Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, has fired a query to Ibrahim Magu, the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, demanding justification for the recent charges the anti-graft office brought against Danladi Umar, the chairman of Code of Conduct Tribunal.
The Attorney-General also wrote to Festus Keyamo, a legal practitioner whom the EFCC contracted to prosecute Mr. Umar, requesting to know the authority that instructed him to file the charges as well as the details of the contract.
The February 16 letters gave Messrs. Magu and Keyamo a maximum of 48 hours to respond to their respective queries. The deadline, according to the letter is February 20.
In the query to Mr. Magu, which was signed by the Solicitor-General of the Federation Dayo Apata, Mr. Malami raised concerns about the EFCC’s decision to file charges against Mr. Umar after exonerating him on two separate occasions only a few years ago.
The Attorney-General sought clarification about whether charges were filed on Mr. Magu’s directive and, if yes, “what is the compelling basis for doing so?”
“This clarification becomes imperative in view of the following background facts:
“The Commission’s investigation report dated 5th March 2015 addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation stated as follows:
“The facts as they are now against Justice Umar raised a mere suspicion and will therefore not be sufficient to successfully prosecute for the defence.
“The Commission’s position in paragraph 2(a) above was also maintained and sustained by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation while appearing before the House of Representatives’ Investigative Committee sometimes in 2015 to the effect that report of investigations showed that the allegations against Hon. Justice Danladi Umar were based on mere suspicions,” the query said.
Consequently, Mr. Malami requested a “prompt briefing as to the existence of new facts which are contrary to the position in your attached investigation report, sufficient evidence or other developments upon which the prosecution of Hon. Justice Danladi can be successfully based.”
A public relations firm, PRNigeria, announced the queries Monday morning. PREMIUM TIMES obtained the hard copies from sources at the Ministry of Justice moments later.
The EFCC had filed charges against Mr. Umar at the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on January 25. It was endorsed by the court on January 2, and a hearing was later set to begin on March 15.
The charges, prepared by Mr. Keyamo, a long time EFCC prosecutor, came about two years after the anti-graft agency last absolved Mr. Umar of any wrongdoing in a case of judicial bribery and racketeering.
Mr. Keyamo’s court filings said Mr. Umar collected N10 million from Rasheed Taiwo, a former Customs official who was facing false assets declaration charges before the Code of Conduct Tribunal sometime in 2012.
The prosecution also accused Mr. Umar of receiving N1.8 million of the N10 million bribe sum through one of his personal assistants, Gambo Abdullahi.
Mr. Umar strongly denied wrongdoing in a February 6 interview he granted to PREMIUM TIMES through his spokesperson, Ibrahim Al-Hassan, promising to fight off the charges and accusing the EFCC of being on a witch-hunt against him.
The tribunal chairman said the latest move by the EFCC to prosecute him over a matter he had twice been given a clean bill of health might be because he didn’t convict Bukola Saraki, Nigeria’s Senate President.
The EFCC played a key role in bringing the false assets declaration charges against Mr. Saraki, but he was found not guilty and acquitted on all the 18 charges. The appeal court later said he was improperly cleared on some of the charges and ordered Mr. Saraki’s retrial on those.
Shortly after the charges against Mr. Umar were reported in the media last month, Mr. Saraki expressed his sympathy to Mr. Umar and accused the EFCC of bringing the bribery charges against him because he was not convicted by the tribunal.
The senate president also made reference to the previous letters which the EFCC had written clearing Mr. Umar of fraud.
Tellingly, the second letter was written in April 2016 when Mr. Saraki’s lawyers were trying to compel Mr. Umar to step down from his case, saying he lacked the moral basis to continue presiding over the trial when with the N10 million bribery claims still hanging on his head at the time.
Wilson Uwujaren, a spokesperson for the EFCC, did not immediately respond to PREMIUM TIMES request for comments about the latest development between Monday morning and early afternoon.
In the query to Mr. Keyamo, which was more compact in both words and context, the lawyer was asked to “furnish” the Attorney-General “with the details of the instruction or authorisation upon which” he “instituted the case under reference.”
Mr. Keyamo acknowledged receipt of the letter to PREMIUM TIMES Monday morning but said he would not make his response public.
“My response to the Attorney-General should not be for public consumption,” Mr. Keyamo said.
But in the meantime, he said, the public must be reminded that the bribery charges against Mr. Umar were filed with the support of an EFCC legal official.
“A legal officer at the EFCC joined me in filing the charges, I was not the only one who appeared in the court affidavit.”
Mr. Keyamo personally appeared before Mr. Umar as the counsel to Mr. Taiwo, the former Customs officer who was accused of false assets declaration.
Mr. Umar found this curious, but Mr. Keyamo brushed it aside, telling PREMIUM TIMES earlier this month that he had “no comments.”
“Any objection he has, he should raise it in court,” Mr. Keyamo said of Mr. Umar’s misgivings about his role as prosecutor.