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A disoriented EFCC and the Pandora Box

Nigeria's anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in the eyes of Nigerians has not done little or nothing in its job of check-mating the excesses of corrupt government officials and bringing them to book. Emileo Castrol in this report takes a look at how the agency has failed in its duties.

With more than eight weeks in power, Nigeria's President, Muhammadu Buhari, seems to have left weightier matters unattended to and found pleasure in a sacking spree from Ambassadors to Security Chiefs, fooling discerning Nigerians, witch-hunting ex-government officials without tact and a clear head in the guise of tracking down and prosecuting corrupt public office holders.

Considering EFCC's renewed drive of a seemingly "awakened vigour" from the usual norm of official federal government narrative, seeing it, just discussing and monitoring, publishing and arresting corrupt ex-government officials without a clear cut prosecution strategy. The anti-graft agency might want to take a cue from relevant foreign agencies, and not get back again in its usual element of making arrests and not prosecuting accused political criminals.

The EFCC as a Nigerian anti-graft agency set up to investigate financial crimes such as advance fee fraud and money laundering partially in response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), has named Nigeria as one of 23 countries non-cooperative in the international community's efforts to fight money laundering.

With the pressure from the international community, Nigeria, under former President Olusegun Obasanjo's administration, considered to be one of the most corrupt in Nigeria's history, laid the foundation for fighting corruption and addressed financial corruption by prosecuting and convicting a number of high-profile corrupt individuals, ranging from a former Inspector General of Police to several bank chief executives. By 2005, the EFCC had arrested overtly corrupt government officials including Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, through the then EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu.

Some key opinion formers like the former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, accused Obasanjo of using the EFCC to witch-hunt those opposed to him by the way the anti-graft agency went after those who were not in Obasanjo's good books. Buhari seems to be toeing this same line, as Timipre Sylva's case in question further buttresses Kalu's position.

Chronicling how well the anti-graft agency has fared under the former President Jonathan administration, EFCC has been a toothless bulldog; the Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, was unable to discharge his duty effectively, having worked under a government that seemingly turned a blind eye, committed and promoted corruption with reckless abandon and impunity.

A fresh case in question is the former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison Madueke, failing to appear before the Senate Committee on Downstream on her alleged spending of $10billion on a chartered private jet, with the committee threatening to issue fresh summons. Jonathan prevented the National Assembly from probing Madueke over allegations of corruption, including others within his government. It became a public perception that Jonathan institutionalised corruption in his administration.

Buhari famed for his stellar anti-corruption credentials seems to be on the drive-mode to deal a lethal blow to the nation's corruption levels and revive the agency from a state of being a toothless bulldog to an active, barking and biting dog that will spare no one found to be corrupt. The agency which understandably has come under intense scrutiny needs to get its act together, by doing a thorough work in the process of probing and prosecuting accused persons, or risk being taken to pieces and restructured.

It's a surprising show- putting fight to buttress its relevance by the recent arrests of former governors Ikedi Ohakim and Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State amongst many. It's instructive to note that the agency, which has failed to inspire confidence, might need to undergo restructuring to achieve needed convictions against public office holders deemed to have corruptly enriched themselves, in the light of why it was set up.

With the spate of on-going negations, observers are of the opinion that it is unlikely that the agency's activities will result in tangible results. Indeed, there are pointers that the embattled governors are negotiating deals that will see them refund agreed sums of money for better treatment.

To rid the nation of corruption, Buhari will, therefore, need to shop for a fearless anti-graft czar to turn things around at the agency. A new EFCC must be born if the president wants to stand a chance of silencing his critics and secure the needed victory against corruption. It also needs to be purged of all its present personnel and granted a first line charge for funding to enable it effectively lead the fight against corruption.

Where this proves difficult is the retainership of some of its workforce, and making away with alleged fraudulent staff being brazenly complicit in the corruption that has ravaged the country. With this in view, and a handful of bungled high profile cases, their prosecution must be revisited to show Nigerians what really happened. That way, a renewed agency that is able to expose and prosecute corrupt staff members will make the guilty very afraid of committing such crimes.

An equally important key play in the scheme of things would be the judiciary. The legislature is regarded as the hallmark of democracy. Unlike both the judiciary and executive that always suffice even under military regimes, the legislature has been at the mercy of democracy.

It is public knowledge that highly placed judges have been compromised, and this has contributed to the shoddy manner in which court cases against perceived corrupt public office holders have been handled.

In effect, the legislative institution saddled to represent, symbolise and strengthen democracy is being underworked and overpaid, putting their reported jumbo allowances in proper perspective. The situation is perhaps most detestable in the states as the Houses of Assembly are virtually dead; often times, they are rubber stamps of governors who use them for their wishes and desires.

The Senate has initiated not less than 20 probes since the inception of the Seventh Senate, with no convictions to show for the probes.

As a mark of commitment to a responsibility assigned to the anti-graft agency, as empowered by the act, it needs to raise a thunderous voice against corruption by prosecuting and getting conviction for offenders at the local government, state and federal levels.

A major function of the agency, beyond taking custody of and prosecuting offenders, is to verify their claims amongst a myriad of activities that involve a lot of resources and logistics which the agency seems to have in very short supply. Another area of pressing need is developing a core of personnel skilled in verification, investigation and other operations of the anti-graft agency.

These are really not interesting times for the agency, as it daily assuages some of its deepest wounds with the election of Buhari. With more money lining the pockets of current and ex-government officials, less money in the pockets of Nigerians, the question is: can the body ignite that ray of hope in hearts of Nigerians?

Hope won't feed an empty stomach. But it's potent. In Greek myth, when Pandora opened her box, she let out all the evils except one: hope. The Greeks considered hope dangerous; its bedfellow can be delusion.

But in the end, Pandora opened her box again and released hope because, without it, humanity was filled with despair.

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