By Michael West
Prior to the ascension of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the Presidency in 1999, Nigeria was a pariah in the comity of nations due to her deplorable track records in human rights abuses as epitomized by the late Sani Abacha government and unassailable corruption index.
The fact that we are still recovering Abacha loot kept in some western countries even almost 20 years after his death goes to show how endemic and deep-rooted sleazy lifestyle had become.
I believe EFCC is a welcome development as a veritable tool to curtail corruption in our system. Its assignments are clear. It has needed legal backing and enticing perquisites for its operatives. The fear of the EFCC has been the beginning of wisdom in some official quarters.
Thus far, it has sanitized our financial sector to a reasonable extent. Illicit funds transfers locally and internationally have been reduced drastically. This is a significant achievement of the commission.
The commission, according to Justice Minister and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, had recovered over $2 trillion (Two trillion dollars) within a period of 12 years while more than N500 billions loots were recovered under Buhari administration alone. More are still being recovered. This is a great feat, I must say; and it is commendable. I guess this amount included the “re-looted funds” alleged to have been missing in the custody of the Commission.
However, EFCC has been operating, in some instances, beyond the limits of the law. Common acts of the EFCC’s assumed qualified privilege was unrestrained access to state governments’books. And basking in the unquestionable euphoria of presidential nods, it had bulldozed its way into places that were not part of its call of duty – not just in this dispensation but even before Buhari..
It has also become an attacking dog for sitting Presidents to hunt perceived political foes and critics. Obasanjo used the Commission to intimidate his political enemies and recalcitrant associates in a show of strength.
It also used it to earn forceful submission by those who dared to have the minds of their own or those who would not kowtow to his agenda even when they belong to the same camp. The likes of Late S. M. Afolabi and Vincent Ogbulafor are good examples. I won’t be surprised to see some APC chieftains who won’t subscribe to Buhari’s second term bid becoming guests of the commission in months to come.
In recent times, interdicting Governor Ayo Fayose’s bank account was a violation of his immunity as a sitting governor. He could only be investigated and not prosecuted; therefore, placing an embargo on his account tantamount implementing the punitive measure meted out to individuals not enjoying immunity.
Let me acknowledge that investigating suspected sleazy deals and inviting suspects for interrogations are within the norms of best practices; but disparaging people’s names in the media before diligent investigations are concluded leaves much to be desired.
The recent verdict by the Federal High Court, Ado Ekiti against the EFCC is grand and technically sound. The judgment was delivered in a suit filed by Ekiti State Government against the EFCC, the Inspector General of Police, the Speaker, Ekiti State House of Assembly, the Clerk and 13 others. Ekiti Attorney General filed the suit after the commission sent letters of invitation to some government officials seeking details over some financial transactions of the state. The EFCC also sent letters to the banks seeking financial books of the state in their custody.
“The assembly has the responsibilities on the management of funds by the executives. They have the responsibility to ensure fund management, cut wastages, and reject corruption. The first defendant (EFCC) is bound to operate within the constitution and cannot operate like the lord of the manor. It is statutory duty is not a license to contravene the Constitution.
“I can’t by any stretch of imagination see how the statutory functions of the (EFCC) can extend to a state in a federation under any guise to the extent that the eight to 18 defendants (banks) will be directed to submit bank details.
Yes, the first defendant can investigate any person or corporate organisation, what it can’t do is to usurp the powers of the assembly. The Federal Government cannot impose its statutory duties on a state in flagrant disobedient of the constitution. The prosecution should not ride roughshod of the constitution. It is the duty of judges to ensure they don’t listen to sentiments of the public. I resolve all issues in favour of the plaintiff. I grant all reliefs sought by the plaintiff in view of the fact they are live issues.”
By this landmark judgment, the court has made it clear that the EFCC should not be a rampaging federal agent that monitors state finances. It means the commission has been operating illegally over the years by scrutinizing state governments’ accounts and harassing banks to submit details of the states’ financial transactions. Henceforth, the Commission should be humble enough to employ due legal process in the discharge of its statutory duties and avoid being accused of flagrant abuse of judicial process.
- Michael West, a media consultant, can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org