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JUSTICE MINISTER, EFCC AND A FORMER MINISTER

Source: FELIX ACHEMA - thewillnigeria.com

In the first major interview he granted since his assumption of office, the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister for Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke in Thisday Lawyer Pullout of August 10, 2010, spoke with candour and utmost sense of responsibility. I’m sure the reporters who interviewed him would readily describe him as a reporter’s delight. He answered all questions calmly and articulately. In some respects, he sounded like the exact opposite of his immediate predecessor in office, Aandokaa. Reading through the interview, you’ll find the element of brashness as typified in Aandokaa missing in Adoke. The measured response to questions by Adoke is also different from the double-speak and shooting from the hip style of his immediate predecessor. He didn’t speak like a power-drunk public officer. To the contrary, he came across as one who’s been mentally prepared for the demands of his office.

This writer was however overwhelmed by a wave cynicism when the AGF declared in the same interview that he believes in the purity of the constitution. He said unequivocally "As AGF, I will protect the interest of every Nigerian irrespective of their political persuasion and I also believe in the segregation of this office to insulate it from politics". My cynical mood was activated because we’ve had state officials who declare one thing in public and turn around to do another when confronted by situations that put them to test. Why should I believe that the current AGF will be different from the pack? But as I read through the piece and got to the point where the minister addressed the issue of the Vaswani brothers and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, my cynicism started giving way to admiration.

On the Vaswani brothers whose deportation was headline news some years ago, the AGF decried the attitude of people who alleged that he brought back the Indians to the country "I did not bring them back; the law brought them back... What happened is this: when I got into this office, one of the cases I was confronted with was the Vaswani brothers" He admitted that the lawyer to the Vaswani brothers, Kanu Agabi, SAN, also a former AGF, had written to draw his attention to the judgements "Knowing the sensitive nature of the Vaswani brothers’ case, I decided to write a memo to the President drawing his attention to the facts of the matter and the judgements"

The AGF continued "They have three judgements. Unknown to me, they had also written directly to the President through their lawyer. The president asked me for my advice and after reviewing the cases without any prejudice to any ill feeling I may have against them, I found that the basis upon which the EFCC was prosecuting them had been annulled by the court and we will not prosecute any person just because we want to impress... This is a government that respects the law" I have quoted copiously from the interview as a background because I want to use this piece to put the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF to test to know if he is like most of our public office holders who say one thing and do the exact opposite.

In handling the issue of the Vaswani brothers, the AGF lived by the Robert Schuller creed which says, the impossible is solved when we see that the problem is only a tough decision waiting to be made. It’s on that note that I wish to bring to the Minister’s attention, the case of the former Minister of State for Health, Chief Gabriel Aduku which I read about recently in some newspapers and online publications. It was actually after reading the piece in New Nigeria and huhuonline website on Tuesday, 24 August 2010 that I dug into my archives to retrieve the interview of the AGF published in Thisday.

From the piece on this former Minister of State of Health in the government of the late Umaru Yar’Adua, he was, like the Vaswani brothers accused and prosecuted wrongly by the EFCC. He was made to resign his position as Minister by the false allegations of the EFCC that he, Chief Gabriel Aduku conspired with others in the Federal Ministry of Health to defraud the federal government to the tune of 300m naira of unspent budgetary allocation. But, unlike the Vaswani brothers who sneaked out of the country, Chief Aduku was said to have been humiliated by being detained by the EFCC. Also, like the Vaswani brothers, the former Minister in the write-ups was confirmed to have obtained favourable judgements from the High Court, to the Appeal Court and finally the Supreme Court, which reaffirmed his innocence by discharging and acquitting him of charges of corruption. Also, like the Vaswani brothers whose counsel wrote to the President to wade into their matter, the seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs who defended Chief Gabriel Aduku wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan and to the Attorney General of the Federation in a letter dated 26th July, 2010.

While the federal government has publicly admitted that it erred in prosecuting the Vaswani brothers and affirmed their innocence, nobody in government, in this same administration that Chief Gabriel Aduku served in, has publicly acknowledged the innocence of the former Minister, if nothing else, to restore his integrity. The EFCC has done a hatchet job on a man who decided to serve his fatherland and consequently left his reputation in tatters. As an aside, I wish to ask if there’s no way the EFCC can be made to pay for falsely damaging peoples’ reputations by rushing to court without any shred of convincing evidence because the agency wants to impress? Can an agency such as EFCC just rubbish somebody’s image that took him several decades to build just because of phantom allegations without government doing anything about it? Back to the issue, the AGF should review the Chief Gabriel Aduku case just like he did on the Vaswani brothers’ matter and advise President Goodluck Jonathan on the need to publicly acknowledge the innocence of a former colleague in the Federal Executive Council. Good enough, the AGF admitted in his interview with Thisday that President Goodluck Jonathan "is a man who believes in fair play".

The AGF and the President should demonstrate their belief in fair play by healing the agonizing psychological wounds inflicted on Chief Gabriel Aduku. It’s the turn of Chief Gabriel Aduku today, who knows which Minister will be publicly humiliated through the means of wrongful accusation and prosecution by the EFCC without a thorough investigation? Mercifully, the AGF knows that there are some lapses in the current modus operandi of the EFCC as contained in his statement "I have in exercising the powers conferred on me, tried to monitor the activities of the EFCC. I have submitted the report of a Committee to streamline the guidelines for the operations of the Commission to the President"

Instructively, the AGF and the former minister share something in common. The AGF claims to be a professional in government just like Chief Gabriel Aduku, a past president of Nigerian Institute of Architects as well as Architects Registration Council of Nigeria, was a professional in government. So, the AGF will appreciate the true nature of having a well built professional reputation bruised by false prosecution by the state. I know Chief Gabriel from a distance, having lived all my life in Kaduna where he has an Architectural practise. But that is not the primary reason for writing this piece. I am concerned that innocent people like Chief Gabriel Aduku shouldn’t be facing societal rejection and be treated like a political leper while corrupt people are walking freely and being feted on the corridors of power. Adoke who desires to be like his greatest motivator, Lord Denning, will be doing his reputation some justice as a public officer who does what he preaches if he champions the revisiting of the Chief Gabriel Aduku case and advises the President on the need to publicly admit the error of the anti-graft agency in arresting, disgracing, detaining and prosecuting the former Minister of State for Health. Mohammed Bello Adoke will be remembered, if he succeeds in fighting the cause of Chief Gabriel Aduku the way he did for the Vaswani brothers, as an AGF who stood and was guided by what was good for the people and the Society. Not just the Law.