Usman Danasabe argues the need to review the appointment of police officers as heads of the anti-graft agency

The furious focus on the SARS unit of the Nigeria Police by the now dormant #ENDSARS protesters provided an irresistible impulse to take a long overdue action to redress unspeakable abuses of an otherwise potent anti-robbery squad. It was immensely advantageous that the agitation resulted in the government commitment to go beyond the SARS issue and subject the entire police force to a reformative review. There are numerous flaws, abuses and missing links bedevilling the police which require urgent redress and the sooner there is a clean sweep of all anomalies the better.

This is also an ideal time to check the unintended impact of the ills of the police force on some agencies whose schedule of duties border on investigative functions. The EFCC is a typical example of such an organisation and it is not a mere coincidence that it is currently also under an investigative process triggered by the alleged shortcomings and excesses of its acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, a police officer who was subsequently removed from office after a controversial five years during which the Senate declined to confirm him twice due to unfavourable security reports.

Nuhu Ribadu was the pioneer Chairperson of the EFCC, starting his tenure in 2003. Ribadu was sacked in 2007. His successor, Farida Waziri’s appointment lasted from 2008 to 2011. Ibrahim Lamorde replaced Waziri and was sacked in 2015. Ibrahim Magu was first appointed as acting chairman of the commission in 2015.

Invariably, these chairmen left office in controversial circumstances dragging the EFCC into numerous crises of credibility and public criticism of its image and performance marred by unwholesome practices such as selective targeting of suspects, sloppy investigations and prosecutions, recurring allegations of corruption and highhandedness in treatment of suspects and enforcement of sanctions. As a result, the agency was regarded as just another extension of the police, citing the continued deployment of police officers as chairmen, alluding to the entrenchment of such ills in the police.

The EFCC’s peculiar reliance on the Nigeria Police for sourcing its chairmen was traced to the law establishing the commission. The Establishment Act stipulates that the commission shall be headed by a chairman, who shall be the Chief Executive and Accounting Officer and be a serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or equivalent. This does not categorically earmark the police as exclusive source of appointing a chairman for the commission, but the referencing of the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police as the lowest equivalent rank of candidates was conveniently (mis)interpreted to the benefit of police officers.

This police hijacking of the qualifying parameters for chairmanship of the EFCC was initiated with the appointment of Nuhu Ribadu, a serving officer, as its first chairman and entrenched thereafter even to the benefit of retired AIG Farida Waziri. It was further exploited to the extent of populating the top positions in the commission with police officers, chosen arbitrarily by the police hierarchy, thereby infesting the commission with “police culture” and effectively reducing it to an outpost of sorts.

This opportunistic misinterpretation of the EFCC Act negated the essence of the creation of the agency as a specialized bureau, with a distinct schedule focusing on emergent economic, financial and cyber-crimes, clearly outside the training and competence of our conventional police force and officers. For avoidance doubt, the EFCC Act also charges it with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes perceived to have been bungled by business as usual police tendencies.

Moreover, a specialized research and training facility was also integrated into the establishment of the EFCC, underscoring its pioneer status and the imperative of developing a new crop of professionals and relevant data base for tackling what was then an emerging form of criminality. The EFCC Academy was established in 2005 to develop and deliver training and research for the staff of the commission and needs of various departments and sections of the commission and offer courses at Certificate, Diploma, Post‑Graduate Diploma and Master’s Degrees in Anti‑corruption Studies, Cybercrimes and Digital Forensics and Forensic Accounting.

Unfortunately, due to the systematic police colonization of the EFCC, all these comprehensive facilities for specialization have been rendered redundant and objectives frustrated, especially by the undue domination of its chairmanship and other top departmental positions by police officers. It explains why the chairman became a self-motivated “czar” with arbitrary dictatorial powers over his clique of hand-picked police subordinates. It explains why cases were abandoned or frivolously prosecuted and why pecuniary and political influence overwhelmed professionalism.

The most disturbing dimension of the police subjugation of the EFCC must be the colossal waste and utter frustration of the comprehensive investments devoted to regular emergence of the new crop of specialized skills and personnel for effective deterrence of the increasing rate of economic, financial and cybercrimes in Nigeria. The situation demands urgent correction by immediate termination of the unholy subordination of the EFCC to the whimsical and capricious indiscretions of police control.

By now there must be substantial turnout of the specialized graduates of the EFCC Academy qualified and competent with the right orientation to take up all command positions in the commission and restore its founding vision and mission while sanitizing the system. With hindsight, the police should not have been considered a suitable “government security or law enforcement agency” as the act states, to produce any staff for the EFCC given its entrenched excesses and shortcomings. The on-going high-powered comprehensive reform of the police is a golden opportunity to withdraw police personnel from such extra-curricular misadventures. This will release the full specialized professional and operational potential of the EFCC to make the envisaged effective impact on the emergent economic, financial and cyber-crimes that fuel corruption. The #ENDSARS reforms of the police must also curb this case of infringement of operational limitation.

Comrade Danasabe wrote from Gombe