EFCC fails test of objectivity

Posted by News Express | 15 August 2018 | 1,452 times

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On a very lovely and fascinating day, I was randomly going through some of these random thoughts of some articulate public affairs commentators. And, as one thing led to another, my attention was drawn to one of the uniquely attractive claims made on the social media page of one of the most articulate upwardly mobile Nigerians.

In it, the writer listed what he considered as milestones made by respective presidents of the previous administrations since the inception of democracy in 1999.

In the column in which the writer made the claims, he recalled President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure, 1999 to 2007, and listed the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as one among his notable institutional achievements. True to his claim, the establishment of EFCC is one of the most important national landmark achievements ever made by any administrations since the creation of Nigeria in 1960. This is because corruption and theft of public funds by public officials in Nigeria have combined to cripple the corporate progress of Nigeria, and is the number one cause of mass poverty.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as at the time President Obasanjo was in office, had reeled out an estimate of $400 billion as the cumulative amount stolen by government officials since Nigeria started expiration of crude oil for exports in the last four decades. So the coming of that body to go after corrupt government officials past and present, remains a phenomenal achievement of all times.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was set up pursuant to the EFCC Act of 2004 which, specifically in part II beginning from section 6, allocated very important functions that the agency ought to carry out with the underlying objective of stamping out economic crimes from Nigeria’s body politic. In the Nigerian Constitution in section 15(5) the Nigerian State is charged to eliminate corrupt practices and abuse of office. That constitutes the constitutional background for the institutionalisation of the EFCC Act. 

Going through the entire gamut of the EFCC Act, the area that fascinates me so much is the Part II Section 6(a), which specifies that the commission shall be responsible for the enforcement and due administration of the provisions of the Act. This purports that the operatives and officers of this public institution for combating graft are obliged by law to adhere strictly to due process of the law, and must never become willing tools for a witch-hunt or politically motivated shadow-boxing or war, targeting perceived or even imaginary opponents of the appointing authority.

This sub-section tickles my fancy because it is the measure of the adherence to this provision by operators of the agency that determines how objective they are, regarding the implementation and enforcement of the provisions of the law against economic crimes.

The framers of the EFCC Act in the Executive Council of the Federation under President Olusegun Obasanjo were aware of the overwhelming tendencies of politicians to use law enforcement agencies to go after political opponents of the political party in power.

However, this safeguard implanted in the EFCC Act has been flagrantly violated by the hierarchy through the years. The inherent abuses of this legal safeguard have even resulted in a very damaging indictment of the EFCC under the current dispensation, as contained in the latest global human rights report written by the Government of the United States of America. The report repeated the often canvassed position in most critical quarters: that EFCC has become too drawn to the politics of working for the political party in power.

The report noted: “Although ICPC and EFCC anti-corruption efforts remained largely focused on low and mid-level government officials, following the 2015 presidential election, both organizsations started investigations into and brought indictments against various active and former high-level government officials. Many of these cases were pending in court. According to both ICPC and EFCC, the delays were the result of a lack of judges and the widespread practice of filing for the granting (of) multiple adjournments.”

“EFCC arrests and indictments of politicians continued throughout the year, implicating a significant number of opposition political figures and leading to allegations of partisan motivations on the part of the EFCC.” 

The report by the Americans continued: "In a case brought by the EFCC, in November, a federal court convicted four firms allegedly used by a former aide of former President Goodluck Jonathan of laundering N1.67 billion ($5.3 million) in stolen funds. In its pursuit of corruption, the EFCC often did not observe all pertinent due process safeguards. 

"In November, the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice declared unlawful, the arrest and detention in 2015 of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki. A court ordered him released on bail, in a case brought by the EFCC for the alleged diversion of N13.6 billion ($43.2 million) intended to purchase military material during the Jonathan administration. Despite the court order, he remained in detention.”

The general perception among a majority of Nigerians is that the EFCC under the current administration has become the attack-dog of the party in power: the All Progressives Congress. 

The EFCC has unleashed its fangs on mostly opposition figures, such as serving governors and the National Assembly members and leaders who are perceived not to be subservient to President Muhammadu Buhari. Most particularly, the EFCC has gone after the Deputy Senate president. The deputy Senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, has been a marked man since he emerged as deputy Senate president in the hitherto All Progressives Congress-dominated Senate, against the official decision of President Buhari. Buhari has, therefore, voiced his determination to ensure that the deputy Senate president is removed from office.

Recently, the EFCC and DSS laid siege to the house of the deputy Senate president and detained him extra-legally for a day, in his house, without any form of warrant. The next day, EFCC issued a poorly scripted letter seeking to explain why it undertook that show of shame in the home of the deputy Senate president.

