SolomonSydelle's comments spurred me to research the hot news on the naija scene about the governors who have been arrested by the EFCC. Filled with hope and excitement that I would find headlines with Ibori, Odili and the like, I was slightly disappointed at the names I saw. But it is a start, right? Abati's article in last week's Guardian probes the current EFCC manhunt and gives us a few issues to think about. How far can the EFCC go? Can/Will they (Ribadu) really have the guts to go after the "big dogs"? Should we be content with the progress made thus far? After all, no agency in the past has been able to make such progress.
How far can the EFCC Go? -By Reuben Abati
THE current onslaught of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on former state Governors, who allegedly looted public funds in the last four years, and are no longer covered by Section 308 of the Constitution on immunity, is an act of self-redemption for the organisation, but a lot depends on how far it is willing to go, how fair and transparent it is seen to be, and whether at the end of the day, justice would have been seen to have been done. This is all that matters, not the politics and the grandstanding now surrounding the exercise.
Why redemption? With the coming of the Yar'Adua administration, there had been a kind of lull at the EFCC. Before May 29, the EFCC had boasted loudly that many of the state Governors who would no longer be returning to office would be arrested and made to answer questions about their management of public resources. The EFCC indeed announced that it had investigated about 30 Governors and its findings were very bad. But after May 29, it was as if the EFCC went to sleep. The people expected immediate action knowing that truly the Governors were capable of running away, what they got instead were chest-beating declarations by some of the Governors that they were untouchable.
Then, just when everyone had thought that the EFCC was losing relevance, it bared its fangs and began to arrest the Governors and arraign them in court in batches. In the past week, this has been the top story in the land. This is also about the Yar'Adua government. By allowing the EFCC to go after the former Governors, the Yar'Adua administration is also advertising its determination to punish corruption. But how far also, is the Federal Government willing to go? There are emerging questions.
One, the Governors that have been taken to court so far, or that are being targeted are not in the estimation of the public the only ones that they expect to see in the dock. They want other Governors in court as well to come and explain why after eight years of service, the various states of the federation are in such a messy state. The EFCC insists that it is still investigating those other Governors and that it wants to do a proper home work before spreading its drag net. One major criticism of the EFCC now and in the past is that its morality is too selective and vindictive. It must avoid that pitfall this time around.
Saminu Turaki, former Governor of Jigawa state, Orji Kalu (Abia), George Akume (Benue), Joshua Dariye(Plateau), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Boni Haruna (Adamawa) and Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu) are already having a "fellowship" with the law. But really in terms of the quantum of resources that they managed, and before the law, this is not an excuse, these Governors are not in the big league. For this reason, the public would like to see some of the other Governors, the big budget Governors, the ones with homes in all the major capitals of the world, in the dock. Thirty Governors were originally fingered. The EFCC must make sure that they do not run away before the cleansing process gets to their turn. Lest it be said that it deliberately targeted the present set in order to allow others to flee.
Second, the present exercise appears limited to the activities of state Governors between 2003 and 2007. How about the Governors who served between 1999 and 2003? With the sole exception of Abubakar Audu of Kogi state, there has been no known attempt to investigate this category. If the EFCC cannot do so, the Code of Conduct Bureau and the ICPC should step in and bring them to book. And this should not be limited to the Governors. How about Federal Ministers between 1999 and 2007? President Olusegun Obasanjo as well as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar? Certainly, the last two should be investigated afresh in the light of the recent declaration by Dr Shamsidden Usman before the National Assembly that the so-called foreign reserve of $43.3 billion is a piece of propaganda because what is actually available to the country is $8.8 billion.
Third, before the present blow-out, the EFCC had made it known that some of the Governors had returned some money and property to the state in exchange for their freedom. This is called plea bargaining. If the Federal Government is going to allow some Governors to escape under the cover of plea bargain then it must allow every other Governor that privilege. But the public must be told why. And the names of all the Governors who have been making reparations should be made known with a complete list of whatever it is that they are returning to the state. Plea bargaining which is part of the EFCC Act is however, an unpopular option with many Nigerians. The Nigerian people have been most affected by the corrupt practices of their leaders. They are frustrated by the absence of growth in their society, and the spread of poverty in their land. Plea bargain must not become an under-hand tool for helping the corrupt to save face.
But perhaps more important in all of this are the moral lessons. How are the mighty fallen. Say it on the streets of Awka, Enugu, Jos, Dutse, or wherever you wish, that these men who used to bestride the land in siren-bearing vehicles, serenaded by a retinue of fawning aides who mouthed "your Excellency, your Excellency" as if they received special training in the pronunciation of that word, men whose word was akin to law, men who ruled and reigned, men who became so self-important they signed documents only with red and green pens, with flourish, are now helpless reeds in the hands of the law!
The poet is right: "Life is but a walking shadow, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing". Only if they knew. All the people now strutting their stuff in the corridors of power ("Your Excellency....your most distinguished Excellency") should learn from this. E wo iku Gaa, e se ooto.