IT will certainly call for celebration if the dreaded anti-corruption agency in Nigeria is able to achieve the remarkable feat of zero-graft society, where cyber criminals and politicians no longer exploit the weak and render national institutions prostrate.
Indeed, the currents efforts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to achieve a net-zero corruption-free Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, as soon as possible, will go a long way in stabilising the nation's economy and by extension, arresting the country's socio-economic and socio-political configuration from total and immediate collapse.
The importance of a free press in the actualisation of a corruption-free society can never be over emphasized in any democracy. The press rightly known as the Fourth Estate of the Realm is a strategic partner to the other three arms of government in the delivery of the dividends of democracy to the citizens.
A former United States president, Thomas Jefferson and the author of the famous 'American Declaration of Independence' highlighted the critical role the press play in a democracy when he said that he preferred a free press and no government rather than a government without a free press.
Nigerian journalists have battled for a free press right from the colonial times. Many fearless journalists went to the battle line in defense of free press. Prominent among them was Anthony Eromosele Enahoro who went to jail twice for sedition when he edited the Ibadan-based Southern Nigerian Defender, one of the newspapers in the Zik Group of Newspapers. Numerous others also played similar role to hold the then British colonial overlords to account.
During the heydays of military rule, brave Nigerian journalists such as Babafemi Ojudu, a former senator and current Political Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari; Dapo Olorunyomi, current publisher of Premium Times; Dele Momodu of Ovation Magazine, etc, fought the military to a stand still to ensure press freedom takes root in the polity. Some like Ojudu, Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade, etc, were jailed. Others like Olorunyomi, Momodu etc, went on exile, while the likes of Dele Giwa and Bagaulda Kaltho paid the supreme price. Kayode Soyinka, then London Bureau Chief of Newswatch Magazine, but now Publisher of Africa Today Magazine, narrowly cheated death as he was in the same room with Dele Giwa in the latter's Ikeja residence when a parcel bomb ripped his body apart.
Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression which the Nigerian Press has been battling hard to maintain. The current battle the Nigerian media is fighting originated from a bill to regulate the media sponsored by Olusegun Odebunmi of the House of Representatives. The sinister bill had attracted editorials from most national newspapers on July 13, 2021 which roundly condemned it.
Corruption is the cancer that has plagued Nigeria even before the Union Jack was lowered. A report in 2012 informed that the scourge has caused the nation about $400 billion in losses since independence. The Transparency International Corruption Index ranked Nigeria 144th out of 180 countries in terms of corruption in 2018.
The EFCC was established during the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo to fight the corruption in Nigeria. The media has been a reliable partner with the EFCC in this heroic battle. For starters, the pioneer helmsman, Nuhu Ribadu, made himself a darling of the media when he appointed Dapo Olorunyomi, a media titan to be his Chief of Staff. Using Olorunyomi's vast global contacts, he was able to enlist the help of the foreign media most, notably the New York Times, to take on powerful interests in the country who had laundered public funds in developed nations.
In February this year, history was made when a 40-year-old EFCC detective, Abdulrasheed Bawa, became the first non-police officer and the youngest to be appointed as the Head of the anti-corruption body.
He started on a good note by making the media a key partner in the fight against corruption by instituting an open door policy whereby crime journalists could easily report the activities of the agency.
In April this year, the Vanguard Newspapers reported that the EFCC had arrested 400 internet fraudsters popularly known as yahoo- yahoo boys in three months. These crimes were committed in the first quarter of the year. This is more than what his predecessors recorded in the fight against the dubious activities of the yahoo-yahoo boys. These internet fraudsters have, over the years, greatly dented the international image of Nigeria and hence, every effort should be made to deal with them just as is the case with corrupt public officials.
The Guardian on June 17, 2021 revealed that the EFCC has recovered N6 billion, 30 estates and 32 automobiles in only three months under the pragmatic leadership of Bawa. This again is another first as he exceeded the recovery records of his predecessors. The Guardian reported on June 18, 2021 that $100 million was recovered from Intels which it owed the country and failed to remit to the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA.
