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Unbundling EFCC: Is crime-fighting agency losing bite?

…Malami announces new outfit in charge of recovered looted assets  …Agbakoba hails development … Sagay’s committee against corruption screams foul

Last week, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the establishment of a new anti-corruption agency to be saddled with proper coordination of all recovered looted assets.

The Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, was said to have told the State House correspondents after the FEC meeting in Abuja that assets recovered have been in the hands of several agencies and that better coordination would encourage international/overall coordination in recovering more looted assets.

Malami said the new anti-corruption agency named, ‘Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency’ would be saddled with the responsibility of managing the assets that constitute the proceeds of crime in Nigeria.

Malami said that the FEC had approved transmission of a bill, titled, “Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency Bill,” to the National Assembly.

He explained that once the bill becomes law and the agency is established, it would see to proper documentation and management of such recovered assets and thereby guarantee transparency and accountability.

Malami said that an agency of this nature had become necessary in a bid to consolidate the gains achieved so far in the government’s war against corruption.

“It is in essence a bill that is targeted and intended to have in place a legal and institutional framework. The legal component of it is having a law and the institutional component of it is to have an agency that will be saddled with the responsibility of managing the assets that constitute the proceeds of crime in Nigeria,” he said.

“What happens before now is the proceeds of crime are scattered all over, and mostly in the hands of different and multiple agencies of government inclusive of the police, the DSS (Department of State Service), EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), and ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission).

“So, with that kind of arrangement which is ad-hoc, there is no agency of government that is saddled with the responsibility of data generation, an agency that can give you off-hand the number of landed assets, number of immovable assets, the amount in cash that are recovered by the federal government by way of interim forfeiture overweigh of a final forfeiture,” he further said.

Agbakoba hails FEC move

Welcoming the development, Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Maritime lawyer, said it was a positive development.

In a statement he personally signed, Agbakoba had said “I congratulate the Federal Government and especially the Attorney-General of the Federation on the establishment of the proceeds of crime assets recovery Agency. My reason is simple; the EFCC is saddled with far too many responsibilities beyond its best capabilities.”

According to him, “The EFCC performs three functions albeit related but unnecessary to concentrate in one Agency- Investigations, prosecution, and Assets recovery. The standard recommended and indeed prescribed by the Financial Action Task Force, the international agency mandated with proceeds of crime matters, is that these functions vested in EFCC, must be carried out by distinct agencies for competence efficiency and transparency. I fully support divesting EFCC from managing assets recovered from proceeds of crime and further divestment of their power to prosecute is necessary.”

It is his considered opinion that “This will make the anti-corruption strategy more effective.”

Presidential Committee pick holes, screams foul

In an apparent response to the FEC move, the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC) Thursday raised the alarm over what it described as a sinister and dangerous attempt at the National Assembly to scrap the EFCC.

The presidential committee said a draft Bill intended to repeal the EFCC Establishment Act 2004, is being circulated by enemies of Nigeria, who are presently “too ashamed to put their names to the draft Bill.”

According to a statement signed by PACAC Chairman, Itse Sagay and made available by the Communications Officer, PACAC, Aghogho Agbahor, the Committee said the draft bill seeks; “repeal of the Current EFCC Establishment Act; Scrap the Commission and replacing it with a weak Agency; Replace the Executive Chairman of the EFCC with a Director General who is effectively to be appointed by the Attorney-General.”

It noted that “This eliminates the EFCC’s freedom and autonomy and replaces it with an entity under the complete control of the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General.”

It also frowned at “The elimination of the position of the Secretary of the EFCC, a critical officer who serves as the institutional memory and the Administrative Head of the Agency”, the statement further read.

“Under the proposed Act the Annual Report of the EFCC is not to be submitted to the National Assembly until it has been passed through the Attorney-General for onward transmission to the National Assembly; thus making the Attorney-General the reporting officer of the Agency rather than the Chairman or the Director-General, as the new Bill is proposing”, it added.

The Committee alleged that those behind the move are “the representatives of the corrupt establishment that brought this country to its knees and subjected us to humiliation as a result of an extremely negative reputation internationally.”

