with Oke Epia
This week the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) dragged itself further down the muddy terrain of Nigeria’s politics. For some time now, it has somewhat suggested that it was not content with being just an anti-graft agency: its managers wanted a portion of the political pie baked by the new sheriff in town. Last Tuesday they sought to do this in none other place than the Senate of the Federal Republic. An unadvertised ambassadorial position was offered and withdrawn within a space of 24 hours. And in very dramatic circumstances that got Nigeria’s political space excited.
The drama comes at a time President of the Senate Bukola Saraki is facing trial over charges of false assets declaration and money laundering filed against him by the Federal Government. In fact, the climax of the plot happened same day Saraki sat boxed in the dock of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) marveling perhaps at the flip-flopping of a certain Mr. Michael Wetkas, staff of the EFCC and star prosecution witness in the case. While witness Wetkas was unravelling under the weight of Mr. Kanu Agabi’s cross-examination, a certain Suleiman Bakare, also a staff of the EFCC was officiously decorating Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Saraki’s second-in-command in the Senate with an ambassadorial award. Thus, while the Senate President was feeling the rough edges of the law in a packed court in town, the Deputy Senate President was regaling in his decoration as an ‘anti-corruption ambassador’ by the EFCC in his cozy office. Incidentally both events hugged headlines in the media and discerning political minds either confirmed their fears or strengthened their suspicions. But the circumstantial irony of the parallel happenstances is not the issue here. Neither are the permutations conspiracy theorists attributed to both within the context of the Senate’s slippery sand. The anti-climax which occurred 24 hours later is the issue.
And here is the story. After the media had buzzed with the befuddling news that the anti-graft agency had found and indeed decorated a worthy ambassador of its anti-corruption crusade in the highly esteemed person of Ekweremadu, the EFCC came up 24 hours later firing from fiery cylinders that it did not authorize such award. In a rather bellicose statement that did it more harm than good, the commission disowned its staff, branded him an instrument in the scheme of ‘corruption fighting back’ and disrespectfully threw tirades at the person and office of the Deputy Senate President. Any objective reader of that rabid rebuttal signed by Mr. Wilson Uwajaren, the spokesman of the EFCC would hear the voice of Jacob even though the hand of Esau it was that wrote.
Titled ‘Ekweremadu Not EFCC’s Anti-Corruption Ambassador’ the statement began: “The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been drawn to some reports in the print and online media, on April 20, 2016 claiming that the anti-graft agency has decorated the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, as “Anti-Corruption Ambassador.” And after conveniently attributing the reports to a press statement issued by the office of the Deputy Senate President but not denying its content, the Commission identified one of its own as the fall guy: “ The EFCC totally dissociates itself from the purported action of Bakari as he acted entirely on his own and clearly outside his liaison officer brief as he was never instructed by the Acting Chairman nor mandated by the management and staff of the Commission to decorate Ekweremadu or any officer of the National Assembly as ‘Anti- Corruption Ambassador’,” the statement stated emphatically. It continued with the scapegoating by labelling the ‘offending’ officer a black leg in the Commission’s anti-graft war while straying listlessly from the issue of focus to lash freely at the judiciary for issuing a “string of anti-EFCC rulings” in recent times. According to the EFCC statement, the Ekweremadu affair and so called antagonism of the judiciary form parts of “calculated attempts to derail the anti-corruption war, even as there were indications of the capture of a prominent section of the media by dark forces.”
As if that was not enough, the Commission took a freestyle swipe at the Senate saying “the picture of organized corruption marshaling its evil forces to launch a sustained fight-back becomes clearer, if cognizance is taken of the bewildering insistence of the Senate to carry on with the ill-advised amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act as well as the inexplicable provisions proposed for amendment of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.” This was after the Senate had announced a reversal of its decision to amend the said laws.
It then zeroed in on the number two man of the institution who may not really be blamed for choosing to accept a honourary ambassadorial award even though the timing can be considered inauspicious. Although that portion of the statement was couched in insulting innuendos, the message could not have been lost on its target. “Let it be underscored that the statutory mandate of the EFCC is the investigation and prosecution of all economic and financial crimes cases, which does not include phoney decoration of any individual as “Anti-corruption Ambassador”. That award and title are unknown to the EFCC and could not have been invested as purported, on behalf of the Acting Chairman, Management and staff of the EFCC.
“Further, the Commission is not in the habit of awarding titles to individuals. Those who seek titles for reasons of waging a counter-onslaught against the war on corruption in addition to massaging inflated sense of influence know the quarters to approach for such dubious honours. Not the EFCC. Members of the public and stakeholders in the fight against corruption are enjoined to disregard the so-called decoration, while stern administrative action is being taken on the clearly misdirected officer who acted entirely without authorization.”
The EFCC had taken umbrage at both its staff and the Deputy President of the Senate. And expectedly, Ekweremadu would have none of that. He fired back in a statement signed by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Uche Anichukwu. “The attention of the Office of the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has been drawn to a statement purportedly issued by the spokesperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, denying that the agency decorated the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu as its Anti-Corruption Ambassador,” the counter claim began. According to the statement, “Mr. Bakari also, on behalf of the Acting Chairman, management, and staff of the EFCC decorated Senator Ekweremadu as an Anti-Corruption Ambassador of the EFCC. It is also a fact that the visit and decoration was captured in both pictures and video.
“Taking cognisance of the command structure of the agency, we also wonder whether Mr. Bakari could have acted on his own or read from a prepared text without recourse to the Commission, which he represents, especially as the visit and decoration was never solicited for in the first place.
“We leave the rest to discerning members of the public to read in-between the lines and make their own judgments. However, Ambassador or no Ambassador, the Deputy President of the Senate will not back down from his legislative efforts and advocacy as captured in his several public statements and lectures over the years, pushing for legal and institutional reforms such as Special Anti-Graft Courts; security of tenure and financial autonomy for the EFCC and related agencies. Only such reforms would fast-track justice and insulate the anti-corruption agencies from external interferences and self-reversals.” Not everyone may accept Ekweremadu’s argument that the EFCC was externally influenced to act the way it did but many would agree that the Commission conducted itself in a manner unbecoming of a non-partisan and neutrally pan-Nigeria agency of government.