The Monday Discourse
The debate on whether or not the federal government is winning the war against corruption is inexhaustible, and yet profound, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Whether or not anyone likes it, this is one debate that is not going to go away, at least, not anytime soon. The debate on corruption is as old as the nation itself. And year in, year out, successive administrations have had to mount the stage as long as it was permitted by their time to grandstand on the fight against corruption. But what usually ended up happening is each one producing its own rogues, often different from the former in terms of the propensity and penchant for stealing as well as their primitive accumulations of the common patrimony.
It was understandable therefore that President Muhammadu Buhari made the fight against corruption the central theme of his campaign. And coming from a background of perceived untainted integrity and alleged record of resenting anything that is corruption-related, it became popular with him, at a time a majority of Nigerians believed that with corruption out of the way, Nigeria could begin to find its feet again in the comity of nations.
Immediately on assuming office, there has been a lot of frenzy in terms of confronting the scourge of corruption. But this has further generated an entirely new debate, which centres on the sincerity of the government to genuinely tackle corruption regardless of whose ox is gored. Some had tagged it political; there are those, who claimed the fight so far has been selective, yet, a few percentage of the population thinks it might have become an avenue to settle scores with identified old enemies by the president.
But the good news, again, is that there is still an impressive percentage that holds the view that the fight is genuine and that government should only sustain the tempo and up the ante. This is why the debate is both profound and instructive, albeit inexhaustible. In this report, therefore, are the competing positions of people on the approach and the mode of operation.
Acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, once contended that if successfully prosecuted, the cases before the anti-graft agency which include those being investigated and those already in court amounts to N1.5 trillion. He also volunteered that the body has already recovered billions.
“We have many corruption cases in court. We are getting them every day from everywhere and we are recovering stolen money and taking corrupt people to court. The money we have recovered and the money we are going to get back from them – billions and billions of Naira is being paid back to government and will be used to do what it was originally meant for – build hospitals, send our children to school, build roads and railways, create employment and defend our country,” Magu said, creating the impression that the fight against graft is progressing.
The Dasuki, Diezani Cases
As at today, the arms procurement case, where the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki is said to have wrongfully applied about $2.1 billion and another N643 billion is one of the biggest issues before the EFCC. This is not just because it involved the former NSA but because the case involves several other prominent Nigerians.
Former Minister of Defence, Haliru Mohammed and his son; former Minister of State for Finance, Bashir Yuguda; former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa and son are among people believed to have benefitted from the money initially meant for the purchase of arms for the Nigerian military to combat the Boko Haram sect.
Former chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Tony Amenih, prominent Yoruba leader, Chief Olu Falae and a long list of beneficiaries of the money have been implicated. The PDP spokesperson, Chief Olisa Metuh among others, is also alleged to have benefitted from the money and is having his day in court.
Though Dasuki lost his bid to stop his trial, what many human rights activists have condemned about his case is that he is being kept behind bars whereas courts of competent jurisdiction had granted him bail. He has remained in detention since December 29, 2015.
Last Thursday, Dasuki, through his counsel, Mr. Joseph Daudu, pointedly alleged that going by the position canvassed by President Muhammadu Buhari during his maiden presidential chat, he was the mastermind of his arrest and continued detention even when he had secured bail.
In antagonising Dasuki’s application for bail, counsel to the federal government, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs told the trial judge, Justice Affen that the charges against Dasuki were by the EFCC and not the DSS. He argued that the federal government did not disobey court order in Dasuki’s case because when the bail conditions were perfected on December 29, he was released from Kuje prison before he was rearrested by another agency.
Now, Dasuki would have to wait till March 4 fixed by Justice Affen to give ruling on his application.
Another sensitive and celebrated corruption case is the one involving the Minister of Petroleum Resources between 2010 and 2015, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, who was arrested by UK’s National Crime Agency along with four others over allegations of bribery, corruption and money laundering in the petroleum sector and had appeared before the Westminister Magistrate Court, London.
But despite high hopes that the country would recover about 20bn Euro from Diezani, Founder, Security in Africa’s Anti-Corruption Commission, Ben Omoakin Oguntala is of the opinion that as in the case of former Delta State governor, Mr. James Ibori, who was alleged to have stolen 250m Euro but only 17m Euro was seized from him, Nigeria should not expect any meaningful result from the Diezani trial in the UK.
“I am not sure the approach taken by the UK authority will yield the potential results Nigerians and President Buhari would be expecting. The fundamental problem with this approach is that it puts the cart before the horse,” he said.
