EFCC Takes Impunity To Another Level
A half-page advertorial in two national newspapers last week by the Ibrahim Lamorde-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has demonstrated that the commission’s impunity is not only to the public but also to its officials, Davidson Iriekpen writes
The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde is currently facing a barrage of criticism over the disclaimer his commission put out in some national newspapers penultimate week, disowning two employees of the commission. –Mr. Michael Nzekwe and Mrs. Juliet Ibekaku.
The disclaimer announced that the two officers, who are presently in court over their forced exit from the organisation, were no longer in the service of the commission. While Nzekwe was a prosecutor and investigator with the commission, Ibekaku, a renowned anti-corruption czar, was the Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). Incidentally, the two officers are lawyers.
Giving reason why it sacked the officers, the anti-graft agency said they absconded from duty. The commission in a statement signed by its spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, said both officers deserted their duty posts without justification, thereby violating the laid down employment rules.
In the case of Nzekwe, the commission said he deliberately absconded from duty and went with two of his children on pleasure trip for three weeks only to return and claim that he went to India to seek medical attention for his sick wife.
It said: “When the officer was queried for absenting himself from work without authorisation, he claimed he travelled to the United States to shop for medical options for his wife, Agatha who had an alleged renal challenge and was hospitalised in India. This information was found to be false, as evidence emerged that the officer went on a pleasure trip to the United States with his two daughters.”
For Ibekaku, the commission claimed that she was also fired for not reporting at her duty post for 81 days and refusing to respond to series of queries addressed to her. It expressed disappointment that a clear disciplinary action by the commission had been turned into an ethnic agenda by the so-called human right groups and its apologists.
The commission wondered where those against the sack of the officers were when the commission also dismissed seven other staff who were not from the South-east earlier this year for indiscipline. It warned individuals and rights groups who have risen in defence of the officers to desist from reading ulterior motives into its activities as it would not fold its hands and allow ethnic jingoists to dictate to it under the guise of human right activism.
But sources within the organisation revealed that Lamorde sacked the officers because he was scared about the possible future of his team in view of the change in the nation’s political leadership. More worrisome, THISDAY gathered, was the stout stance of General Muhammadu Buhari who has made anti-corruption the main focus of his campaigns. The anti-graft boss, it was gathered, had calculated that the two officers might give the new administration some internal information of and about the commission, having worked in the system. Rather than allow them gain from the new government and nail senior officials of the commission, a hurried disclaimer was designed to smear them and paint them as guilty.
Investigation by THISDAY revealed that Nzekwe was hastily removed from his duty post without due process on the directive of the commission’s Chairman because he allegedly refused to compromise a petition of alleged bribery against one Mr. Aliyu Habeeb, a staff of the commission and a relation by marriage to Lamorde made by Mrs. Uzoma Attang, a director with the Federal Ministry of Communications Technology indicted in the N32 billion Police Pension scam.
In the petition received by the EFCC’s director of operations on May 23, 2013, the said Habeeb and others were alleged to have obtained by false pretence, the sum of N50 million using Mike Okorocha and Sylvester Okereke. This matter was sent to Nzekwe of the prosecution department to handle by the director of operations but the Chairman got wind of it and allegedly wanted to scuttle the professional investigation of the damaging allegations against the officer. The alleged refusal of Nzekwe to play game led to his removal from duty on the nebulous grounds that some years back he had overstayed his leave which he spent on holiday in the United States.
The petition by Attang simply confirmed what Nigerians already knew about the commission as an agency that seriously needs cleansing too. Often times, senior officials of the commission accused of demanding huge sums of the money to stall investigation or prosecute corrupt officials. There was another allegation that the commission leaks information to corrupt officials all for pecuniary motive.
Checks revealed that if Nzekwe was on leave to the United States, overstayed as claimed by the commission, how come when he resumed, nothing in form of query was issued until months after? Many questions are being raised as to why the commission allowed him to continue working and was being paid his salaries and even wrote promotion examination based on the commission’s memo and nothing was said? It was also learnt that when the commission’s Secretary, Aremu Adegboyega, the number two man, heard about Lamorde’s intention to sack Nzekwe, he opposed it and wrote to the chairman reminding him of the enormous resources that had been expended on his training and how good he was on the job but he refused.
