Nigeria’s EFCC, a crude instrument for political control

Posted by Emeka Ugwuonye | 27 October 2013 | 4,893 times

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Most of my writings about the EFCC (a short name form for Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) occurred during the five months that I was detained in Nigeria by the men of that outfit. With me in their cell, they soon declared pen and paper the most dangerous contrabands in their cells. My cell and my person were searched every five minutes, 24/7, just to make sure I did not have pen and paper. I was placed in solitary confinement so that I would not have pen or paper. Several meetings were held by the management staff of the EFCC on how to stop me from writing. Special instructions were given to all arriving inmates on how to avoid all contacts with the dangerous lawyer in the cell.

But the EFCC’s leaders were (and still are) so dumb that they were so counter-effective on every measure they took. Each move they made immediately undermined the previous one. For instance, the place they used as my solitary confinement was a place they had used as storage for their stationaries. Also, the EFCC officers specifically designated to keep watch over me were so angry and frustrated with the system that they happily became my couriers. Those not angry enough were sufficiently corrupt to do it for something in return. Well, this piece is not about the pettiness of the EFCC officers. Rather, it will address the more dangerous aspect of that Commission, which made it a vicious instrument of political control by the Presidency, by which I refer to the President and a few treacherous public servants who claim unconstitutional powers directly from Presidential grace and love. You can call them the Presidential favourites.

As a trial lawyer, I was trained to start out on a case by setting forth facts that are undisputed and separating them from facts that are disputed. And if you are lucky to have sufficient undisputed facts, you could be heading for a homerun. So, let’s start with the undisputed facts about the EFCC. They are too numerous. So, we limit this to the few following facts:

1) The EFCC was created for economic crimes, while the ICPC (the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission) was created for corruption, as the name suggests. But the EFCC spends 90 percent of its noise on corruption, while the ICPC is hardly ever heard of. Something must be clearly wrong and confusing.

2) The EFCC has never won a single case on the merit in 12 years of its existence. By this, I mean that if the accused person has a lawyer and is accorded his due process rights to defend the case, and there is no face-saving plea-bargain, the EFCC will never win a case in Nigeria. But note that the EFCC would claim credit for everything else that did not result from its efforts; example, cases tried outside Nigeria. The EFCC claimed credit for the arrest and brief detention in London of the former Governor of Bayelsa State, the former Governor of Plateau State; and the recent conviction of the former Governor of Delta State, which is about to unravel. Also, of course, EFCC did claim credit for the infamous and unconstitutional removal of sitting Governors.

3) The first head of the EFCC fled the country when he was removed from office. He claimed that his life was in danger.

4) The second head of the EFCC fled the country also. Her reason was that her life was in danger. Bear in mind that no Chief Justice of Nigeria in history, no Inspector General of Police in history, no Attorney-General of Nigeria in history, no President of Nigeria in history, ever fled Nigeria for the same reason. So, what is wrong with the EFCC’s Chairmen? Did they enforce more laws than the Attorney General? Did they enforce more laws than the Chief Justice of Nigeria? Could they be held more responsible than the Presidents of Nigeria? Why run then?

5) All leaders of the EFCC so far came from (a) one religion, (b) one region of the country, and (c) all are members of the Nigerian Police Force. And this despite the fact that the reason they gave for establishing EFCC rather than reforming the police was that the police force was incurably corrupt.

6) Corruption and economic crimes are worse in Nigeria today than ever. So, it is correct to say that corruption and economic crimes grew exponentially since the EFCC came into existence than before. Nigeria is worse off on corruption with the existence of the EFCC than otherwise.

7) Emeka Ugwuonye wrote on March 23, 2011, right from his EFCC cell, that the EFCC and its then Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, were corrupt and inept and dysfunctional. Ugwuonye also predicted then that Mrs. Waziri would be removed for corruption. That piece earned Ugwuonye a solitary confinement that lasted for two months. On November 23, 2011, Mrs. Farida Waziri was removed from office for corruption.

8) On the same November 23, 2011, the new Chairman, Ibrahim Larmode, made his first public statement in office as successor to Mrs. Waziri. In that statement, Larmode admitted that there was internal corruption in the EFCC and that he would bring in lie-detector (polygraph) machines to checkmate corruption within the EFCC officers. He asked Nigerians to bear with the Commission.

9) On the same November 23, 2011 (while on a second round of his detention), Emeka Ugwuonye issued a statement from his solitary confinement challenging Larmode. Ugwuonye said that Larmode was too ignorant, too uneducated, too complicituous, and too dishonest about his claims for Nigerians to trust him. Ugwuonye argued that Larmode had never seen a polygraph machine before and had no idea how it worked, and that all he said in his maiden speech was absolute nonsense and lies and a clear fraud on Nigerians.

10) Nearly two years after, not one single polygraph machine was used to checkmate corruption within the EFCC, and not a single senior officer of the EFCC was ever fired for corruption under Larmode. Indeed, EFCC under Larmode became more corrupt such that the Commission is now said to be broke. Also, despite repeated efforts, EFCC under Larmode refused to account for the billions of naira the Commission claimed to have recovered over the years.

