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Judges are frustrating us Ė Justice Akanbi

Posted by By Chidi Obineche on 2005/05/17 | Views: 398 |

Judges are frustrating us Ė Justice Akanbi


Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Hon. Justice Mustapha Akanbi has blamed the slow pace of the activities of the commission and its inability to prosecute successfully and convict a ďbig fishĒ after four years of operation on judges.

Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Hon. Justice Mustapha Akanbi has blamed the slow pace of the activities of the commission and its inability to prosecute successfully and convict a ďbig fishĒ after four years of operation on judges.

Bemoaning the fate of the commission in an interview with Daily Sun, Akanbi also blamed lack of adequate funding, narrow powers invested on it by the Act setting it up, as well as state governors.

He described as ďmost frustratingĒ the battle he had with former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Ghali Umar NaíAbba.

He further lamented that ICPCís counterpart, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was better funded and invested with wider powers.
He said the role of state governors in the fight against corruption was dismal, citing the recent case of Akwa Ibom State governor, Obong Victor Attah, who stormed an investigation venue in his state and expelled the ICPC investigators probing an alleged scam in a government account. He vowed to seek effective redress and continue with the investigation.

On allegation of government interference in its activities, he dismissed it saying, ďthe President has never, I say never, I repeat, never detailed me to hold anybody. If he does, I will leave this job.Ē
After a long lull, the ICPC has bounced back to action. What is responsible for the lull and resurgence in activities?

The ICPC has not been talking but activities have been going on because we have been filing cases in court, but we donít have what it takes to bring publicity to our work. We have said it, time without number, that whether it is publicity or investigation or public enlightenment, we need money to do all these things. That is one aspect of looking at it. So, if we have to go to court, we canít mobilise people to know what is happening or appearing on the television. As of today, we have about 82 people in court, which we have investigated, and about 40 cases spread all over. Now, that is, maybe, what I may call the immediate cause.

Legal hindrance
But when we go to the remote cause, the ICPC was set up on the 29th of September 2000. By May, 2001, we arrested the first culprits and then took them to court. We were challenged in court, on the basis that the Federal Government has no right to legislate on corruption for the whole country. Therefore, the constitutionality of the Act, which was passed, was called to question. It took the Supreme Court, after trials at various lower courts, to decide in 2002 that the Act was constitutional. So, for the period between that September 2000 and June 7, 2002, any action we filed, people will go to court and say, we canít go on. The Supreme Court is yet to determine whether your existence is constitutional. So, we kept on filing cases without cases moving at all in court because the order is still in force. But even at that, in one of the cases, the leading counsel, who undoubtedly is the doyen of the bar, the late Chief Williams, also filed another action, challenging, and asking the Supreme Court to reverse its decision of 7th June 2002, to say that it was wrongly made. And that went on until the final decision was given on 1st January 2004, some 40 months later. So, all that had effect, a slow-paced effect on the work of the commission in terms of court work, but we kept on investigating.

You are also in this country, you know at a stage, when we tried to investigate the principal officers of the Legislature, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President of the Senate, they also took the unprecedented step of drafting a law, rushing through it and passed it to say that the ICPC should be scrapped. The chairman should be removed. All the staff we engaged should be sent out. But eventually, we had to mobilize and had to focus attention on the issue of the survival of the commission and therefore, we had to get a lawyer to assist us in fighting that battle in which we were involved. So, all these went on till about May 2004. As a result, most of the cases could not go on. In the midst of it, there came the election with which came many different petitions before the court, and the court found itself too heavily loaded. The court had to abandon the anti-corruption cases and focussed attention on the constitutional matters, both at the high courts and Court of Appeal levels because the judges who were designated to hear anti-corruption cases were involved in election issues. One of them in Abuja was sent to Owerri, and from Owerri, he was sent to another place in the East.

What is his name?
Oniyangi. I had to write to the President of the Court of Appeal, that these things are having adverse effect on our work. Secondly, where the High Court has decided on a case, or has taken some steps, an application would be filed at the Court of Appeal that the late submissions should be upheld. In other words, they are saying that they appealed against you. Then, that will get stuck in the Court of Appeal. If you watch, the offices of the Court of Appeal were moved in some states. They had to reconstitute the appeal courts for the election petition cases.

