Tuesday, 28 June 2016

EFCC, self-praise and the fight against corruption

Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was unnecessarily giddy in self-praise when it launched its campaign themed: “Clean Hands against Corruption,’’ at the Eagle Square, Abuja, the other day. Declaring that it had “kept faith with our mandate and the expectations of Nigerians,’’ Chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Magu, said Nigerians and members of the international community had testified that “the past glory of the EFCC is now being restored.’’ The justification for this assertion was his report of having secured “over 140 convictions’’ in the last six months, “recovered billions’ worth of dollars of stolen funds’’ and “blocked numerous avenues for money laundering.’’

While self-appraisal and praise are allowed, they should be grounded in reality. But unbiased performance appraisal by an objective independent party is much better. The EFCC may claim what it believes about its performance, but it is the people who can correctly assess the anti-graft agency.

Notwithstanding, it is obvious from the account given by Magu that only one side of the coin was presented to the audience he addressed. For example, while he claimed to have secured over 140 convictions in the last six months, he neither disclosed the number of cases EFCC had taken to court within the same time nor the ones that the Commission had lost. He also was silent on the length of time the cases spent in court before judgment was given (or were all the cases started in court in the last six months?) and the reasons for delayed conclusion of cases in courts. Furthermore, the claim that billions’ worth of dollars had been recovered should have been accompanied with the total amount targeted to be recovered and what was eventually recovered in the concluded cases. Certainly, most, if not all the 140 cases, had been in court for more than six months and pre-dated Mr. Magu’s appointment as the Chairman of EFCC.

There is hardly any doubt that many Nigerians question some of the things EFCC do and even its manner of operations. They are reasonably unhappy, for instance, that the Commission try suspects in the media before even commencing investigations; ruin peoples’ image and reputation before they are taken to court for determination of their cases; take suspects to court without concrete, incontrovertible and acceptable evidence; serve as debt collection agent for some individuals and organisations; and heap numerous charges on accused persons with many of such charges lacking the basic foundations and ingredients to succeed when subjected to legal tests. EFCC’s constant amendments of its charge lists are partly why many delays arise in the determination of cases in courts.

Magu ought to know that many stakeholders believe that, among other things, his Commission discriminates in its fight against corruption, lacks enough human capacity and commitment to effectively prosecute the important assignments in its enabling Act, appoints lawyers whose capacities to successfully secure convictions are questionable. They are also always piqued when they see and listen to EFCC’s witnesses who seem not to have been prepared to face the rigours in the court rooms. There are many other issues on which Nigerians expect EFCC to reform itself before it can earn an applause.

Fortunately, the EFCC by its enabling Act has special and enormous powers to make the fight against economic and financial crimes very successful. Although it had recorded some convictions and recovered some stolen money, the magnitude of what is before it, especially given the broadness of its statutory responsibilities, should challenge it to, in reflection, agree that its journey to what can be called success, is still very far. Consequently, basking in the past, no matter how rosy it may look, will certainly not be helpful to the nation at this point in time. The Commission should, therefore, re-strategise on the best approaches towards earning the praise of stakeholders instead of indulging in self-applause.

Some of the things EFCC must immediately do include: a quick re-assessment of its policies, procedures and modus operandi; ensuring proper training of its operatives and all its agents; handling of accused persons in a civilised manner; avoiding media trials and unnecessary impairment of people’s reputations. Other very important areas to which EFCC must pay immediate attention include ensuring that: cases are thoroughly investigated and fault-free before charging accused persons to court; prosecutions are diligently handled; the number of charges against an accused person are limited to what is important and material as well as supported by acceptable evidence.

It is high time EFCC began to exhibit competence, professionalism and transparency in all aspects of its operations. In words and deeds, good governance, efficiency and transparency should be etched in the heart, mind, soul and practices of all those with the responsibility of ensuring EFCC brings to reality the subsisting dream of overcoming economic and financial crimes in the country.

Finally, Ibrahim Magu should be assured of the people’s unflinching support while noting that the same Nigerians will certainly hold him and his team accountable, now or later, for their activities in EFCC’s fight against corruption.

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