EFCC, ANTI-CORRUPTION CRUSADE AND PARLIAMENTARY GYRATION
A famous proverb in my country home posits that 'instead of allowing the child of a native doctor to die of a common sickness, it is better that all the herbs in the forest are exhausted.' This, unfortunately, appears to be the new-found resolve of Nigeria's Federal House of Representatives in their latest neurotic craze to panel-beat the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – EFCC, into a docile, castrated and highly ineffectual contraption.
This it seeks to achieve by amending the EFCC Act to allow for only Retired Judicial Officers from either the Supreme Court or the Federal Court of Appeal as Heads of the EFCC. This bill, if it sails through, would effectively pull the rug from under the feet of the incumbent Chairman of the Commission – Farida Waziri.
Admittedly, when one takes a critical appraisal of the way and manner in which the EFCC has conducted its affairs before now, it will not be out of place to conclude that the Commission has become as disappointing as 'wet gunpowder.' Nevertheless, it is patently inconceivable and utterly perplexing that our lawmakers would harbour the perfidious contemplation of turning the EFCC into a Rehabilitation Centre for Retired Judicial Pensioners, who, after retiring at the mandatory age of seventy years, would have come down with the natural challenges of senility and intellectual menopause.
Considering the fact that some of the past State governors – who mostly decided who got elected into the Federal House of Representatives, are currently undergoing prosecution; and also judging from the recent comments of Rivers State governor – Rotimi Amaechi in which he cautioned EFCC to leave the Governors alone and concentrate on chasing the Federal Government which, according to him, controls a larger chunk of national revenue (52%), it becomes clearly incontrovertible that this latest misadventure by the Federal lawmakers symbolises another classic depiction of 'the voice of Jacob and the hand of Esau' narrative.
It is instructive to note that another sister agency in the anti-graft crusade, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission – ICPC, has always traditionally been under the headship of Retired Judicial Officers. What can we say of ICPC today if not that it has become a highly complicated disappointment to most Nigerians! The ICPC story is a disheartening tale of a Commission that will sit back and request that a criminal should come forth 'patriotically' and report himself before the Commission begins investigation. At best, it is a Commission that has 'eyes but cannot see and ears but cannot hear,' rather, it enjoins the public to do the seeing, the hearing and the reporting before it can swing into action to prosecute anybody. Little wonder it has become such a paralytic derelict in the fight against corruption.
The question is these if this same Retired Judicial Officers have turned the ICPC into a 'toothless pussy-cat,' what gives our omniscient legislators the assurance that they will do better if entrusted with the headship of the EFCC? Does it not amount to patriarchal tomfoolery to crave the redemption of EFCC from the Judiciary when this same Judicial Officers have supervised the systematic despoliation of the Judiciary, leaving it in a worse state than the Nigerian Police in terms of institutional decadence and delinquency.
If there is anything our lawmakers need to do to empower the EFCC, it is the strengthening of its operational capacity to deliver. One major handicap which greatly undermines the prosecutorial capacity of EFCC is what I call 'the unnecessary manipulative gymnastics in our conventional law courts.' This, by definition, refers to a situation where a politician or public official who has looted us blind is arrested and taken to court for arraignment and prosecution; before you say 'Jack Robinson,' the Court would adjourn for six months. By the time they are back in court after six months, (to borrow the words of my friend – an okada rider): 'the ole go don chop the money finish!' To make matters worse, he will now pre-bargain his way into freedom.
Now that the House of Reps. members in concert with governors have drawn up a 'Marshal Plan' to emasculate the EFCC as well as abort, truncate and torpedo the anti-corruption fight, it has become absolutely desirable, if not imperative, for President Jonathan to break loose from the shackles of passivity and the cocoon of cold-bloodedness by taking urgent and necessary steps to facilitate the creation of a special court dedicated to the trial and prosecution of corrupt public officials. Additionally, the operational independence and institutional autonomy of the EFCC should be strengthened and guaranteed. The issues of funding, manpower adequacy as well as specialized training for EFCC operatives should be given undiluted attention. Above all, the amendment of the EFCC Act to allow for the forfeiture of proceeds of corrupt enrichment by corrupt officials as well as the removal of the offensive 'immunity clause' from our statute books are salient areas which should occupy the legislative attention of our lawmakers.
Strangely, it is only in a banana republic like Nigeria that you would find the legislature – in solidarity with the Presidency, embarking on what could rightly be described as 'a transformation against the people.' While the presidency is bent on terrorizing Nigerians with the threat of subsidy removal, the Federal lawmaker (House of Representatives) are determined to propagate corruption with dogged evangelism by contriving all manner of legislative impediments designed to cripple and demobilize the anti-corruption agency.
Ogubuariri writes from Lagos