Letís take a judge from Ilorin. We have three judges there and they are asked to come to Abuja or go to Owerri or Enugu to go and sit. That decision cannot bear fruit because two judges cannot constitute a panel. And that went on and on. You find out that the Presidentís case has only finished in the tribunal. Look at the time it had stayed in the tribunal, until July this year. When I was on the bench, we didnít have this kind of experience. But I donít know what it has taken now. You see, some of the judges who could have heard our case are all into that issue. And lawyers know that the more they delay, the more they filled their pocket. They file spurious applications, and if they get a lazy judge or a judge who is not keen, this thing will drag on and on, especially when it involves a senior counsel. He will mobilize them. So we had all these problems. So, if we were to take a view the way people say we should, we will begin to shout, begin to write on the pages of newspapers, go on air or even get them, lock them up, it will not be like this. We were silent after filing all these cases.

Paucity of fund
But then we donít have the money to do all that kind of thing. We donít have the resources. But even then, we are mindful of our role. For instance, we had to go to Tony Iredia, who directed me to be interviewed the other time on television. They profile some of our cases. I was interviewed on Point Blank. I was also interviewed on Score Card issue. He was very kind. It was because of the appeal we made to him. As of now, we are indebted to them. When they came and said, we are indebted to the tune of five million Naira, I said they should stop, because we donít want to owe so much when we have not got money from the Federal Government yet. Are you hearing me? So, we have been doing our work silently.

Okay, letís look at the case of the erstwhile Senate President, Adolphus Wabara. You know the Wabara case is a case within the jurisdiction of the ICPC. It was not reported to us initially. They went to the EFCC. EFCC has the money. You know the Central Bank gave them N50 million. I canít take N50 million from Central Bank. If I show you the letter I had just written to the Central Bank, youíll understand fully what is happening. They wanted us to take part in a programme and they said we should contribute N2 million to that programme. I wrote to them that we donít have that kind of money. Since it is a national programme, they have the means; they have the money to sponsor the entire programme without demanding money from us.

Non-compromise
I have taken the view that if we start taking money from people, supposing the Oga who gave us money is involved in a case, what do we do? This is their letter (shows it), titled National Seminar on Economic Crimes. Then they said the ICPC is required to pay the sum of N2 million being contributions due to cases of any outstanding. I am not going to pay any outstanding. So, I just wrote to them and had to object that as the apex bank of Nigeria, CBN is well placed and endowed to foot the bill for the seminar, which is of direct relevance to the countryís financial sector without recourse to the Commission. Because of paucity of funds, the commission is unable to contribute to the seminar.

We donít have. We donít take money from them. If they want us to help them, what they would have done is for them to concentrate on journalists, legislators and other Nigerians. That is in line with Section 6, A and F of our Act. Structure and pay for it so that no kobo comes from our hands. That is our own argument. We canít pay. Now, if you donít have money to do that kind of thing, people wonít know what you are doing. When the Wabara case went to the EFCC, we made it clear that it is within our jurisdictional competence to take it over. So, what we did was that we used their facility to bring the people here for interview. You know they had already arrested them.

Undue interference from the legislature
So, we conducted our own independent interview and through that when the House of Representatives Committee said that we should send all the statement of witnesses, it is unprecedented, as far as I am concerned, to send it to them. I went to them that these statements are part of case diary and we cannot give it to you except by an order of court. Then, the chairman wrote back to me that they are doing their duty under Section 88 and 89 of the Constitution, which gives them the right to oversee government activities. If that right is stretched to a logical conclusion, then we will go to court and ask them to produce their records. I chose not to reply that one but we took them to court. The senate in their wisdom said they were not going to comment because the matter was subjudice. So, by the time we wrote them, we had gone to court and the matter had become subjudice. So, these are the militating factors. Why you heard about this is because of the way that case came here. The only thing I did was to assure the people that we did justice according to the law and we will not be pushed into doing things we consider improper. Now, following that, we have decided that, most of the cases that occur in Abuja which will not cost us much, because as you know the budget money has not been released up till now, so, in Abuja, we can manage to invite people here and interview them. So we are on that level. When money is released, we have worked out a strategy which we will employ because during the budget last year, we were assured that we will get more money than the N500m or less which they have been giving us. When we get it our efforts will be doubled.

Shortage of manpower as a disadvantage
We only have 26 investigators for the whole of this country. If you go to Hong Kong with a population of 1.6 million, their investigators number 1000. And you know what it is here. The driver that will drive the investigators is entitled to N1000 per day. If he goes to Bayelsa, where he will travel by boat, he will get N2000. So these are the factors.