11) Recently, the former President (Obasanjo) who established the EFCC came public and accused the immediate past Chairman of the Commission (Mrs. Waziri) of being too corrupt while in office. And the woman came out and threatened to expose Obasanjo’s “monumental” corruption. In the most unprofessional response in history for a law enforcement officer, she responded to President Obasanjo in the following words: “Respect your age”. In these three words, Mrs. Farida Waziri removed any lingering doubts that she was ever fit for a senior position in any law enforcement agency.

12) As a follow up to the sparring between Obasanjo and Waziri, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu joined the fray and stated that indeed Mrs. Farida Waziri was a liar and that she lied to the public.

What then is or was the EFCC, if not a legitimate law enforcement agency operating under the constitution?

This is the question every Nigerian must ask himself or herself, in view of the havoc the EFCC has caused in Nigeria, and the degree of deception and fraud that Commission has perpetrated on Nigerians.

Without much doubt, the EFCC itself bas been the biggest scam ever perpetrated on Nigerians. The main goal was first to pacify the population and the international community into believing that the Nigerian Government was going to do something about corruption and economic crimes that had brought the country on the verge of total destruction. The second goal, which seemed to have evolved as the Commission emerged and the actors became clear, was to create for the Presidency an instrument of political control. The way this instrument worked is that a person that the President perceives to be a political opponent could be accused by the EFCC.

When accused by the EFCC, you also get arrested and false information is fed to the public about you. That process could be so dehumanizing that the target immediately ceases to exist as a political force, how much less as a threat. This process was over-used by Obasanjo. What any intelligent person would know immediately is that nothing in the law or in common sense would have made the EFCC more powerful than the Nigerian police, the Nigerian judiciary, or the Nigerian army. It never had such powers in law. The powers exercised by the EFCC have no foundation in Nigerian law. Such powers would have been odd even under the military regimes. What the EFCC had and used extensively during Obasanjo’s era was a form of Presidential reengineering of dictatorship. It was the President that engineered Ribadu and made him the superman he appeared to be. And to prove this, it was a simple gesture of another President that turned the same Ribadu into a fugitive that he was for a while.

Every President understood the importance of such force as the EFCC that could enable him to destabilise any political opponent at will. President Yar’Adua understood it very well. But he simply did not have that important component – the personal chemistry between Obasanjo and Ribadu. Besides, Yar’Adua was already concerned about the amount of personal powers that Ribadu had amassed. For instance, he was aware of how Ribadu was used to scuttle the almost successful presidential aspirations of Governor Odili. Also, having refused to appoint Ribadu the Inspector General of Police, as the latter desperately requested, Yar’Adua knew of Ribadu’s effort to assist Buhari with evidence he needed to win his case against Yar’Adua in court. So, it appeared Yar’Adua was the President that made no use of the EFCC as an instrument of control.

President Jonathan understood first hand how the EFCC could be used for political control. The President himself knew exactly what happened when his then boss (the Governor of Bayelsa, known as DSP) was arrested in London, but managed to return to Nigeria. He knew how the EFCC and Obasanjo mobilised helicopter gunships over the Governor’s mansion in Yenagoa. It was an awesome display of power, albeit unconstitutional and a mere brute force. In one glaring case, President Jonathan used the EFCC for that classical role as political control. That was the case of the former Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives (Speaker Dimeji Bankole). The President had his preferred candidate as the new Speaker of the House. But Bankole was supporting a different candidate and was not backing down for the President’s candidate. Series of rapid events occurred. The EFCC ratcheted its propaganda and dramatics. Speaker Bankole was hounded, disgraced and put to trial. And, naturally, the case was dismissed by court for lack of merit, despite the noises and shenanigans by the EFCC.

Despite the Bankole incident, President Jonathan has been careful the way he could use the EFCC. He is not quite sure how to go about it. He chose the option of largely ignoring the Commission. Though he chose Larmode against some advice, he knew he could not build the kind of chemistry that existed between Obasanjo and Ribadu. Besides, the forces that President Jonathan is fighting at the moment are different. He is fighting an insurgency that aims at ousting him. Also, the President is faced with a divided party, without which he would have a very uncertain political future. This President is fighting group warfare, not the type suitable for the deployment of the untrusted EFCC. His are not the personalised enemies Obasanjo had then, whom he could dislodge easily by an EFCC arrest, detention and harassment.

Whichever way you stand to look at it, the EFCC has never been about law enforcement or about fighting crimes in Nigeria. The Commission is made up of highly corrupt officers, far more dangerous and criminal minded than the people they hound. The relevance of the EFCC in Nigerian history is therefore going to be its role as the greatest instrument of political control under a civilian regime, a form of reengineering of politics of a crude Nigerian variety. It is a mechanism for achieving full dictatorship of the President in a supposedly democratic dispensation.

•Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire, lawyer and activist, whose photo appears alongside this piece, wrote from Maryland, USA.

Source: News Express

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