EFCC: The storm over ex-governors’ missing files

By Kodilinye Obiagwu and Clifford Ndujihe

Guardian

PRESIDENT Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s war against corruption is now under severe criticism. Incidentally, it was the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Mrs. Farida Waziri that put the anti-corruption campaign on the spot. She claimed that the files of the corrupt ex-governors were missing. She hardly anticipated the rebound.

In a paper presented on his behalf at the 38th Annual Conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN), Yar’Adua had urged leaders to improve on their accountability and responsibility to the nation. “Corruption: A Global Problem,” he stated, “need to improve on our accountability and responsibility to the people and the nation. We need to create an ethically competitive private sector for business to thrive. It is impossible to fight this battle alone. We need to collaborate to fight corruption from all fronts. We also need to extend our efforts in supporting and partnering with anti-corruption programmes and initiatives.”

However, Mrs Farida Waziri’s rating of the recent Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Transparency International (TI) as a marked improvement on the previous efforts at fighting corruption has drawn more flak from the public. Transparency International had listed Nigeria as the 121st most corrupt nation in the world. This time in 2007 and 2006, Nigeria occupied the 147th and 142nd positions respectively- what Mrs Waziri called an indication that the fight against corruption was working, adding “he challenge is for us to work harder in reducing our standing as it concerns corruption in the comity of nations.”

However, Mrs Waziri, chairman of the anti-corruption agency Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) position has been sorely questioned with her statement last week that there were no case files on the 31 former governors initially investigated by her predecessor Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. “We are now beginning to investigate and prosecute some of them. I got there and what I found is what I am working with. I work on the case files I found, to see if there is prima facie evidence. But if there is nothing in the case file or there is no case file at all, there is nothing I can do than to start afresh,”_ she had said.

Waziri had told the Senator Sola Akinyede-led Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Anti-corruption of the Senate that it was impossible for her to manufacture evidence against the 31 former governors. “If there is a sitting governor and you went on air to say this man is a thief, at the end I will prosecute you. Of course, the governor is not stupid. He will destroy everything that would incriminate him. The cases I have are not completed. I have often made an example of the case of a governor that had three bundles of case files, and it is trite law that you must hear both sides.

“Just to get the Governor to come and write his side of the story so that there would be fair hearing is taking two or three months. These are some of the things.”

The president’s critics have always felt that he won’t be able to show the political will especially in prosecuting some corrupt former governors, who helped him to get into power. But Yar’Adua had also insisted that he was ready to fight graft and that there would be no sacred cows. He had once said: “If my son or my father is found to be corrupt, they will not be spared. We are determined to intensify the war against corruption, more so because corruption is itself central to the spread of poverty.” The EFCC under Ribadu had arrested influential associates and friends of Yar’Adua like the former Delta State Governor James Ibori, who hitherto was seen as politically untouchable; he was said to be a major financier of Yar’Adua’s election campaign.

Before Yar’Adua’s inauguration, Nigeria was 18 places above Haiti on the CPI after being at the bottom for many years. And one other criticism of his fight against corruption despite his early declaration that there would not be sacred cows is that corruption is not listed in the government’s defining seven-point agenda. This is against the background that Obasanjo’s (1999-2007) fight against corruption was identified with the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Commission (ICPC) and the EFCC. But the President has often stressed the importance of anti-corruption agencies in the realisation of the seven-point agenda.

The high point of Yar’Adua’s fight against corruption so far was the frenzy that followed the arraignment of his former (governor) colleagues by the EFCC. That frenzy had died down, but resurfaced when reports indicated that files on the governor’s were missing.

Waziri, who recognises prevention as critical in fighting corruption, had said that the EFCC was embarking on a nationwide campaign, “where advocacy and awareness are to be created among our people especially at the grassroots on the ills of corruption.”

The EFCC has with this new approach directed its fight to the local council administration. The EFCC had arrested and charged to court three more former governors along with the eight whose cases were on going. Also two former ministers, nine heads of federal agencies, two top business executives, 15 foreign nationals and 10 former local council chairmen were arrested and charged to court.

