EFCC: BEFORE WE ALL FALL VICTIM.
By Abiodun Olayinka.
The Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mrs Farida Waziri in the last few days, has been dominating the headlines. This time around, she is making news not on account of what she has been doing right or wrong in the last four months since she assumed leadership of the nation’s number one anti-graft agency but because she plucked up courage to say the truth about what her predecessor had wittingly or unwittingly boasted about.
It is still fresh in our memory how Nuhu Ribadu, the former Chairman of EFCC boasted before the Senate in 2006 that he had concluded investigations on 31 ex-governors who he adjudged corrupt, stressing that he was only waiting for them to step down on May 29, 2007 so that he can arrest them and charge them to court. This statement was made at a time when all Obasanjo men were all out to coerce everyone that matters in Nigeria to support the failed third term project. The circumstance notwithstanding, Nigerians took the guilt verdict as a sign of hope;that 31 of their governors who had allegedly looted their common heritage with reckless abandon will end up in jail in a matter of months.
From my understanding of what has been written and statements from EFCC clarifying issues, the summary of it is that Waziri has simply fallen victim of the high-wired political statements of her predecessor. What do I mean? Before we all become victims of a one man statement, there is the need to do soul seaching on this matter. If indeed, as Ribadu claimed, there were 31 ex-governors ready for prosecution, why were they not charged to court between May29, 2007 when the governors lost immunity and June 2008 when Waziri came on board? This then shows that Ribadu merely made a popular statement with little or nothing on ground to move further. The hope of Nigerians had been raised by Ribadu’s claim and almost two years after, no one seems to be telling them anything about these 31 former governors any more.
An attempt to tell Nigerians something different from what they have been hearing before turned the heat on the anti-graft agency. As to be expected of our enterprising journalists, such disclosures made banner headlines. Many of the reports were distorted, some painted and some skewed along vested interests. I was alarmed to read in some newspapers that the EFCC said it had no case against any ex-governor! Some others reported that EFCC had cleared all former governors of corruption charges while others said all case files on ex-governers had been declared missing by the EFCC. Many of us who are familiar with some of the cases the Commission is handling against some of the former governors did not need to wait to be told that the EFCC’s boss could not have said such a thing.
As it turned out to be , the Commission issued a statement to explain what Waziri had said. According to the statement by the Commission’s spokesman, Femi Babafemi, it was clear that the EFCC boss was only tring to explain that only eight (8) ex-governors were in court when she took over while she has so far charged three (3) more former governors. It is also clear from the statement that Waziri inherited case files with scanty information which she needs to build up before she can take them to court. Nigerians are right to have expressed shock at the mis-reported disclosures of Mrs Waziri. Even the EFCC’s boss herself should feel proud that her Commission has become such an important national institution which all Nigerians are looking forward to in the war against corruption. The missing link in all of these is the truth which Waziri has now provided. In fairness to many of us, we have a right to query the authenticity of the disclosures of Mrs Waziri. The former EFCC’s boss, Mr Nuhu Ribadu, before the 2007 general election, had made the whole world believed that 31 former governors were found to be corrupt and would be docked immediately their immunity wear off. Although Ribadu is no longer in the saddle as the helmsman in EFCC, it is logical to think that his claims are still valid and dependable. This informed the brouhaha that attended the response of most Nigerians to what Mrs Waziri said.
Now, we know that there are 11 former governors on trial for charges of corruption while the Commission continues its search for evidence against others still being investigated. This clarification is good. It is indicative of Waziri’s sincerity and un-common courage. What would it have cost her to remain quiet and continue with her work, leaving many of us in the dark? Are we not expecting her to produce a rabbit from an ordinary hat if we insist that she should tell us that case files on 31 former governors were ready for court when in truth only 11 are in court with others still under invetigation ? If there are blames to be allotted in this matter, it is certainly not Godly to ask Waziri to pay for the sins of her predecessor. It is rather unfortunate that Waziri is the one in the saddle and taking all the heat today, otherwise it would have been more appropriate to ask Ribadu the question that generated this controversy when he was still in the saddle even months after all the 31 ex-governors left office.
What should be our interest in this matter, now that we know the number of the former governors being tried by the EFCC, is that their trial should be accelerated while we support the Commission in its investigation of others. It is not in the best interest of justice and the nation to call for Waziri’s over a mere boastful claim of her predecessor.
We should be eager to know what becomes of the tax payers’ money these ex-governors embezzled, We should be eager to see the EFCC recover assets that are illegally acquired and funds that were corruptly stashed away in foreign bank accounts. Again, the EFCC may excuse itself that the expeditious trial of the governors is the work of the judiciary. This is true but what is most important to the Nigerian public is getting convictions of the governors, so that those in the saddle now will know that it cannot be business as usual. The EFCC should appreciate the public angst that greeted the mis-reported clarifications of its Chairman. The anger is derived from the rising expectations of the people for results. These results should not be long in coming.
Already, Mrs Waziri has shown tremendous commitments to the fight against corruption. Since she assumed duties as EFCC’s boss, individuals that the public had previously considered to be untouchable are being tried and speculations that she was appointed to systemically cripple the operations of the EFCC are turning out to be mere fables. A new challenge being thrown at Waziri is the trial of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The public is of the view that the EFCC ought to have commenced investigations into the eight year rule of the former President. This view is coming from the series of accusations and counter-accusations of Obasanjo in the media. Waziri is saying that no petition has been sent to the EFCC accusing Obasanjo of one thing or the other. She may be right. However, she should go ahead to challenge those asking her to probe Obasanjo to bring in a petition to this effect and see whether she would not be able to lift a finger. It is a dicey thing for the EFCC’s boss. It would appear that the public is thinking that Waziri can dock Obasanjo without clearing from President Yar’adua or relying on rock-solid evidences.
The problem with us as a people is that we think the task of fighting corruption is just the headache of the anti-graft agencies alone. This is not true. Since the clarion call for the probe of Obasanjo, I’m surprised that no single petition has been sent to the EFCC by those loudly asking the Commission to skin the former President alive since Waziri came on board. Criminal prosecution is never based on whims and fancies, it is based on evidences, exhibits and other instruments of persuasion in the courts. Where all these are lacking, it would be foolishly bold for either Waziri or the EFCC to ride on the wave of public agitations for the trial of the former President.
Waziri should expect more of the jabs being thrown at her .Many of her critics have their interests they are trying to protect. Many of them may even be paid agents of the enemies of the EFCC. The truth of the matter is that the EFCC has more enemies than it can imagine. It is because of the nature of its works and the environment where the works are being carried out.
What well-meaning Nigerians should be doing is to continually seek ways and means of helping the Commission. At least, if the war against corruption is ultimately won, it won’t be the EFCC or Farida Waziri alone that will enjoy the fruits of the victory. Even, if mistakes are made as to be expected of a human organization like the EFCC, the mistakes should be seen as such and not inherent weaknesses that Waziri’s detractors are trying to suggest. All said and done, I see in Waziri a courageous fighter and a sincere combatant who would rather say the truth, even when it is not convenient to do so, in order to put records straight and move the nation forward.
* Olayinka wrote from Ilesa, Osun state.