BIG row has broken out between the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, over the probe of an alleged N6billion fraud at the National Judicial Institute (NJI).
The CJN, who is the chairman of the institute’s Board of Governors, is asking the ICPC to defer to him on the investigation.
But, the anti-graft agency, apparently desperate to dump the perception that it is a toothless bulldog, has rejected such "interference by the CJN".
It is insisting that all NJI officials summoned over the probe must surrender themselves for interrogation.
ICPC had on March 11 summoned the NJI Administrator, Justice Umaru Eri (rtd), to appear before it on March 14 for questioning over the matter.
But, the CJN, on March 14,
through the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Sunday Olorundahunsi, asked the acting Chairman of the ICPC to come to his office for "clarification" on the isolated issues being probed.
The CJN’s letter was a follow-up to a January 20 correspondence in which he declared the appearance of any NJI official before the ICPC as "unnecessary and unauthorised".
Justice Katsina-Alu said rather than quiz top officers of the NJI, any matter about the institute or any of the agencies of the Federal judiciary should be directed to him.
The CJN’s letter, which was obtained at the Supreme Court, is signed by Olorundahunsi. It stirred the cold war with the ICPC, which began in January.
In titled Re: Investigation Activities, the letter reads: "On the authority of the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the National, Judicial Institute, I hereunder state:
"Your letter No. ICPC/CH/FIU.3/21 dated 19th January, 2011 in respect of the above, addressed to the Administrator of the National Judicial Institute, where the Hon. Chief Justice is the Chairman of the Board of its Governors refers.
"The Hon. Chief Justice is aware of your earlier letters for which some of the staff of the Institute named by you have responded in writing to your office and investigation carried out.
"His lordship is equally aware that similar investigations were carried out by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for which nothing was found, except the incessant harassment from some of the staff of the National Judicial Institute who were found unfit and weeded from the system by the Board through your office.
"His lordship had earlier directed that any matter about National Judicial Institute and any of the agencies of the Federal Judiciary should be directed to him as the Chief Justice of Nigeria and Chairman, Board of Governors of the Institute responsible for its activities.
"It was in that vein that he had since from London where he was on vacation in August 2010 directed that the appearance of any of the officers named before you is unnecessary and unauthorised. The Honourable, the Attorney-General of the Federation is very much in the picture and has all the details required by you.
"Accordingly, your notice of invitation herein signed by Mr. A.A. Kayode, to the officers of the institute are herewith returned."
But, the ICPC insisted on the interrogation of NJI Administrator and some of its officials.
It claimed that none of its officials would report to the Supreme Court to meet with the CJN over the matter as its enabling Act does not allow such.
In a March 14 letter to the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, the ICPC stood its ground that it could meet with Justice Katsina-Alu only at its office.
The letter, signed by the Personal Assistant to the Acting Chairman, Uchenna Aja, indicated the agency’s preparedness to meet with the CJN on March 15 by 11am.
But the CJN neither came for the meeting nor sent any representative.
The ICP, letter, which was acknowledged by the Supreme Court, reads: "I have been directed to acknowledge your undated note received at the commission today, the 14th of March, 2011.
"I am further directed to convey to you that the Acting Chairman of the Commission would be delighted to meet with the Honourable Justice of Nigeria.
"However, the said meeting will be hosted by the Honourable Acting Chairman of the Commission at the Commission’s Headquarters, Abuja. 11.00am of 15th March 2011 is hereby suggested for the meeting. Accept the commission’s highest regards, please."
The anti-graft commission said its preliminary findings on the scandal showed that it ought to interact with the Administrator of NJI and some of its officials.
It accused the Administrator of sending his two sons for a foreign training at the expense of the NJI, even as they were unqualified for the exercise.
In a statement on Tuesday, ICPC said: "The leadership of the institute, from the preliminary findings by operatives of the ICPC, indicated that a monumental fraud of about N6billion involving non-disclosure of internally generated revenue (IGR), printing of fake receipts to deceive the public and sundry corrupt practices.
"The Administrator was also alleged to have been involved in virement of funds to accommodate unbudgeted expenditure, which are contrary to and punishable under the ICPC Act 2000.
"The petitioners alleged further that Justice Eri in his high-handedness, nominated and sponsored his two sons for a foreign training which they were not qualified to attend.
"The Administrator, ICPC operatives discovered, had in the past unilaterally abused the provision of the Financial Resolutions in the Management of the Institute, leading to wasteful spending of government resources
"Justice Eri, alongside two management staff of the institute, Laminu Ashemi (Cashier) and Ibrahim Gambo Tama (Chief Accountant), had tried severally to frustrate investigation of the finances of the institute.
"In actual fact, pressure is now being mounted on the leadership of the ICPC to discontinue with investigating the matter.
"A top echelon of the Nigerian Judiciary was recently recruited by the leadership of the institute to see that the anti graft agency did not continue with the matter."