The 56th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association came to an end August 26, in Port Harcourt with the bar making pronouncements on major issues of national importance. One of the new commitments as articulated by the new President of the Association, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, is to reinvent the association by reclaiming its moral high ground through a campaign for ethical rectitude by members of the bar. “The NBA under my watch will fight judicial corruption. We shall make the legal profession unattractive for corrupt lawyers,” he said.
This is reassuring considering the evidence that senior members of the Bar have become complicit in cases of corruption and money laundering, leading to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arraigning two members of the inner bar for acts of corruption. A Bar populated or directed by people perceived to be rogues and vultures cannot play the role of priests in the temple of justice.
Nevertheless, the Commission views with concern, the call by the NBA president that the EFCC be stripped of its prosecutorial powers. He said, “We need to define its mandate more narrowly and more clearly... I strongly recommend that the EFCC be limited to investigation… while prosecution should be handled by an independent resource prosecution agency”. The current campaign appears to be self serving, intended to create a cabal of untouchables who can be investigated but may never be prosecuted.
The Commission’s discomfort over this seeming innocuous proposition, stem from the fact Mahmoud was silent on the reason for his position. More importantly, the Commission cannot comprehend how the redefinition of EFCC’s mandate in narrow terms, ultimately whittling it down, fits into the clamour by Nigerians and the vision of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration for a vibrant and courageous anti-corruption agency.
Instead, Mahmoud’s suggestions appears perfectly in sync with a cleverly disguised campaign by powerful forces that are uncomfortable with the reinvigorated anti-graft campaign of the EFCC and are hell-bent on emasculating the agency by stripping it of powers to prosecute with the tame excuse that an agency that investigates cannot also prosecute.
The question Nigerians must ask the Mahmoud-led NBA is, what is wrong with EFCC prosecution? Mahmoud is in a position to answer this question. He was the Attorney General of the Federation’s counsel in the trial of former Delta State governor, James Ibori at the Federal High Court, Asaba, a case which EFCC lost in questionable circumstances. But the same ingredients from that case were used to fetch Ibori a 13-year jail term in London. Mahmoud is also the Commission's counsel in the appeal against the infamous perpetual injunction from arrest and prosecution by former Rivers State governor, Peter Odili, which is still pending before the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt, many years after it was filed.
It is too much of a strange coincidence that the suggestion to strip the EFCC of itsprosecutorial powers is being floated few months after the Commission, in unprecedented fashion arraigned some senior lawyers for corruption.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Commission has recorded more convictions in the last one year than all the states and federal ministries of justices combined.
Against this background, the current campaign appears to be self serving, intended to create a cabal of untouchables who can be investigated but may never be prosecuted.
The EFCC however wishes to reassure Nigerians that there will be no sacred cows in the renewed fight against corruption in Nigeria.