The Presidency has said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is free to investigate former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The President’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, who stated this in Abuja on Friday, also explained that there was no secret pact between President Buhari and Jonathan to exclude the ex-President from the list of corrupt people to be probed by this administration.
There have been calls by prominent Nigerians, including the Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, that Buhari should authorise the EFCC to probe and prosecute Jonathan.
Ndume had said, “Nobody is supposed to be above the law. If Jonathan is a culprit, he should face the law. If there is evidence that the former President should face the law, then, he should. After all, he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Adesina told Saturday PUNCH that the Presidency had given the anti-corruption body a free hand to investigate and try anybody involved in corrupt practices. He said that the President was not interested in teleguiding the anti-graft agency.
Saturday PUNCH had asked Adesina if the EFCC would need the permission of the President before probing Jonathan. He was also asked to react to an allegation that Buhari had been reluctant to grant permission to the EFCC to investigate Jonathan.
In his response, Adesina said, “The President does not teleguide the EFCC in any way.”
Also, the Presidency on Friday said that Buhari did not sign any pact with former President Goodluck Jonathan or any past President, exempting them from being probed.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed this in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents.
Shehu said that being an open person, Buhari would never go into a secret pact with anybody, especially concerning his administration’s ongoing anti-graft war.
He said that anything could be expected in the ongoing anti-graft war, which he described as “open-ended”.
The presidential spokesman said, “There is no secret pact between President Buhari and any past President.
“If you know or understand him, President Buhari is not the kind of person who will go into secret agreements. He is open about everything he does.
“The war against corruption is open-ended. Nobody knows how it will end.”
Shehu, however, ruled out the possibility that Buhari might have been on a witch hunt in his fight against graft.
He said government’s position is that former government officials can return their loots in order to escape investigation and trial.
He also declared that the current administration’s war against corruption knows neither friend nor foe.
He said, “But the President is not on a witch hunt. If you remember his acceptance speech after being announced as the winner of the 2015 general elections, he said without any equivocation that he would not victimise or subject anyone to witch hunt.
“One thing very clear from the way he has carried on with the war against corruption is that past officials of government have a window to return looted funds to avoid investigation and trials which may be drawn out and sometimes inimical to the exercise.
“People can help themselves and help the country without being noisy about anything.
“The President is aware that he is under watch, locally and internationally, in his handling of the war against corruption.
“Whatever international support he will get will depend on how open and effective his government is in carrying out the anti-graft war.
“To that extent, the war against corruption knows neither friend nor foe.”
Saturday PUNCH learnt that the EFCC had been under pressure to summon the former president over investigations into the $2.1bn arms probe.
It was learnt that the commission had already compiled statements by suspects arrested over the arms probe and some of them required the invitation of the former president to make clarifications.
It was gathered that the Jonathan issue had been discussed at a high level of the Buhari administration and the signal or the body language the commission was getting from the government was that investigations should not be extended to the former President for now.
No instruction not to probe Jonathan—EFCC
But the spokesperson for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said he could not confirm if Jonathan would be arrested or not.
Uwujaren said it was not the habit of the commission to announce when it would arrest anybody and that its investigations were usually discreet.
The EFCC spokesman said, “I can’t speak on that (Jonathan’s arrest). We don’t announce ahead of time if people are to be arrested.”
When asked if it was true that the EFCC had been instructed not to investigate Jonathan, Uwujaren said, “I don’t respond to speculations. Who will give us that kind of instruction? Is there someone that gives us instructions on which case to investigate or not?”
In practice, the EFCC needs Buhari’s approval —Sagay
However, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), said in theory, the EFCC did not need the approval or permission of the President to arrest anyone since the commission had been empowered by an Act.
But, he said in practice, the anti-graft agency would need to inform the President.
He said it would be necessary because of the sensitivity of such an arrest, adding that Nigeria’s democracy had never witnessed the arrest of a former President before.
Sagay said, “The law is clear. There is no such limitation on the part of the EFCC under the EFCC Act. If anyone has committed any offence relating to economic and financial crimes, such a person can be investigated and if there is evidence, the person can be prosecuted. The law is clear that no presidential permission is needed.
“But we are talking of a former head of state here and I think it will be extremely imprudent of the EFCC to just go and knock on his door and detain him. Definitely, it is my personal view that there is a protocol. My personal view is that the EFCC will need clearance from the President himself if the commission needs to arrest a former President.”
Many of the suspects arrested in relation to the arms probe had at one time or the other, claimed that they received express or indirect approval from former President.
For instance, the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, who is being prosecuted by the anti-graft agency for allegedly receiving N400m from the Office of the former National Security Adviser, allegedly used the money to fund Jonathan’s campaign.
Metuh, who filed a no-case submission through his lead counsel, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), argued that the EFCC should have called Jonathan as a witness but the commission rejected the advice.
Similarly, the former Aide-de-Camp to the ex-President, Col. Ojogbane Adegbe, who was arrested in connection with an alleged N10bn given to chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party, said he only ‘delivered parcels on the instruction of Jonathan.’
He also told EFCC operatives that as a serving military officer, he was bound by his oath of commission into the Nigerian Armed Forces and would not divulge official secrets which he swore to keep but the anti-graft agency never invited Jonathan.
Also, a former Chairman of Daar Communications, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, who is also being prosecuted by the anti-corruption agency for receiving N2.1bn through the ONSA, was said to have collected the money on the instruction of Jonathan.
In an open letter dated December 6, 2015, the Dokpesi family said the N2.1bn was indeed for a proposal by Daar Investment and Holdings Company Ltd to “promote and project the achievements and highlight the challenges of his (Jonathan’s) government whilst demystifying false information gleefully circulated by the propaganda machinery of the then opposition party.”
The proposal, the family said, was submitted to Jonathan in person by Dokpesi and his team in the presence of former Vice-President Namadi Sambo, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), accused of diverting $2.1bn meant for the procurement of arms, also claimed he had received Jonathan’s approval.
Similarly, a former Executive Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Aminu Baba-Kusa, in his statement of witness filed in the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, said N2.2bn was spent on prayers to hasten the defeat of Boko Haram, adding that the money, which was received through the ONSA was approved by the Jonathan-led Federal Government.