By Ochereome Nnanna
RETIRED policewoman and Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Hajiya Farida Waziri, seems very confused but desperate for applause. How else would you view the recent publication of about 40 names of politicians currently being investigated and tried by the Commission, which were forwarded to the political parties to ensure they do not stand for election in 2011?
I have been wondering to myself what Waziri’s EFCC really wanted to achieve by this obviously wasted effort? The only conclusion I came to was that the Commission, particularly its Chairman, wants to draw attention to herself. She feels that if she applies this tactic (which Malam Nuhu Ribadu deployed and drew a lot of admirers both at home and the international community and enabled him to even enter the presidential race) she will finally begin making her own mark. She probably thinks this will bring back the foreign donor partners who parted with a lot of money in support of Ribadu’s efforts, but backed off when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua sacked Ribadu and the Commission.
The Commission must have resorted to this to see if Nigeria’s corruption rating, which has been sliding steadily downhill since 2007, hitting an all-time low in 2010 under Waziri’s watch, can be improved upon.
If these were the reasons behind this measure, then I am afraid very little will be gained by the Commission from it, for several reasons. Number one: Nuhu Ribadu’s publication of names of “corrupt” politicians, which former President Olusegun Obasanjo used to stop most of his political opponents from standing for election, was defeated at the Supreme Court. The suits aimed at stopping former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and others from contesting in 2007, led to the ruling by the Supreme Court that neither the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) nor any other statutory body except the courts have the power to stop anyone from contesting elections. As a lawyer, Waziri cannot plead ignorance of these verdicts. So, why did she still go ahead to do exactly the same thing that fetched Obasanjo and Ribadu nothing?
Number two: The late Yar’Adua sacked the Commission, removed Ribadu from office, persecuted him and hounded him into exile. That created room for Waziri to be brought in as his replacement. Why would Waziri, three years later, go back to toe the Ribadu line which her mentor, former Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Mike Aondoakaa, discredited and appointed Waziri to “correct”?
Reason number three: The political needs of former Obasanjo and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan are not the same. Obasanjo, having failed to obtain a third term in office, decided to secure his interests by attempting to stop some people from gaining political power through the polls. But Jonathan is not interested in stopping anybody, at least through the use of EFCC and statutory agencies. He is more interested in manipulating the National Assembly to make a law that would give him majority of his party’s delegates. He does not need Waziri’s aping of Ribadu.
In this fight against the nation’s greatest enemy called corruption we need people who are serious and truly committed. Waziri does not need to mimic Ribadu, whom she and her men have openly traded verbal tackles with. In spite of doubts about her ability to engage corruption head-on, she does have her own strong points. We cannot dispute the fact that a few high profile individuals have been successfully prosecuted and jailed. Good examples are former Edo Governor, Chief Lucky Igbinedion, Chief Bode George and Mrs Cecilia Ibru, former Managing Director of Oceanic Bank. All that EFCC under Waziri needs to do is to stay focused and determined to nail more of these high profile politicians, especially the thieving ex-governors who are still walking free with a swagger. She must dispense with cheap tactics.
We have to bear in mind that we are a nation under democracy and the rule of law. We must understand the system of politics and governance we have chosen for ourselves. Democracy and the rule of law are not the most expeditious systems in the world. This is far from being the case. A cardinal principle under our system of government is that nobody can be called a criminal or have his fundamental rights tampered with until he has been pronounced guilty by a competent court of law. Some say our system is very lenient to criminality. That is so only because we do not pursue the cases in court with assiduity. If a “highly exposed” political actor knows that the crime he committed at the age of 40 might get him jailed at the age of 50 or even 60, with his ill-gotten wealth confiscated, he might still pause before stealing our money.
If we keep the arm of the law long, we will create deterrence, and corruption will reduce over time. Waziri’s EFCC and other sister agencies can also achieve more if they devise means of arresting the process of graft before it is completed. Getting the person after he has stashed away the loot is like cutting the tail of an escaping cow. You only end up with the tail while the rest of the cow escapes.
The war on corruption is no tea party. Only those who have what it takes should be given the task of leading it. If Farida is the “man” for the job, let her face it squarely and spare us the Dora Akunyili and Nuhu Ribadu-like play to the gallery antics that have lost their sensational appeal.