It’s time for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to open a new chapter in its chequered history, writes Samuel Ajayi
When the suspended acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, was arrested and made to face the Presidential Panel that was set up to look into allegations of mismanagement of recovered assets, many thought it was truly about time the anti-corruption body was subjected to the kind of Spanish inquiry it had always subjected citizens caught in its dragnet to.
Magu and his EFCC were accused of under-reporting recovered loots and also auctioning and selling recovered items without express permission from the supervising Ministry. Specifically, an amount of about N40billion was allegedly not accounted for by the Commission being part of monies recovered from looters of the treasury.
Beyond this, the EFCC boss was accused of living beyond his means and also hobnobbing with corrupt people – same people he was supposed to be hunting down and bringing into justice. He was also accused of selling recovered properties to cronies and his political friends.
He was further accused of not remitting interest on the sum of N553billion recovered, while also using a Bureau de Change that has 158 accounts as front to siphon funds. In the same vein, he was accused of having a house in Dubai worth over N570million.
Though he had denied these allegations, saying the Presidency was aware of how recovered properties were sold off including cars. He told the Panel, under the chairmanship of retired President of the Court of Appeal, Ayo Salami, that the allegations against him were totally untrue.
This, nonetheless, there is the need for the Commission to up its game. The EFCC was established with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes.
These include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act or year 2004; The Money Laundering Act 1995; The Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004; The Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act 1995; The Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act 1994 and The Banks and other Financial Institutions Act 1991 and Miscellaneous Offences Act.
Going by the provisions of the law setting up the Commission, it is supposed to have a board comprising of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria; a representative each of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finance and Justice; Chairman, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency; Director General, National Intelligence Agency and Director General, Department of State Services.
On board too are Registrar General, Corporate Affairs Commission; Director General, Securities and Exchange Commission; Managing Director, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation; Commissioner for Insurance; Postmaster General of the Nigerian Postal Services and Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission.
Also on the team are Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Services; Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Services; Inspector General of Police; four eminent Nigerians with cognate experience in any areas of human endeavours, finance, banking or accounting and the Secretary to the Commission.
The pioneer Chairman of the Commission was Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu, who at the time of his appointment was a Police Commissioner. He was in office between 2003 and 2007. He was succeeded by Mrs. Farida Waziri, who was in office from May 2008 till November 23, 2011.
Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, who took over, was in office from November 23, 2011 till November 9, 2015, before the incumbent, Magu, who, until his suspension, was appointed on November 9, 2015.
One can be pardoned if he or she says controversy has always trailed every EFCC Chairman. In fact, none of them had left office in a blaze of glory.
For instance, Ribadu was hounded out of office by loyalists of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, especially, those who contributed to his campaign funds and were being probed by Ribadu’s EFCC.
Mrs. Waziri was accused of openly hobnobbing with criminal figures and those the Commission was supposed to be dealing with ruthlessly. Lamorde was not different in any way. In fact, someone accused him of not reporting almost N1trn of recovered loot to authorities.
However, Magu was the longest serving “Acting Chairman” of any federal government since he was appointed in November 2015. He remained in acting capacity as the Senate, under Dr. Bukola Saraki, refused to clear him.
The Senate based its reason on two scathing security reports written by the Department of State Security (DSS), against the embattled police officer. Even at that, the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osibajo, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), claimed Magu could run the EFCC in acting capacity for as long as he wished.
Beyond all these, however, one area where the EFCC under new acting Chairman, Mohammed Umar, has to improve is in the area of notoriety for selective treatment of corruption petitions.
While many acknowledge that under Magu the Commission recorded modest achievements, it remains a sour point that 99 per cent of its targets were members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In fact, if EFCC went after an APC member, it was believed that he or she might have fallen out with the powers that be.
Some few cases more than justify this assumption. Former Lagos Police boss, Abubakar Tsav, had written a petition against former Governor George Akume, now a serving APC senator.
In fact, Tsav swore to an affidavit with his petition but Akume was not even invited. Surprisingly, Gabriel Suswam, who succeeded Akume as governor was arrested, investigated and tried based on anonymous petition.
Former Governor Danjuma Goje was interested in becoming the Senate President in 2019. But the Presidency wanted Ahmad Lawan since it did not want repeat the mistake of 2015 that threw up Saraki. Goje wanted to use the former governors’ bloc in the Senate to push his ambition.
But there was a snag: he had some N25billion corruption charge hanging on his neck with the EFCC. After some negotiations, Goje dropped his ambition but not before the EFCC shockingly withdrew the case against him. In fact, the Attorney General’s office entered a Nolle Prosequi on the case and that was it.
The most recent was a petition by a former managing director of Alpha Beta Company Limited, a business concern linked to a former Lagos Governor and one of the APC national leaders, Bola Tinubu.
In a detailed petition, the former chief executive explained how the company had been ripping Lagos State off and how it had underpaid its taxes. Magu’s EFCC simply played the deaf and dumb.
In fact, when Magu was asked why his Commission had not worked on another petition, this time on a former Governor of Edo State and recently removed national chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole, he said he needed a court injunction to do that. Yet, Magu kept Oshiomhole’s case file at his residence.
If Umar, the new EFCC boss wants the public to take the Commission seriously and not seen in the same lenses as a political tool in the hands of the ruling APC, then he has to up his game. And there’s no better way to truly show that than to deal with cases based on merit and not political considerations.