A wild applause greeted the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. But 10 years after, corruption is still soaring in the nation. Although the commission cannot be described as a tooth-less bull dog, its impact has not been greatly felt by the stakeholders.
Corruption is on the increase in public life. The list is endless-electoral crimes, civil service pension fund scam, police pension controversy, fuel subsidy fraud, House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee scandal. Critics have argued that it is relatively easier to prosecute and jail people who stole N2 million than to invite for questioning big fish, who allegedly made away with billions. Thus, the slow progression of the anti-crime battle has eroded public confidence.
Before the EFCC was established, development experts, who had established a linkage between graft in high places and failure of governance, warned that the country may continue to wallow in poverty and squalour, unless the bad eggs in the corridor of power are edged out.
EFCC moved swiftly to track down the corrupt politicians and public officials, who have looted the treasury and enriched themselves to the detriment of other citizens. A searchlight was beamed on governors, ministers, National Assembly, boards and parastatals, civil service and private sectors, and others who were previously insulated from public scrutiny.
However, politicians have devised a means of hiding under constitutional technicalities to escape justice. Also, EFCC had not achieved much when the Federal Government manipulated the process and turned it into an agent of intimidation and victimisation of perceived political opponents.
To the right activists, the anti-corruption war had gone awry. A university teacher, Prof. Niyi Osundare, who had reflected on the anti-graft war, observed that a corruption-compliant ruler cannot rule a corrupt-free country. Another scholar, Prof. Itsey Sagay (SAN), expressed worry about the high tolerance for corruption by institutions set up to nip graft in the bud. He said corruption is a devastating quagmire, adding that Nigeria is hopeless because members of the National Assembly investigating corrupt charges against public officials are also taking bribes.
“N16 billion was expended on power, but it ended with the probe of contracts involving the chairman of committee that was probing the scam. The chairmen and members of the committee probing the SEC and fuel subsidy are now under investigation. We are in a situation where we have to find a policeman to police the police. Corruption is destroying the country’s chance of development,” Sagay stressed..
Many have also expressed worry over the perception of corruption and corrupt leaders by the society. Osundare lamented that the former Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) Chairman, Chief Bode George, was accompanied to the court when he was standing trial by drummers and praise-singers. After serving a two-year jail for corruption, he was also welcomed back with funfair. Apart from frowning at the red carpet reception, Osundare said clerics mocked religion when a church service was held for him in Lagos. “All these make Nigeria a moral desert, political jungle and haven for criminals”, he said.
If the war had been fought according to the law, the university don said the sectors would have witnessed renewal. “All the disasters, road accidents, Dana Air crash, Boko Haram violence; these clusters of calamities are traceable to corruption. Corruption killed the railway system, which would have reduced the pressure on the roads.
“Why is the Nigerian road full of” tokunbo” cars and airspace racketing “tokunbo” planes. Where are previous reports? All we have is investigation without an end, recommendation without implementation and reports that are dumped”.
To the university teacher, President Goodluck Jonathan has also failed to lead by example. He faulted the President’s position on declaration of asset, stressing that his “I don’t give a damn attitude” to matters of probity and transparency was condemnable. “How did the Permanent Secretaries have houses in Abuja, Lagos and their villages. These were the boys we taught in the universities. We know their tricks”, he added.
But why is the EFCC unable to adequately discharge its duties with maximum results? A right activist, Debo Adeniran, leader of the Coalition against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), said: “What we have noticed is that the number of convictions being recorded in courts by these specialised agencies is not commensurate with the number of cases they have in court”.
Last year, EFCC and ICPC claimed that they had over 1,500 cases waiting to be determined in courts. Out of this figure, not less than 65 are cases involving politically exposed persons; governors, ministers and others. “Our worry is why are these cases stalled in courts”, said Adeniran.
The new EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Larmode, has reiterated the commission’s determination to prove skeptics that it is a tooth-less bulldog. Many think that the bravado lack basis, owing to certain impediments.
His predecessor, Farida Waziri, who had explained the constraints to reporters in Lagos, painted an awful picture of the anti-corruption process. She big suspects, have often delayed the litigation process. “Their counsel ask for frivolous adjournments to buy more time. They tender medical reports before courts and get permission to travel abroad, thereby wasting the time of the court and EFCC”.
The former EFCC boss also condemned the culture of worshipping the corrupt officials standing trial by followers, who accompany them to the court with pomp. “They alight from their posh cars and wave at the crowd of supporters as if they are heroes worthy of emulation”, she complained, stressing that the process has indulged them. The only way out, said Farida, is to set up special courts for the speedy trial of criminal suspects who are ruining the economy.
Many analysts have also objected to the plea bargaining, which has provided an escape route for fraudsters. Another human right activist, Lanre Suraj, complained that privileged suspects, who stole public money, are treated with kid gloves, unlike ordinary men, who stole five tubers of yam and ends up in 12-month jail.
His colleague, Ayodele Akele, former governorship candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), agreed with him. “They steal a huge sum and pay back a little in the name of plea bargaining. If somebody steals a handset, he is jailed for six months or a year. Why not jail corrupt politicians? This is double standard”, he said. In his opinion, plea bargaining for political and economic fraudsters must be removed, if it cannot be extended to the poor.
On many occasions, ICPC and EFCC have said that many Nigerians lack an in-depth understanding of the operations of the agencies. They have argued that the agencies were not sep up to prosecute erring politicians and civil servants alone. Their mandates, they clarified, also extended to going after corrupt employees in private organisations.
Right groups which have never disputed this however, have another axe to grind with the agencies. A Lagos lawyer, Supo Ojo, berated EFCC for sensationalise its complaints against suspects. He said, once a person is arrested by the EFCC, the public perception of him as thief may never be erased. “EFCC is heavy in the media. It is light in concrete performance of its statutory functions”, he said.
Ojo supported Farida’s call for a special court to try corrupt leaders. Justifying the call, he alleged that the judiciary is an accomplice in attempts by politicians to evade justice. “A special court will give EFCC teeth. The present system is faulty and not much can be done. There are constraints like perpetual injunctions. we need dedicated courts and special legislations and sanctions must be heavy”, he stressed.
It is believed by many that the anti-graft war mirrors the stance of the federal government. Thus, Akele urged President Jonathan to give EFCC a free hand to operate so that it will not be a toothless bull dog
Adeniran also urged the federal government to give the anti-corruption agencies a free hand to do their job without any influence or interference from the Presidency and the Attorney-General of the Federation.
A House of Representatives member Abike Dabiri-Erewa urged Nigerians to make use of the Freedom of Information Act. “Nigerians now have access to pubic accounts and they can demand for accountability. They can raise questions”, she said.
A cleris and politician, Pastor Tunde Bakare, urged Nigerians to embrace the spirit of radical reformation. He also enjoined them to study how corrupt-free countries like Sweden , Denmark, Switzerland, Australia, Canada and Georgia conquered the cankerworm