The Federal Government through its Ministry of Justice has directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate the allegation that its chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, diverted about N1trn proceeds of corruption recovered by the anti-graft agency.
The ministry’s directive followed a September 18, 2015 petition to the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Abdullahi Yola.
The petitioner, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Panic Alert Security Systems, a security firm, George Uboh, had sent a reminder letter dated September 28, to Yola, threatening to sue the ministry if he failed to respond to his petition within seven days.
Uboh had, in his petition, asked the justice ministry “through which EFCC derives its power to prosecute to immediately rescind the fiat to prosecute criminal suspects from EFCC.”
He also sought an immediate issuance of “fiat for the prosecution of EFCC’s past and present leadership and their known and unknown co-conspirators via the 22-page preliminary criminal charges the undersigned has prepared.”
Uboh, who had earlier petitioned the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, levelling the same set of allegations against Lamorde, has received the ministry’s letter dated October 8, 2015.
The letter was signed by the Director, Public Prosecutions of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Muhammad Diri, on behalf of the Permanent Secretary. Copies of the letter were made available to journalists in Abuja on Monday.
It indicated that Yola had directed the EFCC to investigate the allegation against Lamorde and to forward the result of its investigation to him “as soon as it is completed”.
The letter, with reference number DPPA/PET/EFCC/006/2008 reads, “I refer to your letter dated the 28th September, 2015, in respect of the above mentioned subject matter.
“I am directed to inform you that your petition has been sent to the EFCC for their response to the allegation contained therein. The commission has been directed by the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary to forward the result of its investigation as soon as it is completed.
“Accept please, the assurances of the highest regards of the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary.”
But Uboh insisted on Monday that “pursuant to the Civil Service Rules, Ibrahim Lamorde must step aside during the pendency of the investigation by the commission.”
In his petitions to both the Senate committee and Uboh alleged that the EFCC boss diverted, among others, the loot recovered from a former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; and an ex-Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun.
He accused Lamorde of specific instances of under-remittance and non-disclosure of proceeds of corruption recovered from criminal suspects, including Balogun and Alamieyeseigha, who reportedly died of cardiac arrest recently.
The fraud allegedly perpetrated by Larmode was said to have dated back to his days as the Director of Operations of the EFCC between 2003 and 2007 as well as when he acted as the chairman of the commission between June 2007 and May 2008, when the then EFCC boss, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, was away for a course at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos.
The petitioner, who alleged that the EFCC had not accounted for “offshore recovery” and that “over half of the assets seized from suspects are not reflected in the EFCC exhibit records,” promised the Senate that he would produce “overwhelming evidence” to back his claims against Lamorde.
He equally accused Lamorde of conspiring with some EFCC officers and external auditors “to operate and conceal a recovery account in the Central Bank of Nigeria and excluded the balances from your audited financial statements between 2005 and 2011”.
Attempts to reach the spokesman for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, on Monday, were unsuccessful.
Repeated calls to his mobile indicated that it was switched off.
Uwujaren had yet to respond to a text message sent to him on the issue as of the time of filing this report.
Some lawyers and Executive Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, were on Monday divided on whether or not Lamorde should remain in office while being probed by the EFCC, which he heads.
In separate telephone interviews, two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Yusuf Ali and Joseph Nwobike; another lawyer, Fred Agbaje; and Adeniran said it was erroneous for the Ministry of Justice to have sent the petition to the EFCC for investigation.
Ali said though it was better for Lamorde to step aside, the petition ought to have been sent to the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission or the police.
He said, “I believe that ordinarily, since his organisation is the one to investigate it would have been better for him to step aside so that the investigation can be done.
“Alternatively, the petition should have been sent to the ICPC or the police in order to avoid this kind of apparent conflict.”
Agbaje, a Lagos-based lawyer, also said Lamorde should step aside to allow the investigation to go on. He also faulted the directive given by the Ministry of Justice to the EFCC to investigate the allegation.
“For the Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary to have referred the case to the EFCC is constitutionally abnormal. Why should the petition be sent to the EFCC?
“Are there no other agencies of government that can investigate the allegation? Why can’t they send it to the Inspector General of Police or the ICPC? Lamorde cannot be the judge in his own case. He should step aside,” he said.
But Nwobike, who also criticised the directive given to the EFCC to probe the allegation, said Lamorde could only be made to step aside after he had been indicted by an investigative report and charges were filed against him.
He said, “My take is that the EFCC is not the only agency of government charged with investigation of allegations like that. The petition ought to have been sent to the ICPC since Lamorde is a public officer and it is within the mandate of the ICPC to probe public officers.
“In the first place it was erroneous for the petition to have been sent to the EFCC. The petition should have been sent to either the ICPC or the police.
“In fact, the EFCC itself should be able to decline to carry out the investigation. It is like self-investigation. Although the allegation is against Lamorde, clearly there is no way the allegation will be investigated without having to investigate other members of staff of the EFCC.
“In that wise, I really think he should not resign at this point. He can only resign when he has been indicted by an investigative report and the report sent to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and charges are now filed against him.”
Adeniran also backed the call that the petition ought to have been sent to other investigative agencies. He however said asking Lamorde to step aside could derail the EFCC from performing its duties.
He said, “What they should have done is to allow other agencies, such as the police or the ICPC. The question of probing people is a kind of confusionist approach to the war against corruption. When people are asked to resign on the account of allegations it will sound as if enemies of anti-graft war want to remove the head of the agency that will derail diligent investigation and prosecution of corruption cases by the agency.
“That was why we did not ask the then Lagos State Governor to resign despite our allegations against him.”[Punch]