The PACAC, in an attempt to justify the relevance of the EFCC, argued that the commission has successfully prosecuted about 3000 persons, including high profile political office holders in the last 5 years whilst the whole of the Ministry of Justice has been underperforming during this period.

The Committee also informed that Assets worth about One Trillion Naira have been recovered by the EFCC during the period, while the recovery of Funds looted and taken abroad to different countries also amounting to about one Billion Dollars, has been due largely to the EFCC.

“All the evidence used in establishing fraud and corruption against P&ID in the recent London case which led to Nigeria being given the opportunity of challenging the 10 Billion Dollars award made against Nigeria in favour of P&ID was exclusively provided by the EFCC to Nigeria’s London Solicitors.

“This is fulsomely acknowledged by the London Court in its Judgment. With all the above established facts, the gravity of the proposed change becomes overwhelming. When in addition to all this, we recall the well-known proclivity of the Attorney-General for entering nolle procequi in favour of major political and governmental figures, this move to effectively scrap the EFCC becomes more alarming.

“We therefore, call on the National Assembly and all Nigerians to vigorously reject this attempt to perpetrate fraud on the Nation by effectively scuttling the EFCC and shutting down Nigeria’s anti-corruption war,” the statement read.

EFCC and the journey so far

When Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president of Nigeria, founded the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2003, many Nigerians were happy that the country would soon be free from the deadly grip of corruption, which has threatened the progress and prosperity of Nigeria for decades.

Then, the commission was making commendable efforts in the fight against corruption until some politicians saw it as a tool to fight detractors. There were also interferences by the former president and founder, which made the international community that once hailed the establishment of the commission to start doubting the sincerity of the fight.

Today, and 17 years down the line, Nigeria still ranks very high in global corruption index.

Moreover, the doubt in the competence of the EFCC and in the efficacy of its prosecutions has increased with many calling the commission toothless bulldog because of the little success achieved in the fight so far.

Aside the recoveries of looted funds, the seemingly biggest feat of the commission has been the sentencing to prison of some former governors such as Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau State, and Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba State; Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State, who is now a senator, who regained his freedom after a few months behind bars against the wish the EFCC, and he did not even lose his seat at the Senate while in prison. So, also Peter Odili, former governor of River State, obtained a perpetual injunction, which barred the EFCC from arresting, detaining or arraigning him.

When Olabode George, former PDP chieftain, emerged from prison in 2011 after serving a two-and-a-half year sentence following a landmark EFCC prosecution, he was treated to a rapturous welcome by some members of the Nigerian political elite.

Also, it would be recalled that in January 2013, an assistant director of the Nigerian Pension Commission was charged for stealing ₦32 billion, but he ended up with a ₦250,000 fine.

Although the Commission is said to have secured a number of other convictions against corrupt individuals in the country, many Nigerians believe it has more shortfalls than feats, hence the recent agitations to scrap the commission.

Maxwell Onochie, a Lagos-based forensic lawyer, thinks that the fight against corruption has not been sincerely fought since the establishment of the commission, and especially now considering the increasing cases.

Decrying the situation further, Onochie disclosed that though the anti-graft agency has made significant success in tackling private sector corruption, it has made less progress in tackling public sector corruption, which is key because endemic government corruption in the country has undermined the basic rights of millions of Nigerians.

“In the first place, there is no need for the EFCC if the Police is equipped and strengthened to curb corruption like their folks in the western world. The EFCC has often been used by the politicians against their detractors and the opposition and that has made mockery of the sincerity in the fight against corruption”, Onochie said.

The lawyer observed that corruption still thrives in Nigeria and even more now that the fight against it has been reinforced by the present administration. The ugly development, according to the lawyer, queries the competence of the commission and calls for the need to strengthen it to work efficiently or scrap it if it is irredeemable.

Terwase Hundu, a lawyer and former consultant to the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria (NHRC) Abuja, decried that many Nigerians were disappointed with the alleged corruption charges leveled against Ibrahim Magu, the former acting chairman of the anti-graft body and some of its staff, noting that it is an anomaly for corruption to reign supreme in the anti-graft chamber.

