THE Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa (SAN), yesterday said the arrest of former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was a confirmation that the accused ex-governor is not a sacred cow contrary to claims in some quarters.
Chief Aondoakaa, who parried a question on whether his consent was sought by the EFCC before Ibori was arrested preparatory to his arraignment before a Federal High Court, Kaduna today on a 103-count charge said whatever happened, his office and that of the EFCC were working together on prosecution of corrupt public officers in the country.
He said he believed Ibori would not be arrested without a court warrant, and that EFCC was currently following due process in the investigation and prosecution of corrupt public officers in the country.
He spoke with Vanguard yesterday on phone.
Question: Can you confirm that you were aware of the criminal charge of corruption preferred against Ibori by EFCC? Put differently, was your consent sought before EFCC began Ibori’s prosecution?
Answer: Yes, we are fighting corruption together. We have said before that there is no sacred cow.
EFCC said it got a warrant of arrest from court to arrest Ibori. Can you confirm if you are aware of the criminal charge preferred against him?
If they got a warrant from court, that is the most superior instrument in the world to effect the arrest of any suspect.
But do you know the court where EFCC got the warrant?
No, I don’t know the court. But they should have gotten the warrant because EFCC is following due process now. For them to have got a warrant, it means they are following due process. Thank you, I appreciate.(He rang off).
Body of SANs lampoons AG, EFCC
But while Ibori was being grilled by men of the EFCC at its headquarters located in Maitama, Abuja, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) yesterday were lampooning the Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Aondoakaa (SAN) and the Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu.
According to the professional bodies, the Attorney-General of the Federation goofed by writing a letter to President Umaru Yar’Adua seeking his directive to exercise his prosecutorial powers as conferred on him by the 1999 constitution.
They said he seemed not to appreciate the enormity of his unquestionable powers to prosecute under the constitution which is not available to anybody’s control, including Mr. President.
The EFCC was also lashed at yesterday for initiating criminal charges against individuals without the consent of the Attorney-General.
According to Chief G. O. K Ajayi (SAN), who spoke for the Body of SANs yesterday, he said: “The President has no power to give directive to the Attorney-General of the Federation on who to prosecute or who not to prosecute.
“The Attorney-General has the powers to prosecute or not to. No officer or institution has powers to prosecute anybody in this country without his consent. And if anybody does without his consent, he has powers to enter nolle prosequi.
“We must say frankly that the Attorney-General of the Federation shouldn’t have asked Mr. President to give him powers to prosecute or not to. It is not the law that anybody or institution can be claiming to have powers to prosecute without a recourse to the Attorney-General.
“The country, especially those who are not lawyers should know that the country cannot be run on sentiment. I read in a paper that the Chairman of EFCC said he is ready to die if he is not allowed to prosecute some persons. My advice is that he should not die because he will just die for nothing. He cannot prosecute without the consent of the Attorney-General,” he said.
Delta Govt silent, Clark, others hail
Delta State Government decided to play mute, yesterday, on the arrest of the former governor of the state, Chief James Ibori, in Abuja but the Delta Elders, Leaders and Stakeholders Forum, led by elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, which had been pushing for his arrest and trial went into celebrations.
A source told Vanguard that Gov. Emmanuel Uduaghan was not in the mood to comment on the matter. His Communications Adviser and Chief Press Secretary, Messrs. Paul Odili and Sony Ogefere said the state government had nothing to say at the moment.
It was gathered that the Uduaghan government was being careful in its public reaction to the travails of the former governor given the criticisms that trailed its earlier celebration of the temporal relief that Ibori got from a London Court.
Delta State Elders, Chief Edwin Clark and Senator Fred Brume, yesterday welcomed the arrest of Chief Ibori, saying it was in conformity to the administration’s inclination of the rule of law.
Chief Clark and Brume, leaders of the Delta Elders Forum, said the arrest validated the group’s demand for the arrest of Chief Ibori on account of what they affirmed were corrupt deeds while in office.
Chief Clark speaking on telephone yesterday said the administration would, however, have to move beyond the arrest by immediately prosecuting the former governor over allegations of misappropriation of the funds of the state.
“Yes, I welcome the arrest and it is in conformity with our demand that he be brought to book for what he did while in office. But we are not saying that government should stop at the arrest but he should be immediately prosecuted because we know of people who were arrested and after a few days they were let of the hook.
“For me, this is not a personal cause for celebration because I have nothing personal against Ibori after all I defended him seriously during the ex-convict case,” Chief Clark said.
In his reaction, Senator Brume, who represented the Delta Central Senatorial District between 1999 and 2003 said the arrest was in conformity with the administration’s profession of the rule of law.
He said the arrest had now shown that the rule of law could apply to all persons irrespective of their positions in the society.
“What I would say is that this must be in conformity with the current policy of Mr. President to promote the rule of law and it should apply equally to all the people who have held high office.
If two persons commit the same offence, the two of them should be liable to the same kind of treatment under the law.
“I think most Nigerians would want to applaud the government for applying the law uniformly,” Brume told Vanguard yesterday.
Justifying the arrest in an online statement, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, said there was no legal impediment to the arrest of the former Delta State governor.
He said: “My immediate reaction to the news of the arrest of Mr James Ibori by the EFCC is that the arrest is perfectly defensible as there is no legal encumbrance of any sort preventing the Commission from carrying out its statutory functions.
“The order which he got from the Federal High Court in Benin having being extinguished by virtue of the decision of the court declining jurisdiction is as dead as the door nail or dodo.
There is no positive order from any court preventing his arrest. It would have amounted to gross dereliction of duty on the part of the EFCC not to perform its statutory duties to investigate a crime.
The point is that nobody has found Mr Ibori guilty as that function exclusively belongs to the court.
Chief Kenneth Gbagi, Chairman, Legal Aid Council of Nigeria: “This is what I have been clamouring for over time. I have said it over and over again that Nigeria’s democracy will be truncated unless and if the EFCC and the Federal Government allow the rule of law to prevail. If there is anything Ibori needs to clarify, he should do that with the EFCC. I believe this is a good beginning.”
Dr Fredrick Fasheun, Founder of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC): “There is nothing wrong in anybody being arrested. With this arrest, it shows that the man in power (President Umaru Yar’Adua) is a real advocate of the rule of law. He has shown over time that he stands for the rule of law and that is what we are seeing today.
“Let him (Ibori) submit himself to the rule of law. If he is found guilty, let him face the music. And if he is innocent he will be left off the hook.”
Mr Peter Okocha, AC gubernatorial candidate in Delta State: “It does not make any difference. Nobody is above the law, if you are found guilty, you should face the full wrath of the law.”
Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Campaign for Democracy: “Ibori’s arrest is a welcome development.
We should not have a culture of impunity. It is the culture of immunity that is shielding corrupt public officials from the law. If he is found guilty of colossal waste of Delta State funds, he should be made to face the music.
“It shows that no one is above the law. I will advise that no one should gloss over this matter. I would also want to say that at no point should justice be delayed because justice delayed is justice denied.
The EFCC should be applauded in this regard.”
Mr Festus Keyamo, legal practitioner: “Everybody has been calling for it. It is a clear reaction to what the people have demanded. Having said this, we must not condemn him now. He must be made to face due process. It is good for the anti-corruption crusade and Nigeria’s democracy. I salute such effort which is a good sign for democracy.”