Thursday, 20 June 2013
EFCC: From Hope To Hogwash To Whodunit By Sonala Olumhense
My column on October 28, “EFCC: From Hope to Hogwash,” followed an earlier one, “The Forthcoming EFCC Annual Report” (Sept. 16).
In the first, I tried to express the historic nature of this year’s annual report of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The second was deliberately deferred until one month after the reporting deadline, as I searched for the report, or evidence of its submission.
In last week’s follow up, I concluded that the chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, did not file the report demanded by the EFCC Act. I characterized him as a fraud and a hypocrite: a public servant sitting on an illegality to chase illegalities.
The EFCC responded promptly. In a statement signed by its Acting Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, the commission said the report was indeed submitted on September 27, and demanded an apology.
I have no problem with apologizing to the EFCC and to Mr. Lamorde, but as the Esan people say, when one tree falls on another, you cut the top one first.
The huge tree which lies on top of the EFCC’s account is the veracity of it, and the meaning of its methods. Its rejoinder said: “It is curious that a journalist of Olumhense’s experience made no attempt to verify his fact before publishing. In this instance, he neither sought to know from the Commission whether it had submitted the annual report nor did he verify from the National Assembly whether it was in receipt of the report. Had he done so, he would have saved himself the embarrassment of an article that is flawed and misleading.”
I think the EFCC misunderstands me. I am not embarrassed at all; it is the commission that should be embarrassed. I am neither a politician nor a policeman, two engagements where ruthless practitioners sometimes manufacture information.
As a man and a Christian, I do not believe in hunting for truth using falsehood; or in destroying a reputation to build mine.
After my first article, I commenced work on trying to find out if there was a report, and to obtain a copy. I repeatedly approached the EFCC and the National Assembly not through one arm of the media, but two. Nobody admitted the existence of the report. One of the frustrated reporters referred to the EFCC last week as “dodgy people.”
My impression was that the EFCC was unwilling to talk about the report because it had not submitted a report. If it had indeed filed one, why were they reluctant to admit it, especially given the build-up I had published in September?
And then, why was there suddenly a report for the EFCC to brag about on October 28 only after I had said there was no report?
Publicity is critical to the EFCC, and every week day, the commission sends out news dispatches, often signed by Mr. Uwugharen, about its exploits.
On September 27, the day the EFCC claims it submitted its phantom report to the National Assembly, the commission did not breathe one word about it.
That is not normal, but in its rejoinder the EFCC offered the alibi that this is not Nuhu Ribadu’s EFCC. “Those who have been carried away by the theatrics and drama that the Commission had come to be associated with in the recent past, may find it difficult to appreciate the professionalism of the EFCC under Lamorde. The era of high drama, the era of simply showing off and blowing hot air is gone. Real law enforcement the world over is serious business, and not one to be conducted on the pages of newspapers and television studios.”
Theatrics. High Drama. Simply showing off. Hot air. Fanfare. Reading these charges, it is clear Lamorde strongly objected to Ribadu’s work. But it is strange—and contradictory—that a man with such strong views became shy regarding his own report. There is a difference between a professional report and unprofessional dissemination; between unprofessional work and professional pretensions; between a report and no report.
If Lamorde indeed submitted a report, my experience is that every effort was made to keep it buried, for some reason, as if the ability to hide it, rather than the thoroughness of the report, determines how professional it is. The EFCC law does not ask the EFCC to publish the report, but it also does not call for the curious secrecy that has enveloped Lamorde’s.
The public must have access to this document, the objective of which is to give the nation a comprehensive view of the EFCC world. For the report to be limited, or delayed or unavailable, is dangerous, because that plays in support of corruption. The truth is that we cannot fight corruption in the dark or in the shadows while corruption is out in the streets raping, looting and burning.
That is what a confidential report, craftily hidden behind all kinds of excuses and deception, achieves: it protects corruption. It is like President Goodluck Jonathan saying that declaration of assets is important but that he does not give a damn about participating in it.
his is the fork in the road Lamorde has reached. He has referred to Mrs. Farida Waziri’s tenure as “the meltdown years” from which he says he is now rehabilitating the commission, including recall of some of the crack investigators she booted aside.
I cannot wait to see the use to which he is putting those investigators, some of whom were working on such important cases as the petitions against former President Olusegun Obasanjo by the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders in November 2007, and by the Conference of National Political Parties on December 10. While most petitions sent to the EFCC conveniently disappear, those two were publicly submitted, and acknowledged in writing by the commission.
And I cannot wait to see how Lamorde handles the mountain of petitions against Meltdown Madam, Waziri. Is the meltdown to which he alludes even mentioned, let alone substantiated, in the report?
One such petition, by the Public Accountability League (PAL), was sent to Mr. Jonathan in May 2009 when he was Acting President. Among others, it alleged, in extensive detail, that she had engaged in negotiating commissions on cases before her; exploited the banking reform to collect monthly tolls from named banks; and illegally used her office to acquire property in Nigeria, the United Kingdom and Dubai.
As usual, that petition was buried. But it is cases of this nature, featuring the powerful and the connected, that will determine the character of Lamorde’s EFCC. His rejoinder celebrated the fact that over 160 cases were investigated and charged to court in his first six months in charge, resulting in over 30 convictions.
That is a scary “success” rate of less than 19 per cent, and a failing grade in any kind of examination. It calls into question the quality of work that is being done at the commission, and its concept of progress.
Most of all, Nigerians do not want footnotes in economic and financial crime. They want to see the big names prosecuted swiftly, surely, and competently in a structured, clear way. Secret manoeuvres and manipulation of any kind protect the very people the EFCC is supposed to be prosecuting, and Lamorde knows it.