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LAMENTABLE as it is, Nigeria’s anti-corruption war has continued to nose-dive at an alarming rate. Indeed, the country’s war against graft might soon collapse totally. This arises from the recent re-confirmation that the Federal Government is underfunding the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the main public agency saddled with the task of prosecuting the campaign. For a nation listed in the 139th position out of 176 countries ranked by Transparency International on its Corruption Perception Index (2012), the deliberate denial of funding to the EFCC is the wrong way to go. The government must correct this at once.
According to news reports, the EFCC is so broke that it cannot pay for the services of the lawyers it hired to prosecute corruption and money laundering cases in court. This has also affected the commission’s public enlightenment programmes through the mass media, making the agency a toothless bulldog that can only bark and not bite. But with corruption becoming more virulent than ever before, the Goodluck Jonathan Administration should live up to the billing by turning things around for the EFCC. The situation is indeed very bad, though it need not be if the government aims to curb graft.
The EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, lamented at a House of Representatives hearing earlier this year that of the N300 million asked for legal services for 2012, no kobo was allocated. He added, “It is important to note that for 2012, we requested N21.8 billion from the Budget Office, out of which only N10.9 billion was allocated, representing 51 per cent of our requirements.” According to the EFCC boss, the agency’s budget proposal for 2013 was cut by N11.7 billion. No wonder former President Olusegun Obasanjo, under whose watch the EFCC was established in 2003, said of the recent fortunes of the agency, “I’m speaking up to say that all of you in EFCC, there are areas where you should be ashamed of yourselves. If you take an organisation that took Nigeria from Level 2 to Level 43 and then it starts coming down to Level 34, then something is wrong.”
Nigeria improved to Level 43 in the war against sleaze under Obasanjo because Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer EFCC chairman, fought corruption – and was seen to have tenaciously fought it – with the support of the former president. Under Ribadu’s watch, the fear of the EFCC was the beginning of wisdom. Allegations that his investigations were directed mainly at anti-Obasanjo politicians were untenable as all those exposed by Ribadu were obviously tainted by corrupt practices. But Lamorde, who also worked with Ribadu in the EFCC, has not shown the kind of mettle and leadership provided by Ribadu.
All this shows that Jonathan is only paying lip service to fighting corruption. As the President dilly-dallies, corruption is festering under a powerless EFCC. It might be a coincidence, but the immediate past Attorney-General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, and the incumbent, Bello Adoke, are not interested in fighting graft. Aondoakaa once infamously declared James Ibori, the former governor of Delta State, as not guilty of enormous graft allegations in his state, until he was jailed for the same offences in a British court. Adoke once had a running battle with Farida Waziri, the immediate past head of EFCC, on how to prosecute corruption cases, saying that every case file had to pass through his desk. Many of EFCC’s cases thereafter stalled. But fighting graft requires a core of strong-willed individuals, with the support of some anti-corruption allies in the judiciary. Regrettably, this is missing now.
Though the government’s poor funding of the agency is a hindrance, Lamorde too has not demonstrated the kind of gusto, passion and forcefulness the war requires since he succeeded Waziri in 2011. Apart from funding, making the EFCC effective also has a lot to do with the individual zest of Lamorde to fight venality to a standstill. He has not shown he has the bottle to do this yet. Although the EFCC has reportedly recovered about N500 billion in stolen funds and has released all but N21.11 billion to the victims, the government has to revive the agency by ensuring that it is properly funded, as a first step.
Lamorde should establish his leadership by looking inside the organisation, and after an impartial investigation, weed out all the tainted officials, who are undermining the war against sleaze. He should go ahead and do his job without minding the body language of the President.
We have long argued that an abhorrent culture of graft and waste is systematically destroying our country. The World Bank has also identified corruption as the single greatest obstacle to economic development. Corruption pays only a few felons, but retards the development of the entire society. It is serviced by these entrenched shady characters, who typically masquerade as the boy-next-door, the philanthropist. To stop them demands integrity, passion, technology and, above all, the support of the President, who must allow the anti-graft agency a free rein to investigate everybody accused of fraud, whether they are highly-placed public officials or not.
The National Assembly should join in the war by reinforcing the law to ensure adequate punishment for corrupt practices. They should look at many alternatives, including emulating some Asian countries that have stipulated the death penalty for corrupt practices. But the ball is firmly in Jonathan’s court.