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Fresh push for anti-corruption crusade

By Abosede Musari, Abuja
03 February 2015   |   11:00 pm
CORRUPTION has been a major bane of the Nigerian economy, with its devastating effect on the nation and its citizens. This topic has become so much of interest even as the 2015 general elections draw near. Candidates from the two major political parties have been promising Nigerians their willingness to stamp out corruption.  While the…

EFCC

CORRUPTION has been a major bane of the Nigerian economy, with its devastating effect on the nation and its citizens. This topic has become so much of interest even as the 2015 general elections draw near. Candidates from the two major political parties have been promising Nigerians their willingness to stamp out corruption.

 While the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari, takes root in his antecedent of discipline and zero tolerance for corruption, President Goodluck Jonathan, promises to further strengthen the anti graft agencies and to use technology to stamp out corruption in Nigeria.

 The EFCC on its own recently announced that it is on the look out for suspected corrupt former public office holders and those still serving who will lose their immunity in about four months. To carry out this mission, the Commission has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with twelve international law enforcement agencies to ensure that no suspect of corruption escapes outside Nigeria after the present political dispensation.

 Among those partnered in this chase are the Metropolitan Police of the United Kingdom, the French Police, Australia Federal Police, The Global fund, United States Federal Trade Commission, West Australia Police, the World Bank, Africa Development Bank, Higher Authority against Corruption and Related Offences (HALCIA), Niger Republic, British Serious Fraud Office and Economic Crimes Network of New Zealand. The partnerships will take the form of training, intelligence sharing and joint operations.

 This move is obviously to build on its record of convictions of corrupt office holders, which currently stands at 126 for the year 2014. In 2013, the commission won the conviction of 117 persons. While the current figure is seen as a significant progress over the record of the previous year, it should be noted that there are still many cases; especially high profile cases still begging for expedite action in the courts.

 Some of these cases have been dragging for the past nine years. For instance, the N11 billion case against former governor of Kogi state, Abubakar Audu was initiated in 2006 and is yet to be concluded. Currently, former governor of Jigawa state, Saminu Turaki is declared wanted and is yet to be found to face trial in the corruption case against him. Others include Jolly Nyame, former governor of Taraba state, Joshua Dariye, former governor of Plateau state and now serving senator; and serving Ekiti state governor, Ayo Fayose, who had earlier served as governor of the state during the Obasanjo administration. Other high profile cases include the N25 billion suits against Michael igbinedion, brother to former governor of Edo state, Lucky Igbinedion.

 Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, who lamented the frustrations that the commission has had to face in the courts over the trial of high profile suspects, called for the overhaul of the justice system in Nigeria. He also enjoined the media to follow corruption cases closely so that judges can be constrained in granting frivolous applications of rich suspects who are alleged to have enough money to fight the course of justice.

 “I will ask the press to please continue to monitor trials of these cases in court. If the media are there, the judges will think twice before granting some applications. What is needed is that all of us as a country should look at the criminal justice system and see how to address the shortcomings’, he said.

 The cases involving the former governors are just some of the cases begging for attention. Others are the oil subsidy cases and the cases involving suspected pension looters. All these cases involve several billions of Naira.

 Director of Legal and Prosecution Unit, Chile Okoroma, had recently told The Guardian in an interview that the cases against politically exposed persons have continued to drag in court because of the collusion of defense lawyers and the accused, besides the loopholes in the laws, which are often exploited.

 He explained that cases such as those involving former governor of Abia state, Orji Uzor Kalu, Saminu Turaki, Jolly Nyame, Joshua Dariye, Gbenga Daniel and others are all in court and trials have started in some of them. The case against former governor of Taraba state, Jolly Nyame commenced in 2007 and had to go to the Supreme Court on a preliminary issue and it came back to the trial court for trial to commence.

 “All these problems we have are just a result of the negative attitude of defense counsels. It’s a very sad thing to say that they exploit the loopholes in the judicial process to make sure that it’s a case of ‘if you miss the ball don’t miss the leg’. When the evidence is weighty against their client, they feel that if the matter is allowed to go on trial, they may likely be convicted. They try to see that the matter will not see the light of day”, he said.

