EFCC building in Abuja
By Ken Ugbechie
In 20 years, the thief-catching agency has given Nigerians and the international community a full dose of theatrics verging on larceny and corruption. The very fact that at different times, its leaders were accused of one crime, or another does not bode well for both the commission and the nation. Any wonder that since its creation, Nigeria has never moved out of the umbra of corrupt nations. The country has continued to pop up on every global corruption index. Variously dubbed ‘fantastically corrupt’ and ‘marvellously corrupt,’ even with EFCC on duty.
When the thief-catcher is the chief thief, there’s always a problem. Folkloric tales tell us so. We’ve been serenaded with stories of community vigilance groups set up, in some cases paid, by a community to catch thieves. But they end up as the chief thieves; felons manifesting roguish tendencies worse than those of the known thieves.
This is the story of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In the beginning, it was a well-behaved agency, feared by persons of crooked ways and dreaded by shady mandarins and money launderers.
Established by an Act of the National Assembly on 12th December 2002 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, it was a child of national exigency. Nigeria’s global image was that of a nation of crooks and elite rogues. And once Obasanjo burst into the scene in 1999 as a democratically elected president, he minced no words to serve notice to the rogue clan.
By April 13, 2003, the commission commenced formal operations. That’s 20 years ago with Nuhu Ribadu as pioneer Executive Chairman. But the birth of the EFCC was not always of the volition of Obasanjo. There was pressure from the G-7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States), founders of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Money Laundering, also popular by its French name, Grouped’actionfinancière (GAFI). GAFI, founded in 1989, had one goal: To combat money laundering.
Abdulrasheed Bawa, the suspended EFCC former Chairman
A good 20 years after, it’s hard to say if the EFCC has achieved its mission which is to “eradicate economic and financial crimes through prevention, enforcement and coordination.” To be fair, the commission had barked and stung. It took, headlong, elite cases of high profile money grifters, the likes of Fred Ajudua, Emmanuel Nwude, Maurice Ibekwe, Ade Bendel, Amaka Anajemba, Nzeribe Okoli among others. But that was in the distant past at the behest of Ribadu, who, as it now appears, seems to be the only EFCC boss that had the discipline to keep his garment clean, almost.
In its 20 years of existence, the EFCC had been managed by five substantive Chairmen, averaging 4 years per chairman. Ribadu, Ibrahim Lamorde, Farida Waziri, Ibrahim Magu and Abdulrasheed Bawa. In between these persons were moments the commission was headed by other persons in acting capacities. Even this tells the tacky tale of the anti-corruption agency. All the past chairman, bar none, were removed in controversial circumstances. Ribadu was forced out of his beat via a suspicious opportunity created for him to attend the elite course at the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS).
Farida heard of her sack from the media. Magu fared worse. He was ambushed, arrested and detained. The higher authorities alleged that Magu, the thief-catcher is no better than the thieves. A case of the thief-catcher becoming the chief thief. Magu was investigated. Till this day, he remains a damaged brand. He was tried in the media. His perceived fall was celebrated in the media by both the crooks and the platoon of enemies he made on the job. But Magu was not always a fit man for the job.
Mr. Abdulkarim Chukkol, the acting EFCC Chairman appointed by President Tinubu
The investigative report on him by the Department of State Services (DSS) was damning enough to disqualify him as Chair of the EFCC. Nonetheless, he got the job despite protests from some quarters. And that’s because he served under President Muhammadu Buhari, a man who has zero regard for merit and capacity. So, as he came like a rag-bagger steeped in messy scrap, so he left in raggy robe of ignominy. Magu was disgraced out of office, simple as that. In his place stepped in Bawa. Just like Magu, Bawa was suspended over allegations of misconduct.
And so, in 20 years, the thief-catching agency has given Nigerians and the international community a full dose of theatrics verging on larceny and corruption. The very fact that at different times, its leaders were accused of one crime, or another does not bode well for both the commission and the nation. Any wonder that since its creation, Nigeria has never moved out of the umbra of corrupt nations. The country has continued to pop up on every global corruption index. Variously dubbed ‘fantastically corrupt’ and ‘marvelously corrupt,’ even with EFCC on duty.
But it has not all been bad news at the agency. In recent years, EFCC has switched to the next ‘efficiency’ gear. Except that this time, it has turned blind eyes to the real looters and ruiners of the economy. It’s now an anti-graft commission for Yahoo Boys. No week passes without EFCC convicting or arresting Yahoo Boys and Girls. No pity for these Internet crooks, though. They are part of the reasons Nigeria is tarred in crimson red in the comity of nations as a land of scammers. Yahoo Boys are evil. They do no good. They bring shame to their families and country. They are abhorrent creatures cloned in hell. But their damage thins out when compared with the looting and damage done by the big crooks in public office. Why does the thief-catcher not look in the direction of the big thieves?
Nigeria is full of big thieves. On May 3, 2016, then Vice President Yemi Osinbajo told the nation how the government of Goodluck Jonathan looted $15 billion in the guise of security spending. On May 7, 2018, the same Osinbajo told Nigerians that three persons stole $3 billion through NNPC strategic alliance contracts. Under the Buhari government, several cases of financial fraud in billions of naira were reported including the cash-sharing bazaar orchestrated by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, among others. EFCC knew about these obvious cases of financial crimes. It has a register of Nigerians who moved public funds to offshore accounts in tax havens on the Caribbean Islands – Isle of Man, Belize etc.
Embattled former EFCC Chairman Bawa (left) with President Bola Tinubu who sacked him
EFCC should ask Lai Mohammed, Buhari’s minister of Information for a list of those Nigerians who drained the national till under Jonathan. He says he has the list. These are the persons who stole Nigeria’s tomorrow, not the Yahoo Boys. I hold no brief for Internet crooks, but they are not the ones who stole from the national cookie jar. EFCC should go after such crooks. It’s because of them that the commission was set up. Yahoo Boys are secondary; little deviants who want to hammer without hard work.
But wait a minute, ain’t we tired of appointing police personnel to head the EFCC? President Bola Tinubu should look in the direction of the DSS or the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Any retiree from these two agencies, and a southerner, should be given a chance this time. The north and largely the police have held forth these past years and have failed. Now is the time to go south and outside the police. We just have to get EFCC working.