EFCC’s recent doublespeak on the purported trial of a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, is short of expectations, reports Bayo Akinloye
Until the emergence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the nation’s ruling party and its idol of anti-corruption – President Muhammadu Buhari – it is claimed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had been media shy. Today, like a commercial organisation competing for a contracting market share, the anti-graft agency is often seen to be doing everything possible to grab the headlines.
Its media machinery, for example, has been described as one of the most efficient and ruthless propaganda platform that critics often claim had achieved landmarks in media trials, whereas the EFCC operatives had failed to successfully prosecute any high-profile corruption case. Not a few critics of the commission are laughing derisively today while many of its admirers are said to be scratching their heads regarding the agency’s recent volte-face.
Cue in to November 11, 2018: it was reported that the Ibrahim Magu-led EFCC had begun the process to extradite a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, from the United Kingdom.
Acting spokesman for the commission, Tony Orilade, said EFCC’s operations department made presentation to its legal department to commence the process, and that process had commenced.
“It is ongoing. Within the next few weeks, the extent to which we have gone will be made known to the public. It is not a fresh case. It is not a fresh petition that is just being looked into; the whole process is a total package. This extradition is just an aspect of Diezani’s investigation and commencement of trial,” Orilade said.
But in October, 2017, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had said Nigeria had no immediate plan to bring Mrs. Allison-Madueke back home to face trial.
Curiously, Alison-Madueke, who is also being investigated in the UK, had urged the federal government to bring her back to the country to face corruption charges against her.
But Malami said bringing her back to the country would jeopardise investigations regarding her alleged crimes being conducted in the UK.
“As things stand now, there is no need for that since the UK government is already investigating her,” the justice minister had said.
People are however wondering why the commission is now bent on bringing her back into the country to face trial. Why did EFCC turn down the offer when Alison-Madueke pleaded to return to Nigeria to face charges pressed against her? Political observers and legal experts are wary of the commission’s operations and slew of media trials. They contend that “in their mind and that of their sponsors” the agency had successfully prosecuted many high-profile cases.
The figures, however, run contrary to that of the critics of the agency. There is an indictment of Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo by the House of Representatives. There is an apparent grand corruption going in on in NEMA but the EFCC is said to have turned a blind eye. Similarly, the agency is being accused of not showing interest in the leaked bribe videos involving the Kano State Governor, Abdullah Ganduje.
“It is all high-wired politics. You read in the news that the EFCC has now become a department in the APC – it’s not a proven fact but it rings true. Never in the history of the anti-graft agency has partisanship been this evident. It’s the election season; it’s the season of politicking. I think that the government also wants to distract the attention of Nigerians,” a public analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity told THISDAY.
Recently, Samuel Ortom, the Governor of Benue State, said: “Despite intimidation from the EFCC that has become a department in APC we’re not going to be intimidated. If we do anything wrong, we’re ready to face the law. But we’ll not succumb to intimidation.”
It is the view of not a few Nigerians that the “latest knee-jerk comments” from the EFCC is a signpost to bringing political witch-hunt to another level “in order to justify and ensure their anti-corruption idol succeeds in the 2019 presidential election.”
Last October, the former oil minister had urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the federal government to facilitate her return to Nigeria to face trial asking for an opportunity to defend allegations against her in a charge filed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dele Belgore, and former National Planning Minister, Abubakar Suleiman – as she was accused of sharing $115,010,000 (about N35 billion) to individuals ahead of the 2015 general election.
Belgore and Suleiman had allegedly collected N450 million from her with the EFCC accusing them of conspiring to directly take possession of the money. Yet, Alison-Madueke was not listed as a defendant in the case but was described as being “at large” in the charge.
Against that backdrop, the ex-petroleum minister sought to be joined to defend her integrity, noting that contrary to EFCC’s claim that she was at large, she has been in the UK and was willing to return to Nigeria to defend the allegations – it would be against her right to fair-hearing for the case to proceed without affording her the opportunity to defend herself.
The former minister, therefore, prayed for an order mandating her to appear in court to plead to the charge. In addition, she also asked for an order “mandating the Attorney-General of the Federation, being the agent of the complainant (the federal government) to facilitate her prompt appearance in court, to take her plea and to defend the allegations made against her.
The EFCC, however, interpreted her action as a ruse to avoid prosecution in the UK and frustrate the ongoing trial in Nigeria, arguing in an 18-paragraph counter-affidavit, that “the applicant realised she was being investigated, and she absconded abroad and sometime in March this year, operatives were in London, but her lawyers refused to allow the operatives interview her.
This present application is a plot by the applicant to enable her escape prosecution in London, also to enable her come to Nigeria and scuttle the ongoing case, which has already got to an advanced stage.”
In the end, the court declined to grant Alison-Madueke’s application and also struck out the eighth count in which the former minister’s name had appeared.
Now, cue in to November 12, 2018: The chairman of the EFCC said concerning the ex-minister: “There is no prosecution of Diezani going on in the UK. We cannot wait indefinitely for the UK. That is why we want to initiate her extradition and trial in Nigeria.”
On its website, the agency had boasted: “Going by the continued unearthing of hard-to-ignore evidence of unexplained acquisitions, coupled with Justice Chuka Obiozor’s ruling on the final forfeiture of a $37.5m (N11.75bn) (Eleven Billion, Seven Hundred and Fifty Million Naira) to the federal government, ex-minister Alison-Madueke’s evidence-free counter-charge, that she is a victim of EFCC persecution, may be ringing hollower and hollower.”
There is more than meets the eye in the agency’s latest volte-face to bring Alison-Madueke back to Nigeria to face corruption charges. Infamy, some public analysts have said, beckons if the agency will only succeed as usual in media trial. But as it appears today, that might as well be its lot.