One Year of Peace and Harmony with Economic and Financial Crimes
If ever there was any doubt about how compromised the current leadership of the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) is, that doubt was dispelled last week when the chairman of the Commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, released a list of corrupt Nigerians. That list, clearly missing the names of those who engineered the appointment of Mrs. Waziri, came on the heels of her celebration of one year as head of the EFCC recently. The highpoint of the celebration was a scurrilous attack on the former leadership of the EFCC. Indeed, the main thrust of Mrs. Waziri’s tenure as chairman of the EFCC in the last one year has not only been to undermine the work the Commission did before her tenure but to use every opportunity she has to assail the former chairman of the Commission as if he is the major obstacle to her doing the job she was appointed to do.
It would have been unnecessary to join issues with Mrs. Waziri because I believe she is entitled to her comments. The problem, however, is that facts are sacred and fighting corruption is serious business. It seems the only way Mrs. Waziri can justify her incompetence is to diminish the standard set by her predecessor. Worried not only that Nigerians have seen through her antics and have rejected her posturing on the fight against corruption, but by her predecessor’s rising international profile, Mrs. Waziri has taken the battle to new frontiers in the typical Nigerian pull him down syndrome.
Instead of building her own structures and defining her own strategy to win the war on corruption, Mrs. Waziri spends valuable time complaining and running down her predecessor. But in spite of the shortcoming of the EFCC under Mr. Ribadu, it is generally agreed that the Commission made an impact in the fight against corruption. For the first time, in the history of Nigeria, corruption was brought to the front burner of national discourse. The heightened consciousness about the impact of corruption on the country is a direct result of the work of the EFCC under Ribadu. But not only that; the EFCC under Ribadu recorded strings of successes which rather than acknowledge, the current leadership is trying hard to appropriate.
In an interview with The News magazine a few weeks ago, Mrs. Waziri was asked about the kind of EFCC she inherited. Her response: “Well the kind of EFCC that I inherited had no structure. I think it was like they were just working when they wanted to work and do certain things, there was no set standard, there were no structures when I came in.” I shall return to this. Mrs. Waziri claims she has recovered over N50 billion in the last one year and recorded a number of convictions, perhaps more than what the Commission recorded in the four years of Mr. Ribadu. The Nigerian public would like to have the details: the names of those prosecuted, when the cases started, the outcomes, etc.
Mrs. Waziri says she is opposed to plea bargaining. Hear her: “the international community thinks we don’t have the zeal to fight corruption, because in our cases, we don’t have conviction, even Ribadu did not have any conviction. Many were based on plea bargaining, no logical conclusion. And that is the problem till today. That is why people we charge to court are laughing, thinking it is a child’s play. Because they know they can buy their way out.” Of course, criminals are doing exactly that under Mrs. Waziri. She personally coordinated the fraudulent plea bargaining that saw former Edo State governor, Lucky Igbinedion retaining his loot while he was made to pay a paltry sum of N3 million without a day behind bars.
The question really is at what stage did Mrs. Waziri begin to oppose plea bargaining? I should note here that as a lawyer, Mrs. Waziri knows that plea bargaining is an integral part of our legal system as is bail for accused persons. During Ribadu’s era, there was no plea bargaining (including that of former IGP, Tafa Balogun, Governor DSP Alamasiegha, and 419 kingpin, Immanuel Nwude) that did not attract imprisonment. In all these cases, the EFCC retrieved the proceeds of their crimes which were forfeited to the government. It is a far cry from the prevailing situation when convicts are allowed to smile home. Nowadays, some accused persons dictate the venue of their trial and nominate their own prosecutor.
Mrs. Waziri says she is frustrated with the courts. Need we remind her that these are the same courts that predecessor operated under and recorded more than 300 convictions. Instead of blaming the judiciary, the EFCC under Mrs. Waziri should look inward and re-examine the mantra of rule of law which is being exploited by powerful criminal to evade justice and in the process discredit the EFCC.
On the issue of Mr. Ribadu leaving no structures, it is clear what Mrs. Waziri has done in the last one year is to rebrand existing structures thereby deceiving the public that she has set up new structures. For instance, in place of Fix Nigeria Initiative (FNI), the civil society unit of the EFCC under Ribadu, she launched Anti-corruption Revolution (ANCOR). We have yet to see on what foundation the so-called revolution is anchored! Contrary to her wild and misleading contention, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) established by the EFCC under Mr. Ribadu is one of the most respected institutions in the world. Apart from changing the head of the Economic Governance Unit, that section, one of most important in the work of the EFCC, has become comatose. Indeed, all we see is a lot of motion without movement.
All the structures created by the EFCC Act were in place under Mr. Ribadu. But the Commission under him went a step further. The EFCC worked with international law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies to complement the war on corruption in Nigeria. Only recently, the Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), an organisation set up by Heads of States and Governments of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 2000 to promote and facilitate regional efforts at combating money laundering and terrorist financing, noted in its 2008 annual report: “Following the successes registered by the EFCC, closely supported by the NFIU, many national criminal elements moved to neighbouring countries to pursue their activities. However, since the advent of the new government and especially, since early 2008, many of these criminal elements have returned to Nigeria or have resurfaced locally to resume their trade.”
It was during Mr. Ribadu’s tenure that Nigeria was removed from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) list of Non-Cooperating Countries and Territories. In taking the decision, the FATF noted the significant progress Nigeria had made in implementing FATF Standards. Mrs. Waziri has not added any new structure, physical or otherwise, since she assumed leadership of EFCC. It is on record that most accused persons prefer to be detained in EFCC detention centre built during Mr. Ribadu’s tenure. Rather than piling blames on Mr. Ribadu, Mrs. Waziri should take time to study the history of EFCC. She would realise that Mr. Ribadu started the EFCC, which she inherited, from scratch, without a budget, office or staff.
Mrs. Waziri’s grandstanding does nothing to help the image of the Commission or that of the country. One moment she claims the files of governors accused of corruption were missing; the next moment she says the files are in her possession and she promises fire and brimstone. In the same breadth, she confesses she is helpless amidst renewed looting spree by government officials and billions of naira in stolen wealth being siphoned out of the country everyday by corrupt politicians and their accomplices.
Let me reiterate that the EFCC under Mr. Ribadu, despite its shortcomings, earned the respect of Nigerians and the international community unlike now that the EFCC and leadership are treated with suspicion. With all the hoopla that attended her appointment, the expectation was that, with hindsight, she would be in a position to correct the mistakes made by Mr. Ribadu and build on the modest achievements of her predecessors. Unfortunately, her appointment has turned out to be a big hoax.
The fight against corruption is not a tea party. I can only wish Mrs. Waziri well in the unenviable task of fighting corruption in a place like Nigeria.