By Ochereome Nnanna
IT is a classic case of déjà vu. Everybody must have watched an event unfold and wondered where he/she had seen exactly the same thing before. This is not an essay to enquire into this psychedelic phenomenon.
But if you are not sure exactly what déjà vu (which translates literally as “already seen”) means, the wars of two Attorneys-General of the Federation and Ministers of Justice, Chief Mike Aondoakaa and Alhaji Mohammed Adoke, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, on the independence of the anti-graft agencies, will illustrate it succinctly.
When Malam Nuhu Ribadu was the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, he was able to draw the attention of the ordinary Nigerian and the world at large to the war on corruption. His method, some observed, was a direct copy of the Nazi German’s Gestapo during Adolph Hitler’s doomed Third Reich. Some also alleged he helped former President Olusegun Obasanjo to fight his political enemies. Whatever the grievances of many were, Ribadu managed to put the fear of the EFCC in the minds of many high and mighty “politically exposed” Nigerians. He also got the applause of many international donor agencies.
As a result of his efforts, Nigeria climbed 27 places from 148 to 121 in the 2008 Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, CPI. Mind you, the 2008 report was collated from efforts of the previous year, when Ribadu was in charge. But rather than strengthen and encourage the EFCC to do more (even if eschewing impunity), the late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua, who had seemed serious with his pledge to fight corruption, came down heavily both on the Commission and its leadership. Ribadu was forced to go to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS and was later sacked from the Police Force on trumped-up charges of misconduct.
A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, Mrs Farida Waziri, was recommended by the then Attorney General of the Federation, Aondoakaa to President Yar’ Adua, who appointed her Chairman of the Commission.
The circumstances of Ribadu’s humiliation rubbed off negatively on Madam Waziri. Within one year, Nigeria fell nine steps on TI’s CPI to 130th in 2009. Since then, in spite of the fact that the EFCC under Waziri has recovered more stolen funds and jailed more highly placed individuals, as well as undertaken the prosecution of more such accused persons than Ribadu ever did, many people have continued to view her efforts with scepticism.
However, of recent, quite a few Nigerians started taking note of the EFCC’s contributions to the war on corruption, not just because of its determination to prosecute former highly placed individuals, including former presidents and their aides named in the Halliburton and Siemens scandals.
The most recent effort was the arrest and arraignment of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Dimeji Saburi Bankole and his Deputy, Bayero Nafada. After dragging his feet on EFCC’s invitation, Bankole, according to EFCC officials, had concluded plans to bolt from Nigeria when the operatives moved in.
A familiar picture is now playing out after the reappointment of Adoke as the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. When he appeared before the Senate for screening on July 1, 2011, he demonised wholesale the EFCC and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, for ineptitude in the prosecution of corruption cases and called for the merger of the two anti-graft commissions.
Many people saw it as strange, since these two bodies had been superintended by him for over one year. No sooner had he been cleared than Adoke gazetted and released new guidelines for handling of high profile cases. In effect, the EFCC and ICPC’s independence have been swept away and subjugated under his office.
Adoke has not proved he has the right frame of mind to fight corruption. Rather, he has been widely criticised, just as Aondoakaa before him, for frequently stopping proceedings against accused corrupt persons on trial. Apart from the case of the highly placed Nigerians who were indicted in the Halliburton and Siemens bribery scandals (which he withdrew) the long list of beneficiaries of his benevolence included the Vaswani brothers, the former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, NERC, Ransome Owan, former Comptroller General of Customs, Ahmed Bello and Dele Oye, who was named in connection with the Cecilia Ibru case with Oceanic Bank. The list goes on. Adoke’s new regulations were curiously backdated to September 21, 2010, which many legal critics alleged, was meant to let former Speaker Bankole and Co off EFCC’s hook.
Before the end of his tenure as Attorney General of the Federation, there had been widespread calls for his removal from office over his perceived unsavoury hostility towards EFCC’s modest efforts to fight corruption. But to the surprise of many, both within and outside the judicial circles, Adoke was reappointed. At the screening in the Senate he mounted a barefaced shellacking of the EFCC and ICPC and later followed up with the gazetting of rules that took away their liberties. Surely, Adoke could not be doing all these without the express approval of President Goodluck Jonathan.
On Monday June 13, 2011, barely two weeks after he was sworn-in for a second term, President Jonathan, in Washington for a meeting with President Barack Obama, was advised to make the fight on corruption a national priority as the platform for economic growth and lasting prosperity. He had campaigned on an agenda for economic transformation.
One of the bold steps he took in this direction was the recall of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala from the World Bank to head the Finance Ministry and the Economic Team. With his tepid attitude to the war on corruption, it is difficult see how the confidence of the development partners out there could be bolstered to enable Okonjo-Iweala drive the economy to defeat poverty in Nigeria.
Jonathan is beginning to justify the claims of his critics, like Nasir el Rufai, who have told Nigerians that he does not have the character to overwhelm cabals and turn the country around.