With the expected end of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu’s tenure today, some jubilation must have been rocking the nation’s political underworld in the past few days. The kind of merry-making to be found in the warren of rodents on the eve of the scheduled departure of that traditional tormentor: the cat.
It’s, therefore, not unlikely that many left their bedsides this Easter Sunday morning with a fervent prayer that God touch Obasanjo’s heart against the petite yet fiery crusader from Adamawa.
Appointed in 2003, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is statutorily subject to term renewal every four years. Coinciding with the very hour civic confidence appears waning over its perceived dirty wars in the political sector lately, never has public antipathy against the agency been this intense in the past four years. Do I share in this cynicism? No. My reasons will soon become apparent.
Last month, the senate gave a categorical expression to this growing national apprehension by passing an amendment bill to the EFCC Act with the sole aim of diluting Aso Rock’s apparent stranglehold on the commission.
Of course, the senate’s own action was seemingly provoked by a seething bitterness over the process leading to the general elections in which EFCC played an overbearing role in determining who got axed or cleared to run. Among other things, the upper legislative chamber now proposes that it becomes mandatory that the agency secures a court order before action.
But more far-reaching is the other recommendation requiring the president secure a two-third majority of the senate before appointing or removing any official of the Commission. On the surface, this clause would sound democratic in spirit. But viewed dispassionately, it conflicts with the logic of separation of powers by which nationhood is defined in the first place.
In rushing that bill, the senate does appear not to have fully availed itself of recent lessons from the Kenyan experience. Kenya’s equivalent of EFCC is called the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC), also established in 2003 as part of growing global coalition against the menace of sleaze. In Ghana, it is called the Bureau for Serious Crimes.
Just like us, the opposition in Kenya soon began to raise objections to KACC’s tactics, alleging that it had become a tool in the hands of the Mwai Kibaki administration to witch-hunt political opponents.
Thereafter, KACC’s structure witnessed more “democratization” as a direct response to the opposition’s hue and cry. But it didn’t take long before the Kenyan public realized that such reforms amounted to a Pyrrhic victory. Yes, KACC will now hear more voices.
But at the end of the day, case files painstakingly prepared still have to be referred to the office of the Attorney General who remains an appointee of the president. It is his prerogative to press charges or not!
Indeed, law enforcement remains an executive function. The message this simply underscores is the necessity that only a man/woman of high integrity gets into the highest office in the land. Essentially, that is the foundation stone on which socio-economic and political infrastructure is built. The challenge before us citizens, therefore, is to ensure that that happens with our ballot power.
So, no matter the amendments to the EFCC Act, as long as prosecution is concerned, it is the exclusive right of the office of Attorney General who, in turn, is the president’s appointee and gets appointed or fired summarily without reference to the National Assembly.
That is the cold reality we have to face except we now seek to repudiate the classical definition of Frenchman, Charles Montesquieu, of the separation of powers. In the circumstance, understudying Albert Dicey’s tutorials on the rule of law will profit us more. By the way, a fuller theoretical roadmap is already provided by Samuel Rutherford on the primacy of law in all human transactions.
So, much as it is desirable to inoculate EFCC against the virus of executive interference, I think the real challenge is to build capacities in the judiciary as a counter-veiling forces against whatever the excesses of the executive arm.
Indeed, if EFCC chooses to be arbitrary, its “rascality” should end at the doorstep of a truly robust judiciary. So, seeking to remove EFCC from the control of the executive arm in whatever guise as the senate proposal portends is, to me, not only tantamount to institutional incongruity but also a perfect recipe for more anarchy or inaction.
Having said that, to the earlier question of whether Ribadu’s mandate deserves to be renewed or not, I strongly believe we still need Ribadu at the helms of EFCC at this critical moment. But that is not to say that Ribadu is perfect. Like every mortal, he surely has his own frailties. To start with, a little bit more of verbal discretion will do him a lot of good.
I, for instance, sat through a session of the last World Bank Summit in Singapore in 2006 where the World Bank president singled the EFCC boss out for commendation. A thunderous ovation shook the conference lobby thereafter.
But in his own acknowledgment, I reckoned some of the remarks by Ribadu before a global audience that day must have caused more harm to the nation at large than hurt the coven of brigands in high places as perhaps intended by the EFCC boss.
Predictably, Ribadu was unsparing of the entire political class that evening, earning more applause from the audience, to the shame of some of us who came to the venue priding ourselves as self-respecting Nigerians. Sure, others brought situation reports of their respective countries. But I can’t remember anyone spewing as much venom as our own Ribadu.
