BY ADEBIYI ADEDAPO
Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on financial crimes, Hon. Kayode Oladele in this interview expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in its ongoing fight against corruption. He however explained why funds confiscated by the anti-graft agency cannot be injected into the economy yet. He spoke with ADEBIYI ADEDAPO.
What in your opinion should be done with monies recovered by the EFCC ?
For the record, let me state that the EFCC has made very impressive outing with all the large sums of money it has recovered in the country. The situation is so terrible that at some point, I pondered whether we every house in the country should be searched. Maybe, we will find money. There is money everywhere yet, there is scarcity. So thank God for the policy of government. No matter how strong an agency is, even with an eagle eye, the agency will need information to unravel anomalies in the system and that is what we are achieving today. I will commend the agency, the executive for that policy and the National Assembly for certain efforts at passing laws that give teeth to the fight against corruption.
There were allegations that the monies recovered were planted to give an impression that the administration is fighting corruption. What would you say to that?
I think that those allegations are frivolous and it goes to show that when you fight corruption, it will fight back. I don’t see why any right thinking person will think in that manner or have the perception that the government is planting money to get public support. It shows how shallow minded some individuals could be. This is a very serious thing and I don’t think any individual should play with it. On the issue of what to do with the recovered money, we should get some things clear. We operate the rule of law and EFCC has a mandate. We shouldn’t go beyond the mandate of the EFCC. The mandate provided that the EFCC should operate within the confines of the law.
What the law says is that before a person can forfeit his property to the government, the person must have been arraigned before the court and convicted subject to section 20 of the EFCC Act, and upon conviction, he or she will have his property confiscated to the government or at least to the victim of the crime.
What we are witnessing is that the monies seized are held under interim court order. And the reason for this is to ensure that the EFCC does not hold the money in its hand without an order of court because doing that will be illegal. But the EFCC still has to hold the money as exhibit; and in order to do that they will need the order of the court to ensure that the owner of the property does not tamper with it while investigation and trial is ongoing. So we should not be talking about what to do with the money yet, because at this point, it is case in progress and no final forfeiture order has been granted by the court. The money as it were is still an exhibit and I don’t think we should tamper with it.
Talking about seized properties, people are bothered that some of them are rotting away. Isn’t there something that can be done to make sure they don’t waste away?
Just six weeks ago, the House of Representatives passed a resolution mandating my committee to take stock of all seized items from inception of EFCC to date with a view to assessing them and coming out with recommendations on what to do with them. The House noted that some of those properties are rotting away and some of them have lost their value. Whereas, we are holding them on interim and the interim orders would last for several years. Some the owners have even died. So there has to be a way of rescuing the situation. So what we want to do is to look into them and make recommendations to the National Assembly and the appropriate agencies for implementation. But I think its something that everybody is thinking about and discussing. Very soon, steps will be taken to arrest the situation.
EFCC has been accused of media trial. Isn’t there a way your committee can prevail on them to reduce the drama?
I think you should ask me first whether I believe they are doing media trial. To me, I think they have an obligation to inform the general public about what they are doing. And in everything, they have never said anybody is guilty of anything. Before EFCC can take away the liberty of anybody, such persons are arraigned before the court. But you cannot expect that a large haul of money running into several millions of dollars will be recovered and nobody will hear anything. There is an obligation to inform the people and if they don’t there are chances that the money will be tampered with. EFCC may collect the money and give it to some people and before you know it, there will be an argument over how much the money was. But at it is, almost everyone knows how much it is and tomorrow there will be no argument about how much it is. So I think it also ensures probity.
How in your opinion can EFCC improve on its prosecution process. There is the opinion that EFCC should only investigate cases and leave the prosecution aspect to other agencies?
The minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, came up with a prosecuting team, lawyers were appointed and cases were assigned to them to prosecute. Today, the EFCC has the mandate to investigate as well as prosecute. I’m not too sure whether the inability to secure a lot of conviction has anything to do with EFCC not doing its work very well. This has to do with the weaknesses in the criminal justice system. No matter what you do, even if you have another agency doing the prosecution, so long as we have this pervert criminal justice system, we will keep having prolonged cases in the court.
So I think that rather than have EFCC change its style on that, they have to change the system itself to ensure we have speedy trials and that people don’t prolong cases in court through undue motions and abuses aimed at frustrating the prosecution of cases. Perhaps, the essence of doing this is is so that by the time they come to the main trial evidence would have been lost and the witnesses will probably be dead.
What is the National Assembly doing in this regard ?
National Assembly passed a law, Administration of Criminal Justice Act which forbids Interlocutory appeals of this nature. It is left for the courts to implement this. The way it is now, cases are still being adjourned endlessly even through there is this law waiting to be implemented. If the judiciary is not implementing it, how then can the system be rescued?
As it were, the criminal justice system has inherent weaknesses. I’m saying this because in the United States where I practiced, before a criminal case starts, you’ll have a status conference with the judge. The judge, the prosecutor and defence attorney will sit and have a scheduling conference, a status conference to set the date for each process.
For instance, the meeting will schedule that motions must be held within 90 days, probably between January 1 to March 31. Any motion that is not brought within that time cannot be entertained. We have a calendar which is followed strictly. So if you are supposed to do something and you don’t do it, you cannot come up with the leave of court to do it out of the stipulated time. It won’t be allowed. But because of our own system that allows for some of these things, we don’t do scheduling conference. So even when there is a law that says trials should be expedited, people will still tell you the constitution gives them the right to do this and that. They will tell you that any law that violates the spirit of the constitution or run contrary to it is null and void to the extent of its inconsistency to the constitution.