23 June 2008

Nigeria: Farida Waziri and the Anti-Graft War

Lagos — In spite of the controversies that trailed the appointment of Mrs. Farida Waziri as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the former Assistant Inspector General of Police has since assumed duties. Omololu Ogunmade looks at the commission, asking if the anti-graft organ still has its teeth.

A few days after the Senate confirmed Mrs. Farida Waziri as the new chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), it is still difficult to ascertain the way forward for the embattled anti-graft commission. Till date, the controversies which accompanied the tactical removal of the former EFCC boss, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu have not subsided, while the future of the hitherto anti-graft war seems shrouded in a fog of uncertainty.

The appointment of Waziri into the helm of EFCC's affairs and the exit of Ribadu from the seat, have been described as two irreconcilable issues in the commission's history. Ribadu was removed late last year, when anti-corruption battle was undergoing a revival. At the time, some ex-governors were already standing trial, while others were being incarcerated with assurance from Ribadu that none of such ex-governors who abused their offices while in service would go unpunished. The arrest of the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, was one of such triggers pulled by Ribadu. Ibori had been accused of money laundering and illegal acquisition of property in London.

But while Nigerians hailed Ribadu for daring to bring Ibori, hitherto viewed as a "sacred cow" to book, the news broke one hot afternoon that plans were underway by the Presidency to remove Ribadu from the headship of the EFCC to be sent on study leave at the Nigeria Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) in Kuru, Plateau State.

A number of people were quick to dismiss the news as mere rumours, until the deed was eventually done. Although, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, the then EFCC's head of operations was temporarily elevated to the position of the commission's chairman, operations of the EFCC since then has more or less been at a lull. In fact, a number of people concluded that anti-graft battle has been tactically killed, until the recent appointment of Waziri by President Umaru Yar'Adua.

Waziri's initial appointment elicited discord. First to raise opposing voice was the Senate. The upper legislative chamber alleged that Waziri's appointment, meant to take immediate effect, breached the EFCC Act, which according to them did not provide for the emergence of the chairman in acting capacity. It also added that the appointment of Waziri was null and void until the Senate confirms it.

This development prompted the Senate to constitute an adhoc committee headed by its Chairman on Drugs, Narcotics, Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes, Senator Sola Akinyede to ensure that Waziri did not resume as EFCC boss until her appointment had been duly ratified by the legislative body. After days of debate and controversies, Waziri was eventually confirmed.

However, human rights crusader, Chief Gani Fawehinmi who had vehemently opposed the emergence of Waziri, was irked by her eventual confirmation and headed for a Federal High Court in Abuja, saying Waziri's appointment by Yar'Adua violated the law and hence asked the court to declare the appointment null and void.

"That I sincerely believe that the first defendant, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, owes a duty to the Federal Republic of Nigeria to act according to the Constitution and the appropriate laws including the EFCC Act 2004 in accordance with the oath he took on 29, May 2007 under 7th schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999," Gani had stated in his affidavit.

However, given the trend of situations at the EFCC after Waziri's confirmation, it is not in doubt that all is not well at the commission. This is fuelling fears that the battle against graft is under threat. There were reports last week that since Waziri assumed duty, there had been a mass redeployment at the commission, authored by allegations that the new EFCC boss lacks the capacity to discharge the functions of that office effectively.

Specifically, there are insinuations that the former AIG lacks the moral potency to lead anti-graft campaign in the country. Those who made this insinuation argued that Farida had stood as a surety for the former governor of Benue State, now a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator George Akume. How can someone who had stood as a surety for an accused person guarantee virile campaigns against corruption? This is one question that critics of Farida ask. However, Farida has denied ever standing as a surety as alleged.

To confirm that things have since fallen apart at the EFCC, reports las week said among those involved in the exodus is Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, who was Chief of Staff to Ribadu while he held sway as the chairman of the commission. To buttress allegations that Waziri lacked the potency to fight corruption, the commission alleged that she had resolved to re-instate some ex-staff of the commission who were dismissed because of their alleged involvement in corruption, while there were plans to dismiss substantial staff of the agency.

According to a report:"Top on the list is Mr. Dapo Olorunyomi, Chief of Staff to Ribadu. Several other people who fear that the current leadership lacks the capacity to fight corruption the way Mr. Ribadu did had made up their minds to leave. The new leadership of the commission wants to dispense with the services of certain staff especially those seen as Ribadu boys and recall those sacked for corruption."

