For over 11 months, Sunday Vanguard had been on the trail of Farida Chinyere Waziri, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. At almost every turn, something would throw spanner in the works and the interview never really held.
The exchanges between Sunday Vanguard and Femi Babafemi, spokes person for the Commission, with a view to getting the interview conducted, never ceased.
Last week, something sparked. Even to the surprise of Sunday Vanguard, a last minute request for the interview to be conducted on-line yielded signs that turned out to be considered positive.
However, with the workload of Madam Waziri, especially the celebrated on-going case against immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Sabur Bankole, the response to Sunday Vanguard’s request was pleasantly shocking. The on-going case represents one where the highest ranking public office holder to date is being tried – Bankole was until recently Nigeria’s Number Four citizen.
Even where two former Senate Presidents had lost their jobs on account of alleged financial misconduct, none ever came to trial – the late Chuba ‘Okikadigboli’ Okadigbo was removed on allegations of contract inflation by his colleagues while Adolphus Wabara was sent packing as a result of allegation of bribe-for-budget involving N55 million.
Therefore, with the activities of the EFCC in over-drive, granting the request the way it was granted came to Sunday Vanguard as gratifying but… .
The snag is that the typical dramatic twists and turns of a standard Sunday Interview are missing.
But the facts Sunday Vanguard was able to put together regarding high profile cases being handled by the Commission (See Bottom Strip) more than make up for this, as well as the bluntness of Madam Waziri’s responses.
Both ways, there may be a discount. First is the fact that follow-up questions could not be entertained, just as she, too, could not adequately provide answers as she made Sunday Vanguard understand she “would have loved to if there was ample time”. In all it would make an interesting read.
By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor
What has been the attitude of the leadership in the country to the anti-corruption battle because in some quarters, there is the feeling that EFCC uses the temperature and temperament of the leadership to seek direction?
The attitude of the leadership in Nigeria has been largely positive and supportive of anti-graft initiatives both at EFCC and in all related sister organisations.
The present government has also thrown a challenge in creating a conducive environment for the war against graft.
The governors and deputies who just left office and who are without immunity, how many have been or are being investigated by the commission or are being slated for trial?
It is not the practice of EFCC to heat up the polity by making pronouncements on on-going investigations.
When we are ready to take up issues with any former office holder, the public will surely know.
Some people have come out to say the modus operandi of EFCC has changed in a way because unlike before, where there was disregard for due process and rule of law, your approach appears to be one of ‘easy does it’, which again, is equally being criticized in some quarters. What informed this paradigm shift?
Your observation in this regard is right.
Indeed, there has been considerable paradigm shift in the outlook and mode of operation of EFCC. Today, EFCC obeys court orders hundred per cent. The rule of law is our ground- norm.
We don’t arrest before investigations and our cells are globally-acclaimed to be conducive for the custody of any accused person.
Besides, our officers are comparable to their peers in FBI, Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Police and all our operations are fully computerized.
All these innovations are the result of good leadership, fresh ideas, drives and vision.
I am in the saddle to give new impetus and perspectives to the fight against graft.
But thieves in high places who keep flaunting government authority, how is the commission handling them because some of them are the ones who give the impression that there are sacred cows? Indeed, people believe that there are sacred cows.
We don’t work on speculations or suspicion. EFCC has said it for the umpteenth time that nobody is above the law.
We are still committed to this standard.
Meanings are being read into some of the cases you’re handling, with the perception – rightly or wrongly – that once an individual steps out of line against the authorities, then your case would be pursued because it is believed, again, rightly or wrongly, that in government, thieves abound. What would you say to that?
There is nothing to say to this because we have never charged an innocent person to court. Never!
Perception has no basis in law enforcement.
Can perception become a piece of evidence that can be used in any court against anyone? So, EFCC, as an agency, cannot be used to persecute anyone.
What is the mode of investigation of EFCC before trial just so it would not lose in the courts?
Well, I may not be able to furnish you with graphic description of how we conduct our investigations but suffice to say that our mode of investigation is scientific, modern and rule of law-compliant.
We don’t torture any accused person and we don’t arraign an innocent person in court.
How does EFCC appoint its prosecutors in the light of issues raised by Dimeji Bankole, that there may have been no directive from the Attorney-General of the Federation empowering his prosecutor to commence the case against him?
EFCC has a fully-staffed legal department comprising tested hands in prosecution.
