the Federal Government is currently investigating its team of special prosecutors to fish out those who may be operating with conflict of interest.
Five Senior Advocates of Nigeria out of the 20 on the team are said to be have been found culpable, according to a preliminary random check, said a source in the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The team of special prosecutors comprises 80 lawyers, mostly in private practice, and those drawn from the Federal Ministry of Justice.
The 80 lawyers are grouped into 20 sub-teams with each led by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
The National Prosecution Coordination Committee, which oversees the activities of the prosecutors’ team and assigns cases to the prosecutors, is headed by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN).
Among the high-profile cases currently being coordinated by the NPCC and prosecuted through its prosecutors, are the corruption cases involving judges and top court officials.
Last week, the AGF, through his spokesperson, Mr. Salihu Isah, said he sacked Mr. Charles Adeogun-Phillips as the lead prosecuting counsel, handling the trial of a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, over allegation of conflict of interest.
Though Adeogun-Phillips, who was a member of the special prosecutors under the watch of the NPCC, denied the allegation of conflict of interest, Isah, who is also the spokesperson for the NPCC, had said more lawyers found to be culpable for a similar reason, would be dropped from the team.
“As it presently stands, the committee plans to carry out a critical surgery on the present composition of the entire prosecution team to weed out those with question marks around them, because they have been informed beforehand that anyone found wanting would be eased out since it is a continuous process,” Isah had said in his statement on February 12.
Speaking with our correspondent on Sunday, a source said some preliminary checks had shown that five of the SANs were found to be handling cases against the interest of the government in some high-profile corruption cases.
The source said all the private lawyers on the team were all given a form when they were newly engaged to indicate the high-profile criminal cases in which they were acting as defence lawyers.
The source stated, “Unfortunately, none of them gave any indication that they were handling such high-profile cases; otherwise, they would have been dropped immediately.
“It is a clear case of conflict of interest when the Federal Government engaged them to handle high-profile corruption cases and they were found to be defending similar high-profile suspects being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other government agencies.
“The danger is that there are a lot of strategic meetings the prosecutors have with the NPCC.
“Some of the strategies require collaboration with other agencies. So, it is likely that some lawyers, who are part of the prosecutors’ team and also defending some of these high-profile suspects, will have access to privileged information which they can use to the benefit of the suspects they are defending.
“From that, you can see where the issue of conflict of interest arises.
“Through some preliminary random checks, at least, five of the SANs have been found to be handling such cases that put them in a position of such conflict of interest.
“There are some of the SANs who are defending a former governor and other high-profile suspects.”
Although, the source could not give an exact time when the culpable persons would be weeded out of the team, he said it was expected that more of such cases of conflict of interest could be discovered.
The source added, “I can’t say exactly when those lawyers will be dropped because the full investigation is just about to begin.
“The investigation is expected to yield more discoveries. So, at the end of the day, we may have more than five lawyers who will be dropped from the team.”
When contacted on Sunday, Isah, who is the spokesperson for both the AGF and the NPCC, said, “The process is ongoing, though we have not got to the stage of dropping any lawyer.
“We are going to do background checks on all the lawyers as part of our investigation.”