This article from Nigeria Village Square brought up so many burning questions around the new twist in EFCC's mandate - from bringing corrupt criminals to justice to making deals to secure stolen loot. On the surface, there appears to be nothing wrong with this shift - true, the nigerian people cannot feed on wicked (wo)men rotting in jail, and true, the families of these looters should not indefinitely continue to live the lavish lifestyles they have grown accustomed to, courtesy of stolen Nigerian wealth - but should this be the new FOCUS of the EFCC? Will the Nigerian people be better served in this way? And who will take up the former cause of bringing the "teefs" to justice?
Economic and Financial Confusion Commission - Sonala Olumhense
Finally, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has confirmed our worst fear: it has forgotten its mission.
For four years, Nigerians have seen the EFCC as the answer to the challenge of financial and economic crime in our country, acting on the side of the Nigerian people. It chairman spoke courageously and loudly about this mission, particularly about the looting of state resources by governors. He told Nigerians he would be putting many of those governors before the law as soon as their terms ended on May 29, 2007.
As one of the EFCC’s loudest supporters, I have complained since then that the anti-graft agency seemed to have lost traction and direction.
It is now official. Last week, two of its officials told the nation that the EFCC is now “more interested” in recovering Nigeria’s looted wealth than in prosecuting economic criminals or embarrassing anyone.
I beg your pardon?
According to a report in The Punch of Sunday, November 11, 2007, the EFCC has done a deal with five former governors under which they would return N50 billion to the public coffers. They risk prosecution (only) if they fail to honour this “agreement” within two weeks.
The second of The PUNCH’s EFCC sources was particularly adept at speaking through a lower orifice in his body. “Our stance on anti-corruption is not necessarily to expose and shame the looters of the collective wealth,” he said, pompously, “even though that is equally important if only to serve as a deterrent to others.”
But he was just warming up, this powerful hawker of cow manure. “It is the belief of the commission that justice will be better served with the recovery of the stolen wealth because that is what the people really need.”
And then, this political gymnast reached backwards, towards that other orifice, for this overarching contradiction: “We want to prove that the proceeds of crime cannot be the reward of crime.”
I really have to find out where they manufacture this kind of personnel at the higher levels of the EFCC. He continued: “The EFCC has done a great deal to curtail the culture of impunity and corruption in Nigeria today. Granted, we have had a lot of challenges in accomplishing this, but the important thing is that we are making progress.”
At that point, you knew a chest-pumping boast was next. The EFCC coward, and you know he is one because he did not want his name appended to his voice, then said: “ I can confidently tell you that there is an international consensus that assets recovery programme in Nigeria is the best in the world; it is the most robust and the most remarkable in the history of assets recovery.
“We are also working fervently to ensure the quick return of billions of naira looted by corrupt governors and to remit these to the government‘s coffers for the development of the country, which is what it was originally meant for,” he told the reporter.
Let me interpret the game. The EFCC is saying that contrary to previous promises to the Nigerian people to deliver on the assignment in the law by which it was established—or in violation of it—it is now on the market for deals with our powerful thieves. The broad outline of this new regime is that, in exchange for drops of the stolen funds, the EFCC will look the other way and let these men enjoy their freedom, their loot and their laughter.
So the EFCC was not investigating these people for purposes of prospection after all. All our months and years of waiting for the commission to deliver on its plans and “readiness” to do the right thing now turn out simply to be a hoax. Our worst nightmare, that the EFCC might have a hidden agenda, and serve the status quo, is emerging as our fate.
What is the EFCC saying? It will now abandon the law by which it was set up—and its own boasts about nobody being above the law—and become policeman, judge and executioner. The only problem is that even in this new plan, it is pre-determined that the criminal does not lose too much: certainly not his freedom, because that kind of punishment is reserved only for the poor. The anti-graft body will supposedly “agree” to terms with the criminal over what sounds good to be returned to the same people he had betrayed and left to starve and die.
