Writer'sPoint

EFCC: From Hope To Hogwash

Exactly when did the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) abandon its assignment?
In its first couple of years, the commission seemed to offer hope that it would do a good job. But even with the considerable activism of Nuhu Ribadu, its pioneer chairman, the EFCC often vacillated.
And then, in November 2007, two unnamed officials of the commission announced that the anti-corruption agency had shifted focus from trying to prosecute Nigeria’s economic criminals into merely trying to recover looted resources.
But the EFCC was serious. The Punch reported on November 11 that the agency had entered into an agreement with five former governors it was expected to prosecute to refund N50 billion they had stolen. They would only be prosecuted, the reporter was told, if they did not honour that contract within two weeks.
Weeks later, in January 2008, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, who had been the commission’s Director of Operations, was appointed its Acting Chairman following the removal of Ribadu.
In May, Mrs. Farida Waziri, despite carrying heavy baggage for someone being considered for that responsibility, was appointed the commission’s substantive head. Her tenure would last three and a half years, during which the commission lost steam, direction and credibility.
Waziri was a jewelry model, not an anti-corruption fighter. She discredited and threw out Nigeria’s best-trained and most dogged corruption hunters, and compromised any progress the EFCC had made. Her unsuitability was so evident the United States refused to deal with her.
Confirming that evaluation, the government relieved Waziri of her charge in November 2011. As is Nigeria’s prevailing philosophy, however, she was not questioned about her tenure, and the mountain of allegations against her was ignored.
It had also been Waziri’s practice to avoid the legal reporting required by the EFCC law. The problem is that the EFCC is nothing if it does not file the comprehensive annual report demanded by the law which established it. That is why, in this column five weeks ago, I expressed how excited I was that Lamorde would be filing his first annual report at the end of September.
He did not.
Since returning to the leadership of the EFCC, Lamorde had bragged about professionalism, integrity and ethics. September 30 when he was supposed to have submitted the report provided the first real opportunity to determine if he is a man of his word.
By failing to file one, he answered that question. Like Waziri, he made it clear that he has neither the intention nor the capacity for an anti-corruption regime that is serious, fair, legal or consistent. Like Waziri, he will now continue with uniquely Nigerian gamesmanship: harassing others for illegal activity while sitting on illegality.
Lamorde’s failure to honour the law, with nobody insisting that he does, is confirmation that we run a mightily-broken system. It is arrogance anchored on the age-old blackmail whereby the law is good for others, not us.
What Lamorde has done, with the collusion of the National Assembly which does not demand the report, is to confirm that the EFCC has fallen. Lamorde is as much a fraud as any of the people he is pretending to be chasing around, and in any serious country, he would be on trial.
Where does Nigeria go next?
If we ever really wish to fight corruption, the first thing would be to restructure the security and anti-corruption agencies so that their mandates, funding and reporting support the mission.
The EFCC, for instance, should be funded directly by the National Assembly, so that it is not manipulated by a fraudulent executive. It should also be broken into three or four separate agencies, each headed by a Deputy Chairman; each agency submitting its annual report to the Chairman one month ahead of the annual Commission’s report to be included as a section.
Second, the immunity clause must be purged from the constitution. In December 2008, President Umaru Yar’Adua made this proposal at the launch of the National Anti-Corruption Revolution. He argued, correctly, that nobody deserves the right to be protected by the law when looting public funds. The current provision has its heart in the right, but it helps the crooks, and always will.
Three, public asset declaration by public officials must become the new standard. This will take the responsibility from reluctant politicians who can choose not to run from office rather than expose their assets. Releasing his personal assets declaration forms on June 28, 2007, President Yar’Adua said it was borne out of his conviction that the war against corruption cannot have meaning “until those at the helm of affairs begin to live by example.”
Four: we must establish an independent Ombudsman, funded by the National Assembly, which will receive public petitions; disseminate such reports to the relevant anti-corruption bodies; and publish a twice-yearly report on the state of corruption in Nigeria.
Five: implement the Justice Muhammad Uwais report on electoral reformnot simply convenient fragments of itin order to broaden the pool of electoral contestants, encouraging more men and women of integrity and substance to come through.
The problem with making suggestions for any area of governance is that one gives the impression ideas were ever lacking, and one becomes part of an epochal joke.
Attentive Nigerians will recall that in August 2007, when Mr. Jonathan finally declared his assets, he said he had done so in line with the government’s belief in transparency and accountability. Making the announcement, spokesman Ima Niboro described Mr. Jonathan as a “firm believer in the rule of law,” a conviction he said “has guided the conduct of the Vice-President in public office through the years.”
Regrettably, that lie was vacated this year by Mr. Jonathan himself, who stated he does not “give a damn” about public asset declaration. He regretted he had been forced to do it in 2007.
Curiously, he has also this year bragged that his government’s commitment to the fight against corruption “is second to that of America’s commitment.”
That claim was reminiscent of the EFCC official from 2007 who told The Punch there was “an international consensus” that Nigeria assets recovery programme was “the world’s best, and the most robust and the most remarkable in the history of assets recovery.”
True leadership, it is clear, will always demand sacrifice and personal example, and those are gifts that Nigerians have rarely been given. I believe that the unwilling should not be forced to make them either, which is why we must find the heart to establish law and institutions to fight for them.
Otherwise, Nigeria will continue to travel in circles, while others forge forward.
We will have thousands of projects that are never completed.
We will rig up next year’s budget to pay for last year’s.
We will send our wives to foreign countries to obtain the finest medical care, and leave to die in our local hospitals those who cannot afford to.
We will go to New York and London and Washington DC to make big speeches and spend lavishly; while the likes of Oprah Winfrey go to Ghana and South Africa and spend lavishly.
We will mistake Boko Haram for an alien concept, not an offshoot of our hypocrisies.
We will mistake transformation, the high-sounding concept, for The Transformation Agenda, the dogged plan.
The choice before Nigeria is to accept that we cannot cheat our way to progress or expect double standards to guide us to development.
We must implement a plan designed to multiply opportunity for all, not the few. We must be patriotic enough to prosecute Nigerian prosperity for all, not just ourselves.
We must be bold enough to place our faith in our institutions and the rule of law, not our individual greed and hypocrisies.

Sonala Olumhense
sonala.olumhense@gmail.com

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