Amendment to the EFCC act is long overdue

Nigeria is an irony. Poor people who commit petty crimes are often sentenced to long term in prison. But the privileged citizens, ranging from politicians, bank executives to other high-heeled criminals, who cause widespread financial damage to the society, are slapped with light sentences. The House of Representatives wants to change all that.

In a new bill which has passed second reading, Hon. Bassey Ewa, representing Cross River State, is seeking stiffer penalty for economic and financial crimes. The proposed section reads: “All convicted persons shall serve an imprisonment of a term not less than 20 years and have their ill-gotten property, accounts or investment confiscated by the government.” Similarly, a company found guilty of economic and financial crimes would be barred from doing business for 50 years.

These were part of the new amendments to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act, 2004 which prescribes a penalty of “not less than two years”. Ewa rightly said the present punishment was too “lenient” and that only a harsh sentence would discourage public servants and others from stealing public money. “If you are 40 years old and you know that you will be 60 years by the time you are out of jail, you will have some fear in you and think about your children.”

There is no doubt that the current provision in the act is overdue for an overhaul. The EFCC is perhaps the only anti-graft institution which still poses a strong challenge to impunity. But in its books, there is a tragic mismatch between crime and consequences. The punishment it metes out to convicts more or less recompenses rather than reprimands corruption. Many of the corrupt cases against the elite have made little or no progress in different courts of law across the country. Many indeed exploit the loopholes in the law and are often set free after denying millions of innocent people access to the most rudimentary of services.

However, even the few convicts that the EFCC were able to secure after long-winding cases were let off the hook as the prison term further encourages the culture of impunity. This trend is unfair and inequitable as it does not serve the cause of justice or democracy. Men or women found guilty of embezzling public or corporate funds should be punished according to the weight of their crimes. That is the only way to discourage people from engaging in such unbridled acts.

We therefore support the legislature in its mission to sanitise the EFCC act and curtail the scandalous abuse and assault by sundry miscreants on our commonwealth. While corruption is not totally eradicable, those found guilty of perpetuating the vice should be heavily sanctioned to act as deterrent to others.

President Muhammadu Buhari has often reiterated its resolve to prosecute and bring to justice those who have looted the wealth of the nation. “I believe it is time for Nigeria to change course,” he once told the nation while pledging to fight the monster. “I am determined that Nigeria must move away from a course of endemic corruption that was leading us to perdition.” Yet what we have witnessed in Nigeria in recent times, however, is corruption on an industrial scale.

If the fight against corruption will take the nation anywhere, then there is need for judicial and legal reforms that will ensure adequate consequences for the proven perpetrators of the acts. Nigeria must return to the era when persons of unaccountable wealth would at least hide their faces. But we need to invest in the cultivation of enlightened values by ensuring that those who go into public service are content with their legitimate wages.