This new age Robin Hood headed by Mr. Nuhu Ribadu will then turn to Nigerians and say, “People, take this and be grateful. It is better for you to take this and give it to the current governor than to seek justice against this man who thought you were not worthy of the same air. We recommend that you take this.”
Of course, the people may ask, “What if the current governor also steals the money?”
To which Mr. Ribadu would respond, “Ah! Ah! That is not a problem. You can see we have an internationally-celebrated track record of achievement. We will also make him refund the loot! Can’t you see you have nothing to lose?”
I laugh, but I have burning tears running down my cheeks. I laugh because this is way too serious for words. I liked Nuhu Ribadu, but the time has come when he should either deny being a part of this mess and resign his office, or simply publish his resignation letter and go home. Since this awful story broke, one week ago, nobody in the commission has denied it. And of course, no former governor has been taken to court.
This development largely confirms the popular perception that his commission is selective in its work. But that may be too generous an assessment. Perhaps the EFCC has forgotten what it was set up to do, or itself been paid for.
That is why it is laughable that the Commission this past week, the Commission’s Head of General Investigations, Umar Sanda, promised the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders which visited to file a petition against Olusegun Obasanjo, that the Commission would investigate the allegations of corrupt enrichment against him.
The Commission would “embarrass” Obasanjo where it is now hesitant to embarrass former governors? The Commission will investigate Obasanjo, and not settle for deals as it is now doing with former governors?
I cannot wait.
But let us return to basics. The very name of the commission includes the word, crime, that is, illegalities of an economic and financial profile. When something is a crime, its perpetrators are known as criminals, and sought by the law as suspects. It is the role of the law to bring criminals to the bar of justice...In the courtroom, due process permits the accused person access to lawyers and a structured defence. In the end, the court makes a decision regarding the guilt or innocence of that suspect. If the verdict is guilty, it also determines responsibility or punishment. In that scenario, a convicted former governor would not be negotiating from behind bars how much of his loot to part with, or leave with his girlfriend, or on what foreign beach he will spend his post-stealing days.
This process is often rigorous. Otherwise wealthy or powerful suspects are carried in police trucks they would never have permitted themselves to be seen near. They may be handcuffed and shackled. Grown men have been known to sweat and weep in the sun, fall on their knees in front of a laughing, taunting throng, or even lose control of their bowels. It is not a pretty process, but it is the way of the law, known ahead of time by each and all who choose to violate its terms.
Last week, regrettably, the plan unveiled by the EFCC was one under which it would pre-empt this process and save the former governors the indignity of facing the law. This is a shame, and the most profound betrayal since Nigerian began to pretend to be fighting corruption. It makes the EFCC now just an accessory to the crime, but a criminal.
We are looking at a situation here where men who ignored the law and their people for as long as they were in office will enjoy the additional entertainment — at the expense of the people— of being treated with deference — even reverence — by that law. It is enough to make a man vomit.
But is this whom we are? Is this how much we love our Nigeria? Is this the EFCC’s tribute to the rule of law? So, all of the loud talk and reassurances and promises of Mr. Ribadu comes down to sloganeering and posturing? So, his EFCC is an agency that would chase the rule of law only when it is convenient? Perhaps that is the hole into which they have driven themselves. But Nigerians must come out of their own complacency and find ways of making it known to the EFCC that they will have nothing less than a public trial of those who commit crime, whoever they are. Contrary to the EFCC’s emerging nonsense, we are more interested in this process and in the lessons it teaches than in any trillions of Naira the thieves decide to favour us with. Give us the trial, and we will determine how much they stole, and take every penny we can find in the same way Obasanjo and the EFCC have scoured the world for Sani Abacha’s loot.
In the spirit of MORE TALK, MORE ACTION, if any of you know someone in the upper echelons of the EFCC, it might be worth us all getting together to write them a letter/petition to revert to their initial raison d’être. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.