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.