The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to withdraw the proposed executive bill to amend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] Act.
The group in an open letter to the President, urging him to urgently instruct Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation to withdraw the bill, adding that if passed and signed into law, it will severely undermine the commission’s independence, and render it a ‘toothless bulldog or toothless tiger’.
The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption headed by Professor Itse Sagay had last week reportedly raised concerns that “the government is pushing a bill to amend the EFCC Act, 2004, which will demolish the anti-corruption infrastructure of Nigeria, and confer an enormous power of control of the anti-graft agency on the office of the Attorney General of the Federation.”
In the letter dated 19 September 2020 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “The bill, which is apparently designed to undermine the independence, integrity and freedom of action of anti-corruption agencies, ignores the seriousness of grand corruption and its impact on Nigerians’ human rights, the rule of law, principles of good governance, development, as well as the threat corruption poses to the country’s constitutional order.”
According to SERAP: “By pushing to turn the EFCC into a department in the Federal Ministry of Justice, and effectively bring it under the control of the Attorney General; and to subject the appointment of the agency’s head to the approval of the Directorate of State Security, your government would seem to indicate that it is not interested in combating corruption and halting its putrefying effects.”
The letter, read in part: “We would be grateful if the requested action and measures are taken by your government. Should the proposed bill be passed and signed into law, SERAP would take all appropriate legal actions to challenge its legality, in the public interest, and to ensure that anti-corruption agencies in Nigeria can operate independently and effectively.
“SERAP contends that Nigeria’s constitutional and international legal obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of everyone inevitably create a duty on your government to establish independent and efficient anti-corruption mechanisms.
“This bill is entirely inconsistent and incompatible with the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international anti-corruption obligations including under the UN Convention against Corruption and the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.
“SERAP notes that corruption threatens the injunction that government must be accountable, responsive and open; that public administration must not only be held to account but must also be governed by high standards of ethics, efficiency and must use public resources in an economic and effective manner.
“Under the proposed bill, the limited independence that the EFCC enjoys will be substantially undermined, as the commission will now effectively become a body of the executive government, thus creating heightened risk of political interference in the work of the commission.
“The government would seem to be secretly pushing the proposed bill to amend the EFCC Act, as there is no public consultation or public hearing regarding the contents of the bill.
“Specifically, section 15 subsection (5) of the Constitution requires your government to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.
“Similarly, articles 6 and 36 of the UN Convention against Corruption require your government to ensure the existence of an anti-corruption body specialised in preventing corruption and combating corruption through law enforcement which must be granted the necessary independence and be able to carry out its functions effectively and without any undue influence.
“Further, articles 3 and 5 of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption require your government to respect human rights, the rule of law, and promote social justice, as well as establish, maintain and strengthen independent national anti-corruption authorities or agencies.
“SERAP is gravely concerned that the proposed bill by your government will endanger the commission’s independence and integrity, as well as seriously undermine its ability to effectively prevent, investigate and prosecute cases of grand corruption and economic crimes.
“The repressive Companies and Allied Matters Act [CAMA] 2020 was rushed through the National Assembly and passed apparently without any public consultation or public hearing. This secretive approach to passing and signing legislation is antithetical to any basic notion of the rule of law and democratic governance.
“According to Professor Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, your government is reportedly pushing a bill to amend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] Act, 2004.
“The committee has stated that ‘the Executive Chairman of the EFCC will be replaced with a Director-General who is effectively to be appointed by the Attorney-General.”
“‘Section 11 of this proposed bill provides that nobody may be appointed or seconded to the new Agency being proposed, unless he is first screened by the Directorate of State Security and approved by the said Agency. Under the proposed Act the Annual Report of the EFCC is not to be submitted to the National Assembly until it has been passed through the Attorney-General for onward transmission to the National Assembly.’”
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