Why The Confirmation Of Rotimi Amaechi Is Not A Moral Burden On President Buhari
By Okoi Obono-Obla
I was primarily motivated to write this essay in order to straighten the position of the law because of the brouhaha, confusion and apparent distortion of the law on the subject matter generated by the confirmation for appointment of Rotimi Amaechi as Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the Senate yesterday.
Recall that before Amaechi was confirmed Senators belonging to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) staged a walk out on the Senate after the Senate rejected the recommendation of its Committee on Ethic and Petitions that Amaechi’s confirmation should be stepped down till the Courts hear and determine cases filed by him challenging the Report of a Commission of Inquiry set up by the Government of Rivers State to investigate his tenure as Governor which had indicted him for corruption.
Apart from the indictment of Amaechi several other interested groups were orchestrated to file tones of Petitions replete with sundry allegations of corruption against Amaechi before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses Commission. It is well settled principle of the law that anybody accused of the commission of a criminal offence is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty by a Court of competent jurisdiction. Conversely, the burden of proving the guilt of anybody accused of a crime/offence is on the State or the prosecuting authority. These are fundamental principles of our criminal and constitutional jurisprudence that cannot be negated or wished away. So it amounts to standing on the head, this time tested principle for the Senate Committee on Ethnics and Petitions to recommend that Amaechi should not be confirmed from now till the hearing and determination of cases he had filed in Court challenging the sundry allegations of criminality leveled against him by some vested political interests obsessed with using emotional frenzy and propaganda to stop him by all means.
The qualification for one to be appointed a Minister in the Government of the Federation is the same as that of the President, Vice President, members of the National Assembly, Governors, Deputy Governors and membership of the States Assemblies as stipulated in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 ( as altered and amended).
It is true that the Constitution provides that anybody who has been convicted for an offence concerning stealing or dishonesty or corruption or fraud is not qualified to hold the office of a Minister of the Government of the Federation. Also the Constitution provides that anybody indicted by the recommendation of an administrative panel or commission of inquiry set up by the Federal Government or State Government for fraud or embezzlement and which indictment has been accepted by the Federal or State Government respectively is barred from holding public office such as President, Vice-President, membership of the National Assembly or Governor, Deputy Governor or membership of the State Assembly.
The Constitution also provides that anybody who has been sentenced to imprisonment or fine for any offence within a period of ten years before the date of the election of the office of President or Vice President or membership of the National Assembly or Governor or Deputy Governor or membership of State Assembly involving or has been found guilty of the contravention of the Code of Conduct. However where such a person has filed an appeal in the Court against such conviction he or she cannot be made to suffer these disabilities stipulated by the Constitution. This particular section of the Constitution was interpreted by the Supreme Court in the celebrated case of Alhaji Atiku Abubukar vs. Attorney General of the Federation several years ago by the Independent National Electoral Commission to use a Report prepared by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission concerning an investigation of allegations of corruption concerning the Petroleum Technology Development Fund scam to screen and disqualify the then Vice President Atiku Abubukar from contesting the 2007 Presidential Election.
It is worthy to note that the allegations against Atiku Abubukar were never ventilated in a Court of competent jurisdiction. An obviously livid Atiku Abubukar promptly filed an action in Court challenging the power of the Independent National Electoral Commission to disqualify from contesting the Presidential Election of 2007. The case was fought right from the High Court to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court was invited to interpret Section 137 (1) (i) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the purport of the word ‘indictment’ used therein. The Supreme Court held that indictment contemplated by Section 137 (1)(i) of the Constitution is one that must have come out of a full blown trial of such a person before a Court of competent jurisdiction not an indictment merely made by a body such as the EFCC or an administrative panel or commission of inquiry. I therefore disagree vehemently with the assertion made by the Senator Biodun Olujimi, Deputy Minority Leader of the Senate, that the confirmation of Amaechi is a moral burden on President Buhari’s war on corruption and that ” when there is a weighty allegation against anybody, there is a need to ensure that the Court should first absolve him, before we can confirm him”.
With due respect, the assertion of Senator Olujimi is baseless, laced with emotional and sentimental prejudices motivated by partisanship. It is a desperate gambit orchestrated to black mail the President’s war on corruption. The assertion is contrary to and out of sync with the Constitution and extant laws. It would have been a sad commentary if the Senate has refused to confirm Amaechi based on Petitions written by people who are obviously all out to settle scores with him because of politics and the role he was perceived to have played in the defeat of the PDP. In this country we have seen numerous cases of people writing frivolous and baseless petitions against those they have scores to settle. We have also numerous cases of people just raking up allegations just to smear their opponents in order to get back at them. Therefore for the Senate to have been invited not to confirm Amaechi based on unsubstantiated allegations yet to be investigated by Law Enforcement Agencies would have amounted to setting of a dangerous precedent. It would have amounted to a travesty of justice to accept the recommendations of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Petitions that Amaechi should not be confirmed when all the cases he instituted to clear his name have not been heard and determined.
In any event, the appointment of Amaechi as a Minister does not preclude his investigation and possibly trial. He does not enjoy immunity from investigation and prosecution. If at any time investigation of the allegations against him is concluded and he is arraigned then the President can ask him to resign.