A prosecutor with the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property, Oluwatosin Ojaomo, has accused the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), of withholding approval for the prosecution of hundreds of assets forfeiture and other criminal cases.
According to THE PUNCH, the prosecutor explained that the cases were investigated and handed over to the AGF’s office by the SPIP on the directive of the President, Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.
The President had in September 2019 dissolved the SPIP, while directing the AGF to immediately take over all outstanding investigations and other activities of the SPIP.
In November 2019 over 500 case files were retrieved from the office of the disbanded panel. The report noted that an eight-man panel was set up by the Department of Public Prosecutions in the Ministry of Justice to review the heaps of files.
Meanwhile, according to the prosecutor, Malami has failed to file the cases in court in violation of the presidential directive and section 1 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
He cited the case of two brothers, Ibrahim and Tijjani Tumsah, who he said allegedly retrieved without due process 86 expensive vehicles and real estate seized by the SPIP on the orders of a Federal High Court.
The lawyer demanded the prosecution of the siblings and other cases in a letter with reference no. OOC/TOL/12N/07/2020 dated July 14, 2020, entitled, ‘Request for the prosecution of Ibrahim Tumsah and Tijjani Tumsah for contravention of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, 2004,’ addressed to the AGF.
Copies of the letter were also sent to the President, his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo (SAN); Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; Chairman, Presidential Adviser Committee on Anti-Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay; Transparency International and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The properties retrieved by the Tumsahs included four houses in Wuse 2 and Jabi and a quarry plant in Kuje, Abuja, as well as 86 exotic vehicles comprising Wrangler SUV; Audi ASL; Toyota Hilux van; Ford Taurus; Mercedes Benz S550; Mercedes Benz GL 550; Toyota Land Cruiser; Toyota Prado SUV and many other expensive vehicles.
They were said to have been unsealed under suspicious circumstances and returned to two firms, Integrated Service Insurance Ltd. and Integrated Bureau de Change Ltd., belonging to the defendants who were previously arraigned on two counts.
Ibrahim, is an ex-Director of Finance and Administration at the defunct Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, while his brother, Tijjani, is the former Vice Chairman of the dissolved Presidential Committee on North-East Initiative.
Tijjani was recently appointed the interim National Secretary, All Progressives Congress, headed by the Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni.
The siblings were investigated by the SPIP, chaired by Okoi Obono-Obla, over their alleged failure to declare ownership of the properties while being public servants.
Obono-Obla and other members of the panel were removed in a controversial manner and were directed to handover the Federal Government’s properties in their care to the government.
The chairman of the panel was also declared wanted by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission.
However, Ojaomo said the cases against the Tumsas were dismissed due to the decision by the Court of Appeal that the SPIP did not possess the statutory powers to institute criminal matters.
He disclosed that several attempts made by the panel to get authorisation from the AGF to file charges against many criminal suspects failed.
The letter read in part, “Until the removal of the members of the panel, your office refused to give the approval which led to the dismissal of the suit against the duo (Ibrahim and Tijjani) and other matters instituted by the panel.
“One would have expected you to use your good offices as the AGF to save this matter by taking over and prosecuting them, but the ones that were taken over by your office were either withdrawn or application made for them to be struck out.
“This action has struck big damage (sic) to the anti-corruption war of this government as most of the criminal suspects indicted after investigations are back to town enjoying the stolen assets.”
The petition observed that it had been close to one year since the SPIP was dissolved by the President with a directive that all the matters handled by the panel should be handed over to the AGF for review and possible prosecution.
“None of the suspects has been charged to court as the case files are currently being kept in view at your office without any action and in clear violation of section 1 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015,” the lawyer admonished Malami.
Ojaomo requested the AGF to either re-enlist the case against Ibrahim and Tijjani Tumsah or prefer new charges against them “as the properties which were seized from them worth billions of naira had been returned to them under suspicious circumstances.”