Readers would recall that the letter of invitation to Ekweremadu, requesting him to report at the EFCC Headquarters at 10 am of July 24, 2018, was also dated the same July 24, 2018, that they laid siege to his house. This shows that the so-called invitation was an afterthought aimed at perfection of the truncating of the Senate leadership. 

This writer also has it on good authority that even though he was willing to answer the invitation, even without prior notice, the security personnel and the EFCC would not let him go. 

Under Nigerian laws, letter of invitation by an agency of government is not the same as a warrant of arrest, search warrant, or warrant of house arrest. This is a grave threat to the principle of separation of powers, with the ulterior aim of forcing a regime change in the leadership cadre of the Senate.

Recall that the presidency has since marked Ekweremadu, the deputy Senate president, as a persona non grata simply because he belongs to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, but got elected by a bipartisan and an increasingly independent parliament, relying on Section 50 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic, as amended.

Men of the Nigeria Police Force, from the Inspector-General of Police's office, also invaded the official guest house of the deputy Senate president in May 2017. Nothing was found, after a thorough search. Basically, most of the staff in the Operations Department of the EFCC are police operatives

Recall also that the President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, was made to pass through a tortuous three-year trial over an alleged false declaration of assets, which the larger population of Nigerians saw as politically motivated. But he was recently acquitted by the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Recall that the Presidency arraigned the Senate president and his deputy in 2016 over false charges of “forgery of Senate Standing Rule”, only to withdraw it when it was clear they could not establish anything against them in court. 

The misuse of the anti-corruption agencies is a present threat to the nation's democracy. 

The continuous deployment on illegal duties of the armed security forces targeting certain principal officers of the National Assembly is a clear violation of section 34(1)(a); section 35(1) and section 36(1) of the Constitution.

Section 34 (1) (a) says: “Every individual is entitled to respect for the dignity of his person and, accordingly – no person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment”;

35(1) “Every person shall be entitled to his personal liberty, and no person shall be deprived of such liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure permitted by law – in execution of the sentence or order of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty; by reason of his failure to comply with the order of a court or in order to secure the fulfillment of any obligation imposed upon him by law, for the purpose of bringing him before a court in execution of the order of a court or upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed a criminal offence, or to such extent as may be reasonably necessary to prevent his committing a criminal offence”;

36 (1) “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.”

Constitutional function of the Police: “The police shall be employed for the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all law and regulations with which they are directly charged, and shall perform such military duties within or without Nigeria as may be required of them by, or under the authority of, this or any other act.”

There is really no doubt that the current leadership of EFCC has become deeply involved in partisan politics, in pursuit of the advancement of the political interests of President Buhari. The acting chairman has been seen wearing a campaign badge of the incumbent president. 

With the defection of Governor Samuel Ortom and Senator Godswill Akpabio, the EFCC immediately went after Benue and Akwa Ibom state governments and used illegal means to freeze their accounts.

Personally, I have the strong feeling that since the acting chairman failed to secure confirmation, following his indictment by the Department of State Services, he may have it at the back of his mind that his continuous stay in office is at the discretion of the president, and so, he may have the desire to try to pay back for the show of extraordinary goodwill in keeping him (Ibrahim Magu) on his job, even when constitutionally he can’t be confirmed as substantive chairman of EFCC. 

The Senate had on many occasions demanded his removal, but the Presidency resisted. Akwa Ibom and Rivers State administrations and also Benue State governor have all voiced out the same accusations of partisanship against EFCC under Ibrahim Magu. EFCC said it was investigating what Benue governor does with security votes, but it has not asked all those who use security votes, including President Muhammadu Buhari what they do with their security votes, which in any event is unconstitutional. 

However, the EFCC has attempted to debunk the well-grounded evidence of lack of professional objectivity in the way they have carried out pre-meditated attacks of political rivals of President Buhari.

When the result of the disputed Ekiti State governorship poll came out and the incumbent was said not to have retained the slot for the PDP, the EFCC issued a tweet in which the agency threatened Mr Ayo Fayose, even as they taunted him that his immunity will soon be over and EFCC would come after him.

Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Ibrahim Magu, however, tepidly dismissed charges that the anti-graft agency is being used to witch-hunt the perceived enemies of President Buhari-led Federal Government.

His words: “The EFCC will not, and does not engage in a witch-hunt. Our activities are in line with international best practices. In all that we do, we are indeed, guided first by the fear of God and patriotism to our fatherland and the rule of law. I will continue to discharge my duties solely by the fear of Almighty God, the overriding interest of our fatherland, Nigeria and the rule of law.”

Sad, the executive arm of government has continued to arm-twist the National Assembly, using all sorts of illegal means to undermine the constitutional authority of the legislative body. The National Assembly should have insisted that the EFCC respects the due process of the law. Nigerians must insist on the adherence strictly to the due process of the law by EFCC. This will help save our rapidly dying democracy. 

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source: News Express

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