President Muhammadu Buhari has been told to investigate allegations that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, was responsible for halting series of high profile corruption cases thereby providing safe havens from crooks.
One of such listed prominently was the stalling of the trial of former Mr. Dino Melaye, a former Senator who represented Kogi State. The Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) in a petition titled Illegal takeover of the case file of Senator Dino Melaye on the operation of foreign bank accounts and obstruction of justice by the Attorney General of the Federation and Compromise of Prosecutions signed by its Chairman, Mr. Olanrewaju Suraju last week addressed to Buhari that Malami was said to have collected the file and stalled the trial.
Following allegations of running a foreign account, some with fictitious names, the rights group armed with documents, had petitioned the Code of Conduct Bureau, requesting for prosecution.
The CSNAC said it wrote a petition dated December 7, 2017 to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) demanding the investigation of the alleged operation of foreign bank accounts in the United States of America by Melaye, while serving as a senator representing Kogi West at the National Assembly. A copy of bank statement of Melaye was attached to the petition for possible prosecution before the Code of Conduct Tribunal were the alleged offences established.
The Bureau in a reply dated May 22, 2018 stated that the transfer of the case file to the Ministry of Justice on the request of the Attorney General.
“We were surprised at that development and suspected a foul play, considering the power of Attorney General under Section 174 of the Constitution is limited to instituting or taking over cases instituted in court and not “Arresting an investigation” as was obvious in the case under reference”, CSNAC said in the petition addressed to the President.
Reports in 2015 by Saharareporters revealed that Senator Dino Melaye, representing Kogi West Senatorial District, had since 2010 illegally operated bank accounts in the United States of America. According to the report, Mr. Melaye opened two accounts, one was a current and the other a savings account in the name of Daniel “Din” Melaye, posing as a student. The report further stated that by leaving the impression of himself as a student, Senator Melaye was able to open a “Campus Edge” current account with account number 4460 1649 8396 and a regular savings account with account number 4460 1647 5966 with Bank of America in the State of Maryland.
He was alleged to have obtained a bank debit card with account number ending with 8873. One of his transactions on the account at the time was said to have taken place on the December 4, 2015, the same day he addressed his colleagues at the floor of the Senate, on a proposed anti-free speech and anti-democracy bill on social media and public petition censorship, when he approved payment for a transaction relating to the purchase of cosmetics from a Kremlin based MagnitKosmetik store. Earlier on September 1, 2015, Mr. Melaye approved payment to a New York based SchweigerDermatology.
Suraju said Melaye’s alleged action is in gross contravention of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers by virtue of the above stated constitutional provision.
The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the Fifth Schedule, Part I, Section 3 prohibits Public Officers from operating foreign accounts. It provides as follows: “The President, Vice President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Ministers of the Government of the Federation and Commissioners of the Governments of the States, Members of the National Assembly and of the Houses of Assembly of the States, and such other public officers or persons as the National Assembly may by law prescribe shall not maintain or operate any bank account in any country outside Nigeria”
On establishment of the allegations by the Code of Conduct Bureau, the group said the Bureau is empowered by the Constitution to independently prosecute the matter before the Code of Conduct Tribunal and where the suspect is found guilty, the tribunal should amongst other punishments provided for under Section 18(2) of the Constitution impose a vacation of his seat at the Nigerian Senate at the time.
On March 13, 2020 CSNAC wrote again to the Bureau requesting an update on the matter and we were not surprised to know via a letter dated August 7, 2020 that office of the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice still retains the possession of the case file since January 2018 and a letter dated January 17, 2018 which relayed transfer of the case file on the investigation of Senator Dino Melaye to the office of the Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice in response to the request from the Attorney General’s Office, vide a letter with reference number DPPA/REO/686/17 dated January 5, 2018 was attached.
Suraju said “The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) is one of the Federal Executive bodies established by section 153 of the Constitution. The CCB as an autonomous body is not subject to the control of any public officer or institution. But in violation of the Constitution, Mr. Abubakar Malami, the AGF technically took over the prosecutorial function of CCB and technically arresting its constitutional duties, sabotaged and frustrated the constitutional functions of the Bureau by converting it into an extension of the Office of Attorney General who may decide to prosecute or decline prosecution of any case.
The group said further “You will recall that the Chairman of the Presidential Panel for Recovery of Public Property was suspended last year by your office on the recommendation of the AGF. Even though the President did not dissolve the Panel or remove other members, the AGF has disbanded the Panel and seized all the files and assets recovered by the Panel without further prosecution of any of the cases handed over to the ministry by the panel.”
Section 30 of the EFCC Act empowers Secretary of the EFCC to sell assets confiscated on the orders of courts. CSNAC said without any amendment to this law, the AGF issued special regulations in 2019 which attempted to confer on his office the powers to take over assets confiscated by the EFCC and sell them.
The group also accused Malami of technically taking over the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) saying that based on the recommendation of the AGF the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu has been suspended while a Judicial Commission of Enquiry is currently investigating the allegations of corruption leveled against him by the AGF.
“The AGF has taken advantage of the ongoing probe to technically take over the EFCC. He has placed 12 officers of the EFCC on suspension including the Commission Secretary, without following due process of fair hearing”, CSNAC said
Suraju said the actions are an extension of the reckless abuse of the power of nolle prosequi the AGF regularly employs to discontinue corruption cases being pursued by the anti-graft agencies.
“Several civil society and anti-corruption bodies have documented the several corruption cases that have been discontinued by the AGF and forwarded same to your office” said the group.