A lawyer and human rights activist, Kabir Akingbolu, on Monday said Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), has no power to sell confiscated properties under any law in Nigeria.
Malami had in a statement on Sunday defended his approval to Omoh-Jay Nig Ltd, an oil firm, to auction sea vessels holding crude oil and diesel seized by the Nigerian Government.
In separate documents, the AGF mandated the firm to sell nine vessels despite the fact that the company and its Managing Director, Mr Jerome Itepu, stood trial at the Delta State High Court, Asaba, for allegedly stealing about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil loaded in a vessel, MT Akuada a.k.a. MT Kua, valued at N384m in 2009.
But Akingbolu said Malami does not have such power either under section 174 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
He said, “In defence of his decision to appoint a criminal suspect to sell certain properties confiscated on the orders of the court, the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), has said that he acted legally in approving the sale of the content of some seized oil vessels last year, which were confiscated on the orders of the Federal High Court.
“To further expose the anomalies and administrative recklessness of Malami, may I invite him on a short excursion into section 31 (2) and (4) of the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, which is the enabling Act, under which he purportedly acted. It is submitted that the AGF does not have such power either under section 174 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. For the purpose of elucidation and contrary to the highly misguided position of the AGF, section 31 (2) of the EFCC Act states that "Upon receipt of a final order pursuant to this section, the secretary to the commission shall take steps to dispose of the property concerned by sale or otherwise and where the property is sold, the proceeds thereof shall be paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation".
“In order to ensure that the power of sale of confiscated properties is not abused by the EFCC the AGF is authorized by section 31 (4) of the EFCC Act to “make rules or regulations for the disposal or sale of any property or assets forfeited pursuant to this Act." But instead of making the "rules or regulations" to guide the EFCC in the sale of confiscated properties the AGF decided to appoint contractors including a criminal suspect to dispose of confiscated properties.
“Since the AGF admitted that he personally authorised the sale of confiscated properties without the authorisation of the EFCC, I submit that the AGF has committed an offence under section 32 (1) of the EFCC Act which stipulates that "Any person who, without due authorization by the commission, deals with, sells or otherwise disposes of any property or assets which is the subject of an attachment, interim order or final order commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of five years without the option of a fine".
“In view of his own admission of involvement in criminal activities President Buhari should order the Inspector-General of Police to file charges against the AGF for appointing contractors to sell confiscated properties of the Federal Government without the authorisation of the EFCC in contravention of section 31 of the EFCC Act, and to do otherwise will make the president’s claim of fighting against corruption a mere ruse.
“Having said that and taking pleasure on the shoulders of the law, that he possesses no such power, it is submitted that since Malami himself has admitted that he ordered the sale of the assets in question, cadit questio-the question drops and admits of no further argument whether he is justified because the strongest evidence against a man is self-admission. See Seismograph v. Eyuafe (1976) 9-10 SC 135. Our submission in this regard is buoyed by the judicial authorities cited and a fortori, section, 31 of the EFCC Act, 2004, which from all indications have not granted him the power to exercise the discretion he employed in ordering the sale in question.”
The human rights activist further said the reasons given by Malami for the sale ought to be x-rayed against the position of the law.
He added, “He claimed that he granted permission to sell the properties because the suspects are presumed innocent under the law. I submit with profound respect to the Attorney-General that this is an unwarranted aberration or if permitted, a deliberate self-indulgence in deceit and misrepresentation. This is because to state here that any property which is a subject of investigation and or litigation cannot be disposed of until the enquiry is closed is too pedestrian and mundane.
“That apart, in criminal proceedings, presumption of innocence and guilt or conviction are two parallel lines that do not meet at any point. They are enemies speaking different languages and trying to devour each other perpetually. While the state which the AGF represents believes in the guilt of the suspect or accused, the suspect or accused tries to prove own innocence. To now act as the mouth piece of the suspect by singing the mantra of presumption of innocence for an accused whom the AGF ought to try and devour by presenting compelling evidence to convict him amounts to switching of goal post which makes the AGF appear to be shielding criminals.
“This is not only preposterous to commonsense reasoning but highly inimical to nation building and it works at cross purposes with the purported sing song of the PMB administration as a government that hates corruption.”