- It is practically impossible to write about anything in Nigeria without hitting on the issue of corruption. Apparently, every other bothering national issue is a consequence of one form or another of corruption that has become innately endemic to our systems as a nation. Often, in social and political discourses and other encounters, we tend to cast the responsibility of the corruption in the country upon the incumbent government administration; but the reality is that we have had to deal with the anomaly for a long time without a really feasible working solution.
As citizens, we often consciously and subconsciously welcome corrupt practices in all spheres of the nation’s dealings. Our streets, schools, and markets have become corrupt; and more worrisome, the youths have become corrupt, searching out opportunities to make money without commensurate work. Wherever, whether in the west, the north, the south or the east, shortcuts to wealth have become the game play. Those who have the mental capacity to engage in Advanced Fee Fraud (419) are on the roads wanting to be like Obinwanne Okeke, alias “Invictus Obi.” Some others want to be like the celebrated Evans, the billionaire kidnappers who years after arrest could not be convicted, and so the nation has become saturated with kidnapping without borders and language. Others are using their sheer access to the creeks, the forest and bushes to become bandits tormenting the citizens to make money.
This seemingly differs from the grand corruption of some politicians that is reported daily and has come to become a pastime in the country. Yet, there is no marked difference in all the corruption charges; corruption is corruption, the allowance of the vice in one place, emboldened its perpetrator in another. The politicians who sucked the nation dry of resources are strong in their enterprise because the men on the street who could call them to order are also busy sucking the purses of their respective communities and associations to their advantages, while the youths are also busy devising ways to access some other illegal money pots.
Coming into the 2000s, the country became increasingly embroiled in corruption. Incidents of Advanced Fee Fraud, popularly called 419, money laundering by politicians and several other forms of obvious corruption became a norm in the country. Corruption became a household ingredient in Nigeria from that time till now, when, to borrow the most appropriate words: we started romancing and celebrating wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, politics without principle and worship without sacrifice.
The capacity of the country to develop was severely hampered as resources meant for the development of units within the country were commandeered by individuals and groups that harnessed them for personal uses. In the global community, the fight against money laundering became a frontal fight. As part of effort to collaborate with international efforts to fight the menace of money laundry and also delist the country from the 23 non-cooperative nations on the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) list, The Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was established in 2004.
The Commission, classified as a federal law enforcement agency among several other duties, has the mandate over against complex frauds, commercial crimes and financial frauds covering lower level jurisdictions.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) ACT, 2004 empowers the Commission to investigation all forms of financial crimes including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, computer credit card fraud, contract scam, and related frauds; to coordinate the enforcement of all economic and financial crimes laws and enforcement functions; to devise and adopt measures to identify, trace, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities, economic and financial crimes related offences or the properties the value of which corresponds to such proceeds; to devise and adopt measures which includes coordinated preventive and regulatory actions, introduction and maintenance of investigative and control techniques on the prevention of economic and financial related crimes; the facilitation of rapid exchange of scientific and technical information and the conduct of joint operations geared towards the eradication of economic and financial crimes; the examination and investigation of all reported cases of economic and financial crimes with a view to identifying individuals, corporate bodies or groups involved; the establishment and maintenance of a system for monitoring international economic and financial crimes in order to identify suspicious transactions and persons involved; maintaining data, statistics, records and reports on person, organisations, proceeds, properties, documents or other items or assets involved in economic and financial crimes; undertaking research and similar works with a view to determining the manifestation, extent, magnitude, and effects of economic and financial crimes and advising government on appropriate intervention measures for combating same, and many others.
To what extent has the Commission discharged its constitutional powers since 2004 and to what extent has its operation influenced the veracity of corruption in the country? While sixteen years seem plausible enough to bring corruption to its knees in the country, the reverse is the case in most cases ; it has only grown in magnitude and sophistication over the period while assuming dimensions that are both scary and untreatable for the country. Rather than talking of winning the war against corruption, our media space and governmental excuses have submitted to corruption fighting back; a parlance that is more truthful than we even imagine it.