EFCC, wider range of power
So, there is no basis to compare us with EFCC. Number one, the Chairman of EFCC is an executive chairman. He has part time members surrounding him. If he has taken any decision, he has taken it. It is not the same here. Every issue will be discussed. It is only now that the tenure of most of our members has expired. The Amendment Act that will give more teeth to the Commission has been in the House for a while. They wrote to say I should come on May 12 to justify it and I wrote back to say that the date is not convenient, I will be out of the country. I asked them to choose any day between 10th Ė 13th because our own case has been there before the EFCC. The issue is that we have not received the desired attention, which I think we deserve. That is apart from the executive aspect. Two, EFCC has money. They get money from even outside the country. We donít have. The only help we have had is on the aspect of training Ė DFID, UNDP, the American Embassy and so on. They help in financing these programmes. We donít touch the money, because as I am sitting here, I donít want to touch any money.

What would you consider as the most frustrating case since you became the boss of this Commission?
First of all, the most frustrating was when we took the former president of the Senate, Senator Pius Anyim Pius and the former speaker of House of Representatives, Hon Ghali Naíaba to court and they decided that we must not investigate. I did Law and I know when there is a plethora of authority you canít stop investigations. I was surprised.

Judicial bias
The judge kept on adjourning and adjourning and when she got stuck, she left it and transferred it to another person. These people were able to go on appeal. We had to go on appeal and the matter got stuck. Now, only this morning (29/4/05), we took some people to court, involving two SANs. Bail was argued yesterday. The judge told us that he would give his ruling today. As I sat here, I got a third phone call from our chaps that he has discharged the two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, without a clear evidence. The same judge who granted leave to prefer a charge against them is the same man who discharged them. I donít want to go into details of what has happened. I know what I went through before that case went to court.

It took quite some time?
Yes. We had to get three independent lawyersí opinion before we went to court. But the judge in his wisdom, had saidÖsince there are openingsÖI donít want to pre-empt what has happened. Do you understand? That again, I must confess shocked me. Shocked me, not because he discharged them, because he has power to say we have not made any case worthy of trial. He has power. When we asked for leave, he refused leave. When he refused leave, then we know what has happened, because the application for leave is generally ex-parte. He could also have raised the issue for both counsels to address him. He just decided to let them off. I am surprised because I donít take decisions arbitrarily. When it came to this, I assembled lawyers and asked them to help me to look into it; look at the merits and express your views. You know what surprised me? It will surprise you. At the end of the day, whatever advice they give is what we will do.

Is there any kind of government interference in your job? Some people perceive your organisation as a government tool, to witch-hunt perceived enemies.
I am very happy you asked this question. I am very happy that you are from The Sun. You know there was a time your paper attacked me. So, I used a language, which those who knew me from my childhood never expected me to use. I had a classmate in Ghana who was himself the Deputy Governor and later, an ambassador. He sent a message to me that the language I used was unbecoming of me or unusual of me. So, I told him that because he does not live in Nigeria, he does not know what we Nigerians are. They may not understand the Nigerian language and may just step in. This allegation started with The Source magazine, which alleged that we are being used by President Obasanjo to attack his perceived enemies.

Now, first of all, I was a senior state counsel when I resigned my ten years service on principle and went into private practice and within that short time, I had an office in Kano, in Kaduna. My Kaduna office was then headed by Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim, SAN, who later became Attorney General of the Federation. Sadiq, the former speaker of the state House of Assembly headed another one in llorin.

We had opened an office in Lagos when at the insistence of my father, I accepted the judgeship. I did not lobby for it as it is done now. The judges then, expatriates, invited us to the bench. I didnít even want it, but my father said you must accept and consider it an honour to me. And then I remained on that bench for 25 years. Nobody alleged that anybody had used me. Then, I was prevailed upon to be here. I said I didnít want to do it. I have left government. I have left behind a good record. I challenge anybody to see it. When people cut their age to remain in service, I retired from the bench three years before my time for retirement was due. I said I have had enough. Let me go home and do some religious activities within my immediate environment. Everybody, people like G.O.K. Ajayi, Kehinde Sofola and others, they were annoyed. Many of them contacted me. Even the late Gen. Tunde Idiagbon, contacted me saying, how can you do that. I said no; my life is my life. My immediate obligation to the nation, I have discharged it. How can I now come here to bastardize such impressive reputation? How much are they even paying me to be here? I challenge anybody, on my honour, and all that I stand for, the President has never, I say never, I repeat never, detailed me to hold anybody. If he does it, I will leave this job.

NaíAbba
And NaíAbba, I was solicitor to NaíAbbaís father in Kano. And I was highly respected by the family. So, I see him as a younger brother. At least, he cannot tell me to go and hold people like that, because I am accountable not only to this nation, but also to my God. I believe no one can buy my conscience. I earned my name over the years. Those who know me know it. I did NAFCON case Ė N12.5 billion. Those who were appointed with me at the same time to investigate it struck a deal of N2.5 billion. I finished and I was about to make recommendations against those who believed they were untouchables. So, I cannot spoil my name.

