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Does EFCC joke with arrests?

By Luke Onyekakeyah
21 April 2022   |   3:36 am
The spate of arrests by the anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the manner by which the victims are released soonest without prosecution or holding anyone leaves much to be desired.

Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). Photo: WHITENIGERIAN

The spate of arrests by the anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the manner by which the victims are released soonest without prosecution or holding anyone leaves much to be desired. It leaves one to wonder whether the agency is actually on a serious mission or merely joking with the arrest of personalities who are often high profile individuals.

The question is why arrest someone who is not going to be prosecuted? If the EFCC doesn’t have enough evidence, why waste time, energy and resources in a drama of arrests that yield no fruit? Is EFCC not trivializing an important issue by irrational action? How do other anti-corruption agencies elsewhere carry out their assignment? Do they level huge financial allegation on someone and on that basis arrest him and then turn around to release him and it ends there? What sort of anti-corruption war is Nigeria fighting? Is there any surprise that corruption has escalated rather than abating?

This is so because a close look at the rank of Nigeria’s political class shows that virtually all of them have been arrested at one time of another by the EFCC without a scratch. That way, the EFCC arrests are meaningless. They have turned out to be an endorsement for personality; a mark of importance for those who matter in the society instead of shame. It’s like if you have not been arrested by the EFCC, you don’t belong. For what would make you an important political figure is the tag of having passed through the EFCC crucible.

In a way, people holding high political positions look forward to arrest. The potential EFCC guests know it is a matter of time before they would be picked up. They also know what would happen when they are picked up – they would be set free and that would be the end of the drama.

It’s on the basis of this melodrama that we have a host of politicians still occupying important positions after they have been baptized with EFCC arrest. For example, the Nigerian Senate is full of former political leaders who had been guests of the EFCC. The chamber is like a club of former EFCC guests because there is little or no prosecution of persons in this group, no convictions.

For instance, available records show that the EFCC secured a total of 2,220 convictions across the country in 2021. Without disclosing the nature of the crimes involved in the cases in which the convictions were made, the trend of its arrests and court cases, suggest they were mostly cybercrime-related.

If that be the case, what about the political high profile arrests that the EFCC orchestrates? The entire hullabaloo about arresting former governors, for instance, amounts to much ado about nothing.

I was provoked to write this piece after news filtered in the social media the other day, that the EFCC had arrested the wife of the immediate past governor of Anambra State, Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano, which was false.

The news jolted me and I began to ask what the EFCC has turned out to be. Is Mrs. Obiano an elected official? Did she control the state budget? Her position as the First Lady of Anambra State was not constitutional. Whatever funds she appropriated were given to her by her husband who was the governor. If she chose to use the funds flamboyantly, is that enough reason to arrest her?

Thank God that the EFCC denied arresting her. EFCC said former Governor Willie Obiano’s wife was not in its custody.

Meanwhile, the former First Lady has indicated her interest to run for the Anambra North Senatorial District, under the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). Not even that could warrant the speculated arrest.

Mrs. Obiano became popular after she reportedly exchanged blows with Her Excellency Mrs. Bianca Odumegwu Ojukwu. Even at that, there is no law in Nigeria that forbids exchanging blows at official quarters. Otherwise, members of the National Assembly, who on some occasions had exchanged blows on the floor of the hallowed chambers, would have been punished. Official slap is allowed if that would settle a nagging issue.

It would be recalled that former Governor Wiley Obiano was arrested shortly after he handed over to his successor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo. The governor was arrested at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, about a month ago and detained in a most humiliating manner by the EFCC.

That unpopular arrest fell in the catalogue of numerous arrests of former governors that merely made headline news but ended up yielding no dividend. EFCC’s trajectory shows that virtually every former governor was a potential candidate for arrest and indeed, many have been arrested accordingly.

Reports, as at May 2021, indicate that the estimated sums allegedly embezzled by the past governors amounted to a total of N355.80 billion in the North-east; N316.35 billion in the Northwest; N161.160 billion in the South-South, N62.67 billion in South-East, N56.16 billion in North-central, and N23.30 billion in South-West – the region with the least quoted amount of looted funds.

Thus, from all across the states, virtually all the former state chief executives have been arrested. And of the many arrests only former governors Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and Jolly Nyame of Taraba State, were seen to have been prosecuted and convicted. But according to the latest news, they have been pardoned by President Muhammadu Buhari, thereby making a jest of the effort. For EFCC to be effective, it should:

(a) Adopt a sectoral approach in the fight. There is presently no clear-cut approach in the prosecution of the corruption war by the EFCC. The only thing that is apparent is that most of the culprits arrested and or prosecuted so far are political figures. But corruption in Nigeria is a general malaise involving the citizenry. There is corruption in every aspect of the economy – water sector, education sector, banking sector, social service sector, etc. The EFCC should create departments to deal with corruption on sector by sector basis. This would make this campaign more effective.

(b) Open state offices nationwide. Nigeria is very large and the task at hand enormous. The EFCC cannot fight corruption effectively all over the nation from Abuja alone. There should be offices in every state capital equally equipped and strong enough to fish out corrupt persons at every nook and cranny of the states. EFCC should be resident in the states to avoid the situation where corrupt officials desert their offices each time EFCC personnel go to the states. If the EFCC is resident in the states and be part of the daily affairs, corrupt persons would have no hiding place.

(c) Boost manpower capability. The EFCC should increase the number of its personnel. There are thousands of qualified graduates throughout the federation who should be recruited and trained to raise the tempo of the anti-corruption campaign nationwide.

(d) Increase budget. The task before the EFCC cannot be accomplished with empty hand. This organisation which has the potential to save this nation from failing should not be starved of funds. The EFCC should have adequate budget to prosecute its anti-corruption war. If the EFCC fails, the country is doomed.

(e) Merge the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) with the EFCC. These two organisations are essentially doing the same thing. To have the two as they are now amounts to duplication of duties. The two bodies should be merged and their resources pooled together to boost the cause of the campaign.

(f) The campaign against corruption should not be limited to what is happening now. The battle should be extended to what happened in the past. The corruption and atrocities committed against the nation and its people in the past should be revisited. Those who looted the treasury in the past should be called to question except they are dead.

(g) The EFCC should be independent and autonomous not attached to the whims and caprices of the president or anyone else. This is the only way the organisation would be able to perform its duty without hindrance.

It is important to stress that water is used to wash dirty stuff. But if water becomes dirty and filthy, it can no longer be used to wash anything. If the EFCC becomes corrupt and compromised, then the country is doomed. The EFCC should remain above board and maintain high integrity at all times for it to succeed in this battle.