By Ochereome Nnanna
THE setting up of the National Prosecution Coordination Council, NPCC, by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in May this year, underscored the need for the Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, and Minister of Justice to be split as soon as possible.
Those calling for this split want the Minister or Commissioner of Justice to remain under the Executive Branch while the Attorney General of the State or Federation should come under the aegis of the Judiciary as an independent institution. This is the only way its mandate “with regard to public interest, the interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process” as required by Section 174 (3) of the Constitution can be fulfilled.
Otherwise, it will continue to be a tool in the hands of the President or Governor in using the enermous powers of the Attorney General’s office to wreak havoc among political opponents, which will never augur well for our democracy. It is unfortunate that in spite of many efforts at redressing this constitutional anomaly, which is part of the colonial legacy adopted by the military to run their dicatorships, it is allowed to subsist.
Following the setting up of the NPCC, the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN) on Monday 8th August 2016, asked the Committee (which is made up mainly of his legal aides and a few handpicked prosecutors from outside) to ask all the anti-graft agencies to compile and hand over all “high profile” cases they have been handling (including those that are up to ten years old) to the NPCC. The NPCC, of which the AGF is the Chairman, will then decide which case is “high profile” enough to pursue, in line with the discretion granted his office by the Constitution.
On the face of it, revisiting these old cases is a step in the right direction, since the arm of the law is supposedly long and all unsolved crimes can be reopened or recharged at any time. But it would seem to me that the AGF and his NPCC are embarking on a mere ego trip. Admittedly, the Buhari administration has demonstrated much willingness to prosecute the anti-graft war more than any other of its cardinal policies, but it has, in most cases, barked without really biting.
In its fifteen months of anti-graft war, the regime has not been able to conclude any case. Even the much touted “Dasukigate” is still in the preliminary stages. None of those being tried has even got to the stage of presenting their defence. And these are cases that are fresh, with the regime in full command of evidence and witnesses to secure conviction where possible. I am wondering how far the NPCC can get in their efforts to bring those accused as far back as ten years ago to account. The Buhari regime must establish some credible track record of successful prosecution of anti-graft cases to reassure Nigerians that we are not merely being treated to a political theater for propaganda purposes.
The fear of using the anti-graft war for political victimisation or with hunting is justified. Is it a mere coincidence that the people who have been caught in the net of the regime’s “war” are either officials of the defunct President Goodluck Jonathan regime or ranking/outspoken leaders of the former ruling party, the People’s Democratic Party,PDP, or members of the ruling All Progressives Congress,APC, who have displeased President Buhari and his main merger partner in the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
These individuals have been pursued with a single-minded sense of urgency through the anti-graft agencies enthusiastically commanded by AGF Malami. On the other hand, highly-placed APC leaders and officials of the APC Federal Governemnt, including those indicted by probe panels, have not been touched. Even retired Col. Jafaru Isa, who was alleged to have collected N170 million of the Dasukigate money, was only briefly detained and then allowed to go home. We were informed (without evidence) that he had refunded part of the money and would complete the rest.
With the power of discretion to decide who to prosecute, which cases to pursue and which to ignore or discontinue, the AGF under the Presidency is a recipe for, not just dictatorship but an abuse of power by the Executive. AGFs, who have been used as nolitical acolytes of presidents and governors, have always misused their powers, and Malami has not proved to be an exception, judging by the way he has gone about the Sambo Dasuki, Bukola Saraki, Ike Ekweremadu and other cases.
The only way that the AGF can carry out his constituional mandate of serving the interets of justice and the law in line with Section 174(3) of the Constitution, is for us to amend the Constitution to make the Office of the AGF independent and apolitical.
If President Buhari is serious about a genuine anti-graft war that is untainted by political and personal interests being placed above the public interest and the course of justice, he must champion the independence of the Office of the AGF. Only then can the NPCC become an anti-graft watchdog that not only barks but also bites effectively, democratically and constitutionally.
Ogah should allow Ikpeazu to work
FOLLOWING the Court of Appeal’s total disavowal of the controversial verdicts of the Justice Okon Abang Federal High Court sacking Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, I think it is time for Okechukwu Ogah, his challenger, to rest his case.
Most Nigerians did not believe in the queer judgement that Justice Abang delivered on 8th July, 2016, sacking the governor and ordering the Independent National Electoral Commission,INEC, to immediately issue Ogah certificate of return, which the Commission complied with, thus potentially jeopardising Ikpeazu’s right of appeal.
In restoring Ikpeazu to office, the five-man Appeal court led by Justice Morenike Ogunwumiju, unanimously thrashed Justice Abang for “placing justice on its head” by holding on to jurisdiction over the case even after he was aware that its particulars had been transmitted to the Appeal Court.
Though Ogah still has his right to approach the Supreme Court for a last try, I think the best thing is for him to congratulate Ikpeazu and allow him to continue his work. We are all aware of the controversial circumstances surrounding Ikpeazu’s emergence, having been railroaded with impunity by former Governor TA Orji and the Abia State Chapter of the People’s Democratic Party,PDP. But that does jot matter anymore. The system favours Ikpeazu’s completion of his four-year term, the way I see it.
Recent events in Britain where a “simple Brexit” referendum that went against Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign for the UK to stay in the European Union led to his immediate resignation and vacation of office for another person to continue his five-year mandate of which he had only spent a year, should teach us about what democracy is all about: it is not the do-or-die affair that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had said it was.
Ogah’s continued struggle against the tide will only worsen the sectional divisions in Abia State, and this might not speak well for him if he chooses to run again in the future. We have already spent more than a quarter of the four-year term. It will not be long before another opportunity to try again offers itself.
Since Governor Ikpeazu and Ogah belong to the same political party, they should close ranks and allow the government to function. The days of Abia State (or any state for that matter) being a “one-party state” are over. Ikpeazu should be allowed to show if, indeed, he is an improvement on the performances of his predecessors, the two Orjis.