By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
EFCC CHAIRMANSHIP AND THE DUST: Ribadued before; Waziried now; and…?

THE STORY IN BRIEF
The government that appoints people to confront corruptionalso dictates the pace but ends up harrassing and embarrassing them out of the job

Yet another anti-corruption fighter has bitten the dust, this time, a woman, Farida Waziri. The dark-goggled, first female Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, suffered the fate meted to another anti-corruption campaigner whose record, ironically, many had claimed she was appointed to degrade.

In an almost similar situation, pioneer EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu was humiliated out of office, before his tenure could expire. The manner and politics of Ribadu’s ignoble exit from the agency he nurtured and brought to international note was perhaps more outrageous because of what many perceive as his achievements at the EFCC. Waziri’s ouster, on the other hand, appeared long-overdue giving the frosty – some say, tolerant – relationship she had enjoyed with the Administration.

More interestingly, both campaigners were fully conscious – or were forcefully made to realize – the power and reach of the corrupt, especially when their interests are being targeted. In the months leading to her removal as EFCC boss, Waziri had gone to town about how “when you fight corruption, it fights back even more viciously.”

From right: Jonathan, Ribadu, Lamorde and Clinton: Clinton had complained that the EFCC had fallen off, an indictment of Jonathan's administration; Lamorde, the new helmsman; and Ribadu, first to kiss the dust as EFCC chairman

Very similar to Ribadu’s lamentations during the months he battled with the succubus of political and economic corruption in the country.

Indeed, the fate suffered by these two anti-corruption warriors, and the overt body language of the Federal government in these matters, makes for a very depressing spectre in the war against economic and financial crimes in Nigeria.

Consider, for instance, the reaction of Nobel laureate, Wole Soyinka, to the sack of Ribadu, in 2008, when he observed that such an action must be read as an assault on the very bastion of democracy. He added, “Let all sophistry be abandoned – the removal of Nuhu Ribadu is not about the removal of one individual. We are talking about signals, portents for future conduct, about the erosion of credibility, abandonment of principle, all of which of course transcends any individual. The timing, when viewed with the recent call to re-open the case files of unsolved political murders, will be regarded as a coincidence only by starry-eyed innocents from space.”

Waziri was appointed by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua amidst a gale of controversy, mostly about the motives for his removal of Nuhu Ribadu. Many analysts agonized over the underlying motives for her appointment, with many claiming that she was brought in to ‘water-down’ the anti-corruption crusade, and give easy landing to many suspects of economic and financial crimes, including politicians and members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Thus, Waziri, who was considered by many as the “candidate” of this megalomaniac few, discovered that she has to move mountains if she must get the critical majority of Nigerian public on her side.

 

In the beginning

At the early days after Ribadu’s appointment as EFCC chairman, he launched a massive offensive against perpetrators of advanced free fraud, or 419, in the country. The celebrated case involving Fred Ajudua, Emmanuel Nwude and several others who had been arrested for defrauding a Brazilian bank of $242 million, was one of the earliest victories of the newly-birthed EFCC under Ribadu. The anti-corruption agency which was yet to be fully reckoned with by many Nigerians saw the case to a logical conclusion resulting in the conviction and sentencing of the fraudsters, in spite of countless attempts to derail the case through legal chicanery, intimidation and witness abduction. Finally, Nwude, Mrs. Amaka Anajemba, and Mr. Nzeribe Okoli, who pleaded guilty as charged were appropriately convicted and sentenced to numerous years in prison.

The aftermath of Nuhu Ribadu’s removal arguably cast a somber cloud around the EFCC. The decision in December 2007 by the Federal Government, through the then Inspector-General of the Nigeria Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, to send the former anti-graft boss on a compulsory one-year course at the National Institute for Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, had generated so much media debate, much more than any issue in the country in at the time.

The debate also extended beyond the borders of Nigeria, with several international personalities and organizations calling on the government of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to reverse its decision. However, when it became certain that the present government was determined in hounding the colourful and brash head of the foremost anti-corruption into the forests of Kuru, many Nigerians had speculated on what card the government had up its sleeves.

Ribadu’s confidante and erstwhile Director of Operations, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, was brought in to act as a stop-gap chairman for the commission while government made up its mind on who could adequately replace the irrepressible Ribadu. According to presidency sources then, Waziri fit the bill because of her uncompromising attitude and experience having headed the Anti-Fraud Unit of the police between 1996 and 1999. Added to the fact that she was a retired AIG, and a holder of two masters in law and strategic studies.

 

Talking tough

Waziri was appointed Chairman of the EFCC, in spite of opposition from different quarters. And, almost immediately, she had sought to prove her critics wrong, insisting that she was prepared to step on toes to get her work done. She vowed “to fish out offenders of the economic crimes at home and abroad,” stressing that “there would be no sacred cows.” She promised at her inauguration that the commission would focus its searchlight on the financial activities of public and private sectors with a view to reaching the roots of the crimes without fear or favour. “There will be no sacred cows and our duties will be conducted in such a manner to justify the confidence reposed on us. Culprits, whoever they are and whatever position they hold, will face the full wrath of justice. There is no hiding place either at home or abroad,” she had declared.

 

Paradigm shift?

Waziri was also quick to debunk claims that the ouster of her predecessor had cast a parlour over the performance of the commission. At a parley with the erstwhile United States Ambassador, Ms Robin Sanders in Abuja, the otherwise soft-spoken Chairman of the EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri, was all fire and brimstone when she swore that the commission was committed to the pursuit of its mandate of tackling economic and financial crimes in the Nigerian system. She noted that the removal of Ribadu had not affected the activities of the commission, adding that the commission was in the process of re-building as an institution whose mandate was beyond any particular individual.

She said, “I can guarantee that nothing has changed at EFCC; we are still focused on doing our job and going out there to do what is right, to make sure that perpetrators of economic and financial crimes have no place to hide. Today, more than ever, we are determined to flush out perpetrators of economic and financial crimes no matter where they are hiding, and ensure that they are brought to justice.”

Waziri, however, drew the line between professionalism and theatrics when she noted that, “We want to continue to be first-class law enforcement, with complete focus on achieving our mandate of fighting economic and financial crimes, money laundering and terrorist financing. We are, however, more focused on tackling economic and financial crimes in our society in a very professional manner, especially now we know that the whole world is watching to see whether the work of the commission is just about an individual or the institution.”

Mrs. Waziri’s paradigm shift expressed the viewpoint that the execution of the mandate of the EFCC, which is fighting economic and financial crimes, should not be seen as Ribadu’s duty alone. According to this line of argument, emphasis should not be on the person or persona of the Chairman, rather proper emphasis ought to be placed on the strengthening of the EFCC as an institution and the building of a national integrity framework that is sustainable. She had argued consistently that the EFCC or its mandate should and must be bigger than one individual. To that extent, the removal or exit of that individual would not necessarily hamper the execution of the organisation’s mandate.

She argued that the operations of the commission must be such that its operations and processes, like those of the FBI in the United States, can proceed unhindered irrespective of who is leading it.

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