By Abimbola Adelakun
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was set up as a crime fighting agency, but it glories in photo-ops and media sensationalism. From its first chairperson, Nuhu Ribadu, to the present one, Ibrahim Magu, crime fighting activities have been treated more like a gladiatorial show than about justice. In jurisdictions and climes that take corruption seriously, dedicated crime fighting organisations do not crave media attention as the anti-graft agency does. That is why it battles many rounds against alleged criminals but hardly gains conviction.
A comparison of the EFCC’s website with its counterpart in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, reveals differences in value. The FBI lists mainly cases that have been concluded and the main suspect(s) sentenced. In the instances when they are still at the initial stage of arraigning the suspects in court, they note that investigations have been concluded already or they have substantial material to go on. They do not do flowery languages, grandstanding or hectoring. Crime fighting is treated as a sober act; a necessary demeanour for a job that strives to counterbalance the pernicious effects of crime.
While the EFCC has fewer success stories on its websites, its self-reporting is mostly about arrests, arraignment, on-going trials, ongoing investigations and a general report on its activities. There is something to be said about the seriousness of an organisation tasked with the responsibility of stemming financial crimes that spectacularly publicises news of the cases it has not convincingly investigated. By starting out with raucous noise, they set a moral tone for the way the case that they plan to prosecute would be perceived by the public and be subsequently adjudicated.
EFCC’s tweets on Tuesday left much for one to agonise over. Frankly, I do not see how engaging citizens in a back-and-forth manner advances the fight against corruption. Trial by social media is not successful prosecution and threatening citizens concerned about their procedures or cognate policies is merely faffing around. The EFCC should be too big and too busy for such puerile games. Justice is not court jesting; it is serious business.
Since the present administration berthed, the EFCC has arrested folks – especially people who served in the last administration – and made a sport of their trial. For instance, we were told by ‘sources’ inside the EFCC that when the spokesperson for the Peoples Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh, was being questioned over his role in the Dasukigate Arms Scandal, he tore up a statement that he had made to the agency and stuffed the bits of paper in his mouth. That kind of gossip is unbecoming of officials who are supposed to be handling serious and confidential materials that border on crime. What does that detail contribute to public edification that it must be shared with journalists? By the time Metuh was being tried in court for tearing and eating “government property” the joke was already on the EFCC. If your case is predicated on a suspect’s confessional statement, maybe you are simply not trying enough.
That was just one instance.
There has been an endless stream of reports about the EFCC’s activities: while they were investigating the judges whose doors the DSS broke down in the middle of the night, they got a lead about a phone financial transaction by another judge, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia. Mind you, what they claimed they found was a lead, but it still made the news. What if the lead leads nowhere?
Since 2003, the EFCC has ‘invited’ CBN directors, former governors, former senators, a former president’s godson, a speaker of the legislature, a speaker of a state house of assembly and a host of others whose cases have quietly faded from the public consciousness.
The EFCC has detained a former presidential aide over a missing N50m that allegedly came from Dasukigate. Weeks later, they quietly released him while no one was looking, making one wonder what sense it ever made to pursue an amount that is only a minuscule chunk of the $2.1bn “missing money”. Does the EFCC have endless resources to pursue every loose detail without exhausting themselves? Is the EFCC pretending to be busy without being busy or are they completely clueless about forensics and how to go about it? Are they just messing with the public?
When the anti-graft agency seals properties and goods that belong to allegedly corrupt people, they do not need to turn it into an event for the public to feast on unless there is an absolute need for it. I do acknowledge the need for openness and the necessity of opening the lines of communication with the public, especially in a tense society such as ours where fault lines explode when struck with the match of ethnicity and religion.
Yet, the EFCC needs to learn to curb its narcissism, be temperate in all its dealings, and not play for the cameras. The agency’s job is to prosecute, not persecute. If its officials must investigate someone, who they suspect has had his/her fingers in dirty deals, they should learn the habit of politely and discreetly inviting the suspect to their office and not taint the integrity of their investigations with over-reporting a case that has not started and might never do.
For one, politicians everywhere like to preen before the camera and when the EFCC turns their trial into a spectacle, they are in fact, helping them to celebrate their crimes. Discounting 419 and yahoo honchos, how many politically exposed persons have been successfully clamped in jail?
The EFCC has failed woefully to win more than it loses because its activities are too much in the public space, too much in our faces and too much of pander to public hysteria. When the duty to establish justice turns into an owambe party, the inevitable setbacks experienced along the way will erode public confidence in the possibility -or virtue- of justice being done. This breeds the kind of civic cynicism that makes it impossible for the nation to summon the energy to advocate for its own ideals.
Since the two times humiliation of Magu by a recumbent legislative cabal, the EFCC has suddenly been discovering huge stashes of money without a proprietor. One wonders why they could not have scaled back the information until they have a clue. First, it was N500m and later, N250m cash. Going by the precedent, it is likely that nothing more would be heard about the monies thus giving the public one more reason to believe that the discoveries were staged by an organisation desperate for victories.
Set against the ‘discoveries’ of the stash, the EFCC, equally, suffered some major setbacks recently. First, the court ended the high-profile case of Justice Ademola, his wife and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria by dismissing the 18-count charge against them. Two, the court unfroze the withheld funds belonging to the ‘human rights’ lawyer, Mike Ozekhome. Three, another court unfroze some money belonging to former first lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan. The three cases, coming at the same time, must have been disheartening for the agency, but maybe there is a lesson here for them.
The EFCC needs to be more restrained and focus on building convincing cases before putting out details for the public to sniff. The agency should rein in its self-importance and the temptation to play with every case to score some cheap points with the public. The more it courts public hysteria by entertaining other Nigerians with the news of the despoliation of the public purse by officials, the more they valorise impunity and enthrone a sense of helplessness in the public.
Since the Muhammadu Buhari administration began, Nigeria has felt like a crime and investigation channel. The difference is that on TV, they follow through their investigations. Nowadays it feels as if the EFCC – and in fact, the ICPC with their own Godsday Orubebe and the phone N1.9bn contract fraud – exists merely to entertain us with lurid stories of crime.