Publisher Note: Levi Obijiofor's Articles Will now appear here on NVS and Daily SUN on Wednesdays instead of Fridays
What would it take to rouse officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from snoozing while the nation is soaked in repugnant cases of corruption by parliamentarians, public office holders and celebrated businessmen and women? Ever since it was established in 2003, the EFCC has pointed to its ambitious goals as an indication of its commitment to the fight against corruption. However, the EFCC’s achievement record is poor. Many Nigerians regard the EFCC not only as a severely enfeebled anti-corruption agency but also as an organisation that is deeply confused about the direction to which it should be headed. These assessments are accurate.
The EFCC’s mission statement, as clearly outlined in its web site (http://www.efccnigeria.org/), states: “The EFCC will curb the menace of the corruption that constitutes the cog in the wheel of progress; protect national and foreign investments in the country; imbue the spirit of hard work in the citizenry and discourage ill gotten wealth; identify illegally acquired wealth and confiscate it; build an upright workforce in both public and private sectors of the economy and; contribute to the global war against financial crimes.”
The extent to which the EFCC has lived by or adhered to its mission statement remains a contested topic in the public sphere. The EFCC has had a chequered history right from its early days. It is not a pretty history by anyone’s evaluation. There are serious questions to be asked about the level of commitment and determination of the EFCC officials to deny corrupt politicians, public officers and business people that important oxygen bag that helps to sustain their corrupt practices. The public is entitled to ask robust questions about how far the EFCC has accomplished its grand objectives.
But how does anyone hold the EFCC accountable for ineffective performance when President Goodluck Jonathan, the chief overseer of the government that feeds the EFCC, has said he doesn’t care about declaring his assets to the public? Asset declaration by public office holders is the first test of accountability. By declaring that there is no big deal about asset declaration and that he is not prepared to do so in his capacity as president, Jonathan has failed the first assessment of his presidency’s integrity. More important, he has failed to project himself as a good role model.
Why is Jonathan afraid of placing his personal wares before the public for special scrutiny? The message that was drowned by Jonathan’s angry comments in his unremarkable presidential media chat of Sunday, 24 June 2012, is that he may not be able to account properly for any pecuniary and non-pecuniary property he acquires above what he may have declared publicly. But, really, Jonathan has no need to fret or to be aggressive about declaring or not declaring his assets. Nigerians have very short memory. We shouted and yelled and swore at the president immediately after that provocative media chat. Relax, Mr President! All these will soon be forgotten. In a short time, we will forget everything and go in search of matters that grant us gastronomic gratification.
Beyond portraying himself as a man with something to hide, last month’s presidential media chat in which Jonathan answered questions on a range of national and international issues clearly exposed the president as a temperamental and combative man who cared little about public opinion. Next time Jonathan wants to address the nation, his handlers must first check his mood and degree of irritability to ensure he will not show contempt for the nation. An indignant president is usually not the best person to articulate government’s policy.
After many years of poor performance influenced by the self-serving interests and questionable integrity of the past and present president, the EFCC has never seen reason to be compelled to justify its existence. An anti-corruption agency that is funded and supported with tax payers’ money must live up to public expectations and the key objectives for which it was established.
The trial and conviction in London of former Delta State Governor James Onanefe Ibori on money laundering charges and other related offences in late February this year shows that there are dedicated anti-crime organisations across the world willing to handle high profile corruption cases in Nigeria which our own spineless EFCC is too terrified to touch. When Ibori was successfully prosecuted and convicted in London, the Metropolitan Police beat its chest triumphantly in a symbolic message to the EFCC and our compromised judicial system. The message was that an anti-crime agency with courage has caught a big fish in Nigeria’s sea of corrupt politicians.
What is really going on at the EFCC? In spite of public outrage over major corruption scandals, the EFCC has maintained an odd kind of silence over the embarrassing cases of corruption involving high profile people. By showing a lack of concern over major corruption scandals, the EFCC has exposed itself to accusations of complicity in watching parliamentarians, public officers and businessmen and women paddle their boats freely in Nigeria’s corrupt waters.
Specifically, the EFCC has been indolent in its response to shocking cases of corruption across the nation. Here are some examples. The House of Representatives ad hoc committee investigating how the oil subsidy revenue was used or abused by various companies has produced spectacular allegations and counter-allegations of bribery between oil marketer Femi Otedola and Farouk Lawan, the House committee chair. The allegations have been given further entertainment value by the emergence in recent weeks of questionable audio and video recording of what transpired between Otedola and Lawan.
Additionally, investigations into the police pension fund have produced scandalous details of how a syndicate comprising the permanent secretary in a federal ministry and other senior officials had stolen pension funds and defrauded the Federal Government of over N3 billion every month. The investigations also showed how N28 billion that belonged to the police pension fund was lodged in an unidentified bank account while N15 billion was spent on the purchase of grandiose property by some people in the pension unit of the Office of the Head of Service. Furthermore, the investigators found that more than 44,000 workers who retired between 1968 and 1975 were denied their pension benefits.
We must not forget the case that preceded both of these instances. The case involved the House of Representatives committee on the capital market. That committee probed the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in regard to why the capital market has consistently underperformed. That investigation, we must remember, was chaired by Herman Hembe. During public hearing by the committee, SEC Director-General Arunma Oteh alleged dramatically that Hembe demanded N39m for his committee and an additional N5m a day before the hearings started. Oteh also alleged that Hembe received from the SEC a first-class ticket and an allowance to facilitate his trip to the Dominican Republic to attend a conference. However, according to Oteh, Hembe did not attend the conference and did not return the money. These allegations followed earlier charges made by Hembe against Oteh. The EFCC has said nothing about how far it has investigated these extraordinary allegations and counter-allegations of corruption or whether indeed it is yet to commence investigations.
While every case of corruption deserves to be investigated with the clinical attention that is associated with a coroner’s inquest, the EFCC seems to be overly interested in corrupt practices involving small players, that is, those who serve as the front men and women of the big bosses. The EFCC could claim that it has successfully convicted some high profile personalities in Nigeria, including a handful of state governors (e.g. Diepreye S.P. Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State), former Inspector-General of Police Tafa Balogun, bank executives, parliamentarians at state and national levels, as well as business people of all classes. However, in light of the widespread nature of corruption in Nigeria, the list of people successfully prosecuted by the EFCC remains insignificant.
The police pensions’ fraud and the oil subsidy scam are sufficient grounds on which the EFCC could commence investigations. Perhaps the agency is waiting for parliamentary investigations to conclude before it could start its own investigations. The EFCC does not have to wait. Based on allegations and counter-allegations presented in the public domain and at parliamentary enquiries, the EFCC is obligated to step in to commence its own investigations. In matters relating to criminal investigations, it is always helpful to strike early while the evidence is still fresh, untainted and valid.
The Presidency told the nation some weeks ago that the police pensions scam and the oil subsidy scandal have been referred to the EFCC. Still, the public has not heard anything to suggest that the agency is taking the allegations seriously. There is something dodgy about an anti-corruption agency of government that operates in a system in which corruption has become an approved way of life but prefers to look the other way whenever senior government officers, politicians and business people are accused of corruption. The public does not believe in the anti-corruption slogan of the EFCC. And many people have little faith in the candour and anti-corruption credentials of officials of that organisation.