By Henry Ojelu & Onozure Dania
The Assets Recovery body created out of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, which seems to whittle down the power of the commission, has continued to generate reactions.
In this edition, lawyers who spoke to Vanguard Law and Human Rights, expressed divergent views.
Kabir Akingbolu: “The plan by the AGF to whittle down the power of the EFCC is an unfortunate one and a clear attempt to undermine the very essence of the agency and by extension, the end of the corruption fighting mantra of the Buhari-led administration. For crying out loud, the AGF is at the centre of the controversy, nothing is being done about it but the attention of the AGF whom many people, especially the NBA, are levelling allegations of corruption and other malfeasances against, has suddenly moved to amend the EFCC enabling Act to whittle down the powers of the EFCC, perhaps to bring it under his control more than ever before.
“This is bad and highly distasteful. I make bold to say this because once the independence of the EFCC is tampered with beyond what it is today, we are back in Egypt as far as corruption is concerned. In fact, it means the very carrot dangled before us to vote for the president has become sour. It is a pity and I pray the AGF does not succeed in this assignment, but if he does, posterity will judge our leaders to have condoned illegality.”
Evans Ufeli, Executive Director, Cadrell Advocacy Centre: “The EFCC Act no doubt needs to be amended but not in the light the AGF wants it done. The AGF wants the EFCC to be subservient to him because he feels his powers under section 175 of the 1999 Constitution as amended confers on him the enormous powers to boss every other law enforcement agency. He is wrong.
The EFCC is a creation of an Act of Parliament grafted with independent powers to investigate, arrest, prosecute and trace economic and financial crime offenders and their assets thereof and subject the proceeds of their crimes for forfeiture when necessary through the judicial system.
ALSO READ: BBNaija 2020: Neo knows I’m a clean girl, that’s why he washes my pants ― Vee tells Nengi
“The AGF wants to drag the EFCC with these enormous functions under his whims and caprices to weaken the commission and soil its reputation. I think the EFCC Act should rather be amended to allow for a neutral body to manage forfeited assets to enable the organisation focus on its primary duty as an anti-graft agency as stated by law.
“Perhaps, the AMCON Act should be amended and its jurisdiction expanded to allow for it to manage forfeited assets and proceeds of crime rather than subjecting it to the apron string of the AGF. That is too dangerous. Or a new institution should be established to manage assets altogether.”
Adesina Ogunlana, NBA ex-chairman, Ikeja branch: “Not necessarily. Remember the present issue with the deposed EFCC head is on the management of recovered assets. The division could be a form of separation of responsibilities to avoid abuse of powers.”
Chief Morah Ekwunoh: said: “Frankly speaking, the EFCC is overdue for going under the knife of serious reformative surgery, so as to slightly unbundle it with a view to creating a separate and distinct body or agency of government saddled with another aspect of its present hybrid. As John Gower would say, “jack of all trades, but master of none.”
Powers and responsibilities of, amongst others, initiation of complaints, investigation, prosecution, and assets recovery and management, but not, to the least, cast in the mould of the proposed Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency, but in the mould of separate prosecutorial agency.
“Variables which readily spout in justification this position include radical reduction in, and lightening of, heavy yoke of absolute powers on EFCC, which, as Lord Acton would also say, “corrupts absolutely”, and derail it, as exemplified by startling revelations from the Justice Ayo Salami-led Presidential Panel investigating its erstwhile Chairman, Ibrahim Magu; its service as precursor to insulation of the agency from the apron strings of the Presidency and the Attorney-General of the Federation, jointly and/or severally, which have, over the years, employed and deployed same as willing and ready tool to hunt, witch-hunt and hound perceived political enemies and intellectual ‘prophets’ and conveyor belts of plurality of critical, but highly invaluable, views on governance; and compliance with globally acknowledged practice of not being the complainant, investigator and prosecutor, all at once, in conformity to the basic cannons of impartiality, fairness and natural justice, as encapsulated in section 36 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
“In the circumstances, creation of separate prosecutorial agency, as opposed to the proposed creation of Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency, will greatly oil and lubricate the agency’s operational engine for optimal efficiency.
“On whether the proposal is a plot to destroy EFCC for personal gains out of its ashes of ruin, l posit, with utmost sublimity, that, in all its pitch and substance, form and content, the move may not destroy EFCC to smithereens, but will allow the executive, through the umblical cord of the new agency, and while balancing like a spider at the centre of its web, balefully embarks on sole cherry-picking over the enormous juice and sauces derivable from the EFCC very lucrative operations.
“In another phraseology, it wants to be in the position to pluck and enjoy the honey, while sidetracking and neglecting the bees that labouriously produced the sweet honey.”
ALSO READ: SHOCKING: Ex-Minister arrests hotel staff, stripped them naked for allegedly stealing N5,000 (VIDEO)
Chief Goddy Uwazurike, former President, Aka Ikenga: “I don’t think there is a plan to whittle down the powers of the EFCC. The Act that set up EFCC clearly delineated its powers which are clearly enormous. But the activities of the body in some areas must be subject to the directives of the AGF. One of such directives is on disposal of seized assets. From the media exchanges, we believe that EFCC did not take instructions from the AGF. The creation of a new agency is unnecessary as the function of managing the assets can conveniently be assigned to a desk in the office of the AG.
“It is more of record keeping which I believe is lacking right now. If you remember when Magu appeared for confirmation in the Senate, a couple of years, he could not give account of the recovered assets. EFCC was created under Obasanjo and it has always had a turbulent time under different AGFs. The boss of EFCC must be mature enough to understand that his power is not absolute.
“Until Magu was removed, he saw himself as above the control of the court. He was untouchable. Lawyers, in the process of representing their clients, became exposed to danger. But Magu feels the need for legal representation now. It is wrong to accuse AGF of seeking to destroy EFCC for personal gains. His stay as AGF is not permanent. The AGF is the chief law officer of the Federal Republic! His office is constitutional; EFCC is a creation of the National Assembly.”
Abdulganeey Imran, Centre for Law & Civil Culture: “We should be concerned about the message and not the messenger, separating and creating an independent body to manage the recovered assets by the EFCC is a welcome development and has long been overdue. It wouldn’t in any way destroy or hinder the performance of the EFCC statutory functions. Over the years, nobody could give accurate figures of the sum of money, assets- both tangible and intangible- so far recovered by the EFCC.
“We have seen and witnessed how money and assets recovered by the EFCC were again re-looted. These are regular serious allegations against the anti graft body. There must be a way forward to address this genuine concern. My takes on this is that an independent statutorily created body, be set up to manage the recovered asset, a body similar to the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) created by the late General Sanni Abacha and headed by the present president, Muhammad Buhari.
“At least, we all witnessed massive infrastructural development successfully executed by the PTF in all the nook and crannies of our dear country. I therefore, support the call for the creation of Asset Recovery Body to manage the loot recovered provided there will be water tight provision for transparency and accountability in the new law setting up same.”
Adenrele Adegborioye: “I support the idea of creation of the Assets Recovery body. This is because when EFCC was created, management of seized or recovered assets was not put into contemplation hence the commission was not well prepared to manage or handle assets recovered as proceeds of crime. This has resulted in the cases of mismanagement of recovered assets which on its own is a major problem. Therefore it is my view that to enjoy maximum benefits from the activities of EFCC and other anti corruption agencies there is the need to set up a more specialised body that will handle recovered assets.
“This will not only give room for transparency but the country will have optimum benefits from anti corruption activities and EFCC will concentrate on dealing with corruption matters and not bother itself with management of recovered assets. In my view it is not intended to whittle down the powers of EFCC but to make it more efficient and productive.”