The Peoples Democratic Party said yesterday it would not undermine the judicial process by acting on the Economic and Financial Crimes advisory list on alleged corrupt politicians. 54 PDP Senior politicians and businessmen are among more than 100 people listed by the Nigerian anti-corruption body as being unsuitable to run for political office.
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Prof. Rufai Alkali, said since it believed in the judicial process, only the courts could decide the fate of politicians on the list.
Alkali was reacting to an advisory published by EFCC on politicians and other prominent Nigerians with corruption cases. The EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) said those on the list were all being prosecuted for corruption.
The commission urged political parties not to endorse them as candidates in next year’s elections.
One of those named, Orji Kalu, is running for president but has been arraigned on 107 counts of fraud. He is accused of involvement in a fraud worth 5bn naira (£21m; $33m).
Politicians make up at least 40 people on the list, which the EFCC has published on its website.
Thirteen are former state governors, five are former ministers, three are serving MPs, and two are serving senators.
The PDP had after a series of consultations with the EFCC asked for a list of its members with graft cases against them, with a view to stopping them from contesting elections in 2011.
The advisory list, which contained the names of 40 prominent politicians and over 60 businessmen, bankers and companies, however, attracted mixed reactions on Monday.
Among those on the list are former governors of Abia, Oyo, Enugu, Plateau and Ekiti states – Chief Orji Kalu, Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, Chief Michael Bot-Mang and Mr. Ayo Fayose respectively; as well as ex-presidential spokesman, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode.
Also on the list are the daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello; former governors James Ibori (Delta); Saminu Turaki (Jigawa); Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Lucky Igbinedion (Edo); Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa); Attahiru Bafarawa (Sokoto); and Boni Haruna (Adamawa).
But apparently to douse the controversy generated on Monday by the advisory list, the PDP through Alkali, said, “Since we are not the court, it is not possible for us to pass judgment on whether somebody is guilty or not guilty.”
Analysts believe fraud charges are no barrier to standing in elections, and some of those named are already campaigning.
But EFCC officials say that they believe those facing prosecution should not be endorsed as candidates.
The commission is appealing to political parties to select only “credible candidates” and not those on the list.
The EFCC says many of the defendants are deliberately stalling their cases in court so that they will not be tried before the elections next year.
Alkali assured that whenever the list was formally made available to the PDP, it would “consult and discuss” at all levels, so that the judicial process and the the integrity of members of the party would not be undermined.
He said, “What is important is that even though the names are there on the advisory list, since we are not the court, it is not possible for us to pass judgment on whether somebody is guilty or not guilty.
“Today, we have been able to see in the papers full details of names of people they have indicated on their advisory list. We have been consistent in this party. We believe in the rule of law and in the constitution.
“We don’t believe in the abuse of the judicial process. So, we will not do anything that will undermine the judicial process or undermine the integrity of our members.
“We should be able to calm them down to let them know that the party will not go after their jugular, just like that. So, we want them to remain calm and continue with their normal activities as party men and leaders.
“What is important is that, whatever is going to be done with the party has to be done through thorough work.”
Describing the EFCC as a professional organisation, he assured that “whatever we do, we do it in tandem with what the law says.”
He recalled that the anti-graft agency and the PDP had agreed during their discussions that there was the need for the two parties “to work together in harmony so that the forthcoming general elections will be rancour-free and crisis-free.”
Kalu, Ladoja, Nnamani, Bot-Mang and Fayose, however, flayed the advisory list on Monday, saying the efcc had no power to bar anybody fron contesting elections in the country.
Kalu, who reacted through the Director-General of his campaign office, Chief Willy Ezeugwu, said the list was an attempt by the Federal Government to intimidate the opposition.
Ezeugwu said, “We condemn, in strong terms, the arm-twisting tactics of the incumbent administration as demonstrated by the stifling of the opposition, using anti-corruption agencies that were originally meant to protect national interest.”
He added that the campaign office was appalled that Kalu’s name appeared on the list allegedly released by the EFCC.
