The EFCC We Need -By Dele Agekameh

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Dele Agekameh

Dele Agekameh

 

We must all realise that neither EFCC nor ICPC or the Code of Conduct Bureau, or even the Nigeria Police, etc, can fight the rampaging corruption holding our nation by the jugular alone, without the active support of the populace.

Nigeria is presently passing through a critical stage in the history of its existence as a nation. It is a country that is besieged by all manner of vices and, above all, rapacious and debilitating corruption in all facets of national life. Now, the country’s new President, Muhammadu Buhari, has made it unequivocally clear that his mandate will primarily be focused on ridding the country of this great monster that has undoubtedly eaten deep into its fabric.

This has obviously rekindled hope and inspired great expectations in Nigerians that the war against corruption would now be waged with renewed ferocity. Indeed, dating back to the country’s independence in 1960, corruption has remained a festering sore that has systematically developed into a gangrene. You can smell the rot. You can see it. In fact, it walks on all fours all over the place, so much that whenever there is a discussion or commentary on Nigeria, the issue of corruption becomes a dominant topic in both local and foreign media. In short, at this crucial period of our socio-economic life, it is most appropriate to chart a way forward in order to save what is left of our miserably inglorious nation.

Considering the fact that since its establishment in 2003, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has strived, against all odds, to distinguish itself among other law enforcement agencies in the history of fighting corruption in Nigeria, the organisation is key in the war against corruption. In 2014, the anti-graft agency secured 126 convictions, a remarkable leap from 117 which it secured in 2013. Between 2011 and 2014, it secured 397 convictions, witnessing a steady rise from 2011 when it recorded 67 convictions and the 87 secured in 2012.

Change has come, no doubt, and this must particularly reflect in the political will to ensure that the EFCC continues to play its primary and pivotal role in the war against corruption.

This notwithstanding, there are those who believe that only petty thieves and criminals have felt the wrath of the anti-graft agency, while the big criminals, who are mostly top government officials and politicians, are having a field day without the EFCC raising a finger against them. The reason for this is simple. Under succesive administrations in the country, there was a half-hearted approach to fighting corruption. While many of them actually paid mere lip-service to the war against corruption, serious attempts were also made to scuttle the operations of the commission by other administrations. In many cases, the EFCC’s management had to correctly read the body language of those in authority before moving against any corrupt government official. In some other instances too, their stooges in private businesses who obviously act as fronts or launder money for these highly placed government officials, are often shielded from the long arms of the law. It is believed that with the coming of Buhari, things may take a new shape.

What is pertinent to note is the role the administration of Buhari will play to make the EFCC’s bite more potent than it has so far been. Change has come, no doubt, and this must particularly reflect in the political will to ensure that the EFCC continues to play its primary and pivotal role in the war against corruption. One thing that must be noted, however, is that fighting corruption is not cheap. The corrupt individuals understandably have so much money to throw about, as they have been found to secure the services of notable lawyers and are adept at exploiting legal loopholes to their advantage and that of their counsels.

Putting the agency on first-line charge funding will unarguably be the best model to ensure an independent agency.

I have read about cuts in the budgets of the anti-graft agency. To me, such acts only suggest a deliberate lack of political will and a calculated attempt to ensure that the anti-graft agency is not fully able to discharge its functions. Indeed, the need to amend the EFCC Act to put it on first-line charge funding is long overdue. That the EFCC needs financial independence is a fact that cannot be disputed. Financial independence is paramount for the EFCC that we need to effectively combat corruption without any hindrance to its financing.

The last budget presentation to the Seventh National Assembly by Ibrahim Lamorde, the anti-graft agency’s boss, turned out to be more of a revelation of the financial hiccups that have (and which, if unchecked) continued to hamper the war on corruption. The 2015 budget was a marked decline from the N12,245,369,169 which was appropriated in 2014. Again, change has come and there must be an urgent change in the financial running of the agency. Putting the agency on first-line charge funding will unarguably be the best model to ensure an independent agency. Tragically, a number of corrupt individuals being prosecuted by the anti-graft agency are alleged to have stolen money in excess of the agency’s appropriated budget and they are willing to spend a huge part of it to draw legal rings around the commission. What a sorry case!

It is expected also that President Buhari will equally look into the Nigerian Constitution itself with the aim of getting rid of various tactical obstacles that may impede the independence of the agency. For instance, the constitution should be amended to outlaw dilatory tactics by defence counsels who deliberately stall prosecution of persons accused of grand corruption…

Therefore, the EFCC we need in this change dispensation must be financially independent and, by extension, politically independent, if the war on corruption must be strengthened, fought with renewed vigour and won. It is heart-warming though, that there are strong indications that a legislation derived from the EFCC Establishment Act 2004, which makes it tacitly dependent on the orders of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, may soon be dropped. Indeed, Section 43 of the Act mandates that “The Attorney General of the Federation may make rules of regulations with respect to the exercise of any of the duties, functions or powers of the commission under this Act.”

By implication, that section makes the AGF and Minister of Justice the decider in cases the anti-graft agency prosecutes, equally mandating it to report the outcome of its investigations on “serious or complex” cases to the AGF, even before commencing prosecution. In simple terms, it cannot be overemphasised that if the new dispensation must give teeth to the war against corruption, it must ensure an independent anti-graft agency. More importantly, it is an undisputed fact that the EFCC the country needs at the moment is one that is financially and politically independent in the discharge of its duties. Buhari cannot afford to continue with the lethargic status quo. A situation where the EFCC, beholden to executive and legislative demi-gods, has to go yearly, cap in hand, to get approval to do anything or for funds to ensure the adequate running of its day-to-day activities does not augur well for the war against graft.

…we should be ready to volunteer information to EFCC or ICPC where and when necessary…

It is expected also that President Buhari will equally look into the Nigerian Constitution itself with the aim of getting rid of various tactical obstacles that may impede the independence of the agency. For instance, the constitution should be amended to outlaw dilatory tactics by defence counsels who deliberately stall prosecution of persons accused of grand corruption with all manners of frivolous interlocutory applications. It should be such that once a case is brought by the EFCC to court, it must be heard and concluded within a defined period of time.

Everyone is concerned about the damaging effects of corruption, which touch us all, not just collectively but individually. We must all realise that neither the EFCC nor the ICPC or the Code of Conduct Bureau, or even the Nigeria Police, etc, can fight the rampaging corruption holding our nation by the jugular alone without the active support of the populace. Therefore, we should take ownership of the war; we should be ready to volunteer information to EFCC or ICPC where and when necessary and be ready to constantly keep them on their toes with constructive (not destructive) criticism. The EFCC we need is one that has the total support of Nigerians.

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