Saturday 1st October, 2016
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EFCC: Woken from slumber?

EFCC: Woken from slumber?

At the advent of the Oluse­gun Obasanjo presidency in 1999, two anti-corruption agencies came into existence: the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Com­mission (ICPC), and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), with the aim of fighting corruption, which was then iden­tified as the bane of the country’s socio-economic and political devel­opment, in the country.
 
 These two agencies then, more than 10 years ago, offered tremendous hope to the generality of Nigerians, who felt that their advent was indeed the panacea to the corrupt tenden­cies of the ruling elite.
 
But shortly after the Obasanjo Presidency ended in 2007 when he served out his two terms, the anti-graft agencies, especially the EFCC, went to sleep.
 
It was so bad that it became a campaign issue during the last 2015 general election. In fact, many Nige­rians whom analysts believed ordi­narily would not vote for President Muhammadu Buhari, made a volte face and gave him their support.
 
Various quesations begging for answers are: what happened to the EFCC of yore, whose fear was said to be the beginning of wisdom, up till 2007? What happened to the EFCC that dragged many former governors to court on charges of corrupt practices while in office? Why did corruption suddenly be­come a behemoth? notwithstand­ing the intervention of the two main anti-corruption agencies in the country – the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commis­sion (EFCC) – over 10 years ago? Why is it that Nigerians are still talking about corrup­tion today as if the evil it repre­sents has just been discovered? How have the anti-graft agen­cies fared? Many Nigerians who have been monitoring the anti-graft war would concede that the anti-graft agencies can hardly be blamed, because they were operating in a very difficult environment that was more or less antithetical to the cause of the war.
According to a public ana­lyst, Folunsho Akinseye, one key element of the difficult ter­rain was the lack of commit­ment on the part of political authorities, which he said was evident in government’s fail­ure to adequately fund the op­erations of the anti-corruption agencies.
He said: “It is well known that paucity of funds had been a major constraint to the agen­cies, especially in the past few years. Another important fac­tor is the slowness of the ju­dicial process of prosecution. This has been attributed to congestion of courts with cases and the abuse of judicial pro­cess through frivolous injunc­tions in a seeming conspiracy between the bar and the bench. As a result, a lot of cases being prosecuted by the agencies had been dragging for years and this has eroded public con­fidence in prosecution as a weapon of deterrence.
“The most debilitating blow to the anti-corruption fight was the insincerity of political authorities or rather, their al­leged complicity in corrupt ac­tivities. For example, the ideal thing to do on the various cele­brated cases of alleged corrup­tion involving very senior gov­ernment officials some years ago would have been for the administration to hand over those cases to the anti-graft agencies. That was not done. Even the National Assembly which stepped in was rebuffed. In the same vein, most of the recent stunning revelations of corrupt practices involving billions of dollars point in the direction of acts of impunity by top public officials and their associates.”
Describing the phenomenon as state-sponsored or state-ap­proved corruption, Akinseye wondered what the agencies could have done in such cir­cumstances. He added that the anti-graft war in Nigeria “will succeed when government be­gins to demonstrate sincerity of purpose and commitment, leading by example and fos­tering enabling conditions for anti-graft agencies to assert their independence and oper­ate without hindrance. Presi­dent Buhari’s recent actions have just shown a marked dif­ference from the ignoble past. Now, everybody knows that government would not take lightly any act of corruption or impunity, no matter who is involved.”
But over the years, the EFCC and ICPC have come under serious scrutiny and the EFCC especially, has become a sub­ject of serious discourse in the polity. Many stakeholders have described it as a toothless bulldog or a lame dog, even as some had taken the hard stance, calling for its disband­ment while others called for restructuring of the agency.
Perhaps, these stances by dif­ferent strata of stakeholders, coupled with the anti-corrup­tion campaign of the Buhari administration is responsible for the recent spirited efforts of the agency to become relevant, by its arrest of former gover­nors and public office holders accused of corrupt practices.
Successive administrations, since the return to democracy, have attempted to fight corrup­tion, starting with the creation of EFCC by the Obasanjo ad­ministration in 2003, giving the administration the toga of anti-corruption. But along the line, the EFCC was largely seen by Nigerians as a tool in the hand of Obasanjo to perse­cute political opponents and to whip party members into line.
However, despite this short­coming, the EFCC, led by Malam Nuhu Ribadu, man­aged to successfully prosecute and convict quite a number of high profile public officials, in­cluding bank chief executives, governors and former Inspec­tors-General of Police. It was expected that many governors would face prosecution after the expiration of their immu­nity, at the expiration of their terms of office, but this was not to be.
Immediately Obasanjo handed over power to the late President Musa Yar’Adua, the EFCC seemed to lose its bite and the momentum of the war against graft in the country en­tered the reverse gear. Political analysts and commentators alleged that the late President allowed his government to be infiltrated by corrupt ele­ments, who used their corrupt proceeds to empower them­selves, and demanded that he removed Ribadu, turned blind eye to their misdeeds and propped him to whittle down the powers wielded by the EFCC during the Obasanjo days, as the payback for their supporting him to win the 2007 general elections.
It was during Yar’Adua’s ten­ure that the EFCC failed in its various attempts to prosecute former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who at every turn, got acquitted by successive courts. The same Ibori was to be later jailed in the Unit­ed Kingdom for 13 years on charges of money laundering.
If one says the Yar’Adua-led administration clipped EFCC’s wings and rendered the agen­cy ineffective, the succeeding Goodluck Jonathan adminis­tration fared no better in the fight against graft and was even unanimously alleged to be worse off in the corruption fight index. It was engulfed in so many scandals, including: the $8 billion fuel subsidy over­payments in 2012; unremitted funds to government coffers by the Nigerian National Pe­troleum Corporation (NNPC), estimated at $20 billion by for­mer governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and now the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.
All of these were swept un­der the carpet and high profile cases involving former state governors, which Ribadu had begun prosecuting before his removal from office became non-effective and EFCC’s flanks were left open such that in Jonathan’s six-year tenure, only cases of obtaining by fraudulent means, otherwise known as 419, were success­fully prosecuted by the agency.
Buhari’s emergence on the back of his anti-corruption campaign on March 28, 2015 brought hope to majority of Nigerians, especially against the background of his zero tol­erance for corruption. Many Nigerians see the Buhari ad­ministration as one that will bring Nigeria to a new dawn, politically and economically.
Many expect that if the Bu­hari administration achieves nothing else, it should reduce drastically corruption, which has become the bane of the Ni­gerian state.
  