“Those who called the EFCC toothless bulldog are justified now with the ongoing investigation of Magu and corruption in the commission because there is no justification for recovering looted funds and re-looting them afterwards”, Hundu said.

Martins Okopi, a public affairs analyst, noted that if the Federal Government subjects the proposed scraping of the EFCC to public vote, 80 percent of Nigerians would vote for its scraping because corruption is assuming new and deadlier heights now than in the past administrations.

“It is sad that some people are saying that corruption is fighting back now, but should that be the case in an administration that promised to wipe corruption out of Nigeria. I think the EFCC has not only lost its bite, but also the confidence the helpless masses reposed on its competence and sincerity”, the public analyst lamented.

According to Okopi, what is the need for the EFCC when corruption is increasing, those who looted public funds still walk freely on the streets, and the judiciary impedes the prosecution of some ‘high and mighty’ because of their closeness to the corridors of power or ability to pay their way out?

As well, in its report a few years ago, Human Rights Watch, a United States of America-based group, noted that Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency has failed to tackle corrupt politicians effectively.

Then, the group observed that while the EFCC had prosecuted 30 politicians, only four were convicted and none were in prison. While a few are in prison now, prosecution is becoming more difficult now with the many judicial impediments.

Recalling how Nuhu Ribadu, the former chairman of the EFCC was removed in the middle of his term in 2007, Okopi said the removal was two weeks after the body arrested a wealthy former governor who was close to then-President Umaru Yar’Adua.

“Then, it was a clear message that some people are ‘untouchable’ no matter the crime they committed or amount they stole from public purse. That is still happening today like in the case of Orji Kalu, and others who are enjoying favourable court rulings and immunity due to their closeness to Aso Rock”, Okopi said, decrying that selective prosecution amounts to injustice to Nigerians and sabotage of the economy.

Looking at the calls for the scraping of the agency, Onochie explained that they are coming from the ‘powerful and mighty’, especially corrupt politicians, who see the activities of the agency as impediment to their political ambitions.

“The poor masses are supporting the scraping of the EFCC not in alliance with the corrupt politicians, but because the agency has turned blind eyes to the looting of the economy by politicians and public office holders, which has also denied the poor access to social amenities, good roads, quality hospitals and schools”, he disclosed.

In the same vein, Hundu noted that it is the corrupt politicians, public office holders and their private sector collaborators that are calling for the scrapping because of the fear of being witch-hunted when they fall out of favour or far from the corridors of power.

“I earnestly desire that the EFCC will carry out its statutory obligations with all sincerity and impartiality that it requires to save us from the cancerous corruption that keeps draining blood from our lives and the economy. But if corruption is increasing despite the fight, then the agency has to be strengthened or scrapped to save money being wasted in staff remuneration and further mockery of the Nigerian state,” Hundu suggested.

However, most Nigerians think that establishing another anti-graft agency will amount to duplication of same role and will also not impact the fight against corruption because of the constitutional lapses, government interference, judicial impediments and other challenges that have kept others down.

“Even if you create 10 more anti-graft agencies, they will still be answerable to the government of the day, the staff will still be Nigerians and the judiciary will also upturn some of their victories in favour of the moneybags”, Okopi said.

The hunter, now the hunted

The EFCC recently came under public searchlight as its now suspended former Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, was arrested and detained over allegations of fraud levelled against him by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.

Magu has been dragged to the Ayo Salami-led Presidential Panel probing his activities and this has raised suspicion about the propriety of individuals running the agency. The  current allegations against Magu has also elicited some calls for the agency to be scrapped with some arguing that it may have become a cesspool of corruption, as observers are wondering if the agency has not lost the raison d’etre.

While some believe that the commission has been tainted by corruption, such that it cannot be reformed and therefore, needed to be scrapped, others said the EFCC should be kept because it has done a great job of fighting corruption irrespective of manifest encumbrances.