Another question being raised is why would the commission publish a disclaimer when Nzekwe did not parade himself anywhere as a staff of the commission, and when the case he filed at the court to challenge his termination was still pending?
In the case of Mrs. Ibekaku, her offence for being pushed out of office as the acting Director of NFIU was simply because she spearheaded the advocacy before the National Assembly for the unit to become wholly independent of EFCC since its duties involved all tiers of law enforcement community. The clamour for the independence of the NFIU was necessitated by allegations that successive chairmen of the EFCC had compromised intelligence reports from the agency on movement of money by public officers. The passage of the National Financial Intelligence Centre by the National Assembly was the last straw that broke the camel’s back leading to her being chased out of her office on the orders of the EFCC chairman. She has filed a matter before the National Industrial Court and hearings are ongoing.
What perhaps baffled many observers was the rush by the EFCC chairman to demonise the two officers who are in court seeking to reverse their unconstitutional removal on the grounds that it bordered on witch hunt and illegality.
When THISDAY contacted Ibekaku for her response, she, declined comments on the matter, but promised to speak at the appropriate time. Nzekwe on his part, said: “I am very sorry I can’t reply your questions. These matters are before the National Industrial Court in Abuja. It’s coming up on the May 18, 2015. It would be subjudice if I comment on this matter please, don’t be offended.”
Many analysts believe that apart from allegation of gross inefficiency levelled against Lamorde since he took over the affairs of the commission, the commission under his watch has been a weapon of victimisation of perceived opponents. This is why an anti-corruption crusader and Chief Executive Officer of Panic Alert Security System (PASS), Dr. George Uboh, last week called on the president-elect, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), to start his anti-corruption crusade with the EFCC. In a memorandum submitted to the president-elect, Buhari, a copy of which was obtained by THISDAY, Uboh alleged that the commission sits on hundred of billions recovered from perpetrators of corruption but refused to remit the funds to the federal government as required by law. He said he was compelled to write to the incumbent president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan drawing his attention to the alleged atrocities in the EFCC but said that Jonathan did not do anything.
Excerpt from the letter read: “In view of your commitment to integrity, we are of the view that the first place to start your anti corruption campaign is the EFCC. First, such a move will boost the public’s confidence in your in herent desire to fight corruption. Second, many people who had been silenced by EFCC using gestapo-style powers will come forward to testify.
“Attached herewith are: the documents we sent to the president, to wit: open letter to the president and 51-count criminal charges against the present and former leadership of the EFCC and all aforementioned documents germane to Bayelsa/EFCC saga; we are ready, willing and able to tender boxes of documents to prove each and every count of the 51-count criminal charges.”
He cited the case of Bayelsa State where EFCC claimed in its exhibit record that the amount recovered from a former governor of the state, DSP Alameyesiegha and due for remittance to the state was N4,152,344,643 and USD1,300,000.
He said: “As at 18/01/2010 when EFCC remitted N3,128,230,294.83 to Bayelsa State vide EFCC recovery account NO. 002-00893-s41-01-7 with CBN. Consequently, EFCC still owed Bayelsa State N1,484,965,806 and $1,300,000 as at the time of the remittance.”
According to him, what is recorded in EFCC’s exhibit book is a fraction of what was taken from DSP. Most of the cash and assets seized from DSP abroad by the EFCC never declared on the exhibit record. He recalled in the letter that the incumbent governor of the state mandated him to recover from EFCC the outstanding money recovered from Alameyesiegha following which he wrote the commission and the commission agreed to meet him. “At the meeting, Mr. Lawrence Iwodi, EFCC Head of Asset Forfeiture agreed to refund the said balance before the beginning of 2014.”
Uboh explained to Buhari that EFCC using a gestapo-like style coerced the state governor to withdraw the mandate to recover the fund. According to him, EFCC did not deny holding on to funds belonging to Bayelsa but rather threatened the state governor who wrote to him terminating the mandate given to him to recover the withheld funds.
The letter further read: “We wish to bring to your attention the urgent need to start your anti- corruption campaign with a probe of the EFCC. Although, EFCC withheld funds belonging to the federal and some state governments, we decided to start from Bayelsa State, the president’s own state.”
Credit: This Day