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EFCC, conjectures and the rule of law

By Pini Jason
THE Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, took what I regard as a courageous stand during his screening by the Senate on Thursday June 30,  2011.

He adduced reasons why he ordered the withdrawal of some cases preferred by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, against some people regarded as high profile Nigerians or those EFCC Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, referred to as “politically exposed”. The AGF said that some of the cases were hurriedly charged to court and lacked substance.

This is a bold stand to take given the controversial nature of EFFC’s modus operandi and the expectations of Nigerians from EFCC. Different Nigerians have different views about how EFCC should operate. And once Nigerians have a mindset on a matter, such a mindset does not permit contrary evidence or new information to permeate their minds.

I have read at least two columnists who attacked the AGF’s position not on point of law or fact, but on mere suspicion of his motive in taking his stand. Therefore, to speak on such issues the way he did during the screening was a high risk gamble which only a courageous man could undertake.

The basis of every civilized nation is the rule of law. For some Nigerians, the law seems to work only when it catches their enemy, rival or opponent. It is just not enough that institutions like the EFCC and ICPC are created to fight corruption. Citizens must believe in them, respect and adhere strictly with the letters of the law setting them up. Acting outside the provisions of the law is itself a form of corruption.

We may not all agree with the way EFCC has performed so far. Having to arrest people before investigation is certainly odious.

It is also true that dearth of competent manpower is obvious when an EFCC operative begins to argue with a public official whether a job done is commensurate with amount paid when such operative is not a quantity surveyor. There are some cases for which EFCC arrests people and you begin to wonder what constitutes “economic” or “financial” crime in such cases! Such instances make virtually every act in government a crime.

But by far the most worrying is the use to which politicians and the media want to put the EFCC and ICPC. These institutions have become weapons in the hands of unscrupulous politicians and their hirelings in the media. They write caches of petitions against opponents, most of which the EFCC and ICPC find frivolous.

And should the EFCC and ICPC fail to spend taxpayers money to investigate the frivolous petitions, they themselves become targets of blackmail.

I suspect that sometimes, in order to show the professional petitioners that they did not ignore their petitions or that they have not been bribed, they invite innocent people, when they should not.

During such invitations, the petition writers go to town, through text messages, that EFCC or ICPC has arrested all the government officials! For the four years of his administration, Governor Ohakim’s officials were going to EFCC and ICPC every month to answer to petitions that invariably turned out frivolous.

These are some of the tactics that make the jobs of EFCC and ICPC difficult.
Soon after the April 2011 elections, the media made it look as if the next port of call for every governor relinquishing office was the EFCC! This was in total disregard to the fact that vacating office is not one of the provisions in law for invitation to EFCC. Without providing any shred of evidence why any governor should be arrested, some of the vendors of such atrocity exhibited inexplicable frustration that EFCC has still not arrested the governors.

Today, some Nigerians have so mis-educated themselves not know the difference between allegation and factual evidence, an accused and the guilty or indictment and conviction. Such people really believe that mere prefacing a fiction with “allegedly” or “was said to” confers veracity on it! If a man goes to EFCC, ICPC or the Police to make an allegation against someone, the intention is that the person so reported should be punished if the allegation is true.

Why then should the person who makes the allegation walk away free, if his allegation is found to be false. I believe that there will be sanity in the land and EFCC can make its job easier if petition writers are tasked to provide proof, failing which they must be punished. If Nigeria must not slide back to the 18th century, veracity and specificity must become a culture.

The authority of the AGF to have oversight on the EFCC, ICPC and the Police cannot be in question. He is the chief law officer. In many civilized societies, law enforcement agencies are punished when they breach the law in exercise of their functions. In the US and UK, police patrol cars carry surveillance TV cameras that transmit to their headquarters the activities of policemen on duty!

When the AGF intervenes on a matter in court, he must go a step further to address the nation on why he did so to avoid people with Ulterior Motive Syndrome from putting a spin on his action. When in August 2009, the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill authorised the release of the ailing Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali alMegrahi, based on a plea that he was about to die, many people in the UK and US disagreed with the release.

But MacAskill stood his ground and relentlessly addressed the public about his perception of the issue at that time. No matter our prejudice or hatred, we must show the discipline of following the law.


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