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(OPINION) Corruption, EFCC and conspiracy theory by Tayo Ogunbiyi

EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde
EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde
The issue of corruption has over the years been a constant subject of discourse among Nigerians. To properly underscore how germane the subject has become in the affairs of the country, the current leader of our nation, President Muhammadu Buhari, made the fight against corruption one of the most focal points of his electoral campaign. At every given opportunity and platform, he was always telling Nigerians that: “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us”. This, no doubt, highlights the endemic nature of corruption in Nigeria.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the corruption image of Nigeria has become global. The country was ranked high in corruption by Transparency International Index as well as other prominent bodies that monitor the intensity of corrupt practices in the world. In 2001, Nigeria was ranked the 2nd most corrupt nation in the world after Bangladesh. In 2003, Nigeria, again, was the 2nd most corrupt country in the world. In 2004, a minor improvement was made as the country ranked the 3rd most corrupt country in the world.
Without a doubt, corruption is one of the biggest among the numerous challenges Nigeria is contending with. It is clear to every Nigerian that the level of corruption in the country is high as this evil cankerworm is found in almost every sector of the country. When critically examined, there is every possibility of observing corrupt practices in every facet of our national life, no matter the scope. Presently, corruption is so entrenched in the country that people factor its consideration into anything they want to do. The situation is now so bad that even some government officials are alleged to bribe one another to get government business done.
It is, however, in the political arena that one finds corruption really prevalent in our society. It is rather sad that despite the hues and cries in the media by social critics and other stakeholders, the rate of corruption in Nigerian political and government circles is ever-increasing with a surge in the number of cases where the machinery of governance has become a tool for the enrichment of political elites and their cronies. The several policies and programmes of subsequent administrations in the country have not achieved desired results due to the deep rooted nature of corruption among the various classes and groups in the country.
It was in an attempt to frontally tackle corruption and rid the nation of all corrupt tendencies that the Obasanjo administration established the Economic and Financial Crime Commission in 2003. By then, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) had ranked Nigeria among one of 23 countries that are non-cooperative in the international community’s efforts to fight money laundering. At the initial stage, EFCC demonstrated a strong resolve to deal with the issue of corruption in the country. Its pioneering Chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, swiftly cut the image of a no nonsense and uncompromising anti-corruption crusader who was ready to stake everything in order to rid the nation of corrupt tendencies. Under Ribadu’s leadership, the agency prosecuted and convicted a number of high-profile and well connected corrupt individuals. Many influential Nigerians were under the scrutinizing radar of the agency. In no time, the fear of the EFCC became the beginning of wisdom among the nation’s socio-political and economic elites.
However, as it is often the case with most Nigerian institutions (remember NAFDAC?), since the exit of Ribadu from the Commission nothing tangible has actually been achieved in the crusade against corruption in the country. On June 6, 2008, Mrs. Farida Waziri became the new helmsman of the EFCC and was later replaced by Ibrahim Lamorde who currently holds sway at the commission. But then, under the duo’s leadership, the once dreaded EFFC has become a mere paper tiger and a toothless bulldog that could only bark and not bite. Many of the high profile cases that were in court under their respective leadership were mostly inconclusive. Majority of the former governors and prominent political figures whose cases were once widely celebrated in the media are now not only walking free in the society but are equally playing vital roles in the nation’s social-political and economic spheres. This has made many Nigerians to lose interest in the EFFC and all it represents.
The declining image of the agency has been further battered by a recent trend in which it loses high profile corruption cases in a most ridiculous and curious fashion. In recent time, concerned citizens have watched helplessly as the EFCC slammed 120 count charges on perceived corrupt persons only for the agency to fail in its bid to establish any of the charges. This has called to question the sincerity of the leadership of the EFCC in attempting to prosecute those cases in the first place. It would be recalled that the commission lately lost three high profile cases involving ex-Governor Timipre Sylva, ex-Minister Femi Olukayode and ex-Bank PHB Managing Director, Francis Atuche. It is rather curious that in-spite of being prosecuted by experienced lawyers; the cases were lost on flimsy technical grounds.
It is indeed the nauseating feelings evoked by this rather hideous trend that have made keen watchers of EFCC affairs to suggest that there is, perhaps, a conspiracy by key players in the anti graft agency and their collaborators to ensure that individuals accused of corrupt practices eventually go scot-free. An integral part of this conspiracy theory is what many have described as the EFCC’s inclination towards constantly filing amendment of charges after the arraignment of the accused. Non-appearance in Court and unending demands for adjournments are other notable ploys purportedly used by EFFC lawyers to frustrate some of the agency’s high profile cases. It has become so bad that a few judicial and EFCC sources have alleged that EFCC lawyers collude with the accused in frustrating their trial.
Although top EFFC officials have attempted to blame the country’s judicial system for their inability to obtain favourable judgments in most of the cases prosecuted so far, it is, however, crucial to emphasize that the anti-graft agency cannot but take the lion share of the culpability as many have accused it of shoddy and unprofessional investigation mechanism. If we are to ‘kill’ corruption as it is often being canvassed by President Muhammadu Buhari, the EFFC has to step up its game. It has to do more than it is currently doing. It is nothing but the height of hypocrisy and deception for the agency to dissipate public funds in prosecuting corruption cases whose outcomes leave much to be desired. If, indeed, we are in an era of change, the EFFC must be properly alive to its responsibilities. God bless Nigeria.

Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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