IBORI: NIGERIA'S RASH EFCC VS A COMPROMISED JUDICIARY BY: IFEANYI IZEZE
At every giving opportunity especially under the dispensations of its former bosses, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mrs Farida Waziri, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) would want everybody to hear how the judiciary has been sabotaging its efforts of effectively prosecuting alleged corrupt government officials.
The agency had even convinced many Nigerians including myself that the judges collaborate by receiving tangible part of the loot from the thieves to circumvent the law.
However, from revelations of the rigours the British authourity went through in its investigations before it could establish culpability or otherwise in the case of James Ibori, the former governor of Delta state, it was very clear where the entire blame for letting alleged corrupt Nigerian government officials off the hook should actually go.
At the instigation of the EFCC which invited officers from the British Specialist Crime Directorate 6 (SCD6) a unit of the Metropolitan Police, to Nigeria, â€œOperation Tureen the code name for the investigation against Ibori kicked-off in March 2005.
The unit was especially set up to deal with anti-corruption issues by politically exposed persons.
Whether the EFCC likes to hear this or not, the shabby manners in which corruption-related cases against political and other public office holders have been handled in the Nigerian courts were simply because the anti-graft agency usually ignored the need to carry out thorough investigations before rushing to the courts for prosecution simply because it wants to score cheap political points.
So the real problem is with the prosecutor, in this case the EFCC.
The agency hitherto was more interested in satisfying the aspirations of whosoever sits at the helm of affairs as the president of the federation rather than doing a honest job of digging beyond the surface into alleged cases of corruption and misappropriations of public funds.
Until today and except it changed this morning, the EFCC only relied on mere politically â€“motivated petitions as its evidence to rush to court for prosecution without any serious effort to establish facts and actual figures to boost any of those cases.
The agency for whatever reason also has deliberately corrupted the concept of plea bargain in our law. EFCC has turned Plea Bargain into a concept of dishonesty and the very corrupt public officers and some members of the EFCC are parties to the dishonesty. In advanced countries where plea bargains are used, they not only help in saving costs for the authorities, but the criminals cooperate with the authorities, by confessing to other unknown crimes the criminals were involved with and also to nail other offenders.
But in Nigeria, it's not to be so.
Like in the Vaswani Brothers, Halliburton, Igbinedion amongst other cases, the EFCC could not be allowed to proceed with the cases because the Attorney General of the Federation then was convinced that the evidence the EFCC was hanging the cases on were not sufficient for effective prosecution and this was how we got the plea bargain scenario in those cases.
As said in law, if you place something on nothing, it would not stand.
This has been the case of the EFCC in its prosecutions. You have to place something on something for it to stand.
Truth be told, the EFCC as it is today pathetically lacks the capacity to honestly and thoroughly investigate corruption cases brought before it.
Either it does not know how to generate facts or it deliberately muddles cases for whatever reasons.
There is no single difference between the way EFCC does its investigations and what we see all over the police stations across the country.
And we cannot just continue like this if we are serious at stopping people in public offices from stealing monies that belong to all of us.
Of course how do you expect EFCC operatives to do honest job of investigating corrupt government officials when on their own, their lifestyles also deserve to be investigated.
At every opportunity, they become part of the corruption case because either by carelessness or outright design, they get in-grafted into the very evil they were supposed to fight.
It has been alleged that EFCC officials even guide accused persons to wriggle out of the mess. This is the pathetic situation Nigeria has found itself.
Another interesting angle that most Nigerians deliberately overlooked in their criticisms was that the British authourities could spend over 14 million pounds (about N3.5 billion) investigating a single case and still spending.
It shows the seriousness the government attaches to fighting corruption within their shores.
From the day it was disclosed that the Department of International Development (DFID) had so far spent over £14million on the case against the former Delta state governor, what immediately came to mind was that as a nation, we are not yet serious in the fight against stealing of public funds.
What is the annual budget of our EFCC? It's just about N300 million, slightly over one million British Pounds and this covers overhead and costs of whatever investigations to be carried out; and prosecutions of the bouquet of corruption-related cases.
And as if the budget does not look deprived enough, the agency at the end of the fiscal year may just get only about 60-70 percent of the amount proposed.
Which government agency in Nigeria can the EFCC go to take funds for its investigations? None! And even if it exists, the money would be outrightly stolen or blown even before there is any genuine need for it.
This is the truth.
So how could Nigerians even well-informed ones view the latest twist and turn in the ongoing trial of the former Delta state governor at London's Southwalk Crown Court as huge indictment of the nation's judicial system?
It would be recalled that in 2009, Justice Marcel Awokulehin of the Federal High Court, Asaba absolved James Ibori of all the 170-count charges of corruption and money laundering brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
As in the case of Ibori, the facts before the British court were not available to the Nigerian court. You cannot rush to court over a case of misappropriation and stealing when you have not even established what was stolen and how it was done. The British investigating authourities painstakingly generated facts to support their case before proceeding with prosecution.
So in fairness to the Nigerian judge in the Ibori case, maybe and maybe he ruled based on the evidence/facts presented to him as the EFCC rushed to court without a single tangible evidence to substantiate their case.
Lest we forget, the London prosecutors also dropped the corruption charges which Awokulehin had shot down for want of evidence.
Ibori's plea bargain was not for corruption charges as they could not be proved beyond any reasonable doubt because of lack of tangible evidence, but money laundering charges which the London police preferred to stayed on because it could be proved by nothing but inference; so both agreed as far as corruption goes.
This is my point.