If there is need to engage more experienced hands to handle any of our cases, we reach out to credible and reliable hands outside.
All of our prosecutors share our zero-tolerance for corruption and we are getting results from them.
It may interest you to know that since inception, EFCC has recorded over 600 convictions and this is a trail-blazing feat that no law enforcement agency has been able to equal.
(The matter raised regarding Bankole’s objection is before the court.)
The extra-budgetary expenditure, partly forms the basis for the prosecution of Bankole, how soon would the commission bring other people involved in the matter to book?
As soon as we conclude investigations on the level of their involvements!
Don’t forget that we don’t arrest anyone until we are through with our investigations and we are ready to go to court.
More importantly, this matter is now before the court of law so it will be good if we don’t talk about it again.
What should Nigerians look forward to from EFCC?
Nigerians should look forward to EFCC as an anti-graft agency of global effectiveness.
EFCC is equipped to burst corrupt practices in any sector of the economy and in the entire polity. The commission is staffed by highly-trained, resourceful and dynamic individuals of immense commitment to integrity and fairness. Nigerians should look forward to EFCC for respect to the rule of law, due process and neutrality and constitutionalism.
EFCC has come a long way as an impartial, independent and effective anti-corruption agency with verifiable results and credentials.
Nigerians will see more of the robustness and gallantry of our officers to deal with all issues of economic and financial crimes.
What challenges have you had to cope with?
The challenges are enormous. Some of them are life-threatening, some image-threatening and some normal challenges that a commission like EFCC should expect to face.
The task of fighting corruption is demanding, complex, difficult and dangerous.
The elite constitute the bulk of those committing economic and financial crimes.
They have enormous resources with which to blackmail, frustrate and threaten those investigating them. This constitutes a serious challenge to us.
Challenges are coming from members of the Bar, especially many defence counsel who know that their clients have terrible cases and resort to all manner of tricks to frustrate prosecution by delaying trial.
We have many high-profile cases in court but the attitude of counsel to those being prosecuted leaves very much to be desired.
Even the masses of our people who should not be seen supporting the corrupt people in our midst are not helping matters.
It is strange the kind of support our people are giving criminals and cheats amidst us. We are daily being blackmailed and called different names.
Our officers are being harassed, hunted and hounded.
In fact, some of our operatives have been severally attacked by gunmen.
Some have been killed. All these are serious challenges. But we are not threatened.
We remain committed in our resolve to make Nigeria rise again.
There is hope for Nigeria because the war cannot be frustrated; we all have more to gain from a corrupt-free nation than a corruption-ridden one.
Which of the cases now in court which you instituted would you say has been most difficult?
We handle every case very seriously. We also throw our all in getting justice in all of our cases. So, it would not be correct to say that some cases are more challenging than others.
We are diligent in the prosecution of all of our cases.
If you were asked, what EFCC would show for its anti-corruption war so far, what would you be pointing at?
Impressive results! Well, the achievements of EFCC in its eight years of existence are quite immense.
In stating these, you need to quickly take a mental excursion into the pre-EFCC Nigeria.
Before its establishment, Nigeria had become globally blacklisted as a haven of money laundering and economic crimes.
Advance fee fraud, cyber crimes, banking and contract scams and other financial crimes were legion.
Fraudsters were being celebrated and there was nothing being done to arrest the situation.
However, with the coming of EFCC, things began to look up for the nation.
The Financial Action Task Force’s list of Non-Cooperating Countries and Territories which included Nigeria was reviewed. Nigeria was removed from that infamous list. Beyond this, between 2003 and now, EFCC has recovered over $11billion from crime suspects including political office holders and advance fee fraudsters.
We are presently prosecuting about 1500 accused persons including over 65 high profile cases and a record of more than 600 convictions.
The issue of plea-bargaining, why has it become an option for the commission?
Plea bargaining is a global initiative of bringing accused persons to justice.
It is a win-win methodology of getting maximum results from people accused of corrupt practices. Major recoveries have been made through this initiative while at the same time making sure that jail terms are suffered by anyone taking this option. It is not an EFCC option it is an option of the criminal justice system all over the world.
Finally, what would you want to be remembered for after you would have finished your work here?
I want to be remembered as an impartial law enforcer and anti-graft fighter who brought innovations to EFCC and development to the nation by trying to make corrupt people pay for their crimes.