Aondoakaa’s dogfight with anti-graft agencies

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 23 Dec 2007
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, may be likened to Maurice Fox. As an old man, Fox farts a lot. The disgusting thing is that he does it at the social club he frequents in Devon, England. The club, in a recent letter, banned him from breaking wind while indoors. The BBC quoted the 77-year-old man as saying, “I think someone has complained about the noise. I am a loud farter, but there is no smell.”

Metaphorically, Aondoakaa is a loud farter too. Or how else does one interpret his actions and policies, which tend to confuse and disgust some Nigerians? The man wants people to believe that his presumed mess does not smell as well. But it is coming to a point Nigerians will ask him to control his flatulence.

Recent media reports indicate that the Federal Government plans to merge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission with other anti-graft agencies. The nation’s chief law officer reportedly said having one stronger body was better than having a multiplicity of bodies performing similar functions.

Aondoakaa, who spoke during the inauguration of the House Committee on Justice, supported his argument with the petition the Attorney-General of Ebonyi State sent to President Umaru Yar’Adua. Ebonyi had purportedly complained about the involvement of the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission in the investigation of the government of that state. He also cited the trial of the former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, by the Code of Conduct Bureau as another reason to merge the agencies. Alamieyeseigha, Aondoakaa noted, had already been tried and convicted of the same charges as preferred against him by the EFCC. Despite criticisms, the AGF says he is not going back on the merger.

Ironically, the same AGF, last October, hinted of plans to create what he called a Special Legal Unit that will be distinct from other anti-graft agencies. The SLU is to prosecute persons and public officials indicted for corruption by the National Assembly since 1999. According to the minister, the special unit will complement the efforts of the existing anti-corruption bodies. Aondoakaa added that the unit would specifically handle reports on corruption by the National Assembly and abuse of budgetary provisions.

Does the proposed merger indicate that the AGF is dropping the SLU idea? Or could he be experimenting on something Nigerians are yet to know? I must confess that I have been a staunch supporter of Aondoakaa. In many debates where people have expressed reservations about his conduct in office, I have always opined that he should be given a chance. His rule of law mantra had particularly captivated not just me, but the Nigerian Bar Association as well. I doffed my hat for him and the EFCC when they decided to challenge a Federal High Court order in Benin restraining the anti-graft agencies from arresting, investigating and prosecuting Ibori.

However, his resort to technicalities in the fight against corruption has been worrisome. When he attempted to curb the powers of the anti-graft agencies sometime in August, he based it on the rule of law. He had wanted the agencies to get his approval before prosecuting any suspect. Some people cried foul, and the FG reversed the decision.

Hardly had this died down when the AGF engaged the EFCC in another tug of war. The AGF’s office had attempted to take over the prosecution of the former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, from the EFCC without prior information to the agency. To the minister, this action was to protect the rule of law. He had cited an Umuahia High Court order restraining the EFCC from arresting and prosecuting Kalu for corruption as an excuse.

Only recently, a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt complained that the AGF’s office was delaying proceedings on the case the former governor of Rivers State, Dr Peter Odili, instituted against the EFCC. In the words of the presiding judge, Ibrahim Buba, “The attitude of the office of the Attorney-General to this matter has been drawing back the hands of the clock and affecting proceedings negatively.” Odili had prayed the court to restrain the EFCC from arresting him and investigating his activities while in office. Even the ICPC Chairman, Emmanuel Ayoola, and the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Constance Momoh, have had cause to complain against the AGF. Momoh, for instance, was angry that the government prosecutor was delaying the trial of Alamieyeseigha by asking for unnecessary adjournments.

Equally interesting was the AGF’s actions over the trial of the former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, in London. A London Court had ordered the freezing of Ibori’s assets in London pending the conclusion of investigation into money laundering or corruption charges against him. Aondoakaa fired a letter to the ex-governor‘s counsel, saying Ibori was not under trial for corruption in Nigeria. Attempts by the Metropolitan Police to obtain some evidence from the AGF’s office in relation to the case were also frustrated. Ibori’s assets were later de-frozen, although the freezing order was reinstated.

Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with merging the anti-graft agencies, especially the EFCC and the ICPC. But Aondoakaa’s body language has cast suspicions about his real intentions. Granted that Section 36 (9) of the 1999 Constitution forbids trying an offender twice for the same offence, Aondoakaa should have allowed the courts to make that pronouncement. Why has he chosen to act as counsel to the accused ex-governors? It does appear, rightly or wrongly, that all he is after is to clip the wings of the EFCC.

Besides, these agencies may appear to be doing the same thing, but they are not. The EFCC is for economic and financial crimes. The ICPC takes care of other corrupt practices. The CCB is mainly concerned with asset declaration of public office holders. It is a constitutional creation. I am not a lawyer, but my learned friends tell me that except the Constitution is amended, nobody can tamper with the CCB.

The AGF should have allowed Alamieyeseigha’s lawyer to argue that his client had been tried for the same offence for which the CCB is trying him again. He could have also gone to court to challenge the trial like he did in the case of Kalu. Rather he feels that merging the agencies will solve the problem. Aondoakaa should rather work towards strengthening these agencies. He should fulfil his promise of ensuring the trial of public officers indicted by the National Assembly, and not to withdraw from the suit seeking to compel the anti-graft agencies to investigate and prosecute the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, and her deputy, Babangida Nguroje as his office is said to have done. He should by all means avoid fishing on technicalities.

Like the disgusted club members in England who cautioned Fox to stop farting, I am tempted to ask Aondoakaa to consider his actions in the interest of the public.

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