The Guardian/Sonala Olumhense
These are difficult times. Our busy, boisterous nation has finally ground to a halt, taken hostage by its own President. Never before has Nigeria been unable to get out of bed, but Umaru Yar’Adua seems determined to prove he is more important than his country.
But I have good news. In the next 48 hours, Mrs. Farida Waziri, the Chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), will present to the National Assembly the 2008 report of the Commission.
Section 37 of the EFCC (ESTABLISHMENT) ACT 2004 insists on it: “The 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.”
And the EFCC acknowledges this obligation. On its website, it says: “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 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. The Commission is not under obligation to publish it, but having been presented to the National Assembly, members of the public may be apprised of its contents by their elected representatives or seek to obtain copies by laid down procedures of the Senate and House of Representatives.”
That is why I believe that the EFCC report will be in our hands before National Day. I know this is a month of holidays. We have the “Awaiting New Cabinet” holiday. We have the Ramadan holiday. We have National Day. We are swimming in work-free days.
Still, the law prescribes an annual report on September 30 or earlier, and this is a government of the rule of law. The first EFCC report was presented to the National Assembly on September 27, 2006. That was the day that the Commission established corruption cases against 15 serving and three former governors.
Among the highlights of that report were:
• Abia State, where Governor Kalu allegedly used his mother, daughter, wife and brother to divert N35 billion to build his business empire;
• Bayelsa State, where the Governor’s wife was involved in money-laundering;
• Delta State, where Governor James Ibori and 13 local government chairman were being investigated for corruption;
• Ekiti State: illegal diversion of funds, money-laundering, foreign accounts being operated by the governor and his deputy;
• Edo State: Governor being investigated for diversion of statutory allocation and 13 per cent oil revenue;
• Lagos State: Governor being investigated on an international case;
It would be recalled that Ribadu described Zamfara State as being one of the worst cases under review. In that State, he said Governor Yerima Sani was reported to have personally logged stacks of currency out of official safes.
That is called impunity. It is the factor that continues to fuel corruption in Nigeria. It is my hope that the 2008 EFCC Report will dwell significantly on this issue. In this, I believe that the past is the present: if we cannot discourage impunity in corruption in Nigeria, we cannot claim to be fighting corruption.
Combating impunity means that we must return to the age-old issue: the double-standards that the EFCC is accused of. We continue to hear that the EFCC has arrested a teacher, a local government official or a fraudster. That is not fighting corruption. That is pretending to be fighting corruption.
Fighting corruption means demonstrating beyond any doubt that the law does not defer to society’s most powerful and privileged.
That is why I am hopeful that the 2008 EFCC Report, which will be Mrs. Waziri’s true introduction to her country, will demonstrate strength and courage. She has proposed new anti-corruption laws and the review of existing statutes in order to give teeth to the battle against corruption. I support her suggestions, and hope she will take advantage of her position to actually push them through. The truth is that, should she choose to use them, she has more than enough arrows in her quiver.
Mrs. Waziri cuts an ambivalent picture. She has yet to persuade her critics that in her hands, the EFCC is a tool for combating graft, and not one for protecting privileged interests. Until she proves herself to be the former, I am siding with the critics. This crisis is too important for ambivalence.
That is why, in the 2008 EFCC report, it will be interesting to hear her roar. Among others, I look forward to learning about the important figures that the EFCC lined up for prosecution two years ago, and since then. Instead of being in jail, some of them appear to be growing even more powerful. They travel the world and dance at public parties. I do not understand that.
I also look forward to learning about Mrs. Patience Jonathan, the wife of the Vice-President. For those who forget, the EFCC seized $13.5 million dollars from Mrs. Jonathan in September 2006. At that time, her husband was the Governor of Bayelsa State, and she was the only woman on that list. The EFCC alleged she had tried to launder the money through an associate.
One month earlier, the EFCC had also obtained a court order to temporarily freeze N104 million she had tried to launder through one Mrs. Nancy Ebere Nwosu. On August 22, 2006, Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Abuja High Court granted the EFCC leave to freeze the account holders of Mrs. Jonathan and her associates.
One woman: two separate money-laundering offences, in two months, two years ago. But her husband then went on to become vice-president of Nigeria, and the case disappeared. In Nigerian terms, this means that Mr. Jonathan’s office is more important than Mr. Jonathan’s country.
It also suggests that in the understanding of the President and the Vice-President, it is more important to protect Mrs. Jonathan from the law than to protect the law from Mrs. Jonathan. That is the only explanation for the matter not going to court since September 2006. I do not understand that, either.
To be fair to him, VP Jonathan has never claimed he wanted to fight corruption. But the President has. There have been days when we were tempted to believe him.
I can’t wait to read the EFCC’s report and learn its explanations of where we are. Hopefully, there are segments of the press that will grab the report, and publish the full text.
Unless Mrs. Waziri has no intention of submitting the 2008 Report to the National Assembly, and the Nigerian press has no intention of asking either Mrs. Waziri or the Assembly about the matter.
By Sonala Olumhense