Mrs Farida Waziri
By Davidson Iriekpen
To Mrs Farida Waziri, who was sacked as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Wednesday, November 23, 2011 will forever remain indelible in the mind. Thinking that the day would be like any other since she assumed office in 2008, she woke up from sleep without any foreboding that it would be a different day. She prepared for the day’s job, set out, and commenced work. But she got her daily routines interrupted by a rude media announcement that she has been sacked.
Her tenure as EFCC chair was a tumultuous one. It ended the way it started: controversy-ridden. Though her tenure was supposed to end in 2012, she was nevertheless, removed by President Goodluck Jonathan pursuant to section 3(2) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act 2004 which states that “a member of the commission may be, at any time, removed by the President for inability to discharge the functions of his/her office (whether arising from infirmity or if the President is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the commission or the interest of the public that the member should continue in office.”
The plot to remove the former EFCC chair started as soon as she was appointed in 2008 to replace the earlier chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.
The allegation then was that she was recommended for the position by some influential individuals to protect their interests. But the government ignored all the kicks and grumbling against her appointment. No sooner did President Jonathan emerge the Acting President in March 2010 following the incapacitation of the late President Yar’Adua, than the agitation to remove her intensified. The agitation was accentuated by allegations of corruption levelled against her and the entire hierarchy of the commission.
The height of the campaign was when an Abuja-based lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Nkereuwm Udofia Akpan, dragged the leadership of the commission before a Federal High Court in Abuja demanding that President Jonathan should relieve Waziri of her appointment without further delay.
Akpan, in the suit, alleged that the EFCC boss had in the course of her duties illegally engaged one Mr. Victor Uwajeh as a private investigator and had used the same Uwajeh to intimidate and harass some prominent Nigerians to part with huge sums of money in bribes to get off the hook of the anti-corruption agency. Akpan noted that the process of the recruitment of the so-called private investigator was done without lawful authority. And that it should be declared illegal, void, fraudulent and in flagrant disregard of the civil service rules and a gross abuse of office by the EFCC boss.
He therefore sought a declaration of the court that “There is nothing in the EFCC Act, the Civil Service Rules and any other law for the time being in force empowering the first defendant (Waziri) to embark on this sordid and fraudulent abuse of office, power and privilege.”
The plot further thickened when the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), assumed office.
Adoke had hardly settled down when friction broke out between him and Waziri. Adoke thought that Waziri was too powerful and was using the commission arbitrarily and must be told so in clear terms.
But she argued that the AGF was trying to cripple and muzzle her commission. The AGF also felt that the cases the commission was prosecuting were not well investigated. This made her to raise the alarm, complaining that the AGF was interfering with her job and shielding corrupt politicians.
The cold war between the duo continued until President Jonathan dissolved the Federal Executive Council (FEC) last May, just before the elections which saw Adoke out of job. But it was for just a while. He soon returned with the new cabinet and headed back to the same Justice Ministry.
Sources close to the AGF believed that during this period, the EFCC chair pulled all possible strings to ensure that he was not returned.
By the time he was re-appointed, the war continued. But matters got to a head recently when Adoke while responding to questions during his screening at the Senate, slammed the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), saying that they lacked the capacity to investigate and prosecute economic crimes.
He lamented that the agencies had been rather involved in a show, arresting and prosecuting suspects without sufficient evidence to secure conviction in court; adding that improper investigation and prosecution was why the commission had failed to secure conviction of suspects.
He said when the Ministry of Justice tries to guide the agencies, they complain of interference and blackmail the minister of shielding corrupt officials.
He therefore advocated the need for the agencies to be merged for them to be able to prosecute the anti-corruption war.
He said: “More often than not, people are arrested before they are investigated; they are arrested even before there is evidence; they traumatise them and the people are dramatically tried on the pages of newspapers and at the end of the day, when they are unable to prove their case, they end up blaming the courts. When we as the Ministry of Justice try to guide these agencies, they complain of interference. It will be appropriate to merge these agencies together so that they can effectively fight corruption.”
Also, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta on assumption of office recently paid a courtesy visit on the EFCC chairman, where he reprimanded the commission for lacking investigative and prosecution powers to prosecute corruption cases.
He stated that bogus count charges, frequent amendment of charges and the rush to arrest a suspect without investigation was a problem for the commission.
The climax came when investigation by Adoke, in the office of the IG as well as the office of the Police Service Commission (PSC), following a petition by the Centre for the Rule of Law, which sought to know the EFCC chair’s actual rank at the time she was leaving the service, showed that she indeed retired as a commissioner of police.
Waziri had claimed during her confirmation hearing before the Senate in 2007 that she retired as an Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG). She was also alleged to have claimed that she was promoted to the rank of AIG by former Inspector General of Police (IG), Mr. Musiliu Smith, alongside 12 others and that she wore the AIG rank before retiring.
In the petition signed by Olasupo Ojo, the Centre for Rule of Law said the fortune of an anti-corruption agency like the EFCC was dependent on and tied to the integrity rating of its leadership, adding that any deficiency in the integrity of its chair will surely reflect on the integrity and performance of the agency. It argued that the public interest in the disclosure of the requested information clearly outweighs all other factors and that its request herein does not violate any of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
The confirmation of the discrepancy between what Waziri claimed and what the facts are, must have signalled Waziri that her days in office were verily numbered. Wednesday, it screeched to a predicted halt.