Close to a decade after the inauguration of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the war against corruption in Nigeria continues to rage with the anti-graft body clearly not having the upper hand. The bulk of the blame has been put on the Federal Government for not allowing the Commission to function without undue interference.
It is believed in some quarters that most of those who should be arrested, investigated and prosecuted by the EFCC are enjoying protection from the Federal Government and people hardly get hounded by agents of the commission unless they have fallen out of favour with the Government.
The leadership of the Commission has changed a number of times but the system with which it pursues its mandate has remained the same over the years. Many had questioned the genuineness of the intention behind the commission right from its first few years as it was largely seen as a tool by the Federal Government to witch-hunt real or perceived opponents.
Though the fear of the EFCC was the beginning of wisdom in the Obasanjo years, it became obvious that the Malam Nuhu Ribadu-led commission targeted mainly those who dared to antagonize the President.
Though back then, the EFCC was seen to be working, though not without some flaws. For instance, Rotimi Amaechi faced fire when the EFCC brought up charges of financial impropriety against him just before the 2007 elections and he was dropped as the governorship candidate of his party. It was later made public that it was because the powers that be were not favourably disposed to his ambition to rule Rivers State.
Peter Odili too aspired for the PDP’s presidential ticket in 2007. It was an open secret that former President Olusegun Obasanjo used the EFCC to frustrate that ambition.
One of the beneficiaries of Obasanjo’s effective usage of the EFCC was Engineer Segun Oni, the deposed Governor of Ekiti State. Though he came third in the shadow elections, during a meeting with the three top contenders for the PDP’s ticket, the President brought out a file which he claimed was the EFCC’s dossier on Yinka Akerele who came tops at the primaries. There and then, “OBJ” in his wisdom decided that Oni should be chosen as the party’s candidate. He was immediately told to go and flag off his campaign in Ado Ekiti.
Joshua Chibi Dariye, a Governor was arrested in London with loads of money and pronto, Dariye found his way to Nigeria after being granted bail. Not long after, Nuhu Ribadu addressed the Plateau State House of Assembly and pronto, Dariye was impeached He challenged his impeachment and was reinstated by the Court, with the verdict being upheld by the Supreme Court.
After the expiration of his tenure in May, 2007, he was arraigned at Federal High Court, Guda on a charge of stealing over N 700 million. He was granted bail and today, Dariye is a Senator of the Federal Republic!
The situation in Ekiti was somewhat similar. No one ever believed Fayose could be impeached by the House of Assembly in which he controlled the majority. On one occasion, he opened a portion of the Government House for his guests and there the House of Assembly was holding a meeting around 1 a.m. After the arrest of some of his friends and associates over a failed poultry project, the EFCC swooped on the Ekiti State House of Assembly and after several visits to the EFCC facilities in Lagos and Abuja, the legislators were made to understand that the commission had records of the funds they collected for “constituency projects” and how the funds were “utilised” Not long after, the legislators backed down and the “vote of absolute confidence” earlier passed on the Governor gave way. He was impeached along with his deputy and his case started in court on December 17, 2006. He was accused of looting about N 1.2 billion.
So far, Lucky Igbinedion is the only former Governor who has paid back part of his loot. While facing a 191-count charge of money laundering, Igbinedion opted for a plea bargain and he paid back N 4.3 billion in a case that was determined in 2008.
To many, the EFCC was simply playing to the gallery as it continued to drag people to court and the number of convictions obtained did not show that it was indeed winning the war against graft. The case of Bode George as well as the assets forefeiture of Tafa Balogun and Dipreieye Alamieyesegha are the major achievements the commission can boast of.
Then came the blame game, the EFCC blamed the Executive for interfering in its activities through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation. Bails have allegedly been secured for people who were arrested by the Commission through the Attorney General. And at the end of the day, the country ends up being the loser, if an agency that is funded by the Government is prevented from carrying out its functions by agents of the same government.
Internal politics also affected the quick and diligent prosecution of a lot of cases. Each time a new Chairman comes on board, there is bound to be the redeployment of officers believed to be in the structure built by the chairman’s predecessors. The transfer of a lot of investigators has reportedly done a lot to affect the cases that were handled by such officers.
The Game of Deception
In May, a report of the United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour on Nigeria had posited that “the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Massive, widespread and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government and the security forces. The constitution provides immunity from civil and criminal prosecution to the President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors while in office.”
The ways of the EFCC have clearly shown that there is more to the corruption war than Nigerians are being made to believe. For instance, in the case of Wale Babalakin, the Bi-Courtney Group Chairman, he was invited by the EFCC, queried and allowed to go on some conditions. And when he was to be arraigned, he took ill overnight and has been in hospital since then.
Incidentally, Babalakin was not in trouble with the EFCC until after the revocation of the concession of the Lagos-Ibadan express road which his company got some years ago. The EFCC only opened his matter after his company, Bi-Courtney decided to go to court. And when many herad that the EFCC was after Babalakin, the first thought was that it would be in connection with the road contract; maybe he would be made to face the law for failing to meet some of the terms and thereby indirectly causing unnecessary deaths and bodily harm on the road. Alas, it was on a different matter entirely. He was charged with helping James Ibori, the former Governor of Delta State to launder money. Ibori on whose behalf the money was laundered is already in prison in the UK. The action of the EFCC has generated a lot of unanswered questions, for instance, “where on earth was the EFCC when Ibori, his wife, his mistress and even his lawyer were facing trial? When Ibori was arraigned in Nigeria, why was Babalakin not arraigned as accomplice?”
Questions are also being asked regarding how his company got a contract from the Federal Government three years after he was involved in money laundering and he was being investigated by the EFCC. Incidentally, the EFCC did not raise any objections when the contract was awarded to him back then. The book of remembrance was opened six years after and just 48 hours after the revocation of the road contract which many opined was long overdue.
The EFCC also recently came out to say it had concluded plans to declare former Kogi State Governor, Abubakar Audu wanted after he allegedly fled his Abuja home in order to evade arrest. Findings have however revealed that Audu has not left Abuja and he has not been hiding.