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SAN Fagbemi lists plans to fight corruption

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By Abiodun Okunloye

A series of questions on the rule of law and anti-corruption were answered.

Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Lateef Fagbemi, a ministerial nominee, spoke during a ministerial screening in the Senate on Wednesday, where he outlined a comprehensive strategy to combat corruption in Nigeria. He is an experienced Nigerian attorney who became a SAN at the age of 37 after practising law for a decade. He will likely become Nigeria’s 24th Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice. Mr Fagbemi, who was escorted to the Senate by Abdulrahman Abdulrasaq, the governor of his home state of Kwara State and seven SANs, took the platform on the Senate floor and answered a series of questions from senators relating to the rule of law and anti-corruption.

Corruption and disregard for the law are two of the major issues plaguing Nigeria’s democratic system. Senator Ali Ndume of Borno State questioned Mr Fagbemi about his plans for the position of Attorney General of the Federation in light of the widespread problem of public servants in Nigeria failing to disclose their sources of wealth. Mr Fagbemi, in response, asserted that Nigeria’s strategy for combating corruption leaves a lot to be desired. He suggested that corruption cases’ prosecutorial and investigative functions should be separated. Asking the same body to both investigate and prosecute is not a good indication. That’s where the issues lie.

Extensive investigations are needed before apprehending suspects.

Mr Fagbemi advised Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies to conduct extensive investigations before arresting crime suspects, citing the United State FBI’s thorough investigation of Nigerian international fraudster Ramon Abbas, known as Hushpuppi, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison last year for multi-million-dollar fraud. The arrest of Hushpuppi, in his opinion, should serve as a model for how things should go. He didn’t know US authorities had been following him for years. He wasn’t aware. The ministerial nominee denounced the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for arresting past governors quickly after leaving office without first investigating their suspicious activities.

In order to effectively battle corruption, Mr Fagbemi suggested that he would recommend to President Bola Tinubu that the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) be unbundled. He urged the senators to pass anti-graft laws without worrying about how such legislation may affect them negatively, reasoning that it was preferable to have “bad laws administered by good people” than to have “good laws administered by bad people”. Therefore, the National Assembly will play a role in the battle against corruption by enacting laws that are beneficial to society. He advocated in-depth investigations as an effective means of combating corruption and stated that resources would need to be allocated to this aim.

The Attorney General should be involved in government legal issues.

Enyinnaya Abaribe, a senator from Abia State, was concerned by the government’s persistent disobedience to court rulings, so he asked Mr Fagbemi what he planned to do as Attorney General if the federal government disobeyed a court order. Mr Fagbemi stated that the heads of government would never disobey court orders, but he placed the blame on government agencies such as the EFCC and the State Security Service (SSS). He put out the idea that the office of the Attorney General ought to be made a participant in legal disputes that involve the government.

Disobedience to judicial orders is most common in interactions between the EFCC and the SSS. In legal situations, he recommends consulting the Attorney General. SSS can’t function independently, and the EFCC must stop acting with impunity. Laws are in place. Inter-agency competition is a problem in Nigeria that has to be addressed. There are multiple security agencies, including the EFCC, SSS, and others. He is confident that the President will not be found to have disobeyed an order since the Attorney General will always be made a party to any such investigation.

Previous administrations are known for disobeying court orders.

Though he argued that law enforcement agencies have a tendency to ignore court rulings is correct, the Supreme Court of Nigeria characterised then-President Muhammadu Buhari as a disobeyer of court orders back in March. Due to a lawsuit filed by several state governments against the Attorney General, the highest court in the land ordered the federal government to cease its currency redesign scheme. Notwithstanding the Supreme Court’s order, Mr Buhari, in a televised broadcast, defiantly instructed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to press forward with the naira redesign strategy that has caused so much suffering for Nigerians.

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