At that time, I felt bad. That was why I used the language against The Sun and the writer. I am old enough to be the writerís father. So, what I am trying to say is that it is a case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Why should I compromise a reputation I built up through many years of toil and sweat at this age? I donít lack what to do. At the moment, I have a small Arabic school where they teach children English and Arabic and improve their lives. There is so much for me to do, but this job which I accepted in good faith, as service to God, and humanity, is keeping me away from it. How much is the salary? If I travel by air to Ilorin twice with my wife, I always travel with her, I would have paid N180,000. Before the transition, I was paid N140,000. If you deduct it fromN180,000, how much is there? I always tell all of them that if I spend every kobo I earn to make this place a success, to lay a solid foundation, I will be fulfilled. Afterall, my pension is going on steadily. When I leave here, Iíll go and take my pension. By the grace of God, my children have all graduated. Four of them are lawyers. What is the deal here? And they know. None of them will say he is more hardworking than I am. I sit in my house working, by 1.00 a.m., I call them to come. The job we are doing is different. For instance, if you take money laundering, the man carries money through the Central Bank and it goes into his account, you donít only collect statements, you have to investigate and find out so many things.

So that statement is not true.
Each time I am asked, I feel bad. So do Nigerians believe that everybody can be used like that? Though the President is not here, God is here as my witness. Look, he has tremendous respect for me. If he doesnít have, when I said the job is over, I would have gone. If his ministers are around, and I have cause to go to him, he would leave all of them and attend to me. He treats me with the utmost respect. That being the case, I know he doesnít want to offend me. And I have no reason to do any dirty job. But one thing that worries me is that why should they say that at this closing chapter of my life, I will bring myself down, to be allowed to be used when I am not a slave, and I am not forced into this office. When he offered it, I said no. When he persisted, I said let me go to Mecca to perform the lesser hajj and pray to God to direct and guide me. Now, when I went, he thought it was a matter of a week, but I spent three weeks. He was a bit amazed. That, is this man not coming back? I know he approached some people to tell me I should not change my mind. But there was an understanding that no announcement should be made until I come back. When I came back and I believed that God sanctioned it, and I didnít go alone to seek Allahís direction. I had a friend who was on the bench, a presiding judge, and we went together. We did all the prayers and when we came back, I said yes, because it was part of my supplication that if I did not find it comfortable, I pray to God to create a situation that I can ease myself out.

After four years of the existence of the ICPC, there is hardly any conviction of any top Nigerian. Why?
No. You know when we started, we acted by virtue of section 57 which deals on unreported cases. So, if you have not reported a high profile man, then we canít do anything. That is one of the reasons we are seeking the amendments now. That it should be made possible, that if we have reasonable grounds to suspect anybody on our own, we can go and investigate. Thatís number one.

Number two, when we started having cases of people who are highly placed, the so-called big fishes, the first one we had in May 2001, involved a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), a billionaire, one other lawyer, and two businessmen. One of them ran away. We went to court. Now, we also went to court, got the Commissioner of Finance in Ondo State and Attorney General. The Attorney-General ran away from the country. I donít think he is back till today.

The commissioner then went to court, got the services of another Senior Advocate who specializes in defending people who are corrupt. They threw out our case, again on technical ground, but at least, we took them to curt.

Now in more recent time, you have heard about the 1D scam case. We took Nwodo, who was a former governor to court. We took Afolabi, a former minister with close affinity to the President as his senior in Baptist Secondary School where they both attended, who was also known to be among the sponsors of Mr. Presidentís candidature, now late, to court. The former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Internal Affairs also faced a court action. We took a serving minister, Akwanga, who has been removed , to court and to this day, the case is still in court. We have closed our submission on Shatta, who was also a minister. So, if the court has not decided the matter, we canít be blamed. Our duty is to investigate and take them for prosecution in court. In more recent time, we have taken a Minister of Education, and serving parliamentarians to court.

Now, the issue of conviction is not for us. Ours is to present the case. In fact, what we are worried about, is the delay. It is what we donít like. If they decide to leave them, we have scored something. It was in 1966 that a commissioner of police was tried in the high court and convicted. He went to the Supreme Court, that time, there was no Court of Appeal, and they discharged and acquitted him. That was the only high profile case on record, tried by a court of record. I am not talking of the ad hoc measure of the military, when they will set up a tribunal, collect your property and another government will come and return the property to you. But in terms of the records of what we have done, about three chief medical directors (CMDs) are being prosecuted. One of them has been convicted.

