Judgment by media trial -By Lekan Sote

Filed under: Political Issues |

 

 

You are right if you think that the vigour that members of the National Assembly put into excising the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is to get even with their nemesis-in-chief, the EFCC Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, than the need to comply with Egmont Group requirements.

Their quest is hinged on the argument that the NFIU serves, not only the EFCC, but also the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, the Central Bank of Nigeria, gum shoes Department of State Services, and other related government agencies.

Nigeria joined the Egmont Group as an observer in 2005, became a full member in 2007, after which former President Goodluck Jonathan sent an enabling bill to remove the NFIU from the EFCC to the Seventh National Assembly that dragged its feet. The members apparently never thought that a Magu would emerge with zeal to see anyone, including former governors-turned-legislators, found guilty of corruption off to prison.

The NFIU Bill seeks to establish a standalone NFIU Board with powers to employ, reward, train, promote, and discipline its workforce, independent of the EFCC, or any other agency. The bill comes with a supplementary 2017 budget to enable the NFIU to take off immediately.

Nigeria has been suspended from the Egmont Group, but has till the end of 2017 to comply with necessary requirements or risk expulsion, and denial of foreign funding. Right now, the NFIU cannot access the Egmont website for intelligence reports on money laundering activities of dubious Nigerians.

In addition to compromising government’s ability to recover stolen public funds hidden abroad, Nigerian banks may be barred from using Mastercard and Visa credit cards, and denied international ratings for credit purposes.

Egmont Group is a body of financial intelligence units of 154 countries that share expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorism worldwide. Each FIU is a clearing house for receipt, analysis, and dissemination of reports of suspicious transactions.

The group is worried about the EFCC premature exposures of investigations to the media. A report on the usually unreliable social media claims that the Sokoto State Government allegedly paid N700m into the personal bank account of Kabir Tafida, Chief of Staff to the Sultan of Sokoto; it was red-flagged by the NFIU, but revealed to the media by the EFCC.

Imam Imam, spokesman for the Sokoto State Governor, Aminu Tambuwal, explained that the expenditure to purchase an Abuja house for the Sultan of Sokoto was duly provided for in the budget. He didn’t clarify if the property belongs to the sultanate, or would be owned in the private capacity of Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar.

Apart from compromising further investigations, the EFCC “expos” mask a lack of desire to convict– or lawfully discharge-graft suspects. Many EFCC prosecutions have hardly led to convictions, though one must admit that just two days ago, a Federal High Court ordered a former Minister for Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to permanently forfeit a Banana Island mansion to the Federal Government.

One such sensational, and seemingly inconclusive, case is the arrest, extended interrogation, prosecution, and detention, despite a court bail, of retired Col Sambo Dasuki, National Security Adviser to former President Jonathan.

Dasuki is alleged to have disbursed $2.1bn earmarked for military hardware to fund former President Jonathan’s reelection bid. Former Minister of Finance, Olu Falae, who admitted to receiving some money on behalf of his Social Democratic Party, was never detained.

Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, a former Minister of State, and Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Special Duties, who admitted to receiving money from Dasuki for presidential electioneering purposes, were detained, and then let go!

A former Sokoto State Governor, Attahiru Bafarawa, admits to having received N100m from a former Bauchi State, Governor Isa Yuguda, and disbursed the same towards the reelection of Jonathan. He and his son were detained for about three weeks.

He was later released, to shout himself almost hoarse, asking for a court process to convict or clear him.

But there are no takers from the hyperactive publicity crew of an EFCC that seems to be more interested in conducting its anti-corruption crusade by merely naming and shaming its victims through feeds to the media.

This makes you wonder if the EFCC or any anti-graft agency, for that matter, just wants to tarnish the image of individuals who have served in public office. Wicked is not too harsh a word to describe such intention. But you’ve got to admit that the EFCC efforts have somehow got Nigeria off the list of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world.

The Special Assistant to the President on Prosecutions, Obla Obono-Obla, claims that the EFCC and the ICPC do not cooperate with the Attorney General of the Federation because they have no intention to convict any suspects.

Obono-Obla alleges that the slow response of both anti-graft agencies in making necessary case files available has stalled efforts to prosecute criminal charges against as many as 31 former governors – many of whom are in the Senate, by the way.

The EFCC retorts that the AGF could conduct its own investigations of the suspects. The EFCC’s Head of Legal, G.K. Latona, who made this careless statement, should know that investigations include calling for files. Whatever happened to inter-agency cooperation?

Attorney Femi Falana graciously points out that the anti-graft agencies cannot bypass the AGF in filing charges in court. He offers Section 174 of the Constitution which allows the AGF to take over any case in court. Maybe, the AGF should take the cue.

The lackadaisical attitude of the EFCC officers like Latona, may have led to the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project’s town-hall like interrogation of the slow motion prosecution of corruption cases in Nigeria.

The meeting, with the longish theme, “Strategies and approaches for the successful completion and successful prosecution of abandoned or unresolved high profile cases of corruption in Nigeria,” is a testimony of the EFCC’s failure to follow its cases through.

The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof Itse Sagay, isn’t helping matters. Maybe, the elite in him does not know that Nigerians have become hardened and inured to embarrassment that comes with stigmas. Let him know that the way to deter stealing of public funds is for the culprits to return what they have stolen, and also do time.

One hopes that Prof Sagay’s opinion that media trial of treasury looters is deliberate would not later become an argument to free someone like Evans, the kidnapper, on the grounds that he had bad press. Or lead to the freeing of Busuyi Ajibola, who was jailed for stealing N1,000 maize because the media reported his case.

There is something that lawyers call abatement. It means lessening, reduction, or complete termination of a cause of court action against a suspect. One hopes that Sagay is not proposing that those who stole public money can benefit from this escape route.

Sagay must join Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II of Kano to prescribe sanctions for looters of public funds, and please avoid the appearance of someone who can endorse legislators who propose amnesty for treasury looters.

By the way, Information Minister Lai Mohammed’s argument that the identities of individuals who “voluntarily” returned money that they claimed to have received from Dasuki without knowing its source should be revealed. Nigerians need to “acknowledge” and “appreciate” them.

Follow me on Twitter @lekansote1

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