 About six months ago, the EFCC announced that it recovered N5 billion from persons and organisations indicted in the fuel subsidy probe, which began in 2012. The commission also stated through its spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, which investigation continues on the 13-oil subsidy cases that are being prosecuted. The suspects, according to him, are individuals as well as companies.

“Investigation and prosecution of fuel subsidy cases have not been too easy for us but we are resolute in our determination to ensure that we push all those cases to logical conclusion”, he had said, adding that the Commission now has a full fledged section charged with investigation of oil subsidy matters and other extractive industries issues. However, not much has been heard on the investigations since then.

Aside from sons of prominent Nigerians, Mahmud Tukur and Abdulahi Alao, who are indicted in the multi billion-naira subsidy scam, it would be recalled that those alleged to have scammed the Federal Government through the oil subsidy window also include Ochonogor Alex and Eterna Plc. The four were alleged to have fraudulently obtained N1.8billion from the Federal Government through the Petroleum Support Fund. They were subsequently arraigned by the EFCC on a 9-count charge for offences that bordered on obtaining money under false pretense and forgery, contrary to section 468 of the Criminal Code.

 Another suspect, Oluwaseun Ogunbambo is being prosecuted in an alleged N4.4 billion oil subsidy case. Others charged alongside Ogunbambo are Nasaman Oil Services Limited, Mamman Nasir Ali and Christian Taylor. They were first arraigned November 26, 2012 on a 13-count charge bordering on conspiracy to obtain money by false pretence, forgery and uttering of false document. Others include Walter Wagbatsome and four other suspects in a N1.9 billion subsidy scam.

 Ifeanyi Uba and his company, Capital Oil and Gas Limited are two other suspects in the oil subsidy scam. According to the EFCC, Uba is being investigated by the anti-graft agency for allegedly defrauding the Nigerian Government by drawing subsidy for non-existent fuel imports under the petroleum support fund. Alhaji Saminu Rabiu, Jubril Rowaye, Alminnur Resources Limited and Brila Energy Limited were also tried for alleged involvement in an N1.5billion subsidy scam. These are just a few of the many persons and companies involved in the oil subsidy cases.

 On January 28, 2015 the EFCC announced its first conviction for the year when Justice A. Ongetenu of the Federal High Court, Abakaliki in Ebonyi state sentenced one Monday Agha to 10 years imprisonment for conspiracy, impersonation and obtaining money by false pretense in a case involving N2.7 million.

 However, as the commission begins the year on this bright note, it is important to note the other areas it should also concentrate efforts. For instance, the pending cases involving the ex-bank chiefs are still in the courts. The commission also has the mandate to look into cases of terrorism financing especially now that Nigeria is having security challenges. Also, much has not been heard about the cases of illicit investments in Abuja properties by suspected corrupt individuals which the commission’s chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, vowed to tackle head on at the beginning of 2014.

 The local government sector is also a huge field for corrupt individuals as revealed by EFCC’s Director of Organizational Support, Bolaji Salami, who said that local government cases represent 33 per cent of the commission’s corruption cases. The other places the EFCC and indeed, other anti corruption agencies should be looking at in 2015 includes audit reports of Auditors General of the Federation and the states. As suggested by the Head of The Technical Unit on Governance and Anti-Corruption Reforms (TUGAR), Lilian Ekeanyanwu at a recent forum, these documents could serve as useful sources where infractions on public finance management could be tracked.

 At the U.S-Africa Leaders Summit held in August 2014, U.S Secretary of State, John Kerry charged Africa, and by extension, Nigeria to tackle corruption in order to ensure continued investment from America.

 “I will say to you, fighting corruption is a definitive, critical part of that process. To do so will take courage, and yes, it sometimes means assuming risks. But fighting corruption lifts more than a country’s balance sheet. Transparency and accountability attract greater investment. Transparency and accountability create a more competitive marketplace, one where ideas and products are judged by the market and by their merits, and not by a backroom deal or a bribe”, he advised.

 Therefore, while it is important for the EFCC to follow its cases to conclusion, and ensure that it records unprecedented progress this year, it is also crucial for the government that will be elected into power to ensure that the judicial system is overhauled to dispense corruption cases in good time. It is crucial for the new government to ensure that the laws are reviewed to minimize loopholes that can serve as saving grace to corrupt individuals. This is besides the need to better empower for the anti graft agencies to carry out their duties.