Nigeria`s most vocal and most visible anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is breaking new grounds in what is generally perceived as a combination of impunity and overzealousness – aided by an executive arm of government that turns a blind eye to some of its questionable endeavours. The controversy over the choice of its leadership has pitted the National Assembly against the Presidency for over a year now. A subsisting court pronouncement on the matter, affirming the right of the National Assembly to determine the acceptability of the President`s nominee is treated with contempt. True or not, the idea that the EFCC is now merely a tool of the Presidency that is tackling corruption, but often outside the ambit of the law remains.
When a Varsity don, security expert and national policy analyst, Dr. Dan Mou conceptualized the idea of an anti-graft agency for Nigeria in early 2000, it strutted from a nationalistic spirit and dream of a better nation. By its portrait, the EFCC is supposed to be apolitical. Certainly, Dr. Mou may be disappointed with the manner this original concept has been abused in ideology and operations, especially as the name and reputation of individuals are routinely ruined in the media even before any conclusive investigations are carried out.
Dr. Mou drafted the document and set the operational template for the operations of the EFCC. President of Nigeria at the time, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, embraced the idea as grandeur and forwarded it to the National Assembly, from where it became a law. The draft document suffered distortions or modifications at two levels, but without losing its main focus of serving the common good. The first level of intervention in the original draft concept came from the Presidency. The second came from the National Assembly. Then it eventually became a law.
The EFCC has posted both pleasant and unpleasant results in its over 16 years of existence. It will therefore be unfair to say that the EFCC has achieved nothing in battling corruption in Nigeria. But it is also an incontrovertible truth, the assertion that the EFCC over the years has abused the application of its powers, distorted the lawful approach to criminal investigation and managed to create the impression that it could be an instrument in the hands of the government in power, or even some powerful individuals. That is why some concerned Nigerians hold the view that the anti-graft body has compromised integrity and neutrality in the execution of some aspects of its otherwise noble assignment. It has always rendered itself prostrate before the incumbency of any President, by acting in a manner that is suspect.
The EFCC’s actions have eroded public confidence over the years. Nigerians are complaining loudly about the Commission’s alleged cover-ups of apparent cases of corruption and the persecution of people referred to as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) and businessmen who are seen to be in the opposition. In addition, the accusations are sometimes seen by informed observers and the public to be spurious and without substance. The bitter vinegar of partisanship has tainted and made farcical most of its actions.
While it can be said that successive leaders of the EFCC are guilty of this malfeasance to some degree, the current leadership postures more as haunting and hounding the opponents of any incumbent President on very flimsy and clumsy charges. It The view out there is that the desire of Nigerian masses to have a corruption-free nation is marred by a bothersome perception of double standards in the execution of that war.
The EFCC under Buhari has wittingly or unwittingly slipped into a façade for political witch-hunt and persecution of Nigerians who flaunt opposing interests to the incumbent President. The EFCC is even now seen to have inserted ethnic, regional and religious sentiments’ in the performance of its lawful duties. So, there are trenchant wailings by Nigerians that the anti-graft agency is more interested in running after Mr. President’s political enemies than it is in fighting corruption. Indeed, the EFCC is now even seen in some quarters as very active in chasing those nursing presidential ambition, or who are reluctant to join the ruling party, the APC. There are good reasons to believe that some notable Nigerians are being chased by the EFCC, unjustifiably, for daring to hold different political views, and even for their association with the Jonathan (GEJ) era and its men and women.
Two-time former Senate President, Senator David Mark, and Anyim Pius Anyim, among others, have been described as recent victims of the EFCC witch-hunt. Mark was at the NASS and served as Senate President for 8 years. EFCC could not track him for any financial misdeeds until he declared intention for the 2019 Presidency on the platform of the PDP. That was when the EFCC suddenly remembered to trace his shadows in the alleged slush funds of the election campaign of former President Jonathan. He was drilled on two counts: an allegation that the funds for Benue state were given to him and that another N2bilion was remitted into the account of NASS for sharing to 109 Senators. After smearing the man in public and creating the impression that he was guilty of all manner of financial misdeeds, the EFCC has so far been unable to establish the veracity of the allegations against Sen. Mark.
Not done with Mark, and determined to hook him in a legal tussle with the EFCC to necessitate his status as “uncleared” with the anti-graft agency to contest the 2019 Presidential election, the Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, chaired by Chief Okoi Obono-Obla alleged that Senator Mark illegally purchased his official residence at Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja. The tale is also very sordid and without substance, because cognizance was not taken of the fact the initial exclusion of the official residences of the four principal officers of the NASS at the time of implementation of monetization policy. It was later included, based on the approval of the Presidency, enabled by a request from the FCTA. It was when the FCTA cited security concerns and the construction of new apartments for the principal officers that the acquisition of the property by Sen. Mark and other principal officers, who occupied the apartments that time was effected.
Besides Senator Mark, former principal officers like Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the Speaker of House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and his Deputy, Bayero Nafada, are all “guilty” of the same official breach. But only Mark has been thrown up in public as very odious by the panel investigating the same properties. And the plot is still on because, as we speak, Mark has not been completely freed by the EFCC. With a case in court of impropriety over an alleged dubious transaction on the property, he is primed not to be cleared by the anti-graft agency to contest Presidential election.