The lawyer offered to prosecute the Tumsahs if the AGF grants consent in accordance with Sections 383(1) and (2) of ACJA, 2015, noting that “the war on corruption must be fought without any sacred cow as directed by President Buhari.”
Speaking to our correspondent on Saturday, Ojaomo said he had not been sacked as SPIP special prosecutor, noting regrettably, that the AGF had refused to allow him to continue with his job.
He stated, “I was appointed as a special prosecutor, and I wanted to continue the cases. I was not sacked. The President only sacked the panel chairman and two members; I was not sacked and up till now, my letter of appointment is with me.
“I was supposed to continue prosecuting the cases, but he (AGF) has not allowed me to function. He was supposed to give the support to prosecute the cases; I have written several letters to him to allow me to prosecute the cases so I can recover money for the Federal Government. We are talking of over 600 cases.”
The prosecutor further said he had visited the AGF’s office several times and also met with him, but that Malami failed to respond favourably to his request.
He said, “Most of us that are ready to support the anti-corruption war have been hampered by the action of the AGF. I have also visited his office, they said they would get back to me, but they have not done so up till now. I met personally with the AGF and he promised to reach me, but nothing was done. They just want to hold on to the cases until the tenure of the President elapses.”
Allegations not true, AGF committed – Media aide
When confronted by the accusations against the AGF, his media aide, Dr Umar Gwandu, said Malami “is the one championing the anti-graft campaign of the government”, noting that the successes recorded so far were the result of his commitment.
He stated, “All the successes recorded in that direction were a result of his commitment especially in initiating and supporting justice sector reform, Executive Orders, anti-money laundering strategies, reparations and recovery of looted assets, among others.
“The current probe of the suspended acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, is a practical demonstration of the commitment of the Attorney-General of the Federation to the anti-graft war. He spurs the fight against corruption in all its ramifications.”
Gwandu argued that the successes in the anti-graft efforts were recorded as a result of “the National Anti-corruption Plan by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation that saw to the provision of conducive atmosphere for coordinated operations among relevant agencies.”
Meanwhile, the Director of Press, Ministry of justice, Mrs Modupe Ogundoro, when contacted, did not respond to request for an update on the cases handed over to the AGF by the SPIP since last year.
Malami, not a reliable partner in anti-graft war — Sagay
Commenting on the allegation that Malami was sitting on 600 files, Sagay said he was not surprised, alleging that the AGF was not playing his part in the anti-graft war.
He stated that the AGF was at best lukewarm to the anti-corruption campaign, “if not hostile to it.”
Sagay, who shared his working experience with the AGF, also said Malami had discontinued cases being prosecuted by the EFCC without any rational explanation.
According to him, the Ministry of Justice under Malami had also withheld important documents and refused to cooperate with anti-graft agencies it was supposed to coordinate.
Sagay said, “My own experience with Malami is that he is very lukewarm to the anti-corruption war; he doesn’t play his own part. As AGF, he is supposed to coordinate common platforms involving the fight, common platforms where PACAC, ICPC and EFCC operate; he has not been forthcoming at all.
“There have been occasions where the ministry had withheld information, withheld documents and generally refused to cooperate with the other agencies and various bodies charged with the responsibility of the campaign. Yes, he is lukewarm, no question about it.
“So, I am not surprised that he is sitting on files because I have seen things before. He has entered nolle prosequi for cases being prosecuted by EFCC without any rational explanations.
“I don’t think Malami can be regarded as a reliable partner in the fight against corruption, he is at the very best lukewarm, if not hostile to it.”
Asked why his committee did not complain to the President about the AGF, the PACAC Chairman explained that they did not want to rush things, adding that the anti-graft agencies were still making progress despite Malami’s attitude.
He added, “In spite of that attitude, there is a lot of progress being made. The anti-corruption agencies went on regardless; that is where the whole idea of this insubordination (allegations against Magu) came in. But now, with the way things are, it is obvious that the time has come to reappraise the whole thing and to bring his role to that critical assessment that we are talking about.”