According to him, “For every Ibori and Madueke that are arrested and prosecuted, 5, 000 more are breathing a sigh of relief with organisations benefitting from their deeds. When authorities lead the prosecution, these institutions are left out of the proceedings. The arrest of Mrs. Madueke can best be described as shaving your hair as a means of addressing a brain tumour.
“Not even the UK and international governments have been able to remotely tackle this sector (oil) in the West, let alone the sector in Africa. Don’t forget the oligopoly of BP, Gulf Oil, Chevron, Texaco, Royal Dutch Shell, Esso/Exxon and Socony. Together, they all protect their industry. To have a simple police unit in the UK bring up partial evidence of corruption against a former minister is barely scratching the surface.
“You cannot fight corruption in this manner. It is far too complicated for ordinary corruption prosecution. What would have made this case extra ordinary would be if Madueke decides to reveal all. However, she is unlikely to do that if your strategy is to arrest her first, embarrass her and drag her through the UK courts with little or insufficient evidence. Now, she will lawyer up and make the process the lengthiest as legally permissible,” Oguntala argued in his lengthy article titled: ‘UK led Diezani-Madueke prosecution will disappoint President Buhari’.
Now, Other High Profile Cases
The Nigeria Air Force (NAF) and former service chiefs are being investigated in another arms deal saga which monetary value is put at about $2 billion and another N29 billion. Former service chiefs, Alex Badeh, Adeshola Amosu and others were detained by the EFCC and several millions of dollars already recovered from them.
There is also the issue of about N37bn involving former Nigerian Maritime and Safety Agency (NIMASA) boss, Patrick Akpobolokemi. The EFCC has taken him to court in five cases. One of the cases has to do with about N34 billion Maritime University land scam. In that case, he was alleged to have collaborated with ex-Niger Delta militant, Government Ekpemupolo aka Tompolo.
In a separate case, N2.6 billion was traced to Akpobolokemi whereas in the three other cases, he still has explanations to make about varying amounts of money.
Former Minister of Interior, Abba Moro and five others are also expected to refund money worth about N676 million allegedly received from applicants in the failed immigration recruitment scam of March 2013. This money, if recovered is expected to go back to the applicants.
The Issue of Shoddy Investigation
Over the years, anti-corruption fight in Nigeria has been basically about media razzmatazz. It is often about the hyped arrests and in most cases the suspects soon get off the hook. They soon return to their families to enjoy the proceeds of their loots. Not many highly placed Nigerians – particularly public office holders have been sent to jail for corruption-related offences and the reason is not farfetched. It is because most of the investigations are not thorough.
This much the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, agreed with when he recently said anti-graft agencies in Nigeria are unable to successfully prosecute high profile criminal cases due to poor investigation. He made the disclosure recently when a delegation from the Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum (NEFF), paid him a courtesy call, stressing that problems associated with adjudication of criminal cases were not mainly from the courts.
According to him, the problem “is in the investigation, collection of evidence, presentation of the cases and trial. The judiciary is like a builder, and works with materials that are brought to it. As such, the materials necessary for construction must measure up to standard in order to be applied by the courts. Courts cannot carry out investigation and our security agencies must be encouraged to carry out investigation-led arrest and not arrest-led investigation.”
He disapproved of cases where up to 200 count charges are brought before the court, which he said is a waste of court’s time and making mockery of the constitution and the laws. In other words, a suspect is likely to go free, where there are loopholes in the investigation.
Though on that occasion, the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwajaren contended that he was “yet to find a single EFCC case that was thrown out because of shoddy investigation,” and that “neither has any judge thrown out any of the commission’s cases because of the length of the charges.”
But it is not only the CJN that has this opinion about the agency. Former president, Nigerian Bar Association, human rights advocate and renowned maritime lawyer, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, has sustained his call for a reform of the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies in the country to ensure prosecution and reduce corruption. He has said it repeatedly after President Buhari won his election.
In one of his news conference held to intervene on issues of national development shortly after the APC won the presidency, Agbakoba said: “There has to be roots and branch reform of the anti-corruption agencies if we must succeed in slowing down corruption.”
That Rickey Tarfa Case
Though every Nigerian and lovers of the nation are fascinated and supportive of the ongoing war against corruption, even at that, Nigeria’s main anti-corruption agency, the EFCC cannot pretend not to know that poor investigation is the prelude to haphazard prosecution. Where the investigation is not thorough, tendencies are that even criminals will easily evade justice.
