By Tajudeen Suleiman
The decision of the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, to take over the prosecution of one Bello Akano, by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, is generating debate among lawyers and members of the civil society.
There are suspicions that the accused person, who has evaded prosecution since last year, allegedly boasting that his trial will go nowhere, might have used his influence to initiate the takeover of the case, prelude to the withdrawal the charges against him.
Akano, who claims to be a travel agent, is facing criminal charges relating to visa procurement scam at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja. He was arraigned on November 30, 2015 on a 7-count charge bothering on possession of forged documents contrary to Section 368 of the Penal Code Act and making false statement to a public officer contrary to Section 25(1)(a) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000.
The case has suffered several adjournments because Akano failed to show up in court, forcing the trial judge, Justice U.P Kekemeke, of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court, to order the ICPC to arrest and produce him in court.
However, to the utmost surprise of many lawyers, including the prosecutor and the judge, when the case came up for hearing on May 12, M.C. Obilor, a senior counsel who represented the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, told the court that the office of the AGF was taking over the prosecution of the case.
Obilor said that the Attorney General had written to the ICPC to handover Akano’s case file to the ministry and hands off. Appearing for the ICPC, Isaac Jiya, confirmed to the court that the AGF had, indeed, earlier written the commission asking it to hand over the case file.
The development got many tongues wagging as some lawyers said it was curious that the Attorney General would be interested in this kind of criminal case, particularly as it involves diplomatic relations with foreign countries.
The taking over of Akano’s case is even more curious as he is said to have boasted that the case against him will not “go far”.
The Ministry of Justice has some supervisory powers over the ICPC as far as prosecution of criminal cases is concerned and it is not unusual for the AG to ask that some case files be handed over. Constitutionally, the AGF has the power to initiate, take over or terminate legal proceedings in any law court in the country, except military tribunals. But such powers are so open to abuse and can be easily misinterpreted and are sparingly evoked.
Isa Salisu, Special Adviser to the Minister of Justice, told the icirnigeria.org that “as the chief law officer of the country, the minister of justice could request for any case file when he’s not satisfied with the way it is being prosecuted.
“I am not saying that is the case here, but he must have done it in the interest of the country,” he added.
Wahab Shittu, a Lagos – based lawyer and human right activist, agreed with Salisu that as the chief prosecution officer the federation, the AGF has the constitutional right to take over the prosecution of any criminal case.
“The reality is that the Attorney General of the Federation, being the Chief Law Officer of the federation, has the right to initiate, discontinue, or take over any case from any other agency. ICPC is an agency under the direct supervision of the AG, they prosecute at the pleasure of the AG, In fact when you see ICPC or EFCC prosecuting a case, they execute their prosecutorial powers on behalf of the AG. When the AG feels that a case can be better prosecuted from his office, he can request that such a case be transferred back to his office,” he observed.
He stated further: “It is only when, in the exercise of powers of the AG , he decides to enter a Nolle prosequi , which is a discontinuance of further proceedings in court that you can now begin to allude to such suspicion. But where he merely says he wants to take over the case, it might even be for the progress of the case because he can now directly oversee the case, particularly in the light of the anti-corruption crusade of this administration. So it would be too early to begin to speculate over his action, because his action is lawful, constitutional and within the ambit of the law.”
However, another lawyer, John Ihedioha, observed that though it is within the ambit of the law for the AG to request for transfer of case files, it is usually done with the intention to “kill the case.”
Ihedioha stressed that when the AGF starts getting interested in a case, it is usually because it may not be going the way he want it to go.
As if to make matters worse, a source in the minister’s office informed our reporter that the Attorney General would be asking for many files to be handed over by many government agencies, including the ICPC, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and even the police, as the government might not be satisfied with the way they are being handled.
The source said that the federal government will soon set up a National Prosecution Coordinating Committee to take care of such cases and that it would be inaugurated by President Muhammdu Buhari before the end of the year.
The investigation against Akano started in March last year following intelligence reports and complaints by some embassies about his activities. Operatives of the ICPC secured a court warrant on March 13 2015 to search his Abuja residence which led to the discovery of several forged documents meant to facilitate issuance of travel visa to France, United Kingdom and Italy, among others.
The documents found in his residence include a letter of introduction to the French Embassy allegedly written by former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Bamanga Tukur; a request for Note Verbale in the name of a member of the House of Representatives, Moshood Bakare and a fake staff identity card of the Federal Ministry of Aviation.
Other fake documents recovered from his house are letters to the British Embassy purportedly written by the Principal of Government Secondary School, Wuse 2, Abuja introducing certain persons as students of the school seeking travel documents to the UK, and pre-signed official letter head papers of the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja, Kogi state.
Operatives also found several pay slips, birth certificates as well as forged correspondences, including a letter of request for passport purportedly written by the State House, Abuja.
In the letter purportedly written by Turkur, dated January 8, 2014, and addressed to the French Embassy, Abuja, a Miss Enabulele Choice Aimaimiye was introduced as secretary to the PDP chairman and a visa requested for her to travel to Paris.
Upon enquiries, Tukur’s office denied knowing Aimaimiye, saying that the letterhead on which the letter to the embassy was written was forged.
The charges against Akano include: “That you Bello Raufu Akano(M) on 10th March 2015 or thereabout at No. 23 Ibn Haruna street Utako, Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, had in your possession a forged document knowing same to be forged with intention to use same as in order to dishonestly obtain a France entry Visa a copy of letter dated 8th January, 2014 addressed to the Consular Officer, French Embassy Abuja titled “Letter of Introduction And Request For Visa” in favour of one Miss Enabulele Choice Aimaimiye purporting to be the Secretary to Ambassador Bamanga Tukur, National Chairman PDP was found in your premise at No. 23 Ibn Haruna Street Utako, Abuja when in actual fact the said Miss Enebulele Choice Aimaimiye was not a staff of Ambassador Bamanga Tukur in any capacity, and you thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 368 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the FCT CAP 532.”
Justice Kekemeke has discharged the ICPC from the case and adjourned till July 4.