Against the background of holding the responsibility of enforcing the Money Laundering Act 2003; 2003 No.7 1995 N0. 13, the reported and recorded cases of money laundering in the country since 2004, and assuming an unprecedented height in subsequent years do not tally with the numbers of concluded cases or of recoveries made into government coffers over the same period. It has been obvious that political interference in the operation of the Commission since its establishment has more than any other factor, dictates what case is permitted to progress or otherwise. We have witnessed a lot of high profile cases being dragged and dropped because of powerful, vested interests and government concerns.
While the Act that establishes the Commission gives it enforcement power over the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act 1994, as amended; and the Banks and other Financial Institutions Act 1991, as amended, the impunity in financial corruption associated with the nation’s banking industry has only continued to multiply over the years. Executives of banks have committed grave corrupt acts and literally got away with it, and till today, endemic corruption in the sector continues to hurt the customers and the country. While over the years, it has been reported and nationally accepted that some corrupt politicians and individuals will not be able to commit the nature and magnitudes of corruption that have become the status quo for the country, without effective collaborations of the banks and bank executives, EFCC has literarily not done enough to bring the force of the law to deal with financial malpractices in the nation’s banking sector.
Historically, EFCC began its operations under the Nuhu Ribadu chairmanship, prosecuting a number of high-profile corrupt persons across many spheres of work and disciplines. Though, there were insinuations of political doctoring during his time, for instance, the former Governor of Bayelsa state governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha trial, but the substance of the fact is that the governor had corruptly enriched himself at the expense of the state and deserved the date with the anti-graft agency; establishment of political motivation of the prosecution, if any, would come second.
The Commission however began a decline soon afterward. As of September 2006, it had instituted cases against 31 state governors in the country. These cases were dragged through repeated postponements of hearings until they were majorly discarded or left cooled till 2015, when some of them were concluded, leading to the conviction and jailing of three governors before the political interference overtook the efforts of the Commission to progress in that direction again. We saw the political control of the activities of the Commission leading to the absolving of the Vaswani brothers of any wrongdoing and invited them back into the country after all the atrocities committed by the brothers and their businesses in the country. That was the fate of many other investigations and prosecutions by the anti-graft agency.
After then, EFCC became a toothless bulldog that play more of the role of acting as the punishment arm of the executive, going after perceived enemies and deserted allies; chairman after chairman headed the Commission which was more or less an appendage of the presidency until 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari Administration came on board with the war against corruption mantra and a reinvigorated EFCC. November 15, 2015, Ibrahim Magu became the acting Chairman of EFCC. A noticeable sense of duty returned to the Commission as investigations and conviction figures rose and properties and stolen funds were recovered in high records and signifies a new era for the Commission’s effectiveness and efficiency. Within a period of three years, three former governors were convicted and jailed. A good number of government officials, serving and retired, were made to face the scrutiny of the law, with huge revelations, recoveries and sanitation of the system.
Unfortunately, EFCC under leadership of Mr. Magu slipped; lost its grip on the fight against graft and began a decline in the results it got. Definitely, some politicians’ determination to influence the activities of the Commission, the impasses due to probable misunderstanding of the oversight function between the Commission and the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, and the allegations of impropriety and corruption leveled against Mr. Magu that led to his eventual removal, marked another unpalatable turn and era in the history of the Commission.
Now, EFCC has a new leadership and a promising opportunity with the appointment Abdulrasheed Bawa – though awaiting Senate confirmation. Well, as expected in the characteristic manner of the country, the opposition and critics of his appointment have risen and are expected to grow. That taken, what we should genuinely be bothered with now are: who Abdulrasheed Bawa is, and what do we expect of the EFCC under his leadership.
Until his appointment, the forty years old Abdulrasheed Bawa has spent all his work life in EFCC, thus becoming the first ever Chairman of the Commission not to have been extracted from the Nigeria Police Force in line with the recommendations of the Ayo Salami panel that investigated the immediate past Chairman of the Commission in 2020 . As a Deputy Chief Detective Superintendent at EFCC, he has, until his appointment, headed the Lagos zonal office of the Commission. He was in October 2015 appointed to head the EFCC investigation of the erstwhile Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison Madueke and her associates in a corruption allegation pointed to be one of the most significant in the history of corruption in the country.