Fact is, in Nigeria, as in other places around the world, an accused person is presumed innocent until the contrary is established in the law court with facts and figure. This ultimately provides a suspect with enough time to prove he or she is not guilty of offences brought against him or her and this is also done by providing evidences that would thwart the allegations.
The developing story of Mr. Rickey Tarfa (SAN) and the EFCC is surely one that is already eliciting considerable legal maneuvers targeted at showing that the anti-graft body sometimes engages in media trials without conducting watertight investigations that would prove their cases beyond reasonable doubt.
Though lawyers and media practitioners have been labelled as some of the forces working against the fight against corrupt persons, are journalists also expected to shun the side of an accused person? Since the answer to that is a resounding no, arguments by Tarfa which are contained in some if his applications and affidavits before the Federal High Court, Lagos, for the enforcement of his fundamental human right are an interesting read.
The EFCC had arraigned Tarfa on two-count charge bothering obstruction of justice and attempting to prevent the course of justice by communicating with a Federal High Court judge handling a suit filed against the commission.
To drive home its allegation, the EFCC alleged that Tarfa bribed Justice Mohammed N. Yunusa of the Federal High Court and it further supported its claim by some of the contents of an affidavit deposed to by the Head of Chamber, Messrs Rickey Tarfa and Co, Mr. John Olusegun Odubule, who in paragraphs 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39, Odubule admitted that Justice Yunusa lost his father on December 28, 2013.
To that extent, that Tarfa and some of his friends made donations which amounted to N225, 000.00 towards the funeral rites, which coincidently is the actual bribe amount the EFCC alleged. The embattled lawyer was said to have been handed the money for onward transmission to the judge.
Though there are other shades of the allegations against Tarfa. The EFCC also alleged that on February 5, 2016, Tarfab hid two Beninoise suspects – Nazaire Sorou Gnanhoue and Modeste Finagnon, who were being accused of tax evasion in his SUV.
Now, an intriguing dimension to the issue is that Justice Yunusa’s entire life career is on the line, where it could be ascertained that he actually collected the alleged sum as gratification to carry out his legislative duties. Tarfa himself would be culpable, where the allegation is substantiated because the act of bribery is illegal. In fact, obstructing the course of justice is another illegality.
While the EFCC buttressed its claim of financial transaction between Tarfa and the judge with an Access Bank cheque number 00002065 dated January 7, 2014, a lawyer who was formerly with Rickey Tarfa Chambers and shares name with Justice Yunusa, Mr. Mohammed Awwal Yunusa, in providing what is coming as a defense for Tarfa, has noted that he was actually the beneficiary of the N225, 000.00 and not the judge.
In an affidavit he deposed to in suit no: FHC/L/CS172/16, Yunusa who was called to the bar on November 10, 2010, swore that he is the operator of the Access Bank account number: 0060351694 which bears the name Mohammed Awwal Yunusa whereas the judge’s name is Mohammed N. Yunusa.
To drive home his point in the sworn affidavit, Yunusa provided exhibits A, B, C, D, E and F, which are his certificate of call to the bar dated November 30, 2010; letter of confirmation of his appointment with Rckey Tarfa Chamber dated February 1, 2012; his letter of application for study leave at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria dated Monday, January 6, 2014 addressed to the head of chamber, Odubule; an internal memo dated Tuesday, January 29, 2013 requesting for leave of absence between January 31 and February 1, 2013 in pursuance of his study in ABU, which was approved; a Rickey Tarfa Access Bank cheque dated January 7, 2014 drawn in the name of Mohammed Awwal – with number: 00002065 and to the tune of N225, 000.00 and his Access Bank statement of account for January 2014 obtained from the Abuja NNPC Tower branch, which indicated a lodgment of N225, 000.00 to the account on January 7, 2014.
“I, Mohammed Awwal Yunusa, male, adult, Muslim, Nigerian citizen and legal practitioner of No. 21, Andi-Khan Estate, Gwarinpa, Abuja, do hereby make oath and state as follows: That I have the authority of the applicant (Tarfa), to depose to the facts herein. That I was employed as a counsel by Mr. Rickey Tarfa and Co by a letter date November 24, 2011 and my appointment was confirmed vide a letter of confirmation dated February 1, 2012.
