6 June 2008

Nigeria: Finally, Senate Confirms Waziri As EFCC Boss

Abuja — The Senate has confirmed Mrs. Farida Waziri, a retired Assistant Inspector General (AIG) of Police, as the new Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, thus ending weeks of controversy over her nomination.

Also yesterday, the anti-corruption war and rule of law policy of the Yar'Adua Government got endorsement in far away Rome where Catholic Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI praised the dynamism Nigeria has introduced into the struggle against corruption.

Mrs. Waziri has now replaced former Chairman of the Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, in substantive capacity.

Her confirmation was consequent upon the recommendation of the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption in a report presented by its Chairman, Senator Sola Akinyede, in plenary yesterday.

The Upper House also confirmed the nomination of five other members of the Commission, namely: Messrs. Akunke Emmanuel Akomaye (Secretary), Basil Anasoh, Banjo Olaniyi Akanni, Alhaji Muhammadu Jibo and Mr Paul Harris Ogbole.

The Committee, according to the eight-page report, considered all the nominees suitable for appointment into the EFCC.

Akinyede said the Committee received two memoranda from Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and Lt. Col. Bashir Betara through the office of the Senate President, Senator David Mark.

He, however, stated that, "none of the memoranda was accompanied by an affidavit deposing to the veracity of the facts contained therein as required by the provisions of Order 127 of the Standing Order of the Senate."

About 15 senators, in their contributions to the debate on their confirmation, commended the Committee for submitting a thorough report and urged the Senate to confirm the appointments of the nominees.

Those who spoke in support of the recommendations included Senators Anthony Manzo, Mujitaba Mallam, Osita Izunaso, Maina Maaji Lawan, Kabiru Gaya, Olorunnimbe Mamora, Ibrahim Ida, Zaynab Kure, Ayogu Eze, Sylvester Anyanwu, Effiong Bob, Victor Ndoma-Ega (SAN) and Abubakar Lado.

The Deputy Minority Leader, Mamora, said all issues surrounding the appointment of Waziri, including the question of whether or not there was a vacancy in the office of the Chairman of the EFCC, had been resolved.

He said on the issue of vacancy, "As far as I am concerned, a vacancy has been created through the body language of the President."

Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Ndoma-Egba (SAN), said there was need for the EFCC to do well, adding, "if EFCC does well, it will give government credibility."

He, however, pointed out that in the course of the appointments, three core issues arose, to wit: the question as to whether Waziri had resumed in office before Senate confirmation; the issue raised in a letter by the Attorney General of the Federation as to whether or not she stood surety for former Benue Governor, Senator George Akume and whether or not the position of chairman of the Commission was vacant.

He said that all the three issues had been resolved since, according to him, the Senate Committee had reported to the Senate that its investigation showed that Waziri had not resumed in office before her confirmation.

Ndoma-Egba also stated that Waziri had also told the Committee during her screening that she did not stand as surety for Akume and there was no other position or fact provided to prove her wrong.

On whether or not the position of Chairman of the EFCC was vacant, he said the power to remove the chairman of the Commission was at the discretion of the President.

He said: "The discretion rests exclusively and squarely with the President," adding that there was at least a constructive vacancy at the EFCC and at best a virtual vacancy.

What would have been a sore point in the confirmation process was quickly resolved in favour of the new Secretary, Akomaye, whose tenure, according to the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Kanti Bello, was due to lapse next year.

Bello had wondered why the Presidency did not allow Akomaye's first term in office to lapse before nominating him for reappointment and had called on the Senate not to confirm him yet until his first term had expired.

But Ndoma-Egba intervened saying: "I know Akomaye personally and I can vouch for his character and ability . But as to whether he has exhausted his first five years in office, it is a matter of fact and not of law."

He appealed to Bello to withdraw the aspect of his submission on Akomaye.

In his contributions, Chairman of the Senate Services Committee, Senator Effiong Bob, said Akomaye was first appointed in 2003, pointing out that he was a member of the Commission before the EFCC Act, 2004 was passed into law.

"So, the tenure has expired. From all the records, his appointment is in order. What the Senate should ensure is that it lives up to its billings and I am of the belief that with the quality and calibre of the Chairman, the Commission will be given proper direction," Bob said.

The Senate President David Mark took a ruling on the issue when he announced to the Senate, before the confirmation hearing in the Committee of the Whole and in plenary, that Akomaye's first term in office expired in April, this year.

The Senate, after the confirmation, ensured that the votes and proceedings of yesterday's sitting were approved to enable Waziri and others assume office at the EFCC.

The Upper House thereafter proceeded on a one-week recess and will resume plenary on June 17.

Waziri, appearing before the Committee at her screening on Tuesday, had denied ever standing surety for former governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN), had written to the Senate President Mark alleging that Waziri had stood surety for Akume, thereby accusing her of conflict of interest.

Akume is under investigation by the EFCC.

In Rome, Pope Benedict who spoke while receiving the letter of credence from Nigerian ambassador to the Vatican, Obed Wadzani, described the policies of the Yar'Adua government as extremely important and requesting that it " must be sustained and applied with equity and impartiality".

He warned that Corruption can follow in the wake of violent crime and has the effect of discouraging enterprise and investments, and undermining confidence in the political, judiciary and economic institutions of the nation.

He also admonished Nigeria on the need to institute the rule of law, internal security, and the efficient administration of justice as backbones to effective democracy.

He also advocated that elections held within the country should be fair and free.

"To implement properly, this building block of democracy requires public officials to address first of all the root causes of social unrest and second to form the populace in the virtues of respect and tolerance," he said.

The pope said " I thank you for the courteous greetings and sentiments of good will which you have expressed on behalf of His Excellency, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, President of the Republic. I gladly reciprocate them, and I ask you kindly to convey my personal gratitude and good wishes to His Excellency, to the civil authorities and to the Nigerian people."

He applauded Nigeria's readiness to assist its neighbours describing such gesture as not only a humanitarian duty, but a source of joy to aid those in need.

"Indeed, assisting others in a spirit of respect, integrity and impartiality is a rich, formative experience both for individuals and societies. In this regard, the size, population, economic resources and generosity of your people make Nigeria one of the most influential countries on the continent and give her a unique opportunity to support other African countries in achieving the well-being and stability they deserve." Pope Benedict said.

He continued: "I encourage Nigeria to continue to use her considerable human and material resources in ways conducive to the peace and prosperity of neighbouring countries. Indeed, when this assistance is provided with both integrity and sacrifice it brings honour to a country's citizens and government.

"In this same spirit, support must be given at home and abroad to all who seek to alleviate human suffering through research and practical assistance."

He pointed out that friction between different groups has given cause for concern and conflict of this kind can often be traced to a variety of factors, including errors of administration, isolated grievances or ethnic tension but noted that in the last few years tensions appear to have eased.

To quell the high incidents of criminal violence, homicide, kidnapping for extortion, and the exploitation of women, children and foreign workers, the pontiff urged Nigeria to address the issues of insecurity and unemployment.

His words: " At times, the feeling of hopelessness can lead people to search for a deceptively simple solution to their problems. Young people in such circumstances must be given every possible encouragement to seek improvement through education, extra-curricular activities, voluntary assistance to others and, ideally, opportunities for employment."

"I pray that politicians and social workers, professional people in the fields of economy, medicine and law, police officers and judges, and all involved in combating crime and corruption will work together diligently for the protection of life and property, supported by the loyal cooperation of all citizens," the Pope said.

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