By Innocent Anaba, Henry Ojelu & Onozure Dania
Between 2010 and 2019, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, received 73, 948 petitions from members of the public, out of which 39,970 were investigated.
Of this number, the commission filed 5,767 cases in court and secured 2,544 convictions.
The number of convictions slightly improved between 2020 and 2021 to 1,843. Despite these results, the commission has often hyped its performance by subjecting high profile suspects to media trial.
Oftentimes, little is heard about the cases after the EFCC had celebrated the arrest of suspects in the media.
Vanguard Law and Human Rights in this edition, sought the views of senior lawyers on how the commission can be more effective in carrying out its mandate, particularly, successful and timely prosecution of high profile cases.
EFCC should allocate good resources to technical presentation of cases —Agbakoba, SAN
Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, said: “I think EFCC needs to review its prosecutorial strategy and allocate good resources to technical presentation of cases in a way to ensure efficient and effective results.
“I recommend that the nature of evidence and presentation in court is reviewed and minimum charges that can achieve and sustain success, should be the norm rather than a crowded list of charges that may fail.”
Key to successful investigations and prosecutions is diligent evidence-gathering —Obiagwu, SAN
Chino Obiagwu, SAN, argued that the “EFCC should take advantage of the innovations in Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA to speed up their investigations and prosecutions. The key to successful criminal investigations and prosecutions is intelligence and diligent evidence-gathering.
“These are basis upon which a charge may be based. When the EFCC put their media visibility ahead of criminal proceedings, it undermines the entire process as witnesses may be scared to come forward with information for fear of publicity or reprisal and evidence may be altered ahead of their collection and scrutiny.
“If EFCC reduces media showcase of its investigations and charges, it will be more productive as they will focus on successful prosecutions. EFCC can return to the use of experienced private prosecutors to reduce the workload on its officials as well as allow them to be mentored by more experienced hands.”
It should avoid filing charges before conclusion of investigation —Erugo, SAN
Prof. Sam Erugo, SAN, is of the opinion that “The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, should be more thorough in investigation of cases, avoid filing charges before conclusion of investigation, and be extra diligent in drafting of charges. Of course, media trial somehow detracts from the constitutional right of the criminal defendant to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
“On the negative side, it appears to give a false impression of having dealt with the suspect-ostensibly by ‘shaming’ the person. It is doubtful whether this tactic has worked in reducing economic crimes, especially when most of the defendants escape conviction for reasons traceable to their powerful position in society.
“Besides investigation, EFCC should also be more professional and diligent in prosecution of cases. This may entail more training for both investigators and prosecutors. Admittedly, there are challenges in the Administration of Criminal Justice, particularly in the timely prosecution of high profile corruption cases, but more tact, diligence and professionalism, rather than media trial, would yield more positive results.”
Conclusive investigation will reduce long detention without trial — Adegoke, SAN
Kunle Adegoke, SAN, said: “The EFCC, like any other law enforcement agency in the country, needs to step up the campaign against corruption. It needs to ensure that its investigation activities are fully concluded making it clear if the alleged offence is actually committed and it is worth spending the tax payers’ money to prosecute. Using its instrument of office to carry out debt recovery or dabbling into civil matters should stop. This has been condemned a number of times by the courts. No police institution has a right to turn itself into a debt recovery agent.
“Concluding investigation before effecting arrest will reduce the unfortunate incidents of long time of detention without trial. The constitution does not recognise detention beyond a reasonable period before prosecution. This will bring out professionalism in the performance of EFCC.
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“EFCC should also look inwards as regards bad eggs among its officials. There should be proper monitoring of the activities of its officials to avoid destroying its image by those corrupt elements that it is using to fight corruption. A dirty towel cannot clean a bathed body.
“EFCC should also seek support from the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, for competent assistance from lawyers in prosecuting crimes. Its docket is definitely full and needs to be assisted pro bono to ensure that corruption is genuinely fought.
“The idea of parading suspects on television should be stopped. It also needs to refine its mode of arrest. Use of gangster methods of breaking walls, doors and invading homes of suspects in a manner similar to armed robbery, should be checked.”
EFCC must learn from their western counterparts —Ogedi
Mr. Ogu Ogedi, is of the view that, “They (EFCC) must learn to investigate properly and be more detailed in their investigations. They must weigh their options as to whether the evidence available from their investigation is one that can secure a conviction. This will avoid waste of time and resources, they should not arrest and investigate on the pages of newspapers and social media. They should in fact set up an internal litigation audit committee to audit cases that they intend to charge to court and dispense with cases that do not have chances of being sustained.
“And must be ready with their evidence and piece them together and not wait to gather same after arraignment. The EFCC must learn from their western counterparts.”