Sure, at such world theatre, the audience will not hesitate to cheer you when you mount the stage and put down your fatherland as a haven of vampires and vagabonds. But the tragedy is that when the same listeners pass you by in the hotel lobby the next morning, they are unlikely to still remember you as the exemplar. Rather, they are likely to point at you furtively as the one from the province of criminals as well.
In denouncing corruption in most unambiguous terms outside, I think care still needs be taken by Ribadu and others who find themselves in similar office to be more circumspect by avoiding generalizations.
Such acts of indiscretion invariably supply more ammunition to the traditional Afro pessimists whose specialty is the negative profiling of Nigeria as a nation.
Undoubtedly, there are criminals in high places in the country. But that is not to say we also do not have good men as well. We, therefore, should refrain from creating conditions that make outsiders to conveniently magnify reported incidence of a few bald men in the locality to mean ours is nothing more than an accursed community of hairless men and women.
But certainly most daunting of all the challenges before EFCC under Ribadu these past four years has been the inability to overcome the temptation to act in a manner suggesting that mere accusations are enough proof of guilt ab initio. Of course, added to this is the pressure from the political authorities.
We saw this happen in the count-down to the national convention of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when EFCC was deployed as enforcer by the presidency to ensure that Obasanjo’s favourite, Umar Yar’Adua, clinched the ticket.
Thus, began the clampdown (some prefer the word witch-hunt) on the likes of Governors Peter Odili and Donald Duke of Rivers and Cross River States respectively seen as posing a credible challenge. Willy-nilly, the Commission has also been dragged into doing dirty jobs for the presidency.
For instance, we saw that happen in the PTDF case where its agents gave Globacom boss, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr., a raw deal. But a parallel inquisition by the senate committee would absolve the latter. Adenuga’s “sin”, it would now seem, was not more than his affiliation with Atiku who the presidency is sworn to hunt down at all costs.
But beyond these few personal shortcomings, Ribadu has undoubtedly acquitted himself and demonstrated an uncommon zealotry in the mostly thankless but nonetheless hazardous crusade for ethical rebirth of the country.
That EFCC has been grafted into public consciousness today owes largely to the passion (fanaticism may sound too obscene) Ribadu brought to the job. True, no mortal is indispensable. But it is also incontestable that major advances in human civilization have been inspired by the exceptionality of some individuals. Passion makes the difference.
From the 80s, Nigeria, for instance, came under global spotlight as a major drug route. Enter the Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). It took the exceptionality of Major General Musa Bamaiyi in the 90s to give the body a bite, making the local drug barons dive for cover. Since his exit, business only seems to have become routine again.
It also has taken the exceptionality of Dora Akunyili to transform NAFDAC, hitherto a nondescript federal bureau, into an awesome vehicle of action against mass murderers who fake medicine.
So, given this experience, I strongly believe that the system still needs Ribadu, hoping that experience would help smooth some of his own rough edges along the line.
Lest we forget, Ribadu’s EFCC only came under criticism on political cases. Without doubt, it has performed excellently well in the administration of justice in socio-economic domains. When last did we see the 419 capons swaggering down the streets?
When last did we witness delay in the passage of federal budget? Those of 2006 and 2007 were passed with unusual dispatch. Certainly, some lessons have been learnt at the National Assembly after former senate president Wabara and others were consumed by the cash-for-budget scam of 2005. Also, the buccaneers in corporate Nigeria are no longer at ease.
This has, in turn, grown investors’ confidence in our economy appreciably such that today international financial bodies are beginning to advance credits to Nigerian entrepreneurs on the conviction that certain institutional safety guarantees are in place to insure their risks. Simply put, Ribadu has shifted the paradigm.
As an institution, EFCC is obviously still nascent. Without doubt,
it ranks as one of Obasanjo’s worthy legacies. As earlier stated, the challenge of combating official graft is a shared responsibility between the led and the leadership. The problem, let it be known, is half-solved when we vote right.
The vicious circle of corruption is initiated on election day with the wrong choice of leaders. Fortuitously, the coming general elections offer us yet another golden opportunity for change by not selling our votes at the polling stations and also exercising patience to stick around to ensure that no one rigs the results.
When righteous people ascend the throne, they do the right things. Then, EFCC will have less to do with the political class, thus having more time to focus on corporate Nigeria where the cancer of corruption is no less pervasive and deleterious.
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