By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
The excitement that greeted the second coming of Ibrahim Lamorde at the helms of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, about seven months ago– his first coming was after the infamous withdrawal of the revered Nuhu Ribadu – has all but fizzled out.
For many Nigerians who eagerly watch the activities of the commission, it is crystal clear the contrast that the Lamorde era would bring from the previous administrations: the frenzied, zealous and overambitious reach of Ribadu, and the demure and professional deportment of Mrs. Farida Waziri’s regime.
Lamorde’s EFCC of the past seven months has been apathetic and seemingly un-engaging, to say the least. Indeed, for the casual observer, watching the seeming indifference that beclouds the anti-corruption agency could lead one to assume that corruption of all forms may have taken a sabbatical from the country.
Granted, seven months may appear too short a period to assess an executive’s performance, especially one engaged in the daunting mission of fighting the seemingly intractable and highly entrenched evil of corruption and economic malaise in the country, but Lamorde has been there before; in fact, he has been there from the day one.
For an agency that has become synonymous over the years with egregious action against the rampaging forces of corruption, going for months without a single arrest in a society where corruption is believed to stalk the corridors of government offices and the private suites may be a bit unusual.
Some may argue that Lamorde, who is all too familiar with the “corruption fight back” myth, has learnt from the experiences of his predecessors who pursued their mission with gusto and got burnt in the process, but such a lacklustre approach may not cut well with oppressed Nigerians who bay for blood.
Most of the frustration stems from the apparent inactivity in the commission: it has to be practically dragged into the on-going mess in the oil and gas industry, even after millions of Nigerians had taken to the streets early in the year to protest the corruption in the management of the subsidy regime.
And with the commission’s several high-profile cases against some powerful politicians and businessmen, some of whom are well-known supporters of the ruling party, still in court, many have wondered if the new EFCC warlord would be his own man, and build upon the foundation laid by his predecessors, or would he casually bow to the whims of the very corrupt and powerful people and let the cases slip.
Mr. Lamorde would be careful not to fit himself into the critics’ mold of a figurehead waiting to be dispensed with when the puppeteers deem fit. It is fair to note that upon his appointment, many quickly wrote him off as a mere stooge of the administration, pointing to the circumstances of his immediate predecessor’s unceremonious dismissal from office.
Before her ouster, the former EFCC Chairman, Farida Waziri, had gone after some really big wigs in the political system as well as egomaniacal and corrupt top bank executives, not to mention top government officials, heads of parastatals and agencies, including petty cyber thieves. She left in her wake, over 450 convictions and recovered over $9 billion from corrupt elements within and outside the country.
Feelers coming from the commission, however, have sought to assure Nigerians that with Lamorde in charge, there will not be a softer line in the anti-corruption campaign.
According to a highly-placed source at EFCC who has worked with Lamorde for years, “I assure there is not going to be any fundamental change of course, when you remember that the man has been at EFCC since its inception.”
Describing Lamorde’s temperament, he noted: “The man is not given to frivolities; and from his role as former EFCC Director of Operations, where he personally oversaw the manhunt, arrest and prosecution of many suspects, including all the former governors currently being prosecuted and those who had been convicted, it is to be expected what kind of leadership he would provide for the commission.”
He added that Lamorde, who had garnered a reputation as a no-nonsense police officer would shock many Nigerians, adding that, “Much as people may want to see Lamorde as an extension of a stop-gap head of the EFCC, he is actually his own man and has over the years been the iron-fist of the commission. It is also important to note that the man has successfully overseen every operational activity of the EFCC, as Director of Operations in the over eight years.”
Lamorde himself has sworn that the Commission under his watch is committed to the pursuit of its mandate of tackling economic and financial crimes in the Nigerian system. He further declared “a new phase in the life of the EFCC,” adding that, “I will leverage the abundant skills and experience in the Commission and the immense goodwill of Nigerians to move EFCC to a new level.
I will be making more demand of every EFCC, far more demand of professionalism, integrity and ethical conduct than had ever been made of each and every one of us, and I will not accept any excuse whatever for failure.”
According to him, “In the last eight years, I have been uniquely placed as participant and observer in the birth and nurture of this Commission and I have benefited from working with the two past chairmen over the years. I will draw from hers strengths while seeking to improve on whatever institutional weaknesses there may be to build on your achievements and those of your predecessor.
He stressed, “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. 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.”
If perceptions matter in the fight against corruption, Mr. Lamorde’s mission to take the commission to the next level may have suffered a severe blow in the eyes of many Nigerians who dismay at the relative inactivity within the agency. For a people who have long suffered from the effects of corruption, merely posturing is not enough. Nigerians simply cannot afford for this Nero to take a nap, while the country burns.
…As Senator sets agenda for him
Senator Nkechi Nwaogu, representing Abia Central Senatorial District, has expressed her optimism on the capacity of the new chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, in stirring the affairs of the anti-crime agency.
Nwaogu, who spoke in Abuja said that her expectation and that of the Senate, is for Lamorde to build a vibrant EFCC that will entrench financial discipline especially in the public sector, even as she described him as a round peg in a round hole due to his wealth of experience and the fact that, for the first time, somebody from within the agency, has been chosen as chairman.
Senator Nwaogu is of the view that the EFCC should go beyond mirroring the National Assembly and focus attention on the civil service especially as it relates to budget implementation.
According to her, “Why don’t our budgets go beyond 40% implementation? It’s a financial crime. And many Nigerians appreciate that a lot of the corruption that takes place in our contracting system has its roots in the civil service.”
To ensure proper implementation of budgets, Senator Nwaogu suggests that EFCC should have a desk on comprehensive oversight of the budgeting process. The desk, according to her, should comprise experts on budgetary issues and project execution.
Also, chairing the Senate Committee on Gas Resources, she says that for Nigeria to achieve financial discipline, the anti-graft agency should have forensic accountants who will thoroughly investigate all expenditures in the public sector.
Considering the delay in dispensing justice, especially as it concerns financial cases, Senator Nwaogu advocates for the establishment of a financial court that will ensure speedy dispensation of financial cases.
She says that, “It’s not fair on our jurisdiction that one court tries murder cases, financial crimes and several other cases.” According to her, judges in the proposed Financial Court should be trained and retrained so as to be well knowledgeable in financial matters.
On the legal skill of the EFCC lawyers, this Abia Central Representative at the Senate, says that the anti-crime agency should begin to hire Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANS to handle some of its cases rather than relying only on their in-house lawyers. “A situation where EFCC sends level 8 or level 9 lawyers while the suspect comes with a SAN, will lead to legal disparity and with that, EFCC may be losing some of its cases.”
During the screening exercise, Larmode hinted on the need for a 13 storey building costing over N18 billion as the corporate headquarters of the EFCC, but Senator Nwaogu thinks that rather than looking for a capital project of that magnitude, Lamorde should concentrate on getting an up-to-date communication and surveillance gadgets as well as lie detector equipments that will enhance the agency’s investigative skills.
She advocates for a 999 system because “the use of the 11 digits of the GSM is absurd and obsolete. The numbers are too long and difficult to remember,” she affirms.
She charged that for the EFCC to be efficient in curtailing financial crimes, the agency should purge itself of all the bad eggs and that its staff should be well remunerated so as not to be tempted to compromise. Also, they should be programmes to train all their staff instead of training only the big bosses.