Mug shots at EFCC’s eagle

September 19, 2020
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THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has lost its mystery and steam. Our eagle, the symbol of the EFCC, has been de-feathered. The eagle is now grounded and reduced to merely foraging for bearded youngsters, like free range ducks spluttering for worms in a neighbourhood gutter. It is now like a flustered monkey whose only abode is the ground. It has now become what the Scots call ‘feardie’.

All over the world, the eagle, a larger than life bird, is associated with power, freedom, strength, beauty etc. The USA and about 23 countries in Africa use the eagle as their national symbol. The Igbo of South Eastern Nigeria revere the eagle for what it is and owing to its qualities and rarity, eagle prefixes many Igbo names. That’s how high the eagle soars in literal and figurative terms.

But in recent months, EFCC has been seen as impotent. It is now more like the impotent man who shirked from the task of ‘insertion’, but announced that he can insert thread in 200 needles, even in the dark! Its only known work in recent times is the parade of young Nigerians arrested for alleged internet fraud in different parts of the country, especially southern Nigeria.

This denouement has been long in coming. Many saw the EFCC as a major weapon in this administration’s avowed desire to fight corruption. President Muhammadu Buhari said as much in the letter he sent to the 8th Senate through which he sought its confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the substantive chairman of the EFCC. But the lawmakers disagreed with the president. They said Magu was not fit to hold that post, going by a report they received from the DSS. When this happened, Nigerians said it was “corruption fighting back”, and even held that the decision of the then Senate was that of Dr Bukola Saraki. It was not seen as the Senate’s position. And this Senate’s rejection of Magu was twice!

Of course, the president didn’t reject Ibrahim Magu. He trusted him to become the chairman of EFCC in acting capacity when the tenure of Ibrahim Lamorde expired in November 2015. After a whole year, in December 2016, the Senate rejected him and, again in March 2017, declined to confirm Magu. The Senate insisted on a DSS report that discredited him.

Now, in 2020, the same president has, by himself, sent Magu to the canvass. While vindicating the earlier Senate position, the  current onslaught on Magu has left Nigeria’s leading anti-graft agency in tatters.

Some think the eagle eyes of the commission are now focused only on tactless young people who splurge at bars and clubs, while the big players serenade in their own unfettered corruption. Increasing number of Nigerians have continued to speak on this and on the modus operandi of the EFCC. They say EFCC prides itself in making a hasty charade with its suspects and then fizzles out when the real test of its allegations are conducted in the law courts.

Among those who decry this alleged lack of adroitness on the part of EFCC is Akeredolu P. Temidayo (Apt) @peterparne, who tweeted: “EFCC is getting away with so much in this country. After parading them like convicts when your powers are limited to investigation and prosecution  and you end up not proving the alleged crime, what happens? Citizens in these kinds of situations should sue for reparations.”

A tweet by obviously displeased Tope Akinyode @TopeAkinyode is a more pungent jab at the beleaguered commission.  Akinyode argues thus: “Media and public parade of suspects have no legitimacy under the Nigerian judicature. The only exception is ‘Identification Parade’ which is allowed by law. However, media parade which the EFCC and other security operatives do is illegal and very overreaching. Any suspect who is unjustly paraded before the media can successfully challenge it in court because it is a violation of the fundamental right to human dignity.”

However, the EFCC countered that it doesn’t just bring people to the media for a meaningless blitz. In a tweet in response to Mr. Akinyode, it said it only parades suspects “after they have been profiled with evidence gotten from investigations.” The EFCC also cited a fundamental rights suit, “Sulyman Abaya Vs. EFCC,” stating that “Justice Hammed Gegele of Kwara State High Court, Ilorin, ruled that since the published image has the word, ALLEGED, there is no injury to the suspect’s reputation.” But EFCC’s antagonists insist that the Kwara high court ruling could not nullify that of a Federal High Court which holds otherwise. They cited “FHC/CA/CS/91/2009 between Ottoh Ofem Obono V. Inspector General of Police.”

Auto Bot @AutoBot gave EFCC support. “The parade is only illegal if no charges are brought or if suspect is acquitted. The courts will not invalidate or punish media parade of a convict.” But what seems to be the main motive of the so called “media trial” was contained in the conclusion of Bot’s reply. “There is legitimate state interest in publicly displaying suspects.”

Meanwhile, the number of convictions EFCC has recorded since 2010 is rising. It won 312 cases in 2018, its highest in one year. However, this does not erase Nigerians’ worry. They want a modification of what they perceive as the illegality of EFCC’s media parades. Many are however waiting for the Supreme Court to  lay the matter to rest.

By the way, a University of London SOAS Anti-Corruption Evidence (ACE) research consortium wrote: “How did the same EFCC transform from an organisation focusing on advance fee fraud to one targetting high profile political corruption (usually at the behest of the ruling party), and recently to a debt collector for large private sector actors?” It said “the analysis found that only 3.75% of cases investigated were filed in court, where 23% resulted in convictions. The EFCC achieved higher filing and conviction rates on low-or-mid-level crimes than higher level corruption.”

Implications, the report added are that “currently, the EFCC’s effectiveness is compromised, limiting its ability to pursue and achieve prosecutions of high-level cases involving politically-connected individuals.” This is instructive.

The commission’s childish tweet after the 2018 governorship election in Ekiti State, in which it had imperiously called out former Governor Ayo Fayose, was also a sore point. It was needless, though Fayose too also made a show of submitting himself to the EFCC for investigation. Two years down the line, where are we after all that hullabaloo? Where are all the corrupt people we have shouted about? Where are all the high profile suspects?

On many fronts, the Nigerian system has progressively demystified the EFCC since its birth in 2003. The fall of Magu is further pulling it away from the trust of Nigerians. And their agonies, anger and arguments show this. The EFCC is currently in limbo. We await its unfreezing.

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