FARIDA WAZIRI: The unfinished business
By Jide Ajani
“Go and arrest the judge”, she screamed.
Even her aids and some operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, could not believe nor understand what the order Madam Farida Waziri had issued, meant.
Again, she charged, “Go and arrest that judge immediately”. It took over an hour for some senior staff to convince her that arresting the judge was not the solution; that it would send the wrong signal; that she would be vilified for ignoring due process.
Waziri could not believe what had just hit her like a meteor dropping from another planet.
Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that the Plea Bargain deal entered into with the notorious former governor of Edo State, Lucky Igbinedion, was wrongly applied by the presiding judge. The deal was supposed to see Igbinedion spending some time in jail for his corrupt practices during his eight-year tenure.
But the judge pronounced that Igbinedion would not serve any jail term. Igbinedion was also supposed to have been compelled by the judgment to forfeit very valuable properties in Lagos, Benin and Abuja, along with massive sums of money to the federal government.
He did not. This was because mischief was in the air; and a massive infusion of amnesia also played a role. After the judgment was delivered and news got to Waziri, she hit the roof. The judgment merely ordered Igbinedion to pay a few million naira and go and sin no more. Observers pooh-poohed the judgment.
The killing of Plea Bargain by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Dahiru Musdapher, was directly linked to the opprobrium which greeted the Igbinedion judgment. But Igbinedion is not off the hook yet. That same day after the judgment, Waziri ordered Rotimi Williams, the EFCC counsel, not to leave the Enugu Division of the Federal High Court without filing an appeal to the ridiculous judgment.
The Igbinedion case signposts one of the many malcontents of the process of fighting corruption in Nigeria. But Waziri’s EFCC was blamed as having entered into a deal with a crook that Igbinedion was. The Igbinedion case was still on before Waziri was sacked.
Even within the EFCC during her tenure, all was not well.
For instance, during the trail of James Onanefe Ibori, the former Delta State governor, only a very few operatives in the Commission knew about the operation. Waziri, Sunday Vanguard was informed last Friday, personally handpicked a select team of operatives, sequestered them and handed them the charge to get Ibori arrested. For two weeks, even staff of the EFCC not involved in the direct efforts to get Ibori arrested did not know that he was being trailed. They got him arrested after two weeks of hide and seek
And because she knew very well that when you try to fight corruption, corruption would fight back with every thing at its disposal, Waziri did the unthinkable in the Bode George case which led to the conviction of the former Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, second in command: She simply switched off her phones to avoid communication with officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration and some leaders of the PDP who had piled and were still piling pressure on her to avoid charging George to court.
After George was charged to court, she turned her phones back on. By that singular act, she offended corruption; and corruption had to fight back. Nothing demonstrates the recklessness of the Jonathan administration and its lip service to the anti-corruption war than the presence of government officials at the celebration party for George’s completion of his jail term.
And because the administration had fallen off without sensing it, government officials and some Nigerians mis-read Hillary Clinton’s remarks that the EFCC “had fallen off” as a direct attack on Waziri.
No! It was indeed a direct indictment of President Jonathan’s approach to anti-corruption because if Jonathan could appropriate the success of a passable election, claiming to be the inspiration for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s deeds, then by extension, whatever failure EFCC recorded under Waziri should be directly linked to President Jonathan’s seeming tolerance for corruption. This view may be harsh, even incorrect, but in a country where the buck stops on the President’s desk, fingers are still crossed.
Waziri was never a perfect person and, therefore, cold not have done her job perfectly.
But the government she served did not even attempt a shot at perfection either.
Sunday Vanguard was reliably informed that some officials in the administration and the PDP mounted serious pressure on President Jonathan to sack Waziri. Not minding being seen as a deal-maker on many fronts, Jonathan bowed to pressure – at least, from the December 22, 2002, expanded caucus meeting of the PDP where the decision on zoning was taken with Jonathan in attendance and voting for same only to turn round to deny the existence of zoning, to the many last minute deals he struck on the eve of the last presidential election, the image of a deal-making-at-any-cost President would not serve Jonathan well.
He would need to disembark from that posture because it is no longer early days.
For Waziri, the curtain fell, even before she finished her act.