Anti-graft agencies need radical overhaul

    FROM a slumberous and lethargic agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has undergone an overnight “transformation,” posturing as a formidable anti-corruption agency that now carries out its duties with renewed gusto. Having seemingly woken up from prolonged indolence, the agency has suddenly started arresting and arraigning men and women that only just recently seemed to be untouchable

Aside from “arresting” the former governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim, the anti-graft agency has grilled Martin Elechi, former governor of Ebonyi State, while also renewing interest in cases involving the former helmsmen of Enugu and Bayelsa states, Chimaroke Nnamani and Timipre Sylva, respectively. The list seems to be getting longer by the day.

However, no one should be deceived by this flurry of activities. They are merely signs of an ailing agency that is only flattering to deceive. For President Muhammadu Buhari to make a success of his avowed intentions to rid the country of rabid and endemic corruption, there is an urgent need to give the anti-graft agencies a shot in the arm. Together with its poor cousin, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, the EFCC needs a radical overhaul to place it in a position where it will be able to fulfil its potentialities.

 For the past eight years, since the exit of the founding chairman of the commission, Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC has watched helplessly as the corruption that it was created to fight continues to eat deep into the body and soul of the country. During this period, the commission, especially under Ibrahim Lamorde, became so good at going after petty thieves and internet fraudsters that the real corrupt people who robbed the country blind had the freedom to flourish and commit more havoc.

Evidence that corruption climbed to heights hitherto unknown in this country could be found in the mindboggling scams that were recorded in various government agencies, especially in the oil sector, which is the mainstay of the country’s economy, for which nobody has so far been punished. It is sad that those who conspired to swindle the country out of N2.5 trillion in the name of fuel subsidy administration are still breathing the air of freedom today.

More than a year after the former Central Bank of Nigeria governor and current Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi, was fired from his duty post for raising the alarm about a missing $20 billion, the issue has not been successfully sorted out. The forensic audit that was ordered to lay the matter to rest ended up raising more issues than it succeeded in addressing. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, a cesspit of monumental corruption that even defied the constitution by refusing to remit revenues to the Federation Account, is still an object of a sustained clamour for a probe. What is important is the fact that only a hands-on approach by the government in the fight against corruption can produce the desired result.

The present discredited anti-graft structure should be overhauled. Larmode and ICPC’s Ekpo Nta, together with their inept teams, must go. Undoubtedly, getting it right in the crusade begins with the appointment of the right calibre of persons to head the two anti-graft agencies. Passion for the war is critical. This is where the names of tested and trusted hands such as Oby Ezekwesili (a former minister), Ishola Williams (a retired major general) and Abubakar Umar (a retired colonel) loom large, among others, if Buhari really wants to make a clean break with the sordid past. In addition, an Attorney General of the Federation, who shares Buhari’s creed of “killing corruption before it kills Nigeria” is inevitable.

Apart from effecting the necessary changes in the leadership of both the EFCC and ICPC, efforts should be made to strengthen them financially to be able to carry out their duties. The EFCC once famously claimed that it was no longer in a position to pay salaries, as its bank account had shrunk to just over a million naira. The report, however, was later denied, but starving the agency of funds over the years has been an effective way of emasculating it.

For the anti-graft war to be effective, efforts must also be made to strengthen the judicial processes for speedier adjudication of corruption cases. This can best be achieved if the idea of special courts mooted by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, and a former EFCC boss, Farida Waziri, is accommodated in the Nigerian justice system. Special courts have become necessary because of the delays in the regular courts. How can it be explained that the case instituted against Nnamani in 2007 is just starting afresh now? Since the regular courts have failed so woefully, it is time to follow the examples of countries such as Malaysia, the Philippines, Pakistan and Kenya, which operate specialised courts for the trial of corruption cases.

Setting up these structures will, however, not necessarily lead to an effective anti-corruption crusade until the judges themselves perform their duties effectively. In many cases, they have been found to have compromised. In a few instances where they have been caught, the punitive measures have not exceeded dismissal. Going forward, judges found to have compromised should not only be dismissed, but should be tried and sentenced. By the time a few of them are jailed, it will serve as a deterrent to others. At the level of prosecution, the EFCC must ensure that it does its homework properly. Too many cases have been dismissed due to “want of diligent prosecution.”

Nigeria will only surmount the problem of corruption by building institutions. The level of graft in the developed countries today is low because people know that once they are involved in corruption practices, no matter their position in the society, they would be caught and punished. This is the surest way to reduce both the opportunities and incentives for corruption.

 

SOURCE: The Punch.

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