Speaking with BDSUNDAY on Friday, Abuja-based legal practitioner, Joy Nkiru Okpalla, noted that the investigation of Magu shows that Nigeria is paying lip service to corruption, stressing that the EFCC has lost its value in the eyes of the public.

“EFCC has lost value in the sight of the common man, because when you talk about corrupt practices, how can somebody who is at the helm of affairs of fighting corruption be involved in all these corruption allegations? It means he is there working for himself and not for the nation. I don’t think the EFCC has done its work and the essence of keeping it is not there. There should be no need having the EFCC. Let’s go back to the drawing board, if it has to do with going back to the ICPC and other agencies, let’s determine their terms of reference and see how to strengthen their capacity,” Okpalla said.

“There are allegations that the EFCC was established for particular persons and all the recovered funds where are they? The people who have been accused of corrupt practices, what has become of them, how many have been prosecuted? By the time we check it across the board you will realise that the EFCC has achieved less than 1percent of what it was set for. So the EFCC should be scrapped.

“So, it is better we come out straight and determine how we want to move ahead. If we want to eliminate those corrupt practices then we must put up a strategy which will be something we want to work across the board. Nobody should be above threshold,” she further said.

However, the Spokesman of the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, BDSUNDAY that the call to scrap the commission was not helpful as the Commission has played a remarkable role in sanitising the Nigerian economic and financial space in less than 20 years.

He said: “It will be helpful if we take a mental excursion into the past to look at what was the situation with Nigeria before the EFCC came on board and what is the situation with Nigeria now.

“Before the commission came on board, there was a terrible culture of impunity, a terrible culture of little or no accountability, a terrible culture of brazen economic and financial criminality.  But you will agree with me that in less than 20 years, there has been a dramatic improvement in our economic and financial space. There is sanity whether we agree with it or not. The fear of EFCC is still the beginning of wisdom.

“So, it will not be helpful if we scrap the EFCC because it has a very remarkable role to play in sanitising our economic and financial space and building resistance to all forms of criminality.”

Contributing, Ezenwa Nwagu, chairman, Partners for Electoral Reforms, a civil society organisation, argued that the EFCC is so important and must not be scrapped irrespective of its shortcomings, adding that there is a huge gang against the EFCC because it is effective in fighting some big people who have put their hands in the common till.

He said the EFCC was established to tackle financial crime because of the effectiveness of financial crimes, which made it impossible for the Special Fraud unit of the police to deal with that kind of challenge.

“You must understand that the basis for forming the ICPC and the EFCC was because Nigeria became rated internationally as the headquarters of Advanced Fee Fraud (419) and the police were incapable of dealing with those issues. So, it was a hydra-headed challenge that needed a hydra-headed solution.

“The truth of the matter is that the EFCC has constantly been under attack and the reason is that it has been effective. The impunity that characterised the attitude of people to public funds and resources needs the kind of ruggedness that we have seen from the EFCC and that has elicited a lot of bile, a lot of hatred, a lot of attack,” Nwagu said.

He lamented that those who directly undermine the EFCC are even those who ordinarily should support the work of the EFCC and in this particular case the different Attorneys-General that had since the creation of the EFCC have found the activities of the commission very uncomfortable.

“Whether it’s the time of Michael Aondoaka as Attorney-General to the time of Mohammed Adoke and even to this current Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, it beats me why they are uncomfortable with an organisation that has become the poster boy of different administrations in terms of its capacity to rein in people who have put their hand in the common till.

“So, for me, I see everything that is happening as a well-organised and orchestrated campaign of calumny against an institution that has actually done and discharged its responsibilities according to the statute that has set it up,” he said.

According to him, “The court has not found Magu guilty of any of those accusations and Magu’s response to all the accusations do not point to the facts that he was culpable.  The big issue is that Magu may have been the leader of that institution but he does not personify the institution.

“I do not want to run with the accusations Malami levelled against Magu and remember that Malami himself has been facing accusations; why is he still in office? Do we then dissolve the Ministry of Justice or the Office of the Attorney-General because Malami has been fingered in corrupt practices?”

