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The Challenge Before Magu’s EFCC

The launch last week of the “Clean Hands” initiative by the EFCC indicates that the anti-corruption agency is beginning to move in the right direction. Any institution set up to combat a prevailing social challenge should realize that the measure of its effectiveness should be in the prevention rather than cure.

The launch of the “Clean Hands” project indicates that EFCC under its current leadership is prepared to embrace a new way of thinking and accept a new interpretation of its role. EFCC is beginning to realize that all the years of ruthless devotion to catching people and throwing them in detentions have hardly dented the huge problem of corruption in Nigeria. With this new initiative, EFCC is bringing preventive advocacy to the heart of its operation. This should be commended.

However, it is important to sound a note of caution here. EFCC is not the National Orientation Agency that relies mainly on the power of moral persuasion. Primarily, it is still a crime fighting organisation. Therefore, no matter what it does on the advocacy front, its effectiveness would still be measured principally in its ability to successfully prosecute corruption cases wherever they occur. Apprehension and prosecution as a form of deterrence is therefore as important to its work as its prevention activities, if not more important.

Unfortunately, it is in this core area that EFCC has not done very well in the past. Perhaps, under Magu things would change. But at the moment, EFCC is still widely perceived as a willing attack dog that is readily unleashed on whoever is perceived as the enemy of government. With this persecution bias, it has therefore been difficult for the Commission to secure any major conviction based strictly on the rule of law. As a result, its achievement so far has been severely limited to that of naming and shaming, or what is known as media trial.

Rule of law is a fundamental pillar of democracy. Rule of law requires that whoever alleges must prove its case beyond all reasonable doubts. The scale of justice is therefore naturally tilted in favour of the accused. It is therefore necessarily a herculean task for a prosecutor to prove its case and successfully secure a conviction. It would require weeks and months of painstaking and sometimes painful investigations. It would require bodies of evidence that are so scientific in their precision and so compelling in their strength as to leave no iota of reasonable doubts in their wake. What this means therefore is that to get its job done, the EFCC must be staffed by some of the finest forensic minds in the country. It means that people who carry out its investigations must know what they are looking for. They must not only be endowed with almost uncanny intelligence, but they must also have a cosmopolitan outlook and a universal knowledge base that understands something about almost everything. They must be obsessively meticulous. They must be slaves to truth, allowing hard facts to lead them wherever it may. Prejudice and political considerations must not have a place in their minds.

Now, I don’t know the quality of people that are currently working in EFCC. However, I have closely followed the Saraki case at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. The chief witness, Michael Wetkas I understand is a chief investigator with the EFCC. Some say he is even about the best investigator in that Commission. I don’t know if this is true. However, based on what I have seen so far, if Mr. Wetkas is the best investigator that the EFCC has in its fold, then, I am afraid to say, we are not ready to fight corruption in this country. Under cross examination so far, Wetkas has certainly not done his employers proud. Like I have heard several people who have attended the trial sessions say, with investigators like Wetkas, little wonder the EFCC has preferred medial trial and plea-bargaining.

A few weeks ago, under cross examination by the defendant’s counsel, Wetkas shamelessly admitted that he had never seen a credit card before! According to him, he does not know that a credit card is not necessarily attached to a bank account. Now, how do we expect this EFCC operatives with his tragically limited exposure and understanding to be able to comprehend and break down the complexity of globalized money laundering rackets? In the world we live in today, once money is stolen, they take different forms, metamorphose into all kinds of assets and navigates across boundaries and institutions. If an intelligence officer does not have the sophistication to understand this dynamics then he is absolutely useless in the fight against financial crimes? It is difficult to imagine an intelligence officer of Wetkas’ rank in the Metropolitan Police or the FBI display such pathetic level of ignorance as we have seen from Wetkas.

I also find it absolutely embarrassing that Wetkas also said under cross examination that he does not know the meaning of “mortgage redemption.” Even after seeing it in a telex, he still concluded that the payment was for a new property! Whereas a simple Google search would have helped him. I really find it hard to believe that a crime investigation officer in the 21st century could be that ignorant. Even an average high school boy who has done elementary economics could not have done worse. The only way to explain it is that Wetkas was merely taunting the defense counsel. I doubt that he would deliberately visit that level of embarrassment on the establishment that he represents. How does one explain a situation where an officer of law would claim that a property that belongs to a company also belongs to an individual?  Or concludes that a property belongs to a company simply because the rent was paid to that company! One would think that a simple trip to the relevant land registry would have helped to build a stronger case. There is clear evidence of laziness in all these.

So far, much of Wetkas’ testimonies is littered with hear-say and cheap rumour mongering. You would often hear him say things like “I believe”, “I feel”, or “I think”. Perhaps, he was not trained to know that he believes, feels or thinks cannot take the place of hard evidence in a court of law. How on earth can we even explain a situation where the chief investigator in a case would admit that he had never interacted with an accused in the course of building his case? How can one explain his casual admission on several instances that investigations are on-going and some piece of evidence are still being awaited even in the middle of the trial?

No matter how the Saraki case ends, which is not my concern here, EFCC would have been severely diminished like a piece of soap that shrinks in the process of trying to keep other people clean. Quite ironically, this may also be one of the positive things that would come out of the CCT trial. If the EFCC would have the courage to look at itself in the mirror, then it is possible that the Commission would come out of the Saraki case and say to itself, “we have had a bad outing.” But if it continues to award itself medals of excellence, like I heard Mr. Magu doing last week, then it is not going to learn anything from this experience. Magu was reported to have said that EFCC has secured 140 convictions in six months. I strongly hope he has been misquoted. Otherwise, maybe we should encourage Magu to publish the list of those convictions in the newspapers.

The Saraki case has exposed the fundamental weakness in EFCC. With what I have seen so far, I believe Magu has the capacity to carry out the difficult task of strengthening this very important institution. Beyond the mass hysteria and the self-celebratory drama of thief-catching, Magu should start immediately to build the necessary institutional support systems across the world that would help to strengthen capacity within the Commission. If he needs to recruit new hands, he must not hesitate to do so. Nigeria is populated with smart young men and women who have the necessary exposure, technological savviness and real intelligence to make the EFCC the kind of anti-crime agency that we all want. Magu should look for them and hire them. With people like Wetkas? No, sorry sir.

–-Ibrahim, sociology and criminologist, writes from Wuse, Abuja