- We knew about the Abacha loot in US after you published it
Barr. Okoi Obono Obla is the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution. Human Right Activist and Anti-corruption crusader; he spoke recently on the anti-corruption war, the continued stay in office of David Lawal the SGF, the penchant of Governor Ben Ayade to travel abroad without handing over to his deputy and the over N15 billion bailout fund scandal in the state. EMMANUEL ADO reports.
Reference to the SGF, Mr. David Babchir Lawal’s case, don’t you think it is a dent on government’s anti-corruption war? Remember you justified the arrest of judges?
I justified the arrest of judges because a sting operation was carried out by Directorate of State Security Services (DSS), and evidence was gathered right away. Not circumstantial evidence but real evidence. Huge sums of money were found in their homes.
The case of David Babchir Lawal, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) is diametrically opposite. The fact was that he used his company to get a contract and the matter was investigated not by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the DSS or the Police but by the Senate.
Constitutionally, the Senate is not empowered to investigate crimes. Principally, the work of the Senate is to make laws and sometimes carry out oversight functions.
Mind you only an interim report was issued and it was on that basis that the Senate demanded that Mr. President should fire the SGF which I think is unconstitutional. By doing that the Senate was presumptuous, they were already finding Mr. David Lawal guilty of corruption. Why didn’t the Senate put the report before the EFCC or ICPC for further investigation?
But considering that this is a government that came to power on an anti- corruption stance wouldn’t the SGF have stepped aside?
There’s no doubt at all! I see over dramatization of this matter maybe to blackmail the government on this war against corruption. If there was evidence that David Lawal was corrupt, I expected the Senate to lodge a complaint to EFCC, ICPC or the Code of Conduct Bureau.
There’s a provision in the Code of Conduct which says a public officer should not engage in any other business except farming. So if there was evidence, why didn’t the Senate refer this matter to the appropriate organ of government for investigation before asking Mr. President to fire David Lawal? They jumped the gun and we have to be very, very careful.
So is the case dead?
It’s not dead the President asked the Senate to go ahead, investigate and come out with a final report and also you know that the office of the Minister of Justice is investigating the matter. The matter is not dead.
Senator Shehu Sani stated: “When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticides; but when it comes to fighting corruption within the presidency they use deodorant”.
What do you make of this statement?
I disagree. He cannot be a judge in his own cause with due respect. That is an overstatement to say that the President is doing that. The President is very sincere in the fight against corruption. We should not stigmatise people around Mr. President.
Why emphasize those around Mr. President?
Because of the trend that I see. People over dramatize issues once it revolves around those that are close to Mr. President. This is a dangerous trend. If anybody is corrupt, for goodness sake, the law should take its course. The person should be properly investigated, charged before a court of law and if found guilty, so be it. But you cannot on circumstantial evidence find somebody guilty of corruption and on that basis ask Mr. President to fire the person.
Your government says you’re presumed not guilty, so why the dilly-dallying with the SGF case?
There’s no dilly-dallying there. They’ve politicized this case, maybe because there is a deliberate attempt to get at Mr. President and rubbish the war against corruption.
I can assure you that there’s no sacred cow. If at the end of the day anybody is found liable, the law will take its course.
What stage is your draft bill on the Special Criminal Court?
Well, there’s a Bill that was designed by the Presidential Committee against Corruption. We have sent it to the office of the SGF. We’re still working on it and as soon as we’re done with it, it will be sent to the National Assembly.
Please, give us an idea of the shape?
It is going to be an exclusive court and it will be empowered to deal with financial crimes, economic crimes, corruption, vandalism of oil and gas installations, and theft of crude oil, cattle rustling, kidnappings and piracy, those very serious crimes. The court will be empowered to hear cases expeditiously.
The court will have very knowledgeable judges who are committed and incorrigible. Judges who will have the courage to make pronouncements on the law as it is, without minding whose ox is gored.
Will it be different from the current Criminal Justice Administration System?
Yes! For instance I’ve mentioned that cases will be heard expeditiously. So there’ll be rules of practice and procedures to ensure that cases are not stalled unlike what we have now.
The National Policy on Prosecution, has it made any difference?
Yes! These are some of the reforms we’ve carried out for the first time in the history of Nigeria. We did a strategic plan for prosecution for 2016 – 2019. We have also put in place a National Policy for Prosecution and we now have guidelines for prosecutors and also a Code of Conduct for them. There’s a difference and remember it has just been adopted by the Body of Attorney-General’s only some few months back and it will take a while, maybe months or one year for these reforms to really take root.
But what are the outcomes you’re looking at, at the end of the day?
We want prosecutors who are professionally conscientious and diligent who will prosecute not persecute. If you persecute as a prosecutor then you can be held guilty of violating the rules, and also a strategic roadmap of prosecution of cases in Nigeria which we never had in the country. If this is done, I can assure you that 60 percent of problems confronting this country would have been solved.
Why is the AGF always running into crisis? George Oboh, MTN and the latest being Barrister Charles Adeogun?
No! I disagree with you that they’re always running into problems. You know this the hub of governance. The office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is the only office recognized by the constitution
So by its very nature, the office is controversial. We trample on people in the course of work, not deliberately though and they want to get back at us by whatever means. They also go into blackmail, for whatever reason, you mentioned George Oboh.
I can assure you that the Attorney General is a determined young man and a very successful lawyer a man with conscience. George Oboh was given a brief and he went outside the scope or confines of his brief and he was fired…
(Cuts-in). Ab initio why were you not aware that he was allegedly a convict in the United States of America?
If that information was not given to us, how will we know? Even the police, EFCC, DSS rely on information. We can’t be here and envision where George Uboh was 20 or 10 years ago. But once the facts became known to the Minister he fired him.
And you made the same mistake again with Charles Adeogun, that there were potential conflict of interest?
No. He was not forthcoming. All the lawyers who were engaged by the National Prosecution Coordinating Committee were given a form of disclosure. This was for them to disclose if they were handling case(s) that will conflict with their work, but he didn’t do that. We later discovered that he was handling cases that will conflict with the assignment he was given and he was fired; and instead of him taking it in good faith he resulted to blackmail because Nigerians love blackmail.
And who cleans up the executive?
We’re being cleaned up by the legislature and the judiciary. Members of the executive branch of the government have been charged to court. So they are the watch dog of the executive. This is typical of a presidential of system government where the three branches of government are supposed to be independent in theory, but in practice their roles, responsibilities and functions overlap and I can give you so many instances.
For instance, the president appoints the Chief Justice of Nigeria and that appointment is subject to the confirmation of the Senate. So, you can see the executive is involved, the legislature and even the judiciary itself is involved because the National Judicial Commission (NJC), must first recommend.
Let me give an instance, we’re talking about oversight functions, when a committee of the Senate or House of Representatives is investigating a matter in order to expose corruption, inefficiency, maladministration in the process of law making, that committee is normally vested with power to issue summons and that is a typical function of the Judiciary. Committees of the National Assembly are vested with quasi-judicial functions and if you disobey the summon you can be sent to jail.