Significantly, one of the many factors that stand in favour of the newly appointed Chairman is that he has been effectively involved and without interruption in his career with EFCC since 2004, when he joined the Commission. He rose through the ranks and is definitely conversant with the intrigues of the operations of the Commission enough to take the Commission through its next stages and into the future. The fact is that he has seen it all and was part of a vast number of investigations and prosecutions of corruption in the country.
Actively, he has headed the Capacity Development Division, EFCC Academy, Abuja, the zonal head, Port Harcourt Zonal Office overseeing Rivers, Bayelsa and Abia states operations, the Commission’s Ibadan Zonal Office covering Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and Kwara states, the Counter-Terrorism and General Investigation/Pension Unit of the Lagos Zonal Office, and headed the Lagos zonal office, which without doubt, is the biggest operations zonal office of EFCC with 604 officers working under him all in the past and till now.
Asides the offices he has headed in the past, he was at different times either directly coordinating or being part of the teams that investigated and prosecuted several high caliber cases. These cases include the Diezani Madueke case, the Atlantic Energy Group case leading to the recovery of assets in Nigeria, UK, USA, Switzerland, UAE and Canada, the Crude Oil Swaps and OPA case leading to the recovery of assets, the Petroleum Subsidy Fraud investigations from 2012 to 2015 during which fraud of about N70 billion was identified and recovered and many companies were prosecuted.
There is therefore no doubt about the capacity of the new EFCC Chairman to function in the exalted capacity and delivers within the limit of constitutional provisions, the expected blow to economic and financial crimes and criminals in the country. Yet, there are worries that if care is not taken, the Commission might take the same routes it took in the past under its various chairmen.
We have seen the Commission being subdued by political influence as well as unmitigated internal corruption whereby officers of the Commission went in alliances with criminals to undermine cases. During the administration of the immediate past chairman, we saw the influence of becoming power drunk and his refusal to recognise the constitutional provision of an oversight over the Commission, leading to impasses that sunk the Commission and cost the country a lot of mileage in its fight against economic and financial crimes.
This time around, the Commission’s management should take heed to recognise that it cannot fulfill its constitutional role effectively without allowing the Attorney-General’s Office to carry out its full role of constitutional oversight over the Commission as contained in Section 174 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Section 43 of the EFCC Act 2004.
Section 174 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria relates to the power of the Attorney-General of the Federation to institute, continue or discontinue criminal proceedings against any person in any court of law in the country while Section 43 of the EFCC Act 2004 states that “The Attorney-General of the Federation may make rules or regulations with respects to the exercise of any of the duties, functions or power of the Commission under this Act.”
The Commission has recorded a number of immaturely handled cases that ended up humiliating the Commission and led to the loss of viable cases; these are mostly due to rush or improper investigations and evidence generating procedures by the Commission prior to filing of charges. The presence of an understood relationship between the leaderships of the Attorney-General Office and EFCC should create a perfect oversight and synergy between the two agencies which is a much needed ingredient at delivering the goals of the Commission.
Recognising the role of the Attorney-General Office to have full insight into for instance, prospective cases, a dashboard of case information and probable charges, the prosecution and investigation strategies, resource needs including experts and those engaged for the investigations and prosecutions and the monitoring of the progress cases and generation of reports, will go a long way to increase the chances of EFCC getting favourable outcomes from its investigations and prosecutions in the future. This is however related to the Attorney-General Office playing a crucial role in estimating and confirming the chances of cases having headway before allowing or commencing the prosecution of the cases.
The new EFCC must also recognise that sensationalism does not win cases in court. Playing to the gallery with the media that feeds on the act must be jettisoned by the new EFCC leadership henceforth. Also, the Commission must put in place procedures and structures for working in synergy with other security agencies and crime-fighting units in order to access a pool of experts such as sociologists, criminologists, forensic investigators, detectives, and lawyers that allow for effective and efficient investigation – as evidence gathering is a major task that must be prioritised by the Commission.
Finally, the new Chairman must know that every beginning does have an ending; happy or not. For the story to end well, he must decide from the outset to fight internal corruption in the Commission head-on and build the guts to say no to influences that are bound to come from suspected quarters. It is either of two ways: take charge or become their puppet.
I join other well-meaning Nigerians to congratulate the newly appointed EFCC Chairman.
*GOD BLESS THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA!*
By USSIJU MEDANER