It appears Danjuma Goje’s recent decision to step down from contesting for the seat of the Senate President has begun to yield dividend.
On Friday, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation applied for the withdrawal of the two remaining corruption charges against him.
This was granted by the court and Mr Goje was discharged, after eight years of prosecution for alleged N25 billion fraud while serving as Gombe State governor.
Earlier, the anti-graft agency, the EFCC, surprisingly withdrew from the matter for the AGF to take charge, a day after Mr Goje met with President Muhammadu Buhari and accepted to cede his quest for the Senate Presidency, for Ahmed Lawan.
This unusual romance between the EFCC and the AGF attracted criticism from the public. Until now, the two agencies rarely got along on how best to fight corruption. They viewed each other with suspicion.
While the office of the AGF sees EFCC as overzealous, the office of the AGF, in the EFCC’s estimation, lacks the commitment to fight corruption.
Past Rivalry between the EFCC and AGF
In November 2018, the EFCC vehemently resisted the AGF from taking over the trial of a businessman, John Abebe, at the Special Offences Court in Ikeja, Lagos State.
Mr Abebe, younger brother to former first lady, Stella Obasanjo, was arraigned before Justice Mojisola Dada on a four-count charge of forgery, fabricating evidence and attempt to pervert the course of justice.
The EFCC accused Mr Abebe to have, on June 22, 2010, forged a letter dated November 30, 1995, and belonging to BP Exploration Nigeria Limited to that of his company, Inducon Nigeria Limited.
Also, in March 2016, the EFCC and the AGF also disagreed at the Federal High Court in Lagos over who to prosecute the case involving 16 suspects accused of multi-billion fraud (N43 billion) at the Consolidated Discount House Limited.
Justice Mohammed Idris had, on February 23, 2016 ordered them to sort out who, between them, should prosecute the case, but the issue was not resolved.
A lawyer from EFCC, A.B.C Ozioko, insisted that EFCC would prosecute the suspects, arguing that the suspects were in its custody.
In 2017, the EFCC and the AGF disagreed again on the handling of ‘high profile cases’.
The anti-graft’s head of legal department, G.K. Latona, saidthen that the attorney-general’s officehad the right to initiate new high-profile corruption cases and investigate them without waiting for cases initiated by the EFCC.
There were also controversies between the duo over the briberycase filed against the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Danladi Umar, in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, by the EFCC.
The EFCC and AGF also maintained polar positions on the Malabu saga.
Although it was rejected by Mr Buhari, the AGF had proposed last year that the government discontinue the civil case on Malabu Oil Block (OPL 245) scandal and all criminal matters in Nigeria in connection with the oil block, among others.
The OPL 245 is an offshore oil block with about nine billion barrels of crude. It was auctioned for $1.3 billion (1.1 billion euros).
The EFCC on December 20, 2016 filed nine charges bordering on an alleged mismanagement of over $1b Malabu Oil cash against Dan Etete, Mohammed Adoke, a businessman, Aliyu Abubakar, Malabu Oil and Gas Limited; Rocky Top Resources Limited; Imperial Union Limited; Novel Properties and Development Company Limited, Group Construction Limited and Megatech Engineering Limited.
In another charge, the EFCC sued Etete, Adoke, Abubakar and eight others over an alleged $801 million bribe, in respect of the auctioning of the Malabu oil block.
The others are: Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company Limited; Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited; ENI SPA; Malabu Oil and Gas Limited; Ralph Wetzels(ex- Director of SNEPCO), Casula Roberto(Italian) whilst being the Director of AGIP; Pujatti Stefeno(Italian) while being the Director in AGIP; and Burafato Sebastiano(Italian).
Mr Buhari later directed the EFCC to ensure that everyone involved in the Malabu oil scandal is prosecuted.
The EFCC in 2012, charged Mr Goje with 21 counts of conspiracy and money laundering along with Aliyu El-Nafarty, former chairman, Gombe State Universal Basic Education Board, Sambo Tumu, his cousin, who was contracted to supply food to the Government House, and S.M. Dakoro, a businessman.
The anti-graft agency alleged that the defendants conspired to defraud the state of about N25 billion via illegal acts, contrary to, and punishable under sections 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act) 2011, as amended.
After several years of dragging the matter, the court on March 22 of this year, quashed 19 out of the 21 counts of alleged N25 billion conspiracy and money laundering filed against the former governor.
A day after Mr Goje agreed to step down for Mr Lawan for the Senate presidency seat, the EFCC withdrew from the remaining two charges.