Discreet investigation, the solution —Uthman
John Uthman, said: “The EFCC must conduct and conclude discreet investigation, gather in all evidence before inviting any high profile suspect. Whilst media jamboree now goes with the territory, conclusion of investigation, invitation/arrest and trial is the way to go.
“It must be noted that speedy conclusion of matters is not in the control of the EFCC, all parties (prosecution, judiciary and defence) must decide to be diligent.”
Without interference, EFCC will do well—Ochai
Emmanuel Ochai, on his part, noted: “Fighting high profile cases requires a strong political will. For the EFCC to be successful in this regards, it requires the cooperation of the executive arm of the government. If the government in power does not interfere with the activities of the commission, I believe the commission has all it takes to fight corruption.”
It should focus more on forensic, incisive investigation —Awe
Babatunde Awe said: “In my humble view, the biggest problem with EFCC and its seeming failure at high profile prosecution is the over- sensationalisation of the matter in the press. Good press exposure is good for the optics of the commission to showcase to the world and to the government of the day that you are working.
“However, press ops do not win cases in court. The PR Unit of the EFCC does not participate in prosecution. It is said that pride goes before a fall. If you focus on hype rather than substance, you’re likely to get embarrassed.
“The EFCC should focus more on forensic and incisive investigation and be sure they have a watertight case before they go to press. Like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI of the United States and other smart investigative agencies, the goal should be intelligence-driven maneuvering rather than cosmetic barks without bite. They can do it.
“The new EFCC Chairman is a calm and composed individual. I want to believe that they will drive their mission with more thorough investigation work than visual stimulation under this new leadership. That is the way to keep the EFCC relevant and a dread to corrupt persons.”
I give EFCC low mark in investigating corruption cases — Ojo
Gbenga Ojo said: “This is where the supervisory ministry comes in. Office of Attorney-General prosecutes cases. They don’t do so on the pages of newspapers even before trial. ICPC also prosecutes cases. They don’t do so on the pages of newspapers. Media trial by EFCC has been there since the organisation was established. The Attorney-General of the Federation should give an internal directive to EFCC prohibiting media trial.
“It is an agency under the Ministry. Secondly, they can look at the possibility of appointing retired judges with good records and integrity to head the commission. They can look in the direction of academia. An established professor of law with good standing can be considered for the job like we have in ICPC presently.
“Even the press have their share of the blame. The press also assist the commission in blowing the media trial out of proportion in cases where they caught “a big fish.” What is now amazing is that, after losing some of the cases, there appears to be conspiracy of silence on the part of the press. When the commission loses “high flier” cases, the press ought to give the same publicity they gave the case at the point of arrest or investigation and there are so many cases of that nature.
“Look at the turn out of governors in Nigeria since establishment of EFCC. How many convictions have they secured? Let’s look at it statistically, how many of such convictions? So many cases in courts, I mean celebrated cases. How many have they secured conviction? I give them low mark in the area of investigating corruption cases. In the area of financial crime, involving the notorious yahoo boys, I think, they do well here.
“Unlike the police, where some of the officers follow yahoo boys to the bank and withdraw money from ATM machines. I have not heard one case of EFCC involved in such irresponsible act. In summary, AGF can curb it with a directive to the commission. The need to appoint a retired judicial officer can be considered or somebody from the academia. The press should also not blow out of proportion arrest or investigation of such cases.
“They should wait until the courts determine the cases. Finally, in election cases, there is time frame. AMCON cases are also given accelerated hearing, why not corruption cases? Why not? We all agree that we are where we are as a nation because of corruption. Why should cases of corruption stay in court for several years without conclusion? There is nothing, absolutely nothing to deter corruption in Nigeria. Even with the EFCC and ICPC, the legal regime on fighting corruption is not just efficient in Nigeria. Some are due to institutional failures.”
It should embrace professionalism, shun romance with politicians —Akingbolu
For Kabir Akingbolu, “The EFCC as of today has almost forgotten its primary mandate of corruption fighting. This is largely because it has enmeshed itself in the mire of political chicanery and this, to a large extent, has detracted from its efficiency. For it to function properly as expected by people, it must embrace professionalism and shun any act of romance with politicians. That way, it will regain its integrity and efficiency which had hitherto been in serious jeopardy.
“The EFCC should also shun the idea of dastard and hurried prosecution without proper and detailed investigation. This is because in most cases, the commission does not do proper investigation before charging matters to court simply because they want to impress the public and as a result of this, they do media trial rather than real court proceedings.
“The commission should also lay more emphasis on real prosecution than the usual media parade and plea bargain. Personally, I believe that plea bargain is not congenial with the doctrine of substantial justice.”