The Guardian/Sonala Olumhense
“The [Economic and Financial] Commission shall, not later than 30th September in each year, submit to the National Assembly, a report of its activities during the immediately preceding year and shall include in such report the audited accounts of the Commission.”
Two weeks ago, I drew attention to this important provision in the EFCC Act of 2004. The law provides just this one opportunity—not cocktail parties, not press releases—for the Commission to report to the people of Nigeria.
The EFCC is headed by Mrs. Farida Waziri, a former policewoman who swears by the rule of law, just like President Umaru Yar’Adua who appointed her. In statement after gele-swinging statement, she has sworn to use the full powers of her office to combat corruption.
Until the 30th of September, I was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt. But she did not comply with this critical law, an act that is devious and dangerous. She ought to resign.
Her remaining in office means she holds the law in contempt. It also means this is right in our eyes. It means that our statute on economic and financial crime is a joke to be laughed at, not a principle to be respected. It means we trust an outlaw to implement the law; the dog to protect the bone.
To be fair, Mrs. Waziri would not be the first outlaw to be permitted to wear the badge of the sheriff. In Nigeria, she would simply be the latest and best-known. Around the world and on the Internet, she guarantees that we draw the loudest laughs as an easy symbol of Nigeria’s deviousness.
Of course she will continue to supervise the daily arrest and harassment of teachers and local councilors and other petty public officials. She will energetically use the nation’s resources to put them through the mill to prove she is good at her job. In effect we would have licensed her to choose which laws to obey and which to trample on.
In my previous article, I quoted the EFCC as acknowledging the following on its website: “The Commission is under obligation by law to make a comprehensive report of its activities to the National Assembly, not later than the 30th of September every year. The EFCC Annual Report, presented yearly (sic) to the National Assembly, is a compendium of all activities of all units of the Commission including Operations, Administration, Legal & Prosecution, Media, Accounts, Training School, etc…”
When one reads this, it is immediately evident that it is an advertisement. Under Mrs. Waziri, the EFCC is a liar. A comprehensive report does not suggest not reporting. A comprehensive report means a thorough, factual and analytical account that demonstrates that the agency is complying with the letter and the spirit of the law by which it was set up. It means that the nation must be appraised of names and dates and numbers and faces and places and explanations and evaluations concerning its mandate.
Such a report is the only way Nigerians will ever know whether the EFCC is a ruse or a tool. This provision in the law is about accountability and transparency, and Mrs. Waziri knows this. By failing to produce the report, she confesses that in her hands, the EFCC cannot be trusted. She confirms to the public that her boisterous pronouncements since assuming office are but bluster. She proves she lacks the courage and the integrity to tell the nation the truth about corruption in high places.
Let us remember: she has been under attack for being a crony of some of the powerful former governors to ensure they are not fully investigated and do not go to jail. Of course Mrs. Waziri was quick to denounce and deny all those criticisms. The problem is that when it came time to submit her report, she found herself incapable of the quality of account demanded by the law without detailing the crimes of her sponsors or facing damaging questioning from the National Assembly.
This matter is a strong example of why Nigeria cannot move forward. Powerful Nigerian leaders seem to feel that no matter how sickening or public their hypocrisy, the entire nation will forget about it in a few days as we return to our hunting and gathering.
Mrs. Waziri clearly imagines, or has been assured that she can serve the people of Nigeria by ignoring the people of Nigeria. This woman wants to be Dora Akunyili without having to invest the heart or character. She wants to be thought of as a woman of achievement without showing up for work. What she is achieving is counterfeiting, the political equivalent of obstruction of justice.
One thing is clear: Mrs Waziri can make a great name for herself at the EFCC. There is no other job in Nigeria other than the presidency where an individual can distinguish himself or herself and change the direction of the country. There is also no other job where an individual can demonstrate how incapable or compromised he or she is. Unfortunately, Mrs. Waziri seems destined to prove that while women are making serious strides and changing societies, she is of the other variety.
Is the EFCC Report the only one of importance in Nigeria? No, but there is no other one that is as public, or has the ramifications of this one.
Is it possible for the EFCC to have submitted a cooked-up report simply to meet the annual reporting requirement? Yes, but it does not matter. The character of the report is not the issue as the document becomes not only a legal record, but a historical one as well. Its authors can manipulate it, but it is available for evaluation or questioning. And of course the report itself remains a verdict on its authors. What the law does not provide for is ignoring of the law.
The trouble with Nigeria is that people in authority want to make speeches without being troubled to account. This is precisely why Nigeria cannot advance; it floats on words, not action; promises, not performance.
This is why Nigerians should stop passing up opportunities of this nature to ask pointed questions of public servants. We cannot let Mrs. Waziri continue with business as usual without being—in effect—her accomplices.
Why is the National Assembly not demanding this report of the EFCC? Senator Uche Chukwumerije is worried about Nigerians in Indonesia; let him demand the EFCC report and help Nigerians in Nigeria. Let Nigerian journalists and lawyers speak out. Where are the civil society advocates of transparency?
If the EFCC cannot demonstrate its legal commitment to transparency, how can it serve as our response to economic and financial crime?
The failure of this report appears to confirm that Mrs. Waziri’s actual agenda is not to fight corruption, but to protect some privileged people and their loot. She is President Yar’Adua’s joke about corruption. The joke is on you and me. We can only shed the role of accomplice by speaking out.
By Sonala Olumhense