Wednesday, October 15, 2008

EFCC and the missing files

BARELY one week ago, one of Nigeria's globally acclaimed literary giants, Prof. Chinua Achebe in a keynote address at the Silver Jubilee lecture of The Guardian in Lagos succinctly captured the Nigerian of this generation: "Being a Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting..." Nigeria needs help, he submitted shortly after he declared her a prodigiously endowed but incredibly wayward country. He has his reasons for choosing that distinguished audience to direct his words of wisdom. You may want to agree with him or disagree with him. But the fact is that certain developments in the country do confound Nigerians themselves, enough to lend credence to such assertions by those who should know, really.

Being a Nigerian could be frustrating and unbelievably exciting indeed if we could wake up one day to be told by a watchdog agency we have all come to admire for its courage to battle corruption and reduce corrupt tendencies among the itchy fingers in high places that case files on suspects are missing. I shudder to think what the future holds for this great nation if the generation that should learn from the mistakes of the present are inadvertently being encouraged by the omission or commission of the commission to perfect the styles of the big guns and be more daring at treasury looting.

Mrs Farida Waziri is in charge at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) having succeeded Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the diminutive man politicians loved to hate. Mrs. Waziri promised at her inauguration she would step on toes because of the nature of her job. We don't have any cause to doubt her but she has literally had none to step on yet. Now, she has been given a big job to do now as she may have to look inward to find out what happened to the case files of more than 21 former governors who had been investigated by Mallam Nuhu during his tenure and had been certified fit to be tried. We are waitng for her to report back to Nigerians. The Ribadu we know was not used to making frivolous claims in the course of doing his job. He unceremoniously took his exit courtesy of the powerful forces he had taken on then. Some of these power brokers Ribadu allegedly declared corrupt and reported 31 of the ex-governors to the Senate last year. Ten have already been arraigned including the latest Rashidi Ladoja(Oyo), BoniHaruna(Adamawa),Saminu Turaki(Jigawa), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti),James Ibori(Delta),Orji kalu(Abia),Lucky Igbinedion(Edo),Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu), Joshua Dariye(Plateau) and Jolly Nyame, a reverend from Taraba State.

By Monday this week at a public forum, the new EFCC boss stunned her audience saying there was nothing in the other ex-governors' files with the commission to warrant prosecution. "If there is nothing in the files there is nothing I can do," she declared., as my Igbo brothers would love to interject when they strongly disagree with an opinion or a claim. I disagree, madam. There is a lot you can do to find out what the position is, one of which is to officially contact Mallam Ribadu for assistance. He is still a public officer whose allegiance is to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Then you can begin to ask some salient questions especially from your staff and operatives. Did Ribadu leave any such files for investigations to proceed? Could any or some of the EFCC agents have been compromised to remove sensitive documents from the files? Does the agency make provision for back-ups? Even in this age of advanced technology, are we saying an agency as sensitive as the EFCC does not have e-storage links for its data, similar to the one being used by the Central Securities and Clearing Systems(CSCS) in the stocks market which is said to be indestructible?

If the files and statements are distorted, who tampered with them in the custody of the anti-graft agency, and when was this?

At the same round table in Abuja, a mild drama was also reported when Waziri claimed she had no petition standing against former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The CNPP representative at the forum, Mr Osita Okechukwu, disputed her claims as he drew her attention to the three petitions the conference sent to the agency. Okechukwu fired:"How can you talk about fighting corruption when you have consistently ignored the petitions we sent to your commission...?" The boss also gave an excuse that the ex-public officers had learnt smarter ideas of making the agency's prosecution and recovery of stolen money more difficult. Ma, what do you expect them to do; fold arms and shamelessly lament that their being exposed is an act of God?

For goodness sake we are talking about transparency accountability of those in positions of trust. There should be no rooms for excuses. In spite of the ridicule arrests by operatives of the agency have subjected the looters to, I am not sure it has stopped the tendency to loot the coffers the more even among the present generation of elected or public officials. It is logical. There would always be the temptation to dip their ugly fingers into the common wealth because the few identified looters are still going around unashamedly and calling the shots in the society; it has taken an age to determine their culpability. Former Bayelsa governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and former police chief Tafa Balogun must be so unlucky to have their petitions dispensed with so quickly as to make them look like devils among the saints.

Are we surprised that there is and would always be a mad and deadly rush for public offices in spite of EFCC threats? The lures of office are simply irresistible for any deterrence. The looters will always get smarter as Mrs Waziri fears, at least until the bubble bursts.

The EFCC may be trying its best within the available resources and the environment it operates. But their perceived lawful approach to law enforcement could only be made more meaningful and pungent if there are no half measures in arrests or prosecution of offenders. In law, there ought not to be any sacred cow as Nigerians now believe, rightly or wrongly. The spirit of 'there is nothing I can do' must be banished from Waziri's mind. Then and only then would she have proved to be working in the country's interest and for the people, whose common wealth has been plundered as if there would be no tomorrow. The missing files have to be recovered. If they cannot be traced, the alternative is to start all over again. I refuse to buy the idea that all hope is lost on the former governors who misplaced the trust their people placed in them. They are not going to have the last laugh. They must be made to account for their deeds and misdeeds.

The suffering continues

Trust sarcastic Nigerians. They are ever ingenious in coining phrases to fit acronyms of some national institutions. Take NEPA (the electricity firm that transformed to PHCN) for example. The inefficiency of the body was enough to coin Never Expect Power Always. So it is with the National Youth Service Corps(NYSC) which simply became Now Your Suffering Continues. It is assumed that students generally suffer in school in pursuit of the ultimate - the degree. Going into the national service for many of them again turn to be nightmares. The objectives of the scheme remain as laudable as ever but the scheme has been bastardized first,through under-mobilization of corps members. The attempt to mop up the avoidable excess of the past is the current over-mobilisation. The exercise has been particularly harrowing for majority of them who emerged from the backlog. They have become lay-about around town because they can't secure places of primary assignment. The inability to secure places is not new but I understand this current stream under batches A,B and now C is, for the commission, like biting more than one can chew conveniently. This I think is also traced to the uncoordinated admission processes in various institutions many years ago until the NUC woke up from a slumber to restore sanity in the system. Our educational system should not remain a laughing stock in the international community.