What could have jolted Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from its operational slumber? That is the question on the lips of most Nigerians, given the pace at which the commission is moving against former governors accused of corruption.
The question is necessitated by the inertia that had characterized the commission’s operation until the inauguration of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government on May 29.
The development has also prompted many to question the political will of the immediate past government to prosecute high-profile individuals accused of dipping their hands into public treasury as well as prosecute those whose cases have been pending for years to logical conclusions.
Among the former governors who have been guests to the EFCC’s headquarters in Abuja of late are Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Ali Modu Sheriff (Borno), Martin Elechi (Ebonyi), Sule Lamido (Jigawa) and Ikedi Ohakim (Imo). They were quizzed on their activities while in office.
While the action has been commended in some quarters, especially as it is in line with the vision of the Buhari administration, most stakeholders have described it as another window dressing by the Ibrahim Lamorde leadership of the commission.
This belief is premised on the commission’s foot-dragging and lack of head way in the trial of ex-Governors Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Orji Kalu (Abia), Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu), Sani Ahmed (Zamfara), Saminu Turaki (Jigawa), Rashidi Ladoja (Oyo), Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Jolly Nyame (Taraba), Attahiru Bafarawa (Sokoto) since 2007, when their prosecution commenced.
Some of these former governors have even gone ahead to contest elections and are currently occupying top positions in government, but it only took a United Kingdom court to convict the former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who is currently serving a 13-year jail term in London.
However, unlike Ibori, ex-Governors Lucky Igbinedion and Diepreye Alamieseigha of Edo and Bayelsa states, respectively, who got convicted in courts at home, were merely reprimanded.
Igbinedion was convicted and fined N3.5 million, following a plea-bargain deal that saw 191 charges preferred against him reduced to just one. Alamieseigha, on his part was sentenced to only two years imprisonment, and was later granted state pardon by the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration.
This slap on the wrist kind of judgements on such high profile cases may have been responsible for the call by some Nigerians for the setting up of special courts for corruption cases as findings revealed that most of the convictions secured by the EFCC over the years are relatively low-scale pilferers, 419 scammers, Yahoo boys and dubious bank officials.
When it comes to multi-billion naira fraudsters, the stolen resources have been deployed to delay justice. This was admitted by Lamorde, when he recently explained that big fraudsters- mostly ex-governors and politicians have continued to evade justice, as result of their huge loots, which they deploy to lengthen cases filed against them.
“The truth is that no case has been concluded. But I don’t think it is correct to say that the charges were not properly framed or the prosecution is not putting the case properly. We have example of a case we charged to court in 2006. For this very case, we have gone to the Supreme Court twice on just interlocutory applications,” he said.
He further explained that when such cases are lost, the Supreme Court orders it be returned to the trial judge for continuation, adding that a fresh application will emerge anew. “They will come with another application and certainly for lawyers among us, we know how long it takes for a trial to go to the Court of Appeal and get listed, then go to the Supreme Court, get it listed and decided upon. This is the fate of most of the cases we have in court,” he said.
He also raised the issue of poor funding, which has impacted adversely on the operation of the agency. The agency’s proposed budget for 2013 is over N21 billion – capital expenditure, N11 billion; personnel cost, N6 billion and overhead cost, N3 billion – out of which N9.3 billion was approved by the Budget Office of the Federation, leaving a gap of N11.3 billion.
The excuses, notwithstanding, Nigerians cannot wait longer to see the conclusion of all pending corruption cases. The country’s consistent poor ranking in world’s corruption index by the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International (TI), must improve if it is to attract the much needed foreign investment.
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