The EFCC onslaught against some allegedly corrupt state Governors (ten of them) and their officials has in the last week been met with spirited protests by the concerned parties who are insisting that this is a clear case of political witch-hunt and intimidation closely tied to the 2011 general elections. Rivers state Governor Rotimi Amaechi whose Commissioners for Finance and Local Government Affairs have been arrested along with three local council chairmen in the state- those of Port Harcourt, Obio/Akpor and Ikwerre has accused the EFCC of "being used as a political tool to truncate his bid to seek re-election."

He said: "What is the EFCC doing here? They never came all this while. Today they are here. Why are they here? Let’s say EFCC is doing their job. They have a responsibility to go after those who are corrupt. But there is a judgment of a Federal High Court, which says EFCC cannot come to Rivers state. Is EFCC above the law… Today EFCC has become a political tool." The Governor boasted: "we will mobilise people against the commission." He is not alone. The EFCC is also targeting nine other states: Imo, Kwara, Bauchi, Zamfara, Jigawa, Gombe, Kebbi, Katsina, and Sokoto.

By Thursday, September 2, its men had already struck in five states: Rivers, Kebbi, Kwara, Imo, Jigawa. "The Northern Political Leaders Forum (NPLF)," or the "G15", has risen in defence of the Northern Governors. It "urges President Goodluck Jonathan to enthrone a regime of tolerance of political opposition and to desist from the use of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to intimidate and harass governors and political leaders who are opposed to his ill-advised attempt to subvert the agreed zoning formula by seizing the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket in next year’s general elections." The group insists that this is a throwback to the Obasanjo era. In its response, the EFCC denies being used to witchhunt the Governors and has asked anyone who has a case to answer to be prepared to do so.

A number of questions, arising from all of this, deserve close interrogation. The Governors can clearly sustain their objections as there are clear grounds for suspicions of mischief; they should nonetheless be prepared to respond to the EFCC allegations; their mere protest about a witch-hunt is no defence, it is their proof of innocence that can strengthen their objections.

Is there any link between the EFCC’s latest action and the 2011 elections? It is surprising that the EFCC would deny this. About a week ago, the EFCC Chair, Mrs. Farida Waziri pointedly announced that the agency is prepared to stop corrupt politicians from participating in the 2011 elections. She specifically stated that the EFCC will stop some people who are trying to "come back", because allowing them to do so will be "a mockery" of the political system. The use of the phrase "come back" refers to re-election, and so those state Governors who claim that this is an attempt to stop them from being re-elected for a second term may have a point. Eight of the ten Governors under scrutiny fall under the category of those who want to "come back."

The extant law says, inter alia, that anyone who has been indicted for "embezzlement or fraud" shall be disqualified from contesting public office (section 137(1)(i)); Section 182 (1)(i))… Although the Supreme Court has addressed this in the Atiku case, there is no guarantee that those who seek to be mischievous cannot under the same provision contrive an indictment for any politician and put him under pressure. The rule as established in Action Congress vs INEC (2007, 12 NWLR (pt. 1048), 222 is that Section 137(1) of the 1999 Constitution does not confer powers on either INEC or the security agencies to disqualify an electoral candidate, that power belongs to a High Court. The EFCC has laid itself open to allegations that its action is politically motivated by its own express announcement that it can exercise powers that it does not possess.

Why is the EFCC’s motive being suspected? First is the timing and the nature of the EFCC’s new-found aggressiveness. Since her assumption of office, Mrs Farida Waziri, the EFCC Chair has been accused of lowering the pace of EFCC activism. She has been compared endlessly to her predecessor, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu with notable differences in style, approach and substance. Under Ribadu, much progress was made with the anti-corruption campaign. Under Waziri, the EFCC seemed to have allowed the politicians some breathing space. In her memoirs, if she ever writes one, Mrs Waziri may tell us that she could not move faster than her bosses wanted. The late president Yar’Adua who appointed her to the position did not move fast on anything, and certainly not on the subject of the anti-corruption war. When President Goodluck Jonathan assumed office, the EFCC suddenly woke up, going after former Governor James Ibori. The character of the incumbent President as a determinant of EFCC’s quality of response is not a good excuse; if that excuse is offered, it would only further confirm the alleged politicization of the anti-corruption agency.

Institutions need not be at the mercy of individuals. Waziri’s EFCC inherited many outstanding cases of abuse of public office by state Governors, notably those cases relating to the mismanagement of public funds. Many of the Governors who were so indicted are walking free today. Not much has been done about their cases almost four years after they lost constitutional immunity. Some of them have since resurfaced as political Godfathers; a few are threatening to seek election as President in 2011! This is the effect of EFCC’s ineffectiveness and lack of diligence. Take the Ibori case. They bungled it. They were busy grandstanding until Ibori stole out of the country. The EFCC chair would later explain that she didn’t know Ibori will run to Dubai, oh, he should have gone to China! So, Amaechi could ask: "What is the EFCC doing here? They never came all this while. Today they are here. Why are they here?" The Northern Political Leaders Forum is asking similar questions. It is the EFCC’s lack of transparency that makes those questions inevitable.