She restated the president’s position that there would be “no sacred cows, political allies and associates will be targets just as those in the opposition. Once politics is allowed to have a say in the war that will be the beginning of an end to the war. I am happy that Mr. President has unequivocally reiterated his zero tolerance for corruption.”

The direction of the EFCC was sharpened at the 7th annual National Seminar on Economic Crime, with a theme, “Corruption as a Development Challenge.” The seminar, which was also to deepen the expertise of law enforcement authorities in investigating and prosecuting economic crime among others was targeted at chief executives, managing directors, chairmen, director-generals, government advisors, legislators, captains of industries, policy formulators, entrepreneurs, investigators, legal advisors, senior and middle- level decision makers in public and private organisations.

This strategy might have led to the invitation to 26 lawmakers of the Osun State House of Assembly to account for N150 million constituency funds. Also, the Commission picked up eight staff of the Yola North Local Government Council, of Adamawa State, for allegedly aiding the embezzlement of over N92 million by the former Caretaker Committee chairman of the council.

The Commission also indicted the local councils in the war against fraud. Waziri disclosed that despite the N3 trillion received by the 774 councils in the country between 1999 and 2007, there was nothing to show for the huge funds. She said that the EFCC had put in place fresh plans to monitor the use of allocated funds to the councils.

Waziri sought the collaboration of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) and the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) in the fight to sanitise the councils and help monitor spending in the third tier of government. “The local council is where many Nigerians live. That is where the masses live. Government is about providing the citizens the basic necessities of life and as such we all have to ensure that what belongs to the people get to them. If we fail at this level we would have failed at all levels, because the councils contain nearly Nigeria’s entire rural majority.”

_Besides, she added that the use of re-orientation would be employed to change the mindset of the people. “This paradigm shift must be perceived as EFCC takes off to maturity.”

_But the chairman of ALGON, Alhaji Jalo Waziri says the problem of the councils was quality of supervision from the state governments.

At the National Conference of Anti-corruption Committees in Nigerian Legislatures and heads of anti-corruption unit in government establishments in the South-West zone, the Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Moruf Atilola said that the fight against graft will be in vain unless the government stopped its rhetoric and proffer practical solutions. Senator Akinyede himself says the fight against corruption was a collective enterprise. _He noted that no developmental effort of the government would succeed if the level of corruption were high.

One of those who fault Yar’Adua’s fight against corruption is former Minister of Petroleum, Prof. Tam David-West. He noted that only an unconditional amnesty by Yar’Adua for the militants in Niger Delta would guarantee a meaningful achievement on the war against corruption.

In an address: ‘Fueling Corruption and Instability through Blood Oil’ at the 7th National Seminar on Economic Crimes organised by the EFCC he stated the militants are a creation of corrupt politicians who had used them as thugs during elections. He advised leaders to purge themselves from practices that they would not want to se in the people they are leading. “I am saying that some few people should not grow fat when others are dying and that we should understand that about 80 per cent of even our salaries are from oil,” he said.

Warning of a change in approach in the fight against corruption, Waziri said that the war against corruption “it admits of no conventional methods to fight it. It is a war against rabid and senseless capital accumulation. It is a war against the decadence of the mind, ethics and morals.

“We must mobilise society’s entire arsenal including religion, economy, politics, family life, education and all relevant instruments of human interaction.”

The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) has called on President Yar’Adua to relieve Waziri of her position.

Last week, the anti-corruption groups insisted that the fight against corrupt former governors would continue.

The director of the anti-corruption group Transparency International Nigeria and national coordinating chairman of Nigeria’s Zero Corruption Coalition Auwal Musa Rafsanjani said that, “it is absolutely wrong for this commission to tell Nigerians that these people, who have been indicted before by the same commission, they are now being cleared for political reasons. There are a lot of records and evidence of these governors looting in a reckless manner their states and therefore, it is surprising to us to hear that the EFCC is clearing these state governors.”

Yesterday, the Pro National Conference Organisation, PRONACO asked President Yar’Adua to set up a panel of enquiry to find out the truth between the claims by the Waziri that she did not inherit 31 case files on the ex-governors from her predecessor and the well statement of Ribadu that he completed investigations on the corrupt ex-governors.

