Justice ministry should give EFCC free hand to prosecute cases –Edwin Clark


In this interview monitored on Arise Television, Chief Edwin Clark, the leader of Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and chairman, Board of Trustees, Ijaw National Congress (INC) spoke on the anti-corruption war by the present administration and the need for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to revisit pending cases against former governors, among other issues.

What is your view on the case between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Yahaya Bello and your position on the trials of former governors in Nigeria?

I think Yahaya Bello is a young man, who is following the footprints of his predecessors and so on. That is not the main issue; what I think is the decision of the chairman of the EFCC to revive or revisit all pending cases since 2007 involving former governors. Those who have been jailed for over 10 years or more have returned to Nigeria and are living free lives, while those of them in the Senate who have pending cases are using their positions to adjourn their cases.

The judiciary that is supposed to answer to Nigerians is now answerable to powerful politicians. Why should a case be in court for 10 years or 15 years and have not been tried? Are they not being called to appear in court again? Some of them are ministers, and some of them mix up with officials of the party in power. So, the same people who are standing trial are dining and wineing with judges and with the Chief Justice of Nigeria because they are freemen. I think these are the issues.

All I wanted to say about Yahaya Bello is that he is just being stubborn. He knows where to go. He has been having issues with his government and during elections and so on. There is time for everything, and time has come for him to answer questions. He should go to court and some of these lawyers that have nothing to do have now been hired to go to court to manipulate court processes. It is a simple thing, if the chairman of EFCC has a case to answer as well, then take him to court.

This issue of court contempt has been instituted against the Inspector General of Police and ministers and so on, so it is not a new thing. But Yahaya Bello should go to court to answer the substance of the case against him. Where did he get the money from? Is it true or not that the money he paid to the American school belongs to him or belongs to the government of Kogi State? So, these are the issues and whoever is saying contempt of court is talking rubbish.

Let Yahaya Bello go to court and we have to question if a governor misuses his power, enjoys immunity to commit a crime and obstructs justice. The issue has to be called to question. The behavior of the new governor of Kogi State showed that Yahaya Bello is in power for a third term. I’m pleading with Governor Usman Ododo; he is a young, attractive man and should do the needful, so that the youth in this country can have something to fall upon.

Let me say this; in 2007, more than 15 former governors and ministers were charged to court during Nuhu Ribadu’s time as chairman of the EFCC. Some of them were charged to court in Lagos, Abuja and so on but after some time, some of these cases were not heard again. All we heard later was that these same governors have been cleared to contest senatorial seats and they are now in the Senate.

You have highlighted some high-profile cases involving former governors. What would you say is the reason why we are having difficulty in prosecuting them; do we have a system that enables corruption in government?

In 2011, there was a new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Dahiru Mustapha, who gave a lecture to his colleagues and during that lecture, he condemned corruption. He also condemned delaying cases and so on. Let me quote him: ‘Judiciary is my home. I have been there for 32 years and I will do anything as the Chief Justice of Nigeria to clean us up. Any judge who is not able to perform his duties honestly will be expelled from the judiciary.’ So, in 2011, I wrote him a letter congratulating him and then listed out all cases that were pending in the court.

He now wrote back to me a few days after, saying that I was right but said the problem was not with the judiciary alone as those who are prosecuting these cases deliberately sometimes do not want to prosecute these cases and allow them to go away. Then he cited an example that ‘You charge a man to court for 140 charges and the same prosecuting counsel is not able to reconcile charge 19 and charge 90 and at the end, he loses the case.’

He said that some of these things were deliberate and that he had discussed this matter with the Chief Justice of Nigeria at that time and told him that something had to be done. So, he appointed a judicial committee under the chairmanship of Justice Mohammed Uwais, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria and they have not submitted their report at that time. So, in 2011, I wrote those names.

You have now heard that the problems we are facing with the judiciary, which is very disgraceful and I don’t want to talk about them here but our lawyers and some of our senior advocates who have been hired at high cost by this EFCC or other organization have a duty to explain to the profession they belong, to some of the things that are happening in the judiciary and the bar.

Can’t we look at our system that supports people doing this corrupt act; for example, some CSOs and youth groups supporting some of the accused persons?

That is corruption fighting back and because we have poverty in the country, unemployment, joblessness and hunger, anything can go for anything. So, some of these governors, who were nobody when they became governors have now joined the class of nobility. Today, there is no class called middle class in Nigeria, you are either at the top or the poor man at the bottom. Some of these governors have so much money to reach out to these jobless boys and girls, who don’t know that they are selling their rights.

So, when you have the two sides meeting at the EFCC office and fighting themselves, you can understand what country we belong to now. It is a shame and all we can do is to continue to educate our children. Elderly men like me should educate our children. There is a future for them in Nigeria but if they help some of the governors to carry out corruption in Nigeria, then we have dark days ahead. So, some of these civil rights organizations should do what they call themselves and not do the opposite.

Let me point out another case of corruption. About three years ago, the Federal Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, levelled about 23 charges against Ibrahim Magu, the then acting chairman of EFCC and that acting chairman was the beloved officer of President Muhammadu Buhari because five times he presented him to the Senate, five times he was rejected. They decided that the constitution did not say that everybody to be appointed must go through the Senate, but they were disobeying the same constitution.

Magu was in office for five years in acting capacity. Then a panel was appointed with the former president of the Court of Appeal as its chairman and at the end of it all, the same Magu who was humiliated, disgraced, arrested and detained was promoted and retired. He later made charges against the Attorney General; where are those charges? Nobody tried them and it was an opportunity for the Attorney General to bring his nephew, who was less than 40 years to become the chairman of EFCC over and above his seniors who were actually within the system.

That is the kind of country we have and today Malami is gone and he wanted to be governor of Kebbi State.

In what ways does the ongoing Yahaya Bello case is different from what happened in the James Ibori case in Delta State? You said past governors should be tried, does that include former governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa?

That is why I’m writing and telling the chairman of EFCC to revisit these cases. By the 25th of this month, I will be 97 years old. I played a very leading role in Ibori’s case; you can only punish your son with one hand and draw him to yourself with the other hand. I do not want to open old issues. He has served his sentence but those who were charged with him at the same time are still walking freely and that is very unfair to him. Those who were charged to court with him in 2007 are still parading themselves as senators and ministers whereas Ibori spent 13 years in prison.

So, I don’t want to comment on it because it is a past story. After all, I know what is going on. But Okowa should be probed because there is no reason he should not be probed. Everything I submitted about him, I got it from the Federal Government, so there is no hiding place. I’m going to discuss it with the new chairman of the EFCC and if he has decided to visit old cases, what about the new cases? What they said was that they wanted to gather all the cases of former governors and deal with them at the same time. So, his case is a naked one. 

What do you want the EFCC chairman to do differently?

The Federal Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General should give EFCC a free hand to do its duty as it was the first time Ribadu was appointed. They should not run EFCC together with the Ministry of Justice as Malami did. He was a supervisor and the one directing the affairs of the EFCC and in the end, he ended up marrying President Muhammadu Buhari’s daughter.


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