THERE is no doubt that corruption is a cankerworm that has eaten deep into the fabrics of Nigerian body politics. No institution, both public and private is spared this spectre that is yawning menacingly at our polity. Over the years, the nation’s rating in corruption perception index on international scale has dropped drastically.

During former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime, Nigeria shamefully featured on the inglorious list of Most Corrupt Countries in the world. Ironically, the administration waged ceaseless war against the menace, but it turned out to be a lopsided if not an insincere crusade.

The state anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, at a point, almost became an instrument for witch-hunting political opponents by the executive.

It was the same agency that the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua relied on to prosecute its anti-graft policy which was part of his administration’s seven-point agenda. What merely changed was the leadership of the commission and its mode of operation.

As expected, an agency of this nature, EFCC has been quietly barking and biting. Some prominent personalities have been made to feel the full weight of the law on account of corruption while others are still being tried.

However, it appears the commission over-reached itself when it came out with names of alleged corrupt politicians, who it said should be precluded from participating in 2011 general elections.

Some of the prominent names on the list are former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and former Adamawa State Governor, Mr. Boni Haruna, and also one-time Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo and others. Before making the list public, the commission had threatened that corrupt politicians would not be allowed to contest the 2011 poll.

Much as it is generally agreed that there is an urgent need to clean the Augean stable, because of the debilitating effects of corruption in the system, EFCC which is a creation of law must operate within the law. By wholesale publication of such names, on its website the commission has arrogated to itself judicial authority, a power vested in the court.

According to S.6 of the 1999 Constitution, only the court shall exercise judicial power. Says the section: The judicial powers of the Federation shall be vested in the courts to which this section relates, being courts established for the federation.

In the last amendments to the Constitution, the National Assembly re-affirmed this judicial responsibility of the court by expunging the section that gave quasi-judicial power to administrative panels. Hitherto, those indicted by such panels were barred from contesting elections.

In the build-up to 2007 elections, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, secured a court judgment to that effect. It was probably to put an end to it that the National Assembly completely removed the section from the Constitution.

To stretch the argument further, even if EFCC investigations confirmed corruption allegations against these individuals, the fact remains that it is only a court of competent jurisdiction that can pronounce them guilty, not EFCC. Whatever may be the commission’s findings remain allegations until the court makes a definite pronouncement. This is the letter and spirit of S. 36(5) of the Constitution.

Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.

No matter the power vested in it in the instrument that created it, EFCC is not a court of law and it should not see itself as one. It should allow the judiciary to perform its constitutional responsibility. That is the only path of honour.

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