Are the targeted Governors all pro-zoning? Yes, in addition to other issues. The Rivers Governor, Rotimi Amaechi is generally regarded to be pro-zoning and this has been cited as one of the reasons why he is not an Aso Villa favourite. A week before the EFCC assault on his state, he had a widely reported disagreement with the President’s wife on the question of land in Okrika. With the way Mrs Patience Jonathan impatiently stormed out of the state, Amaechi had committed the additional social crime of offending the big man’s wife. Is he being taught a lesson in power politics? Even if not, sending the EFCC after him almost immediately after a disagreement with the First Lady looks untidy. Imo state’s Ikedi Ohakim has been one of the fiercely independent-minded and outspoken Governors in the PDP. There are speculations that he is planning to defect to another political party. Is this an attempt to whip him into line?

The Northern Governors: At a meeting of the 19 Northern Governors on the zoning principle and the 2011 Presidential election in July, 10 of the Governors reportedly supported the position that the presidency should remain in the North in 2011, seven supported the idea of leaving it open, two Governors abstained. Is the EFCC clampdown meant to harass the ten pro-zoning Northern Governors? Let us check the evidence.

In July, the pro-zoning Governors who declared their stand were: Alhaji Ibrahim Shema (Katsina); Alhaji Mahmud Shinkafi (Zamfara); Alhaji Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto); Alhaji Usman Dakingari (Kebbi); Alhaji Mohammed Goje (Gombe); Alhaji Sule Lamido (Jigawa); Dr. Babangida Aliyu (Niger); Dr. Bukola Saraki (Kwara); Alhaji Modu Sheriff (Borno); and Alhaji Ibrahim Shakarau (Kano). Seven of the eight Northern Governors now being probed by the EFCC are on this pro-zoning and as it were, anti-Jonathan for 2011 list! The Bauchi Governor, Isa Yuguda, who is the eighth Northern Governor on the EFCC list did not attend the July meeting because it coincided with the burial of the late Emir of Bauchi, but he is also predictably pro-North and pro-zoning, he being a son-in-law of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. In March 2009, Isa Yuguda married Nafisa Yar’Adua as wife number 4. Why is there no pro-Jonathan Governor on the list? And why are all the Governors from the PDP? Is the EFCC saying it concluded investigations in the ten states at the same time, and that a few weeks to the PDP Presidential primaries is the best time to go after all the Governors?

The EFCC insists that these are the Governors against whom the largest number of petitions has been submitted. If petitions are so important to the EFCC, why has it not acted on all the petitions and the concluded investigations regarding over 26 Governors whom Nuhu Ribadu assured Nigerians should be on their way to jail after their loss of immunity in 2007? In its defence, the EFCC has raised two pertinent questions? "Is there any law barring EFCC from investigating fraud allegations before, during or after elections?" No. "Should election time be taken as a holiday period when law enforcement agents would have to close their eyes to the looting of public treasury?" Certainly not. The EFCC should do its job but it must be careful about the kind of signals it sends to the public in order not to raise questions of credibility about its operations. The wrong signal in the present instance is that the ten Governors currently being investigated by it are targets of a political witch-hunt.

But is this a throw-back to the Obasanjo era? This question is informed by suspicion and a sense of history and the timing of the EFCC action. The Obasanjo government had a far more robust anti-corruption campaign, owing largely to the dynamism of the EFCC chair at the time. But it was also accused of being used as a tool of political victimization, especially in Ekiti, Plateau and Bayelsa states. What no one could controvert then, however, was that the targeted politicians themselves had a case to answer. The weight of public sympathy was therefore not on their side. In the present case, the EFCC has raised too many doubts about its motives. For those who believe in coincidences, the coincidences are just too many: Amaechi disagrees with the President’s wife, the following week, the EFCC descends on him and his commissioners. Ohakim acts as if he is defecting, he gets the EFCC knocking on his door. Mrs Waziri says some Governors will not be allowed to come back; eight of the Governors being investigated are actually trying to "come back." Eleven Northern Governors insist that the Presidency should remain in the North, eight of them are under the EFCC searchlight. By the way, did the remaining three recant?

The EFCC could have been a lot smarter in its handling of the present situation both in terms of timing and the selection of the Governors in what we believe should be the first round of the exercise. This notwithstanding, the affected Governors should be prepared to stand up to scrutiny. Alleging that they are being victimized would not help; it doesn’t really help to keep insisting that the strategy of intimidation is familiar. If public funds have been stolen, misapplied, misappropriated, diverted and so on in any of the affected states, the people would like to know and see the culprits brought to book ultimately. This is the larger point.

The perception that the EFCC can be used to promote political ambitions is the biggest albatross that the institution faces. And yet, there are strong reasons for it to be pro-active and to help raise the country’s integrity profile, rather than be reduced to a scare-mongering mechanism in the political arena. With ten Governors out of the PDP’s total of 29, now being chased around for corrupt practices and with many more likely to join, we are being told that the PDP is a party of corrupt politicians! It should be possible to separate the investigations from the politics of PDP presidential primaries. It is in the EFCC’s interest to demonstrate this clearly and to serve notice that it means business.

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