 The EFCC seems to have latched on to the anti-corrup­tion war of President Buhari to wake from its slumber. The agency has revived most of the abandoned fraud cases against former governors, most of who were either gunning for a sec­ond term or are already elect­ed for a second term, like the Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, who is alleged to be in­volved in a N2.1 billion poultry project fraud in his state.
A look at the recent arrests made by the agency, of former public office holders, include former governors of Imo, Ad­amawa and Jigawa states, Ihedi Ohakim, Murtala Nyako (and his son, Senator Abdul-Aziz) and Sule Lamido (and his sons) for alleged money laundering, embezzlement and misappro­priation of public funds run­ning into billions of naira.
And in its bid to redeem it­self from the critics, who have accused it of lacking the bite in the war against corruption, the EFCC also recently dusted the files of no fewer than 10 former governors, whose cases were pending for alleged looting of their state treasuries while in office.
They include: former gov­ernors of Edo, Enugu, Abia, Jigawa, Plateau and Kogi states, Lucky Igbinedion, Chimaroke Nnamani, Orji Uzor Kalu, Saminu Turaki, Joshua Dariye and the late Abubakar Audu respectively.
Others were: former gov­ernors of Gombe, Nasarawa, Taraba and Borno states, Dan­juma Goje, Aliyu Akwe Doma, Jolly Nyame and Ali Modu Sheriff respectively.
For the new found bite by the EFCC, many Nigerians are still waiting to see how these high profile cases will be dispensed with. This no doubt signals a change in attitude toward corrupt former political of­ficeholders, which is certain to have positive implications.
Another fillip to the anti-corruption war is the recent arraignment of 16 staff of the CBN accused of N8 billion ($40 million) currency scam, which also enforced ‘Buhari factor’ in reducing to the barest minimum, the corruption that has eaten deep into the fabric of the nation.
But unfortunately, not many Nigerians are carried away with the new vigour of the EFCC in the anti-corruption battle. This is because many analysts viewved that despite the razzmatazz that greeted the re-arraignment of the former governors accused of graft, they will still one way or the other get away unscathed, as at the end of the day, they may end up retaining a larger chunk of their loot. The reasons for this are not far-fetched: plea-bargaining and inadequate investigation by the EFCC, which more often than not, celebrate arraignment without commensurate investigation to nail alleged looters.
Stakeholders believed that such development, especially, plea-bargaining, where looters are asked to return an infini­tesimal percentage of their loot and go scot-free, as found in the case of Igbinedion, is not in the best interest of the country.
It was as a result of this ugly development of plea-bargain­ing that eminent retired Justice of the Supreme Court, the late Kayode Eso, once said that the concept was not only illegal, but also encouraged stealing. Eso said plea-bargaining is anathema to the anti-corrup­tion war and equally sends a corrupt signal about the gov­ernment’s anti-corruption war.
Meanwhile, as the EFCC seems to have woken up from its slumber, it is enjoying the support of critical stakehold­ers, like the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), and the National Assembly.
But for these supports to make any impact, there is the need to strengthen existing anti-corruption laws, as well as empower the anti-corruption agencies to achieve the desired results.
The NLC had admonished EFCC not to be discouraged by attacks by corrupt elements against its activities, saying: “President Buhari had said that if we don’t fight corrup­tion, it will kill us. We are here today to strengthen the work of EFCC. As a matter of fact, over the years, EFCC has done its best. As we all know, if you fight corruption, it fights back. We can recollect that in 2003 when the ICPC, under Justice Mustapha Akanbi was doing a very good job to fight corrup­tion, the National Assembly, suddenly, watered down the system.”
The organised labour urged EFCC to ensure the recovery of looted funds and ensure that culprits are not spared the full wrath of the law.
Meanwhile, perhaps one of the impetus for the renewed vigour of the EFCC was the charge from its new acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, for the commission to “brace up for fresh and greater challenges in the arduous task of combat­ing corruption.”
