Abuja – A member of the House of Representatives, Mr Jimi Benson, on Tuesday in Abuja called for the stripping of prosecutorial powers of anti-corruption agencies.
Benson made the call at an anti-corruption dialogue organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice.
Speaking as a panelist, the APC lawmaker, representing Ikorodu Federal Constituency, hinged his opinion on the “shoddy prosecution of cases’’ by anti-graft agencies.
He said the power of prosecuting corruption cases should be transferred to the Attorney-General of the Federation, while the anti-corruption agencies should concentrate on investigations.
In 2007, Mr Michael Aondoakaa, former Attorney-General of the Federation during the administration of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, attempted to strip the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of its prosecutorial powers.
The move sparked a public outcry with many Nigerians accusing him of trying to protect corrupt friends of government undergoing trial by weakening the powers of the commission.
Advocates of the transfer of the power of prosecution, however, believe that the Attorney-General’s office has the expertise to effectively and efficiently prosecute corruption cases.
Benson said, “We need to find a way to ensure that prosecutions are not commenced until cases are water-tight and prosecutors are ready to undertake the full hog of the trial.
“In this regard, is there need to create a dichotomy between investigation and prosecution?
“Is it expedient that the prosecutorial and investigative powers given to the anti-corruption bodies be separated so as to ensure effectiveness of both divides?
“It has been suggested that the powers of anti-graft bodies should be limited to investigation only and the prosecutorial powers given to the Attorney-General or another appropriate agency.
“In this regard, after the agencies have concluded their investigations and have gathered sufficient evidence to prosecute offenders, the file will be transferred to the Attorney-General of the Federation or the Attorney General of the concerned state for prosecution.’’
The lawmaker also stressed the need for the ongoing anti-corruption campaign to focus on prevention rather prosecution of cases after they have occurred.
To this end, he urged closer collaboration between the legislative and executive arms of government to pass more laws that would drive transparency in the conduct of government’s businesses.
Another panelist, Hon. Justice Comfort Ani of the Enugu State Judiciary, also underscored the need for measures to ensure that anti-graft agencies conclude investigations before prosecution of suspects.
Ani said high profile cases were not being well prosecuted due a number of reasons including poor investigation by the prosecuting agencies.
“When you don’t do thorough investigation, the judges are not magicians to know whether or not someone is guilty as charged without incontrovertible evidence.
“We have situations where prosecutors rely on confessional statements of suspects in court without investigating them.
“When you get to court, the accused retracts the confession leading to delays, and at the end, the charges are dismissed and you go back to square zero.
“I found something in the Administration of Criminal Justice 2015, Section 14(4), which talks about confessional statements.
“It says when suspects want to make confessional statements, they should be put in writing or ‘may be videoed’.
“I find the ‘may’ there as not being mandatory enough. The legislature should look into it and make it compulsory by replacing ‘may’ with ‘shall’.”
Another panelist, Hauwa Mustapha, said the fight against corruption should be depoliticised and made an integral part of national development.
Mustapha, who represented the Nigeria Labour Congress on the panel, also called for effective measures to tackle unemployment and poverty which she said were corruption risk factors.
She noted that official corruption would continue until government addressed the issue of poor remuneration of civil and public servants.
In this regard, the NLC official urged government to heed Labour’s demand for an increase in the minimum wage to N56,000. (NAN)
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