By Adedayo Samson
While fighting corruption at all levels is a laudable effort, balancing action with fairness in the prosecution of justice remains pertinent in the operations of a law enforcement agency. Faced with such moral dilemma, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has ramped up its efforts to sanitize Nigeria’s corporate sector.
The Commission’s attempt to rid the country’s private sector of criminals and criminality through checks and balances has led to the investigation of some businesses across several industries and the imposition of fines on some. While top shots found culpable of economic malpractices are undergoing prosecution, companies and their executives hitherto scrutinized are being acquitted. In particular, the EFCC has scaled up its scrutiny of the telecoms and lottery industries.
One of the notable cases is EFCC’s investigation of telecoms giant, MTN in 2019 over alleged irregularities in the process of its listing on the bourse of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). In May 2019, the firm had listed by introduction, 20.4 billion ordinary shares at N90 on the NSE. In less than a week, the share price had risen to N131 as scarcity drives up its value. Many believed the company did not follow due process and had given insider information to some of its major shareholders, a move that led to artificial scarcity of the company’s shares following the announcement of the IPO. However, while acknowledging that it was under investigation by the EFCC, MTN reiterated that it had not been accused of any wrongdoing by the anti-graft agency. After further explanations from the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), MTN was absolved.
Similarly, in January 2020, Premier lotto, Nigeria’s foremost and perhaps, oldest lottery firm became the subject of a routine EFCC inquest to investigate alleged tax evasion based on unsubstantiated accusations from a competitor. An Executive Director of the company and son of the founder, Segun Adebutu, who was incidentally at the Premier Lotto office on the day, was invited to the anti-graft agent’s office for questioning without detainment. After due investigations, and further clarifications from the company, the EFCC was said to have found no malpractices in the affairs of Premier Lotto and Segun Adebutu. The matter, according to reports, was thereafter summarily dismissed, and the petition was closed.
In its bid to sanitize the lottery industry, the EFCC went into a partnership with the National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC) in July 2019. The deal involves agreement for support in the areas of information sharing, intelligence gathering, enforcement and prosecution. With the new agreement, it became easier for the anti-graft agency to detect cases of foul play in the hitherto opaque Nigerian lottery industry, which is reportedly worth about $70 billion. The partnership with the NLRC is already yielding some results as the EFCC recently announced the discovery of 35 illegal lottery business operators in the country.
EFCC’s scrutiny of the telecoms sector revealed a boost early in the years, when the House of Representatives Committee on ICT revealed that the commission will join the committee to investigate telecom providers, over alleged non-remittance of the one per cent annual turnover to the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). According to the Reps committee, the telecom companies are owing up to N200 billion in pending remittance to NITDA for infrastructure provided.
While some people see the EFCC’s intervention in the affairs of the business world as being overbearing, others see it as a means of reining in some of the excesses of the businesses and protecting the consumers who are serviced by these businesses. Nevertheless, these moves have yielded some benefits. They have checked the excesses of the telecoms operators and brought in more revenue for government in form of fines.
Lastly, thanks to the cooperation of some key lottery operators, the EFCC has made the industry more transparent and accountable.
Samson writes from Lagos