By Rotimi Fasan
IT looks well appointed – huge, sprawling and as elaborate as any edifice that is meant to play a huge role in any human endeavour, be it business, politics or security. I’m talking here of the new corporate headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in Abuja. It was opened to much pomp and circumstance by no less a personality than the President himself, Muhammadu Buhari. And if nothing else, the opening of the EFCC’s office gave the president another opportunity to tout his anti-corruption credentials before Nigerians.
Our nation’s anti-corruption czar-in-chief did not waste time to tell the world that he is a driven fighter in the heavy weight category of the anti-corruption sport. He was by his own account nevertheless given a bloody nose by his opponents who knocked him off the prize fighter circuit for three good years. For Buhari, the three years he spent in the outer wilderness of Nigerian politics, all thanks to Ibrahim Babangida, was a clear evidence of corruption fighting back.
It would not matter to Buhari that his anti-corruption war is increasingly now a matter of rhetoric, especially now the country approaches the next elections, than a full bodied take-down of the corruption stalwarts. The president still likes to talk about how well his administration is committed to fighting corruption no matter how effete that fight has of late turned, with many cases of corruption that stinks to the very heavens calling for his direct attention right under his nose. Typical of our power of recall, we don’t seem to be talking much these days of Ibrahim Maina. Mainagate is history. His version of our country’s seasonal movie of corruption has since been superseded by many others that have equally been consigned into a part of our memory we rarely visit.
So the presidential chest-thumping continues apace with the increase in the country’s corruption GDP. That the country continues to plunge in the corruption perception index worldwide is not of any moment with our befuddled leaders. All that counts is the parroting of empty rhetoric and self-righteous platitudes about making our society corruption-free. But something that sounded like a challenge, a questioning of the president’s holier-than-thou stance, was thrown at him by an increasingly disaffected member of his party, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
He responded to Buhari’s claim of being a prized fighter of corruption with his biblical reference to a boastful prophet of the Old Testament whose roof-top proclamation of being the only true worshipper of God was firmly rebuked with evidence of hundreds of other committed worshippers of God. As the newspapers put it, ‘You are not the only corruption-free Nigerian.’ Or in the more peculiar grammar of the ranking law-maker, Buhari is not the only ‘corrupt-free’ Nigerian.
Beyond the attention-seeking chest-thumping and vacuous anti-corruption preachment, the new corporate office of the EFCC is nothing but a monument to our corruption-filled rather than ‘corrupt-free’ life. That at a time we should be engaged in a frenzied drive to improve on our deplorable record of human capital development and the refurbishment of our decayed infrastructure – that we should be constructing and commissioning huge edifices to house a special category of law-enforcers dedicated to the fight against crime, tells me we are a long way from starting the journey to economic prosperity.
That edifice, although constructed to fight crime, is like a visual image of the humungous nature of crime and corruption in our land. The EFCC’s hierarchy surely meant well by opening its doors wide, and inviting visitors to have a view of their splendid-looking home. But one wonders what there is to celebrate about that edifice. Given how far we have fallen, given our state of near hopelessness, we should be mourning and shedding tears of sorrow that we, as the South African singer, Lucky Dube, puts it, ‘don’t’ build schools any more’ and all we build is ‘prison, prison.’
True, the EFFC plays a huge role in today’s Nigeria and we are all privy to the fact that part of its major challenge is infrastructural, with run down offices that lack basic amenities like air conditioning, decent furniture and even office or detention spaces (and this is hoping the new headquarters won’t be turned into another Ita Oko, our own Guantanamo Bay, ala the defunct Nigerian Security Organisation under Muhammadu Rafindadi) to say nothing of qualified personnel. It just does not seem to add up that at a time we should be focusing on improving the quality of our human capital, we are expending huge amount of money on the construction of structures that speak to the animal in us. That being said, there can’t be any running away from ourselves by denying the actuality of corruption in our vein as a nation.
Crime of different shades and ingenuity are overtaking the country and where our political leadership should be leading the way in the change that could help transform the country for the better, they take the lead pushing us further into the morass of criminality even while proclaiming a change that somehow leaves everything the same- changeless or worse. The EFCC does have a role to play in combating crime but not as an outfit for the prosecution of personal vendetta. Yes, nobody found guilty of crime, financial or otherwise, should be let off. And in spite of all the noises about selective prosecution, anyone and everyone found to have run foul of the law should be made accountable. The same should happen to associates of the president as are other members of the executive. A situation where the EFCC is suddenly transformed into a clay-footed contraption or act arm-strung, in the face of criminal malfeasance by members of the executive or associates of a president, should not be acceptable.
In a word then, the EFCC should be truly independent of the executive in the manner the Robert Mueller investigation has been free of the direct manipulation of Donald Trump’s White House. Equally important is the need to separate the activities of the EFCC such that the job of investigation is not conflated with that of prosecution nor prosecution conflated with recovery or disposal of assets and proceeds of crime. This would make for a more effective and transparent management of the work of financial crime which has become a huge monster that has hobbled Nigeria’s developmental effort.
For as long as the country continues to be susceptible to the depredation of financial crimes that are undetected or ignored, for that long should we not expect to inject probity into governance and the overall management of our society. Crime, especially those of financial provenance, will fall when there is evidence of sanction.