“We believe the concept in Nigeria remains that of innocent until proven guilty. It is, therefore, unacceptable that Kalu’s name and those of other persons still on trial could be lumped together with the likes of former PDP Deputy National Chairman, Bode George, and former governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, who have both been convicted by the court,” he added.
On his part, Fani-Kayode, who vowed to drag the EFCC to court over the issue, said his quest to become the next governor of Osun State remained on course despite the advisory list.
The former aviation minister, who spoke through his aide, Mr. Jubril Oladimeji, said he was not worried about the list, adding that he would clear his name in the court.
Also, Bot-Mang described the list as ‘a piece of rubbish.’ He said since the EFCC was not a judge, it had no right to ban anybody.
Speaking in Jos, he said, “EFCC is not a judge. It should allow the courts to decide who is guilty or not, instead of sitting down and writing rubbish. We are not going to accept that; no politician is going to accept that rubbish.
“Someone should tell the EFCC that they will soon leave. Let them not jump the gun.”
Also speaking, Nnamani said the EFCC had no power to bar him or any aspirant from contesting the 2011 elections.
His media aide, Mr. Igbonekwu Ogazimora, who spoke on his behalf, said, “It is common knowledge that the EFCC has no power to ban anybody. This matter is subjudice and we are constrained to make any comment about it. We believe that whatever view that is necessary is better in court.”
Nnamani, however, stated that the anti-graft body had become a law abiding institution, “far from the theatricals of the recent past.”
He said, “So, it must have soaked in the mantra of rule of law, as being chanted and practiced. We hope it will continue in this new image and ride only on the strength of the constitution of the Federal Republic.”
Reacting, Ladoja said the EFCC lacked the constitutional right to prevent any eligible Nigerian from contesting elections.
His Media Assistant, Mr. Lanre Latinwo, said in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Monday, that the EFCC was only wasting its time on the issue.
Latinwo said, “The nation’s constitution is clear on this. Nobody can be declared guilty of any offence until a court of competent jurisdiction does so.
“Senator Iyiola Omisore was in Agodi Prison when he contested and won the election for his senatorial seat. He is still in the Senate today.
“Abia State Governor, Theodore Orji, too was in the custody of this same EFCC when he won election as the governor of his state. This is not the first time the EFCC is saying this. They lack the constitutional power to stop anybody from contesting elections. Only a court of law can do that.
“When it is time, the EFCC will tell the whole world who is pushing them. The commission is only wasting its time.”
But two Senior Advocates of Nigeria – Mr. Koyinsola Ajayi and Mr. Tayo Oyetibo — disagreed with another SAN, Mr. Yusuf Ali, on the list.
While Ajayi and Oyetibo hailed the list as a step in the right direction, Ali said the anti-graft agency and political parties could not prevent anyone from contesting elections.
Ajayi said, “It is not a normal police duty for us to have update on investigations. From the point of view of the FOI Bill and need of the electorate to know public officers under scrutiny, this is a right step in the right direction. It is now left to political parties to determine who their candidates should be.”
On his part, Oyetibo said it was important for the EFCC to file proceedings against those on the list that were not covered by immunity clause.
“EFCC should not just make a pronouncement on their guilt but should go ahead to file the necessary proceedings. The political parties have a moral duty of ensuring that only people free from corruption charges are fielded as candidates in the elections,” he noted.
But Ali said, “Politicians who find their names on the list can’t be disqualified from contesting outrightly. Only the court can prevent anyone from contesting an election.
“EFCC has raised the allegations; those involved are presumed innocent until the court convicts them.”
The All Nigeria Peoples Party also aligned with Ali’s position by saying that the advisory list was a throw-back to the pre-2007 election era.
“We are living witnesses to the confusions that preceded the 2007 election when a list of perceived opposition politicians was compiled by the EFCC as having been indicted for corruption and forwarded to INEC, with a view to stopping them from contesting,” the party said in a statement by its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Emma Eneukwu.
It lamented that the EFCC under a new leadership “appears to be threading the same path now with its list of corrupt politicians, even when we all know that an accused is presumed innocent until when proven contrary by a competent court of law.”
The party said that the EFCC should have sought a court order stopping anyone it had sufficient evidence against.
Elombah.com with contributed reports