Tunde Oyesina writes on the seeming cold war between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and how this could affect prosecution of corruption war in Nigeria.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is an organ of the Federal Government created to curb the rate at which corruption is growing in the country. Though the commission has come under criticisms, it has made a mark.
It is now contentious, however, if the commission remains effective after the exit of its former boss, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, as far as prosecuting high-profile cases is concerned.
During Ribaduâ€™s tenure, the commission forged relationship with similar organisations in other parts of the world, making it difficult for stolen public funds to be repatriated abroad.
A former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun and former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, were prosecuted and jailed, though some people considered their conviction a slap on the wrist.
Also, the EFCC arrested, paraded and commenced the prosecution of former Governors Saminu Turaki, Orji Kalu, Chimaroke Nnamani, Joshua Dariye, James Ibori, Ayo Fayose and Jolly Nyame, who only a few months earlier were protected by Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution which granted them immunity from prosecution while in office.
The arrest and arraignment of these former governors helped to send a message about the limits of immunity. The point was well made that no one would again be allowed to mismanage public resources. Apart from the hounding of corrupt public officials, the EFCC adopted other measures, including plea bargaining in pursuit of its mandate.
The EFCC had brought renewed respect to Nigeria with the country receiving better rating on the international corruption index. Before the creation of the EFCC in 2003, Paris, France-based Financial Action Task Force had blacklisted Nigeria as a destination for capital investment. With the EFCC in place and its proven vigilance, more investors developed confidence in the Nigerian system, the evidence of which was borne out by the increased robustness in the banking sector and the capital market.
The commission arrested and investigated over 5,000 people for various crimes within its purview and countless number of convictions was made In 2007, the commission sustained an established pattern of activism against economic and financial crimes. Economic crimes as defined by the EFCC Act in Section 46 covers crimes such as the embezzlement of public funds, currency trafficking, drug trafficking, money laundering, tax evasion, dumping of toxic wastes and smuggling and all such acts which may have a damaging effect on the national economy. Financial crimes, on the other hand, refer to advance fee fraud, cyber crime, capital market fraud, currency trafficking and counterfeiting, and any such attempt to earn wealth illegally. The commission invited prominent bankers for questioning, senior public officers too and it gave trouble to frauds. At a time, there were over 500 persons in its cells, while it prosecuted over 150 cases in court.
In the run up to that yearâ€™s elections, the commission warned the then sitting governors that anyone among them who had stolen public funds, would be arrested immediately they left office. Indeed, it announced that 16 state governors and two former governors were being investigated and would be picked up by its men. The commission did not quite keep to this promise, but it was generally believed that the speed with which many of the former governors fled abroad as soon as they handed over power on May 29 was not unconnected with the threat.
Some of the EFCCâ€™s major achievements in 2007 included the jailing of a number of bankers who had defrauded their customers or engaged in money laundering. Kingpins of 419 were sent to jail, including one Ade Bendel, who had defrauded an Egyptian General, Ali Abdul Aliah, to the tune of about $800,000.
There was also the Wilbros Scandal. Wilbros Group Incorporated, an American company, had allegedly paid a bribe of over $6 million to officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Shell Petroleum Development Corporation (SPDC) to facilitate a gas pipeline contract.
The EFCC promptly invited all the named persons for questioning. But perhaps the cumulative effect of the work of the EFCC could be seen in how it succeeded in criminalising illicit wealth.
In a country where questions are hardly asked about the source of an individualâ€™s wealth, the EFCC impelled the people to adopt a change of attitude.
When the present boss of the commission, Farida Waziri, came on board, it was believed that the commission would not go far even till now. Some still believe that the EFCC has lost its effectiveness, but the commission under the leadership of Mrs Farida Waziri has made certain remarkable feat.
The EFCC recorded over 100 convictions in the last two years. And from a country that achieved notoriety world-wide as the bastion of advance fee fraud emerged â€œProject Eagle Claw,â€ a unique software which tracks and destroys scam mails before they get to their target, thus marking a sharp decline in the number of advance fee fraud cases originating from Nigeria. Recoveries in corruption and money laundering cases also stand at $3.5 billion.
These milestones, recorded over a period of two and a half years with Waziri at the helm of affairs are testimonies to the effectiveness of the EFCC and underline its importance in the battle against corruption and economic crimes.
Indeed, since the agency was established in 2003, it has changed the face of law enforcement in Nigeria with achievements made in the execution of its core mandate, which is the eradication of all forms of financial and economic crimes.
EFCC forced its way into national and global consciousness from the outset when it swooped on the band of fraud, seized the proceeds of their crimes and put them to trial. The likes of Emmanuel Nwude, Amaka Anajemba, late Maurice Ibekwe, Fred Ajudua and Adedeji Alumile, alias Ade Bendel, who moved about in convoys with police escort were all taken out of circulation. Even now, most of the notable 419 kingpins are either in jail or facing trial. A good number have also fled the country and now operate from neighbouring countries.
Today, the agency has over 100 high-profile cases in court and has recorded a number of high-profile convictions, among which are the conviction of former deputy national chairman of the PDP, Chief Olabode George.
Chief George is serving a two-and-a-half-year term alongside five others for their roles in the N100 billion contract splitting scam in the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
Similarly, Cecilia Ibru, a former chief executive officer of Oceanic Bank Plc., is serving an 18-month jail term for sundry financial crimes, while conceding assets valued at over N195 billion to the state. The Ibru case is a landmark of sorts, not in terms of the length of prison term, but by the quantum of assets recovered.
Without doubt, it is the single biggest recovery by any law enforcement agency in Nigeria. The manner the recovery was made is quite commendable. It was civil and bereft of high drama.
The conviction of Ibru appears as the climax of the EFCC sanitisation efforts in the banking sector after the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) sacked the managing directors of five stressed banks for sundry financial malpractices in 2009.
The commission has recovered over N180 billion for the banks, depositorsâ€™ funds that was almost lost as unsecured loan. The effect of this on the economy is obvious. In the short term, it has helped to shore up the liquidity of the stressed banks. EFCCâ€™s involvement in the saga has also impressed it on bank executives that it is no longer business as usual.
But in recent times, there has been a lot of challenges against the EFCC and this has been traced to many factors such as alleged cold war between the EFCC boss and the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Muhammed Adoke, who is the chief prosecuting officer of the nation. This could have been said to be the cause of the slow pace which prosecution of high-profile cases are being handled.
This alleged lack of understanding between the EFCC boss and the number one law officer of the country was reported to have pushed Waziri to the point of attempting to resign from her duty of ripping the nation of corruption.
Furthermore, the sour relationship between EFCC and the office of the AGF has delayed prosecution of some high profile cases and even the withdrawal of some on grounds of plea bargaining.
This seems to be a clear departure from the EFCC as Nigerians knew it, which had corruption cases prosecuted headlong.
There is no doubt that the nation will suffer in the hands of corrupt leaders who will perpetrate their acts if this cold war is allowed to persist.
It is, therefore, pertinent for the EFCC boss and the AGF to work hand in hand to continuously clear the nation of corrupt elements.