A news report on June 18, 2021, quoted him as attributing his success within his first 100 days in office to recent reforms carried out in the EFCC. According to him, the milestones recorded so far include the restructuring of the Commission for improved performance with the establishment of a new directorate as well as the reorganisation and upgrade of a couple of others. He said in line with his vision to run an agency that is driven by intelligence, a Directorate of Intelligence had been created, which impact is already being felt through the provision of intelligence that led to a major recovery.
In terms of the improvement of processes, he revealed that the Commission has commenced the codification of Standard Operating Procedures for all Units and Departments. The measure, he said, will bring discretion to bear in the work of the Commission. Reiterating a point he made before the Senate, the EFCC boss said he envisions a Commission where he, as Executive Chairman, will give instruction to an officer and he would say, 'sorry sir, I cannot carry out your directive because it conflicts with the rule'.
"I want an institution that works with rules and regulations... we will launch the SOPs soon and the EFCC can run on auto pilot," he said. Other measures already rolled out by the Commission, the EFCC boss said, include development of policies on Document Classification, Healthcare, Sexual Harassment and Bullying, Staff Welfare, Training, Communication, New Staff Ranking, Use of Firearms and Retirement, among others.
He also disclosed that the Commission had taken steps to improve its operational capabilities through the modification of Assets Declaration forms in line with the Commission's enabling laws.
He also disclosed strategies to prevent corruption through fraud risk assessment for MDAs, monitoring of procurement process and extensive public enlightenment, including the resuscitation of the interfaith dialogue. The platform which was launched in 2014 as avenue for Muslims and Christian to be sensitized on corruption through a teaching and preaching manual, is being revived. The teaching manuals, he said, are being reviewed and will be launched soon.
Other measures to prevent corruption, according to the EFCC boss, include the development of a Property Ownership Database with the ultimate objective of determining the beneficial owners of properties. Additionally, the agency has launched an 'eagle eyed' App which will facilitate the seamless reporting of complaints to the agency by citizens eager to assist in the fight against corruption.
Bawa said the Commission in the last 100 days has strengthened its partnership with local and international partners, fully conscious of the fact that it cannot fight corruption alone. He further provided updates on the recoveries recorded over the past three months as well as the record of arrest in cybercrime cases. According to him, 1502 suspects were arrested for internet fraud between January and June 11, 2021, adding that the Commission plans to file 800 cases in court in the coming weeks.
The Vanguard of March 10, 2021 reported the uncovering of a N70 billion subsidy fraud by the agency. There is also the swiftness of prosecution of cases under the able leadership of Bawa. Premium Times of July 17, 2021 reported that the EFCC has filed 800 new corruption cases in court,thus further butressing the fact that his agenda was not a fluke. Bawa is not an ethnic jingoist and is a highly detribalized Nigerian who favours merit over ethnicity.
While Nigerians commend the EFCC boss for his bold anti-corruption reforms, it would be pertinent to make basic suggestions for him to do his job better and leave a long lasting legacy.
They are: The EFCC should focus greatly on crime prevention as in the EFCC Act, crime prevention is an essential function of the agency. There should be visits to schools both public and private to sensitize the students on the evils of corruption and to develop the will power to resist peer pressure by going into it. Mr. Bawa should take advantage of his youth to penetrate the hearts of students by getting physically involved in the campaigns.
He should identify NGOs whose work centre on anti-corruption and partner with them especially on whistle blowing which is cheaper than curing the mischief as well as ills of corruption. Bawa must not be seen as pursing an ethnic sectional agenda in a highly tribal conscious country like ours. He must be fair minded in his prosecutions.
He must delegate duties to his subordinates and give them room to grow and blossom. He must not micro manage them. EFCC boss must work with media experts who will give him competent advice independent of what he will get from the EFCC media team who are guided by the civil service bureaucracy. He must never resort to media trials of suspects and must allow the courts to do its work of convictions.
He should create a social media platform to engage Nigerians better on the activities of the body. There's no retelling that Nigerians are pleased with his appointment as the EFCC Helmsman as it is a victory for the youths most especially. They can only but hope he continues his job with the same zeal that he commenced with so as to make the nation corrupt-free or at least reduce it to the barest minimum so that the 'Giant of Africa' can truly live up to its potential.
-Erasmus, a media activist, wrote via [email protected]