Similarly, Nigerians know former governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido as nursing a burning ambition to contest Nigeria’s Presidency. He has declared interest in 2019 on PDP platform. But Lamido’s case typifies this pathetic checkmating of politicians with interest in the 2019 Presidency. He was re-arraigned by the EFCC late, 2015 over corruption allegations involving N10 billion while he served as Governor. It is improper to pre-empt the verdict of the court on the case against Lamido. But the delay tactics employed by the EFCC in prolonging the prosecution raises dust. Lamido was arraigned before Justice Ademola on a 27-count charge and the case had reached advance stages when the Presiding Judge was removed.
The EFCC hurriedly applied for the re-assignment of the case to another judge and Justice Quadri was assigned. This meant that the case would begin afresh (denovo) under a new judge. He had hardly begun inquest into the case when Justice Ademola was discharged. Through his counsel, Lamido requested a return of the case to Justice Ademola, the original trial judge, who had already heard submissions and testimonies from 18 out of the 20 witnesses. But, strangely, the EFCC opposed the request, preferring that the case begins afresh to permanently fishhook Alhaji Sule Lamido to a much longer trial period that would leave him uncleared and unqualified to be cleared by the EFCC to contest the 2019 Presidency.
The incident of the arrest and detention of Dr. Innocent Chukwuma, the Chairman/ CEO of Innoson Motors over a corporate dispute between his company and the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) on one hand, and the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS), has deepened the gale of suspicions on the likely persecution of Nigerians by the EFCC on ethnicity grounds. The years of legal dispute initiated by Innoson Motors against GTB and NCS, spurred by alleged illegal deductions by GTB on the corporate accounts of Innoson and also, the alleged illegal auction of goods belonging to the company by the NCS would have served as restraint from EFCC. At every point, an aggrieved Innoson, as a lawful corporate entity, sought legal redress by challenging the breaches in court. The cases have undergone the tortuous legal journeys in Nigeria, from High Courts to Appeal Courts and now in the Supreme Court, the apex court in the land.
Suffice it to say, Innoson has secured in its favour two High Court judgments and two Appeal Court judgment against the GTB and a cumulative Judgment debt over about N10billion standing against the bank; payable to Innoson or Dr. Chukwuma. The curious thing that really puts the EFCC in very bad light is the question of how a corporate dispute between two partners, still under judicial lenses, could become the concern of the EFCC to the point of arresting and detaining Dr. Chukwuma who is one of the parties to the corporate dispute. That the EFCC could not readily prefer any charge against him illustrates the depth of the problem the EFCC is creating for itself, as it batters its image. The Innoson controversy presented the EFFC to the public as a bully, rather than an instrument for national rebirth and loot recovery. It overlooked the offender and descended on the complainant, the innocent.
An infuriated Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki bawled, “How a private commercial transaction has now become the focus of the EFCC… I’ve never seen when FBI interferes between City Bank and Ford Motors… We are just making a mockery of ourselves and we really should be able to do the right thing.”
And the EFCC has multiple of such aberrations, which are increasingly attracting public reproach. More Nigerians perceive the anti-graft agency as selective and operating more on political, regional, ethnic or religious lines, when just armed with spurious allegations. A Lawyer Chief Mike Ozekhome, shares similar sentiments when he thundered; “When you are selective in the fight against corruption and yet when you check your right its corruption. You treat the government with Sasorabia perfume and then fight opposition politicians and critics with insecticides, and then you can’t be serious.”
The case of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, stands out in bold relief. On the suspicion or allegation that he was meeting with some individuals alleged to be nursing presidential ambitions, he was arrested by the EFCC, supposedly over the Abuja Centenary City. Finding nothing on him in that regard, the story changed to allegations about monies he allegedly received in connection with the 2015 presidential elections. Even as the story changed with each passing week, the media trial was unrelenting.
First, the allegation about ownership was not only false, but was conclusively investigated by the same EFCC and closed after all details regarding the corporate profile and ownership were tendered and diligently investigated. The reopening of the case has created grave internal embarrassments within the EFCC, especially after no new evidence could be found to contradict the earlier and duly certified report. So the new story being fanned is 2015 election funds, with the subtle undertone that Anyim`s hassles would end if he would simply join the APC.
The public is not aware that the EFCC has so far found nothing against Anyim, either in law or in fact. No one knows that the EFCC managed to avoid a public embarrassment by hurriedly returning Anyim`s withheld international passport when the latter went to court to enforce his rights. The EFCC has been silent about why everything about the case is “ongoing investigation” and why they could not prevent Anyim from travelling abroad when he wanted to. The public needs an explanation regarding the role of the EFCC in the life of corporate organizations. Details of the EFFC involvement with Innosons` case has disturbing similarities to that Centenary City Plc., especially EFCC`s right and role in reinterpreting, or contesting, the decisions of the duly constituted Board of a corporate citizen. The details are sickening and may yet backfire on the EFCC.
It is time Nigeria is well served by the EFCC. The credibility of the Buahri anti- corruption war is seriously undermined by the shenanigans of the EFCC. When you add the forgoing to the determination of the Presidency to retain the current acting Chairman of the Commission against all odds, you are left with more questions than answers regarding the ultimate positive impact of the EFCC.
*Yakubu, a public affairs commentator, wrote in from Jos, Plateau State