The indignation against the personality of Waziri is so deep that there are insinuations that even international agencies who had hitherto funded the operations of the EFCC have begun to have a rethink. But the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) has reiterated its own unalloyed support for the agency despite insinuations in some quarters. And to ascertain its sincerity, this agency has pledged to assist the EFCC with a whooping sum of $30 million. UNODC's representative in Nigeria, Mrs. Dagmer Thomas made the promise when she paid a visit to the commission in Abuja recently.

However, the situation at the EFCC today, seems disturbing to a number of Nigerians who had hailed the leadership of Ribadu within the last few years of its existence. They have continued to express feelings that the situation within the EFCC is quite frustrating as far as the war against corruption is concerned. What in analysts' views looks most disturbing is a situation where members of the agency had lost confidence in their leader, even before she took her seat as their leader.

Watchers have described the development as unhealthy for the continuity and efficiency of anti-graft war in Nigeria. It is the submission of such watchers that it will be difficult for any leader to achieve any meaningful result when his/her followers have rejected him/her from inception.

It is therefore the submission of many that anti-graft war in Nigeria today has no shape and structure when compared with situations during the government of the immediate past president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who was reputed for using the commission to achieve selective justice. The situation, pundits say, looks so worrisome that masses have continued to allude to the fight against corruption in the days of Obasanjo, saying even though it was selective, at least every Nigerian could see the wrath of law. They also argued that it was the first time that highly placed persons like governors, Senate presidents and the likes were facing prosecutions over their misdeeds. The fear of the EFCC had become the begining of wisdom.

Upon the advent of the administration of Yar'Adua, which hammered essentially on the application of rule of law, a number of people heaved a sigh of relief hoping that the administration would rather right the wrongs within the operations of the EFCC, by ensuring that the EFCC carried out its job within the ambit of the law that set it up. However, the EFCC has had to battle a number of psychological and physical conflicts in pursuit of the anti-corruption war since then.

The battle confronting the EFCC commenced when the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Micheal Aondoakaa wrote the Presidency to cede the power of prosecution as well as the control of the anti-graft agencies to his office. Although the President granted his request, the public outcry which accompanied it compelled the President to revoke that order. But that notwithstanding, since then, things have no longer been at ease at the commission. Long before Ribadu was sent on compulsory study leave, there was a protracted face-off between him and Aondoakaa with a number of people insinuating that the AGF's mission was to kill the anti-graft battle in a bid to shield his clients from prosecution.

Nevertheless, many hold the view that prejudging the efficiency or otherwise of Waziri at the moment, amounts to predicting the chicks that are still in eggs. This is moreso that Waziri has herself declared total war against corruption upon assuming office. She said, her administration as EFCC boss would not spare anyone who has hitherto engaged in any criminal offences.

"I must use this opportunity to call on all those whose acts necessitated the passage of the EFCC Act to give up their crimes. The nation has been patient enough with you. The patience and resilience of Nigerians have already been exhausted. The mandate conferred on this board today admits to no further patience or tolerance. Culprits, whoever they are and whatever position you hold, will face the full wrath of justice The risk is too high for you to take. There's no hiding place here or abroad.

"In discharging our assignment, professionalism, courage, daring endurance and respect for the rule of law will remain the mark of our members," she boasted.

It is the view of enthusiasts that with these incisive words of Waziri, Nigerians ought to give her benefits of doubt. Yet many can't still believe that the EFCC will again be seen in its vibrancy as was the case when Ribadu was in office.

Explaining why he removed Ribadu recently, Yar'Adua did not mince words to state that it was wrong for a country to build an institution around an individual, saying wherever that one is done, it will be impossible to build a society.

"I am trying to build systems. I want Nigeria out of situations where personalities are inevitable. What we require in our systems are institutions that are based on systems where the rule of law is being respected. When you build systems on individuals, you can never build a nation," Yar'Adua stated.

From this comment of the President, the rationale behind the removal of Ribadu is no longer difficult to unravel. By interpretation, Ribadu was removed because he had become synonymous with the commission, a situation which Yar'Adua viewed as unhealthy.

Nonetheless, now that Ribadu has been replaced, all eyes are on Waziri to see if she will prove cynics wrong by raising the standard of anti-corruption war or justify the fears of the people that the anti-graft war has lost potency.

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