Promises are meant to be kept and not broken. It becomes even worse when a contract is made on oath or live on national television. In Mr Bawa’s first television interview after being appointed chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in February, he promised Nigerians to ensure the anti-corruption agency operated not only in line with the rule of law but also with the fear of God
“I will continue to do what is right,” he said, adding, “The commission under my watch will continue to abide by the rule of law. If anybody asks me to do anything contrary to my conscience or against the rule of law, I will resign my appointment.” Recent activities of the EFCC have not shown if Bawa remembers that promise he made.
In February, Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), arraigned Senator representing Anambra North Stella Oduah and eight others over allegations of fraud.
Oduah and others, including a subsidiary of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), Gloria Odita, Nwobu Nnamdi, Chukwuma Chinyere Global Offshore and Marine Limited, Tip Top Global Resources Limited, Crystal Television Limited and Sobora International Limited, were arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja on eight-count of conspiracy, money laundering and maintaining unknown accounts with First Bank Plc.
The court had previously adjourned the case to October 19 but couldn’t sit as a result of the Maulud Nabiyy public holiday but was on hand to listen to the pleas of the lawmaker and other defendants today.
Some of the arguments of some of the other defendants were that the case had become personalised by the EFCC and was snowballing into persecution.
▪︎Persecution, Not Prosecution
With the EFCC breathing down the defendants’ necks and failing to follow extant rules in the course of discharging their duties, some of the co-defendants in the case wrote a petition to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami.
The defendants petitioned the AGF that the case fronted by the EFCC had previously been decided in favour of the defendants in the same court, in a case with Suit Number: FHC/ABJ/CS/999/2019 but were surprised to be linked to it by the anti-graft agency again.
The AGF in February had requested in a letter to the EFCC that the case files be submitted to his office for review and asked the anti-graft agency to suspend the case pending the conclusion of his review. The EFCC refused to hand over the case files to the AGF office, in a clear violation of the law and flagrant disregard to the office of the AGF.
This was brought to the court’s notice by the counsel to the seventh and eighth defendants, Ogwu James Onoja SAN. He argued against the arraignment and pinpointed the EFCC for persecuting his clients.
“We Didn’t See The Letter” – EFCC Admits Negligence*
Counsel to the EFCC, Mr Ofem Uket, told the Presiding Judge, Justice Inyang Eden Ekwo that it was his first time seeing the said letter. He asked the court to disregard the letter and proceed with the arraignment. Still, the Presiding Judge refused since the petition by the defendants was raised both as a statutory and constitutional matter.
Justice Ekwo ordered the EFCC and co-defendants’ Counsels to file written addresses for and against the issue raised in court and exchange the same on the competence of the charges.
He adjourned the next hearing of the case and adoption of the written addresses to February 10, 2022, and ordered that the bail granted to Mrs Oduah and the co-defendants in the case should continue.
▪︎Insubordination: Lessons Yet To Be Learnt*
Similar to the issues of insubordination to the rule of law that rocked the tenure of the former Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, the agency hasn’t changed much despite its change of leadership.
With the AGF requesting a case file submitted to his office for more than ten months, the EFCC has refused to do this in apparent contravention of the law and practice that puts its continuous integrity in doubt.
The claims of persecution by the co-defendants may hold water after all if the agency refuses to follow extant laws and submit to regulations.
The current case has stalled for the sixth time.
▪︎Kogi’s Bailout Funds & EFCC’s Great Gaffes
When the anti-graft agency said it returned N19.33bn salary bailout funds belonging to the Kogi State government to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigerians feasted on the news. A people already miffed by the many stories of corruption in the country would always react to such a piece of information. It had numbers above the ordinary, even for a corruption story. The EFCC had run to press with a story it would later deny in a manner that puts the integrity of the agency in serious doubt.
The Kogi State government denied the existence of such money in unambiguous terms. Just when one expects the EFCC to mount some challenge and provide evidence as to the originality of its statement, it denies the existence of what it’d run with.
“Let it be known that the Kogi government has disbursed its bailout loans for the purpose of which it was granted as of October 2019.
“There is, therefore, no hidden bailout funds/loan belonging to Kogi that is capable of being returned to the CBN or frozen by order of Court.
“The EFCC knows this, which is why it withdrew the suit it filed in Court on the bailout fund,” the Kogi State government said in a statement by its Commissioner for Information and Communication, Kingsley Fanwo.
The bank which the EFCC mentioned, Sterling Bank, also had no proof of the fixed deposit account pinpointed by the agency. The quick escalation and death of the Kogi story didn’t put the EFCC in good light. It mirrors recent allegations by some Nigerians that they attack their homes and arrest innocent people, an example being Dorothy Bachor of the BBNaija Season 5. She raised the alarm about how officials of the agency broke into her home in an odd hour. Till this moment, the EFCC hasn’t stated what she did wrongly.
▪︎Diezani’s Imaginary Diamond Bra: Bawa’s Open Admission
Chairman of the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, revealed on TVC’s talk show “Your View” that the “diamond bra” linked to former Minister of Petroleum Diezani Allison Madueke was just a figment of the imagination of some Nigerians. He said the bra never existed and was a social media creation.
“You have accused us several times of media trial, but I think it’s good to be fair to everybody at all times. Justice is a two-way thing. There was nothing like a diamond bra. It’s a creation of social media.”
He further said: “I can tell you that for free because I am the lead investigator on that, I’m not aware of it. If there is something on that, I should know because I led the search and all of that. And that is one of the things that I mentioned to you that the biggest problem we have is our attitude. We need to change for the better.”
Talking about attitude, the EFCC’s conduct in Kogi State, Stella Oduah, Dorothy Bachor and a slew of innocent unknown Nigerians does not promise safety and support from Nigerians going into the future. The EFCC will earn its respect from Nigerians and must reveal the fact at all times. It must also choose the court over the media.
▪︎Media Prosecution vs Rule of Law
Before now, many Nigerians have accused the EFCC of embracing media trials of people alleged of fraud instead of prosecuting them before the court. This is either a result of distrust in Nigeria’s judiciary or the absence of enough facts and evidence to charge the alleged people.
In 2020, the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, headed by Senator Suleiman Kwari, urged the EFCC to stop media trials if it wants to achieve desired results.
“Ninety per cent of investigation should be done before an arrest is effected,”
“Media hype must stop. If you want to be effective, forget the media, do the work and let your work speak for you,” he said.
Lately, activities of the EFCC, which was established in 2003 by Nigeria’s former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration to fight financial and economic crimes like advance fee fraud, money laundering, and terrorism financing, among others, have given cause to many states and individuals in the country urging the agency to take them to court and stop their media trials. Latching on to pent-up emotions from the Nigerian public, already disappointed in many leaders, would not give the EFCC the respect and attention it desires. Winning and through the court will.