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April 28, 2024

Yahaya Bello: EFCC deserves public support, by Tonnie Iredia

Yahaya Bello: EFCC deserves public support, by Tonnie Iredia

Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission ICPC were established some two decades ago by the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. The motivation was to set up strategic platforms to deal decisively with the evils of corruption which were generally accepted by all to be at the apex of the nation’s collective malaise.

Nigerians were also aware that their country had been labelled as fantastically corrupt by the international community. This seems to explain the decision of each successive President to make strong statements to end corruption either during his electioneering campaigns or even after having been elected. At a point, the poetic declaration was: ‘if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.’ Put differently, corruption is the most notorious bane of Nigeria’s development.

One would therefore have expected to see substantive efforts at dealing decisively with such a subject. But this has not been so,as the few and feeble efforts are usually shunned by many Nigerians. To start with, the ruling class does not appear assured that it is in its interest to end every type of corrupt practice. Indeed, from inception, so much was done to water-down the modalities of the anti-corruption bodies for effective performance. When it became obvious that Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chief executive of the EFCC was getting too solid on board, he was immediately redeployed supposedly by his original employers, the Police, to undergo a one-year course at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies NIPSS in Kuru, Jos. It was as if the Police had a mandate to monitor Ribadu and to terminate his secondment to the EFCC whenever he became too tough for the powers that be.

In the case of the ICPC, the National Assembly had a running battle with its pioneer chief executive, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, now late. The sin of Akanbi was his attempt to investigate allegations of corruption brought to the ICPC against the leadership of the National Assembly. The latter summarily proceeded to amend the ICPC Act and to confer immunity on its leaders before calling for a public debate on the matter. In other words, top political office holders in Nigeria have never been comfortable with any anti-corruption framework to investigate their leaders. How can the EFCC and the ICPC succeed in their gigantic assignments if members of the ruling class known to be the greatest catalysts of corruption are to be exempted from the scope of operations of the anti-corruption bodies? The situation is yet to change!

It is against this backdrop that one considers as unfortunate, the discordant narratives on the current ‘war’ between former Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State and the EFCC which has in the last one week occupied huge media space. The said negative narratives have painfully reiterated the fact that Nigerians are not really ready to fight corruption. Indeed, Yahaya Bello’s case shows clearly that many Nigerians cherish the pursuit of shadows rather than substance by focussing on incidentals. It is more irritating that learned analysts are leading the resort to mundane and irrelevant issues. So, not much is said about the stupendous amounts suspected to have been embezzled. Instead, when, where and how Bello was invited or not invited for questioning are the issues in contention.

The questions irritatingly in focus include: Was Bello invited by the EFCC? If not, why was he not invited? If he was invited, who delivered the invitation? Was the invitation written? If yes, was it typed and was it on the official letterhead of the EFCC? In what form was the invitation- letter, card, WhatsApp, Instagram or oral? If the truth must be told these questions can only continue to unduly pamper citizens who had for 8 years been protected by the law from any arrest and or prosecution. When exactly would Yahaya Bello and other privileged politicians like him return to our normal society or are they entitled to immunity for life? Having been given a mandate to govern a state for two terms, Bello did not have to commit any offence before taking steps to render stewardship. It is worse that there were grave allegations against him in the public domain.

It is thus unfair to be hypercritical of any entity that seeks to take a look at some of the numerous unwholesome things that happened in Kogi State during Yahaya Bello’s tenure. Even if budgetary provisions were legally approved by the Kogi State House of Assembly for political violence during the period, there is need to know how much was appropriated and who dispensed the funds that kept the state in servitude and apprehension. Many lost the courage to raise their voices against certain unlawful acts. For advising against wastages concerning payment of workers’ salaries and uncompleted projects, Deputy Governor Simon Achuba was impeached although the panel set up to investigate the deputy governor did not find him wanting. But these were not even the issues that aroused the EFCC’s interest.

The anti-graft agency is raising many more fundamental issues of likely embezzlement of state resources that no one should sweep under the carpet. The EFCC for instance is bothered about several purchases of properties located mostly in Abuja. According to the Commission, Yahaya Bello needs to explain his ownership of Four Houses in the nation’s capital namely: i) No.2 Justice Chukwudifu Oputa Street, Asokoro, Abuja, acquired between 2018 and 2020 at a cost of N920 million, ii)Plot no. 1160, within Cadastral Zone C03, Gwarimpa II District, Abuja acquired in February, 2021 with the sum of N100million, iii)Block D, Manzini Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja acquired in 2022 at a cost of N170million and iv) No. 35 Danube Street, Maitama District, Abuja acquired in 2023, valued  at ¦ 950 million. Critics should interrogate these and not cosmetic matters blown out of proportion.

It is obvious that the issues of improper invitation or no invitation at all raised by Yahaya Bello’s supporters are essentially diversionary. How could a man who was reportedly not informed about any case against him at the EFCC have gone to court to restrain the same EFCC from arresting him? Ayo Fayose, former Ekiti State Governor who was perceptive enough to appreciate the likelihood of his arrest to answer several allegations of impropriety against him while in office made a mark yet to be beaten by going on his own to knock at the door of the EFCC at the end of his tenure. The white lion of Kogi should have done same in the last two weeks instead of beating about the bush with unconvincing narratives. If he had done so, he would have seamlessly entered through his preferred front door of the EFCC while leaving his traducers in a state of distress.

What we have said so far should not derogate from the calls on all authorities to always follow the rule of law and the principles of natural justice while dealing with suspects. At the same time, nothing should be done to further increase powerful men at the expense of strong and viable societal institutions that all other progressive climes greatly rely upon for survival. It is therefore time to review Section 308 of our Constitution which grants “absolute” immunity to certain public office holders who have over the years used it to abuse their offices especially in matters of corruption. We can adopt the moderated template in Malaysia, Italy, Australia etc. to redress the Nigerian dilemma for us all to enjoy some measure of equality before the law.

It is therefore necessary to admonish our courts to halt unpatriotic orders which restrain certain bodies from performing their constitutionally assigned tasks. Similarly, the EFCC needs to be encouraged to be more proactive bearing in mind the subsisting position of the law that where as a privileged public officer who enjoys immunity cannot be arrested or prosecuted during his tenure, he can be investigated. Ola Olukoyede,the visibly vibrant new chair of the EFCC should therefore create a framework that enables its officials to conclude investigations on corrupt practices and arrange those who have cases to answer in court as soon as they leave office without wasting resources to feed such persons in custody. But our anti-graft agencies ought to always be assured of public support.