The EFCC counsel, Wahab Shittu, argued that it was the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation in the exercise of its powers under the Constitution that took over the fraud case.
“It was simply a constitutional prerogative of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation in the exercise of its powers under section 174 of the Constitution. EFCC has no authority to challenge the exercise of such powers”, he told journalists after the anti-graft agency had been prosecuting the former governor for almost eight years.
On June 21, the AGF resumed the prosecution at a Federal High Court in Jos.
The matter was adjourned to July 4 after Pius Akutah, a counsel from the office AGF pleaded with the court to give his office time to enable them continue with the case.
He said, “We wish to inform the court that the case has been transferred to office of AGF and documents concerning this case were officially handed over to us by (the) EFFC on Wednesday. We need time to look properly into the documents before we proceed with the case.”
However, on Friday when the matter came up, the counsel applied to withdraw the remaining charges against Me Goje.
“As it is, the Federal Ministry of Justice wishes to withdraw those two charges against the accused persons.
“This action is in line with the power vested on the AGF by virtue of section 128 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 particularly sub section 1 of that section (128). It’s in accordance with the power vested on the AGF by the constitution that we wish to withdraw the charges before your Lordship.
“This is our humble application and urge your Lordship to grant our application,” he reportedly said.
The defence counsel, Adeniyi Akintola, did not oppose the application.
He simply said: “My Lord, we are not opposing the application but we are urging your Lordship to evoke the provision of section 2(a)(b) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and acquit them of the charges.”
“The same section gives your Lordship the discretionary power to make an order for the accused persons to be discharged and acquitted. My Lord has the power under Section III. As we urge your Lordship to consider our humble application, we wish to thank you for your patience with us since 2011 when we started this journey on the case.”
“We also wish to commend the AGF for (the) wise decision in bringing this case to an end.”
In his ruling, Babatunde Quadiri, the judge presiding over the cases said pursuant to Section 174(1) particularly sub-section (b) and coupled with Section 108 (2) of 2015, “the application by the AGF to withdraw the charges is hereby granted. The accused persons are hereby discharged.”
A lawyer and human rights activist, Inibehe Effiong, told PREMIUM TIMES that the AGF’s office had the right to take over the case but the circumstances surrounding EFCC’s withdrawal is suspicious.
“The AGF has the constitutional power to takeover, continue or discontinue any criminal case instituted on behalf of the federal government. That power by the AGF is not subjected to review by any court,” he said.
“It is a matter that the Supreme Court had decided. In 1983, in the case of the State V. Ilori, where the Supreme Court proclaimed that the AGF is only subject to the constitution and his appointor.
“The EFCC Act is subject to the overriding power of the AGF and there is no court in Nigeria that can stop them. Under Section 150 of the Constitution, the Chief Law Officer of the federation is the AGF.
“My worry, however, is the circumstances that surrounded Goje’s case. That power has to be exercised in public interest.
“We now have to ask ourselves – what was the interest in Goje’s case? Several witnesses had testified, the matter had been on for years and the AGF’s office suddenly took over. Is it that the EFCC is not competent enough? We’re not arguing legality, but the circumstances, whether it is of public interest.
“This is someone who met the president and there are reports that the reason for the AG’s interest in the case is because Goje stepped down from contesting for Senate President’s seat.
“While we are not giving credence to rumour mongering, the truth is that the coincidence surrounding Goje’s case requires further interrogation. As a lawyer, I am worried. The AGF has power to initiate criminal proceedings and file charges on its own. Why then wait for EFCC to prosecute and then only for the AGF to take over?
“One of the points that the media should question is the letter showing the interest of the AGF. When was the letter written? Was it before May 28? Because, from May 29, we did not have a sitting AGF and decision to continue or discontinue will be taken by the AGF.
“The EFCC needs to tell the public, explain in clear circumstances, when the AGF took over the case. Which Attorney General authorised the taking over? So, I’m saying in essence that the time has come for a constitutional review to separate the office of the AG from the minister’s office. When you have a partisan member of a political party as Attorney General, he would not be able to distinguish his role as the chief officer of the Law and his political appointee.”
A Lagos-based lawyer, Ademola Owolabi, also corroborated this.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that, “The AGF has power under the Constitution to take over any matter. Failure of the EFCC to withdraw means it is acting in ignorance of the constitution.
“The AG is answerable to only one person; his appointor, who is the president.”
While he maintained that EFCC cannot continue to be over zealous, he said, “there is poor consideration in the government of President Buhari. Perhaps, Goje would have won the Senate presidency seat. He was asked to step down and immediately he did, tables turned.”
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