“I worked as a counsel in Rickey Tarfa and Co till January 6, 2014, when I applied for study leave to enable me conclude my post-graduate programme at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. On January 7, 2014, the office issued a cheque No: 00002065 to augment my expenses in respect of the said programme, in the sum of N225, 000.00 and same was paid into my account no: 0060351694 with Access Bank of Nigeria. The said cheque was cleared and reflected in my statement of account.
“On February 19, 2016, I became aware of several media publications referring to a counter affidavit by the EFCC claiming that bribe of N225, 000 was paid by Rickey Tarfa’s chamber on its cheque no: 00002065 to an Access Bank account no: 0060351694 allegedly belonging to Justice Mohammed Yunusa. I immediately noticed that the account no: 0060351694 is my account number. A Rickey Tarfa’s Access Bank counter cheque no: 00002065 date January 7. 2014 for N225, 000.00 was issued to me and I collected the value in my Access Bank account no: 0060351694 held in my name of Mohammed Awwal Yunusa,” Awwal stated in his affidavit.
If by any coincidence, Awwal is found to be distinctively different from Justice Mohammed, it could make a mess of what appears a very good case by the EFCC. It could show that EFCC’s investigations are not thorough because it is what is brought before the court that the court adjudicates on.
Thorough Investigation as the Issue
To nail culprits alleged to have been involved in financial crimes, a lot id expected from the anti-corruption body. For instance, it is expected to keep up its tempo of operation. But more importantly, it must ensure that thorough investigations that would ensure that those apprehended know that there is no means of escape because the facts before them would have indicated “end of discussion”.
Speaking with THISDAY in telephone conversation, A Lagos-based right activist and lawyer, Mr. Ikechukwu Ikeji noted the responsibility with which the anti-graft body is saddled requires some basic knowledge to help it increase its rate of conviction. He particularly noted that poor investigations would always create the leeway for suspects to evade justice.
“Usually EFCC is given the responsibility of investigating financial crimes. It requires some expert knowledge. You may have to wear the cloak of those committing that crime to properly understand their psychology and system of operation. Technological ‘savviness’ is also very important.
“In some corruption cases, EFCC has found itself in shoddy investigation and ill-preparedness that rendered judges helpless and they may have to strike out the case. This is not good because people will think that the court is corrupt without understanding the shoddy nature of investigation.
“I will give you an example of the case against Femi Fani-Kayode. So many charges were initially brought against him. Later, all of the charges were reduced to two and yet they did not get a conviction. It showed shoddy investigation and prosecution. You should be able to translate evidences of your investigation into prosecution,” he said.
Another legal practitioner, Mr. Ayodele Badejoh of VOA Badejoh and Co, argued that the EFCC has been doing its best to bring financial offenders to book but also admitted that the body must arm itself with good evidences to ensure that it wins more cases to serve as deterrent to others.
“In some cases, the EFCC has been getting conviction but if they are short of evidence, what can they do? Cases before the EFCC are always criminal cases and when you don’t have substantial evidence, what can they do? Even when they see the person stealing the money, there are some things you must prove. If one is missing you cannot convict. That is the most annoying part of our criminal justice system,” Badejoh noted.
A commentator, who joined the debate via Twitter, Mr. Ade Serrano, expressed the opinion that many EFCC cases have dragged in the courts over the years such that most Nigerians are no longer remembering them.
“In Nigeria, we only get excited over celebrated cases but quickly forget once new cases emerge, not bothering about the outcomes of the old ones. Did we realise that some of the cases initiated during the Nuhu Ribadu tenure as the chairman of the EFCC are still in courts – over eight years of their filing?
“Accused persons do not even remember about their cases again. The current show by the EFCC is the $2.1bn arms procurement funds, what happens to the oil money investigation. The EFCC should prosecute old cases in court and the press should dig up outstanding cases for prosecution,” Serrano urged.
When contacted, the EFCC spokesman, Uwajaren, saw nothing wrong about the operations of the anti-graft body. Asked if he agreed that the shoddy manner of EFCC investigation in some of its cases is capable of denying it legal successes against suspects, he simply said: “What is the manner of EFCC investigation? What is shoddy? Has court thrown any EFCC case away? Why don’t you leave the courts to do their work?”
Clearly, this is one inexhaustible debate in nation building but what is important is that the agency must be honest enough to carry out periodic training and assessment of itself in terms of operations and dispositions to attain the much expected improvement obtainable in civilized climes.
Although the agency is seen to be doing its best in the nation’s present circumstance, it is also clear that its best is not enough. If anything is further subject to debate, it is the fact that it has been unable to distinguish itself from the past and that makes it – without mincing words – business as usual.