THE EFCC ADVERSARY LIST
No small rumpus has been caused in recent days by an advisory list of corrupt persons allegedly released by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The list reportedly contains names of people who should be barred from contesting election into various offices in next year's polls.
On the list are former governors and other public officers currently standing trial for allegations bordering on financial malfeasance. According to the anti-graft agency, such people are not fit and proper to contest elections, and so should be excluded by their various political parties.
The initial information in the public domain was that the EFCC had forwarded the list to the respective political parties, who were expected to shut the door against the people mentioned. Some parties balked at the idea, saying they would do no such thing since being charged with corruption does not tantamount to guilt.
So widespread was the angst against the EFCC, that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister for Justice, Mohammed Adoke, cautioned the agency against heating up the polity by its wild claims, noting that only the courts had the power to exclude anyone from election, after a verdict of guilty had been returned.
It was at that point that the EFCC issued a statement, denying that it had sent any list to political parties, adding that the entire furore was caused by a list posted on its website simply detailing cases currently under prosecution. Mischief makers, the agency said, were behind the allegation that the list had been forwarded to political parties.
If the rather belated explanation had not come from the EFCC, we would have been shocked, nay, benumbed and stupefied. It would have proven that we are a country where public officers never learn from the shipwreck of their predecessors. Despite giant strides taken in the anti-corruption war under the erstwhile EFCC chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the Achilles' heel was the tendency towards impunity, which got to the apogee shortly before the 2007 general elections, with the release of an advisory list on corruption. By the list, the EFCC subsumed in itself the powers of the prosecution, the jury and the judge, unilaterally disqualifying people from contesting election on mere allegations. Of course, such temerity was eventually upturned by the courts.
For Farida Waziri's EFCC to toe the same line less than four years later would have been completely reckless, if not foolhardy. The agency would be clearly overstepping its bounds if, indeed, it had attempted to pressure political parties to rule out some aspiring candidates, due to unproven allegations of graft. The current government, unlike the one led by Olusegun Obasanjo, claims to respect rule of law and due process.
It has been definitively determined by a Supreme Court ruling that no agency or any other body can pronounce guilt, other than the courts. Equally, the amended Electoral Law 2010 has foreclosed the exclusion of anyone from elections, based on any white paper recommendation or report of administrative panel of enquiry. Only the court can do so, and Mrs. Waziri, being a lawyer, is aware of this. To chart any other course is to fish in troubled waters, to tread unwarily in a field strewn with landmines. The result can only be calamitous.
As we have stated in the past, we understand and appreciate the frustration of the EFCC leadership with the slow pace of the courts in trying graft cases. But the way out is not a resort to lawlessness, but a reformation of the current processes, to ensure that trial of corruption cases are expedited. The onus is on the National Assembly to do this. Setting up special corruption courts may also not be out of place.
The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice upbraided the EFCC in a way that seemed to suggest that all is not well between his office and the agency. For the progress of the anti-graft war, the two offices cannot afford to be at loggerheads, and whatever is the grey area should be ironed out.
With the explanation of the EFCC that the so-called advisory list was lifted from its website by mischief makers, we urge that the matter be laid to rest, and everyone should face more germane matters. Too many momentous national issues need to be tackled between now and April, when elections hold, and we don't need to split hairs on a dubious adversarial list.