John Ameh, Abuja
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, said on Tuesday that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had no exclusive rights to any investigations, including matters relating solely to financial crimes.
He also said his office received full briefing and gave backing to the arrest of some judges by the Department of State Services over allegations of corruption last month.
Malami spoke in Abuja as he appeared before an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives at the National Assembly.
The committee, which is chaired by Mr. Garba Dhatti, is investigating all cases of invasion of property and arrests of persons by the DSS from May 2015 till date.
The AGF said there were reasonable grounds to justify the arrest of the judges, looking at the high number of petitions that had been received by his office, the DSS, EFCC and other anti-graft agencies.
Citing Section 15 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, he stated that the state had a responsibility to halt all acts of corruption and could deploy any agency with the capacity to achieve that purpose.
He also said the state waded into the matter after the National Judicial Council was duly notified but was not willing to act.
Malami also told the session that judges had no immunity against prosecution, adding that there was no requirement of law which stipulated that only the EFCC must investigate financial crimes.
His position was a clear reference to an earlier submission to the committee by the EFCC. The anti-graft agency had insisted that the DSS acted outside its jurisdiction since the alleged offence of the judges fell under financial crime and did not pose a threat to national security.
Asked whether he ordered the raids on the homes of the judges, Malami replied, “When we are talking about constitutional obligations, it goes without saying that all state instruments, Ministries, Departments and Agencies are under obligation, inclusive of the legislature and the judiciary, to take steps that will abolish all corrupt practices.
“It is in respect of that obligation that whatever issues that arose from the search and arrest of the judicial officers were carried out.
“The state was in receipt of multiple petitions of corrupt practices by the judicial officers and there was further apprehension that if immediate steps were not taken, the possibility of destroying existing evidence that were believed to have been kept within their respective domains would eventually be tampered with.
“Arising from the responsibility created and established by Section 15 of the constitution, the state had to act.
“But, the question of which agency has the responsibility of executing it, my response to that derives from the fact that multiple petitions were written to the Office of the AGF, DSS, EFCC and a lot of other agencies of government.
“To my mind, I have a discretion to look at and weigh the situation and decide which agency against the background of the petition, who will act for the purpose of ensuring that the obligation of the provisions of Section 15 (5) of the constitution are carried out.
“So, whatever evolved from the search and arrest of the judicial officers revolved around the need to comply with the responsibility and obligation vested in them by provisions of the constitution and the need to ensure that the investigation was not in any way tampered with negatively.
“These were the circumstances that led to the operations. It was a clear exercise of the constitutional mandate in respect of what is expected of the State to abolish corrupt practices.”
The AGF explained how his office felt compelled to act after it became apparent that the NJC would not act on the petitions before it.
He added, “When we got the petitions, I had cause personally to write to the NJC, requesting that they take administrative steps to investigate the allegations contained in the petitions.
“A response was made to my office that the NJC could not act unless the petitions were accompanied with affidavits. But, I felt there were no reasons why the petitions could not be looked into on their own merit by placing sanctions on the AGF, while it was a constitutional obligation.
“Incidentally, multiple petitions were also written to the DSS and I requested that they equally write to the NJC to look into the petitions, but it was the same response the DSS got from the NJC that without a supporting affidavit the petitions could not be looked into.
“So, we have a situation where there is reasonable grounds for suspicion for commission of corruption and we have a body saddled with the primary administrative responsibility of looking at such things first, but it seems not to be cooperating in that respect.
“Meanwhile, when issue of commission of corruption practice is established, the executive has the responsibility of investigation without recourse to the judiciary.
“That is how the idea of taking the advantage of Section 15 (5) arose.
“I asked the EFCC and the DSS and another agency to investigate because they were in receipt of several petitions on the same subject and I was informed by the DSS before the search and arrest and I did not object.”
Malami further disclosed how he received reports on the raids.
He said, “The DSS presented a formal report to me before and after effecting the search and arrest; they informed me that the operation will be done at any hour without restriction.
“I had no objection that the operation would be carried out at night because I have taken time to go through the administration of Criminal Justice Act and I was convinced that this operation can be conducted at any hour, any moment without restriction.
“I didn’t have to inform the Inspector-General of Police or Commissioner of Police in the State about the DSS operation because they were also under the same constitutional obligation to act. One of the agencies had investigated, came up with a report and I was convinced.”