Delay in administration of justice
We went to Kebbi last week for judgement, only for our chaps to travel down and be told that the judgement is not ready. Why it is not ready we do not know. We are still waiting. Another is still being dragged on and on. Counsel for defence will make this and that application. Now, we got other people to charge. There is a charge. The mere fact that we can put those people in the dock to answer charges as against what was happening before 1999, almost twenty years, from 1980 to 1999, we didnít have anybody prosecuted in a court of record. I emphasised record, because that is within the democratic regime in High court, Appeal Court and Supreme Court. These are known to the Constitution. We have done this. We have also arrested some judges for election fraud. We are yet to take them to court but their case is in the offing.

Is it for the 2003 election?
Yes. We arrested Justice Matilda Adamu and Justice Augha, who incidentally is dead.

They took bribe?
They took bribe. The Customary Court of Appeal Judges, the Sharia Court of Appeal Judges, all of them are under investigation. One of them is dead. They create the impression that we are not doing anything and sometimes, I tell them that if we are not doing anything, I should go home now.
Talking about the 2003 election. The dusts are still to settle. There are some open confessions by some people claiming to have rigged the Anambra election. Why didnít you move in to arrest them?
You see, the EFCC, they have plenty of powers. From the way I see them do things, they have more powers that we do. But I say until the law is amended which we have initiated, we cannot go and arrest them because somebody said something. If they bring it here, we will do it. Now, those who are talking let them come here and say this is the evidence. I have this. Take it. For instance, I have this example; it is good you asked this question. Recently, certain allegations were made against the Akwa Ibom State local governmentsí chairmen, that they pay money into some ghost accounts. We sent our people to go and investigate. Do you know that the governor stormed in and sacked all of them? The Attorney General has written to me.

The local government chairmen were sacked?
No, he sacked our investigators from the office of the head of the security services. We used our security department to conduct the investigation. They sent them out. They phoned and couldnít get me.

What did they do?
The Attorney General wrote to say that we were conducting ourselves, that we were like a tribunal, because we asked for certain books. They accused us of not paying courtesy call on the governor. If you go and pay courtesy call, the man will give you some drinks. Is that not the beginning of corruption? And when we are investigating, we donít want the person we are investigating to know what we are there for. The matter is still on. I have just got Mrs. Unogu today to do a fitting reply to the Attorney General.

Helplessness
But we donít know the step we should take. But we all know that the step to take, normally, is to send for those people to come here. But when we send for them, they will come here and start claiming transport money. So, we just tell them, we donít have that kind of money. That is why we send our own operatives and we expect every state government, every governor to support ICPC to the fullest, not to be antagonistic.

Why are governors not supporting your activities?
That question is unfair because you are in a better position to know. When we started and they took us to court, only about four governors supported the Act. The others didnít want it. I took the initiative to write a letter to all of them. Again, only about four replied.

Entrenchment of the ICPC into the Constitution
So, I believe that if we are able to lay a solid foundation, if the anti corruption law is entrenched in the constitution, as you have the Code of Conduct Bureau, Police Service Commission, etc, it will not matter whatever brings you down, you continue. But the way I see things now, if Obasanjo is no longer there, and Akanbi gets tired and goes away, it will be sad for us as the constitution does not guarantee its existence. We have to be weeping for ourselves. When I appeared in the anti-corruption committee in the Senate, I told them, you must see that this thing is entrenched in the constitution.
I am not interested in saying what I have done here but I know I have built up the capacity of able-bodied young men who are committed and dedicated in giving the right leadership. Whether I am here or not the struggle can continue.

Warning to the bench
The only warning I have now is that the bench should feel concerned. Because our efforts will come to naught if they donít rise up to the challenge. We canít tell them to convict a man who is innocent. That is uncalled for. But on the other hand, for them to use their power, either to do one or two things, which are unprincipled, creates a lot of dilemma. It is really disconcerting.
There was a time you turned inwards and arrested one of your men for demanding and receiving bribe.

What is the status of the case now?
It is in court. It is being tried. After the initial ruling, he appealed to the higher court, but the thing was that he was caught red handed. We were monitoring him. We got the information, so we kept surveillance, and on the day he promised the man, you see, that is what is good. He went to this man and found that he was in trouble. The man didnít keep quiet. He hinted us and when he hinted us, we said donít worry, donít worry. The day he went there to get the money, we just grabbed him. He wanted to chew it and throw it somewhere but we dragged him to this place. I always tell them do not spoil the integrity of this place.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.