Magu stated this at the of­ficial handing and taking over from the agency’s former boss, Ibrahim Lamorde, whom many have accused of being a lame-duck boss of the agency. Magu, a pioneer staff of the EFCC, pledged his absolute commitment to prosecuting the anti-graft war, saying: “I want to state our resolve not to falter on the well-established tradition of patriotism, dedica­tion, courage and fearlessness and we will take this responsi­bility with utmost seriousness that it deserves.”
Promising to ginger up the war, Magu said that corrup­tion “cannot co-exist with any meaningful development, as such, must be fought to a standstill. There is the need to make sure that whatever is got­ten for common use did not end up in private pockets.”
Another public affairs analyst, Ismail Balogun, said that the re­newed vigour of the EFCC was in tandem with the anti-corrup­tion campaign of President Bu­hari in the run up to the 2015 general election. He disclosed that an indication to the keep­ing of that promise began with the new National Security Ad­viser, Major-General Babagana Monguno, who set up a com­mittee to probe arm purchase deals in the battle against the Boko Haram insurgency.
He said, from what is going on now, the fear of repercussion of corrupt practices is the be­ginning of wisdom for acutely corrupt officials.
Many analysts believe that Buhari’s anti-corruption cru­sade was behind the new impe­tus that re-invigorated the EF­CC’s anti-graft fight. And while many are still perplexed with the sudden upsurge in the ac­tivities of the anti-graft agency, arguing that it is still not very tidy in its investigation, which has been responsible for its los­ing very many high profile cas­es, they feel that such develop­ment will not help the current anti-corruption war.
The EFCC therefore needs to convince Nigerians that it is committed to prosecuting the war and bring corrupt govern­ment officials to justice and speedily as well. It equally needs an anti-graft czar that would be committed to the fight against corruption.
It is, perhaps, for this reason that President Buhari sacked the immediate past chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde and replaced him with Ibrahim Magu, whose outstanding per­formance as a member of the Monguno-committee gave him the appointment to head the EFCC and bring it back from the brink.
Apart from the resuscitation of corrupt cases against former governors, the EFCC seems to have found its groove in the $2.1 billion arms purchase scandal involving the imme­diate past National Security Adviser to former President Jonathan, Col. Ibrahim Da­suki (rtd), and many leaders and former governors of the opposition PDP, including the party’s National Publicity Sec­retary, Olisa Metuh. As at last count, no fewer than 10 per­sons have been arrested and are either being investigated or charged to court over the scandal, popularly referred to as ‘Dasukigate’.
It is clearly evident that the new helmsman at the EFCC has evidently come with some gravitas and vigour to tackle the mess of corruption, spe­cially against the backdrop of the EFCC’s renewed vigour overnight. It is clear that Magu is prepared to do the job the way it should be done, and from all indications, it is clear that he seems to be on a famil­iar turf, with a reputation of being a fearless and thorough­bred investigator since the for­mative days of the EFCC.
The EFCC also seemed to have opened the Malabu oil scandal, in which many senior government officials of the previous administration have gotten their hands soiled, in what has been regarded as a case of direct stealing, where public assets were sold off and the proceeds diverted to pri­vate pockets.
But be that as it may, many Nigerians are of the view that until a high profile govern­ment official is prosecuted and appropriately punished for dipping hand in the nation’s commonwealth, it would be business as usual in the ac­tivities of the EFCC, as it is ex­pected that the agency needs to do its work well to ensure that everyone who has corruptly enriched himself as a result of his privileged position gets punished, especially to serve as deterrence to others.
Moreover, some analysts are of the view that the anti-corruption war is one-sided as APC members, mostly former PDP members, with corrup­tion allegations, are yet to be arrested let alone prosecution.
The days ahead will how­ever determine whether the renewed vigour with which the EFCC has faced the anti-corruption battle is a flash in the pan or it will mark a turn­ing point in the anti-graft war.

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