through the reports. I found out that there were no sufficient evidences linking any of our past leaders in respect of the said Halliburton scandal.

“Those of them that we could identify, including Halliburton itself, Julius Berger, and others, we decided to evaluate the position of our laws. At the end of the day, in line with global best practices, we opted to settle with them, because if we decided to prosecute them, the likeliness of our securing a conviction was very minimal.”

With due respect to Mohammed Adoke, his submission was not only shallow but an insult on the sensibilities of ordinary Nigerians. He should do well to tell Nigerians how weak our laws are that it cannot nail persons that clearly took bribes to influence the awards of contracts. This is made more repulsive because some of the foreigners that gave the bribes have been indicted in their countries. Even in the face of the worst case scenario, we should ascribe to Femi Falana’s opinion that the aim of going to court is not always to win. Sometimes, it should act as opportunities to make bold statements. In the Halliburton case, the statement would have been: corruption is killing our nation. The truth about the Halliburton case is that no one is disputing the fact that bribes were given. What, according to Adoke was the problem is lack of sufficient evidences to nail those involved. Even at that, the minutest of evidences should have been presented in court
and allow the judge to make a pronouncement. This will add real value to the war against graft. Our anti-corruption war should also seek to place moral burdens on those that committed corrupt practices but were freed by the courts due to technical inadequacies. This will in some way help to discourage corrupt intentions.

We are aware that it has become fashionable for those accused of corrupt practices to abandon proving their innocence to pursuing technical loopholes to escape justice. Unfortunately, there is no practical evidence anywhere that any of Nigeria’s attorneys-general has religiously made attempts to tighten our laws so as not to give room for corrupt persons to shorten the long arms of the law. This is what I earlier on referred to as occupational fatigue. It’s sometimes caused by lack of patriotism. That’s the reason for question like, “na my papa work? It takes only a patriotic mind for a public office holder to go all the length for one’s country.
More than that, the majority of Nigerians are convinced about President Goodluck Jonathan’s promise of a national reformation agenda. The foundation of this conviction is in his decision to appoint a no-nonsense Nigerian in the person of Professor Attahiru Jega as head of INEC. Every informed mind is aware of the fact that the task of national transformation starts with the conduct of credible elections, which the Professor Jega-led INEC did. The president will need to do same for the office of the attorney-general and minister of justice if the war against graft must be won.

Furthermore, appropriate legislation should be made to streamline the activities of the EFCC and ICPC to make them more civil in terms of their mode of reporting, investigation, invitation, arrest, and prosecution. Also, the reasons behind the constant conflict between the offices of the attorney-general and the anti-graft agencies must also be addressed so as to avoid technical lapses that led to rewarding corrupt people with their ill-gotten wealth. Most importantly, thorough investigation must be concluded before the arrest of suspects. These investigations should be tired to time. No investigation should take more than twelve months.

While I agree with Adoke that the EFCC and ICPC were in some cases involved in snowmaking while doing their jobs, it will be very difficult to invite or arrest Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) without the media making noise about it. This is where the ‘show’ comes in. Is he suggesting that their invitation, arrest, and prosecution should be done in secrecy?

Kali Gwegwe
CEO, Nigeria Democracy Watchtower
2, Greenvilla-Customs Link Road
Bayelsa State.
0806 407 4810