PRONACO’s spokesman of PRONACO, Mr. Wale Okunniyi told journalists in Lagos that there is a missing link between the claims of the two anti-graft chiefs.

“Certain questions need to be answered to be able to determine the truth of this matter. If indeed 31 ex-governors had been investigated and ready for prosecution before May 29,2007, between then and June 2008 when Waziri came on board, why were these ex-governors not taken to court for prosecution? Was there any handover document stating how many case files especially on ex-governors were handed over to Waziri? Was Ribadu’s claim then, a statement of fact or a political statement or better still, was he just playing to the gallery? These and many more should be answered so as to determine the truth.”

Believing that there might not have been a proper hand over, PRONACO said that it was therefore calling for an urgent probe into the handover details at the EFCC to unravel the true position of things. “This is a grievous administrative lapse on the part of the EFCC and somebody must be responsible. We wish to know what went wrong between the two administrations at the EFCC. There must be an end to deliberate cover up and media trials of suspects as this cannot help anti corruption crusade in the country.”

The group also called for fresh investigations and prosecution of corrupt public officers without further delay to give the impression that the EFCC was working. PRONACO urged Waziri to remain steadfast and be aware of the antics of those intent on discrediting the anti corruption crusade.

Former governorship candidate of Democratic Alternative (DA) in Lagos State Human Rights activist, Bamidele Aturu said: “I want to believe that Waziri was misquoted. How can files be missing and no one has been arrested? Are we supposed to believe that an institution such as the EFCC charged with the onerous responsibility of enforcing statutes on economic crime and money laundering cannot secure case files? If that is the case, then those at its helms cannot better make the issue for the overhauling of the organisation.

“The worrisome implication is that those who had suggested that Waziri was planted by the same former governors might feel vindicated now. We know that the easiest way to kill any case is to destroy the case file. We need reassurance by Waziri that the EFCC has not _become a joke.

“If EFCC fails, it would be impossible for this country to develop. The war against corruption cannot be permitted to be aborted by those who have a stake in the continuation of graft.”

Commenting on the issue, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, president of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) said: “If Waziri could say files are missing in its custody, it is tragic. It is an attempt to kill the anti-corruption war. It is ridiculous and embarrassing. It shows that there is no sincerity of purpose.”

She wondered why it took Waziri so long to tell Nigerians that the files were missing or had scanty evidence. “She has made nonsense of what Malam Nuhu Ribadu achieved. I doubt if there is any corruption war in Nigeria. The war against corruption is in coma, and what they have done and planning to do is to eventually abort the crusade and give the former governors a no-charge report.”

Former Minister of Information, , accused President Yar’Adua of hobnobbing with most of the former governors. According to Clark, Waziri had an intention “to kill the commission.” He pointed out that, “these former governors always gatecrash to the Villa, even when they are not invited. Maybe they have this privilege because they are former governors just like the President.

“Is this how to fight corruption? Yar’Adua should stop dealing with them until the courts clear them. The President should know that we couldn’t fight corruption like this.

Clark believes that Waziri’s was a ploy to prepare the ground for the withdrawal of the cases against them. Waziri is preparing to enter a ‘no case’ submission against the former governors, “she is out to make nonsense of the efforts of Ribadu, who said that about 31 of the former governors had cases to answer.” Clark said Waziri should clarify whether or not the empty files with the commission also related to the trial of former governors Joshua Dariye (Plateau); Chimaroke Nnamani (Enugu); Saminu Turaki (Jigawa); Orji Kalu (Abia), Lucky Igbinedion (Edo), Ibori (Delta), Ayo Fayose (Ekiti), Rashidi Ladoja (Oyo) and Boni Haruna (Adamawa).

QUOTE

Certain questions need to be answered to be able to determine the truth of this matter. If indeed 31 ex-governors had been investigated and ready for prosecution before May 29,2007, between then and June 2008 when Waziri came on board, why were these ex-governors not taken to court for prosecution? Was there any handover document stating how many case files especially on ex-governors were handed over to Waziri? Was Ribadu’s claim then a statement of fact or a political statement or better still, was he just playing to the gallery? These and many more should be answered so as to determine the truth.