No Hiding Place for the Corrupt

Feelers from The Presidency suggest that the Muhammadu Buhari administration won’t extend its probe net beyond the Goodluck Jonathan regime. The opposition PDP says it’s a witch-hunt to probe the immediate past regime alone. Several commentators have asked the new regime to spread its dragnet back to 1960; others want the probe to begin from 1914.

Yet, President Buhari’s pronouncements and the recent actions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) do not indicate that the regimes preceding Jonathan’s have been let off the hook. When Buhari mentioned that over $150billion oil wealth was stolen in the last 10 years, he couldn’t have excluded Obasanjo’s regime that was in power until eight years ago. A number of people that served during the previous regimes or were governors then are still in court with the EFCC. Even the two women that have now been invited by the anti-graft agency – Toyin Saraki and Zainab Dakingari (nee YarÁdua) – are to be quizzed over shady deals allegedly committed between 2003 and 2011. The Buhari I know cannot close his eyes to any act of corruption he sees, even if it was committed during Lugard’s era.

Again, it’s not true that the new administration lacks time for probing all previous regimes. It only needs to empower anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC and the ICPC (by funding ). So long as the agencies work, probes won’t hamper the business of government. That’s what US President Obama meant when he said that what Africans needed were strong institutions and not strong men. So let those that have been rejoicing in the expectation that old graft won’t be uncovered change their mood. The Buhari regime has come and will go, but anti-corruption agencies will remain.

The EFCC seems to have regained its momentum in the last two months. It had not been sleeping until Buhari’s coming, however. At least, I’ve not heard that any of its files (dossiers, if you like) got missing. What it lacked under Jonathan was perhaps support. To get the anti-corruption campaign running, Buhari would do well to retain Ibrahim Lamorde as EFCC chairman, since he has been with the agency from its inception 11 years ago.

I’m not Lamorde’s fan nor have I met him in person. But the EFCC’s actions on his watch have shown an agency sincerely committed to the anti-corruption campaign. Calls on the web by faceless civil society organisations for his removal make one chuckle. Some people are even threatening to stage a “mother of all protests”. What’s his offence?

Those at the receiving end of the EFCC’s recent onslaught won’t, of course, be among Lamorde’s admirers. As Nuhu Ribadu, pioneer chairman of the agency, would say, “When you fight corruption, corruption fights back.” It is from this prism that I see the choreographed campaign by renegade groups masquerading as CSOs but whose intent is to dilute the new offensive against corruption by casting aspersion on the EFCC and its leadership. Only the gullible would believe they serve any altruistic purpose. Their puerile advocacy is a camouflage for a sinister plot to derail Buhari’s anti-corruption programme even before it takes off.

Tinkering with the leadership of the EFCC could take the nation on the path that almost ruined the agency some years ago, when a cabal of corrupt former governors that bankrolled the election of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua sought the head of Ribadu as a trophy. And what was Ribadu’s offence? He was accused of being selective and running a Gestapo organization. He was stampeded into a course in Kuru, demoted and eventually dismissed from the Nigeria Police! Today, all of us remember his time as EFCC boss with nostalgia.
We must not travel that road again. These are interesting times that call for vigilance by all. Those who, a few months ago, were shouting that Lamorde was too quiet in fighting corruption are the same people now calling for his head for being too active. What a paradox!

Persons accused of corruption should be prepared to prove their innocence in court. That is why the courts are there. Paying jobless youths to beat drums of war against the leadership of anti-graft agencies invariably suggests they are guilty as charged.

This is a country where corruption has become an instrument for political relevance and, at the same time, for survival. Those aspiring to political leadership hoodwink the electorates with promises of transparent leadership but, once elected, they turn state treasury into personal casinos. Yet, when the law catches up with them, the same people use their loot to rent crowds to protest against “persecution”. After receiving a slice of the filthy lucre, victims of corruption become willing tools pleading the cause of the corrupt.

To me, accusations of selectivity or witch-hunting hold no water. The important question to ask is: are those being investigated corrupt or not? Those that have not been “selected” will eventually be “selected” by another regime. Yesterday it was Obasanjo or Yar’Adua or Jonathan; today it’s Buhari. There is no hiding place. All of a sudden, we are seeing people who had carried on with the airs of being untouchable called to account. Who would have thought that a day would come in this country when the likes of Sule Lamido, Murtala Nyako, Steve Oronsaye or even the former governor of Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim, would be sweating in the dock? Several other former and current governors are now either shivering or contending with EFCC’s legal marksmen.

We all are eager to see how the EFCC conducts the trials of these accused persons, considering the disappointment that trailed the outcome of some cases involving politically exposed persons in the recent past. The triumphalism of one accused person – he boldly announced a change of name after a judge of the Federal High Court declared the EFCC evidence against him as feeble – is nauseating. The merit of that ruling is not my concern; the onus is on the EFCC to determine whether what the judge considers feeble was indeed feeble. In this same country, a judge whimsically dismissed an entire 170-count charge of money laundering against a former state governor as lacking merit. The same evidence fetched the same person a 13-year jail term in a London court.

Nevertheless, the EFCC should, as a matter of necessity, strengthen its evidence-gathering techniques so as to build solid cases that can stand the rigour of prosecution and survive the wiles of the most cunning crooks in our system. It costs money to investigate and prosecute cases to the end. And that’s where the support I talked about comes in: Buhari should ensure that anti-corruption agencies are well funded to do their jobs.

What Lamorde and his team deserve is encouragement to maintain the tempo. I am not inclined to query, as some have done lately, the motives behind the sudden resurgence of the EFCC. It is immaterial whether Lamorde is trying to impress his new boss or not. Is there any public officer or any employee who does not work to impress their boss? What is important is getting the job done. And, on that score, I believe the EFCC is on course, which is the more reason it cannot afford to be distracted at this crucial time. Its current actions, at least, send a message to the kleptomaniacs still walking free in our country: Judgment Day will come sooner than later.

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