Ibuchukwu Ezike, CEO of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), condemned those calling for the EFCC to be scrapped, stressing that the nation cannot throw away the baby with the bath water.

He said: “The fact that people who operate institutions are bad, visionless and lawless, it does not mean that the institutions are bad. There is a good intention to establish the agencies and it is all over the world and not only in Nigeria. If anybody who says there is no need for the EFCC then, there is no need for Nigeria; there is no need for our system because everything is bad.

“We have failed as a nation and we need to come together to begin to think of how to reestablish, to rebuild the nation. No system is wrong. If you go to the local government there were things they used to do when we were in primary school with little funds. But today they have more funds but nothing is happening. Do we say we should scrap the local government? So, everything has gone wrong in Nigeria and for anybody to single out one institution I think is not acceptable.

“It is the same people this institution is hunting that are asking that it should be scrapped. If there is anything wrong with the EFCC, it is the president who appoints people there, who does supervisory role over the institutions that should be blamed.  If the president, who appoints the people in EFCC is transparent and honest, the handlers of the agency will not be corrupt, will not abuse the process and the rule of law. If the man at the helm of affairs wants the institutions to work well, it will work well.”

Powerful elements after EFCC – Legal practitioners

Fagbemi Awamaridi, governorship candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in 2019, said the problem was not the institution, but the operators.

“Even the presidency and Nigeria itself have become moribund. So, in that light we may say presidency and, in fact, Nigeria should be scrapped,” he said, annoyingly.

Mark Adebayo, an anti-corruption and Human Rights activist, told BDSUNDAY that scrapping the EFCC would be tantamount to cutting off the head because of a headache.

“It’s absolutely unnecessary and counterproductive to the efforts being made to curb corruption in the country no matter how defective it is.

What needs to be done is reorganising the agency in such a way to make it effective, proactive, professional, transparent, unbiased and totally insulated from political influence especially by the presidency.

There is no doubt at all that the agency needs to be reformed urgently. One of the reforms is to ensure that there is security of tenure for the EFCC chairman while the power of hire and fire be constitutionally removed from the president. Since inception, EFCC has been a victim of political control and manipulation as an instrument of political victimisation of the opponent of the Party in power. EFCC is not the problem, political office holders, especially successive presidencies, have been the problem.

“Scrapping the EFCC and handing over its responsibilities to the police as being suggested is the dumbest thing anyone can think of considering the extremely poor perception of the Nigerian Police as among the most corrupt government agencies in the country. Some critics have even suggested that the EFCC became infected with corruption simply because of the preponderance of police officers in the agency.”

According to him, “That’s absolutely a no-go area if we are sincere about fighting corruption in the land. Once the EFCC is removed from the possibility of political influence and its independence is guaranteed with security of tenure for the head, its operations would significantly improve and become satisfactory. This country needs an anti-corruption agency like the EFCC considering the alarming rate of corruption we suffer here on a daily basis.”

Malachy Ugwummadu, lawyer and former national president, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), said: “Beyond what people are saying, I would like to examine the contradiction that has led to the very unfair treatment of Magu leading to where we are now.The police were there when EFCC and ICPC were created. The police preside over the Code of Conduct Bureau. I have mentioned them to let you know it is strictly the failure of the police that led to the creation of these agencies.”

According to him, “Even the DSS all of them, the secret police used to be a department in the Nigeria Police, all of these are the failure of the police which are supposed to fight crime. But society is dynamic, so are the people in it. And therefore, as we experience changes and transform so are new strategies and initiatives being developed to meet the exigencies of time.

“Except you are talking about a complete reform of the Nigerian police, and when I talk of that it is not just about changing uniforms, or personnel, it has to be about total reorientation of the people there.

They should be guided by high conscientious leadership whose patriotism and focus on the nation would not be questioned.”

Ugwummadu strongly believed that “Magu is a victim of power play in a flawed political setting that has shown few contradictions. What has happened to Magu is not different from what happened to his predecessors; they suffered similar feats, Ibrahim Lamorde, Ribadu, and the rest. But why this is so, should bother you as a journalist.”

 

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