Lagos — Signs that the discord in President Muhammadu Buhari's war against corruption has deepened emerged on Monday as news broke of a query by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, to the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, asking him to explain his decision to file corruption charges against the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Umar.
Also queried was a private legal practitioner, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), who filed the charges on behalf of the EFCC. He is to explain to the AGF by whose authority he filed the case.
In the query dated February 16, 2018, with Reference No DPP/ADV: 368/15, Magu was directed to make his response to the query available to the AGF on or before Tuesday, February 20, 2018.
In the query, signed by Mr. Dayo Apata, the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Magu is to explain what informed the filing of corruption charges against the tribunal chairman having been cleared of corruption allegations twice by the EFCC.
Titled: "FR VS Danladi Umar (CR/109/18) request for Briefing," the query reads in part: "The attention of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation was drawn to news report that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has filed charges of corruption against the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Hon. Justice Danladi Umar, before the FCT High Court.
"I am directed by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation to seek clarification from you as to whether the charges were filed on your instruction or directive and if in the affirmative, what is the compelling basis for doing so? This clarification becomes imperative in view of the following background facts.
"The Commission's investigation report dated 5th March 2015 addressed to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation stated as follows: "The facts as they are now against Justice Umar raised a mere suspicion and will therefore not be sufficient to successfully prosecute for the defence.
"The commission's position in paragraph 2(a) above was also maintained and sustained by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation while appearing before the House of Representatives' Investigative Committee sometimes in 2015 to the effect that the report of investigations showed that the allegations against Hon. Justice Danladi Umar was based on mere suspicions.
"In view of the foregoing, the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation requests for your prompt briefing as to the existence of new facts, which are contrary to the position in your attached investigation report, sufficient evidence or other developments upon which the prosecution of Hon. Justice Danladi can be successfully based.
"Kindly accord this letter top priority while your prompt response within 48 hours from the receipt of same is required in the circumstances."
In a separate letter to Keyamo, the AGF asked the learned silk to confirm who authorised him to file the corruption charges against Umar.
Like Magu, Keyamo was given until Tuesday, February 20, 2018, to furnish the Office of the AGF in writing, the details of who engaged or issued him with the authority to file the corruption charges.
The letter to Keyamo with reference No DPP/ADV:369/15 dated February 16, 2018, which was also signed by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary reads in part: "The attention of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation was drawn to news report that you have filed charges of corruption against the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, Hon. Justice Danladi Umar, before the FCT High Court.
"The Honourable Attorney General of the Federation hereby requests that you kindly furnish this office with the details of the instruction or authorization upon which you instituted the case under reference.
"Kindly accord this letter top priority while your prompt response on or before Tuesday, February 20, 2018, is solicited in this regard."
Keyamo confirmed to THISDAY that he received the letter.
He, however, declined to make public his response saying: "It is a private letter and I have responded privately."
Although no official statement came from the EFCC on Monday, a reliable source told THISDAY that the commission would respond to the query today, saying it was not interested in another face-off with the AGF.
Keyamo had on behalf of the EFCC filed a two-count charge against Umar at the Abuja High Court.
In the charge, EFCC alleged that Umar collected N10 million from Rasheed Taiwo, a former customs official who was facing false assets declaration charges before the CCT sometimes in 2012.
The prosecution also accused Umar of receiving N1.8 million of the N10 million bribe sum through one of his personal assistants, Gambo Abdullahi.
The two counts of fraud contradicted Section 12(1) (a) and (b) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2003.
The CCT chair could face up to seven years' imprisonment if convicted of the charges.
EFCC had in two separate letters to the federal government through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in 2015 and 2016 cleared Umar of any wrongdoing in the alleged N10 million bribery allegation made against him by a defendant, Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, who was standing trial before him on false asset declaration.
Upon receipt of the petition from Owolabi, the EFCC had investigated the petition and sent its report to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) with a Reference No EFCC/EC/SGF/03/56 dated March 5, 2015, personally signed by the then Executive Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde exonerating the CCT boss from the bribery saga.
The EFCC report received by the office of SGF on March 6, 2015, was categorical that "the facts as they are against Justice Umar raised a mere suspicion and will therefore not be sufficient to successfully prosecute for the offence".
Other EFCC's documents show that in 2016 a fresh investigation was conducted into the same N10 million bribery allegation and the same anti-graft agency in its second report absolved Umar of any wrongdoing and that the bribery allegation against him remain a mere suspicion.
The EFCC's second report with reference EFCC/P/HRU/688/V30/99 dated April 20, 2016, submitted to the SGF and signed by the Secretary to the Commission, Emmanuel Adegboyega Aremo, read in part: "Kindly recall our correspondence of March 5, 2015, with Reference EFCC/EC/SGF/03/56 on above subject caption. We will like to reiterate the Commission's position in regard to this matter as earlier communicated to you and state that the allegation levelled against Justice Umar were merely suspicions and consequently insufficient to prosecute the offence."
The April 20, 2016, clearance coincided with the attempt by Senate President Bukola Saraki's lawyers' motion seeking to disqualify Umar from presiding over his (Saraki) alleged concealment of assets case, on moral grounds.
Saraki's lawyers had contended that it would be difficult for Umar who was being investigated by the EFCC for alleged corruption to do justice in their client's case.
Using the clearance by the EFCC, Umar overruled Saraki's objection and proceeded to hear the matter.
Interestingly, Umar would later discharge and acquit Saraki on all 13 counts he was charged with.
Umar's latest travail and EFCC's turnaround, critics say, may not be unconnected with the outcome of the Saraki's case.
In the meantime, Umar is not a newcomer to this trend of controversy. Before he left office in 2015, former AGF and Minister for Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), had forwarded to the then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, advising him to initiate moves to remove Umar as the chairman of the tribunal.
In the recommendation, Adoke stated that Umar was no longer a fit and proper person to preside over the tribunal having admitted that he met with the customs officer who was already facing trial before him at his (Umar's) office.
There might have been no love lost between Magu's EFCC and Malami as the anti-corruption agency had resisted the supervisory authority of the AGF in the past.
In July 2016, the AGF had requested all prosecutorial agencies to submit to his office their list of high profile cases for his review. While others, including the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and the Nigeria Police, complied, the EFCC stonewalled the AGF.
It took the persistence of Malami and threat of sanctions before Magu buckled and released the list, three months after the request.