The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and Politically Exposed Persons, are hogging the limelight again for very familiar reasons. The former has been busy trying to make some serious charges stick on the latter, especially, notable former ministers under the Jonathan administration. The immediate past Minister for Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, stands accused as the Queen of financial criminals; the pretty face of official corruption and abuse of office in this country. She has yet to be proved guilty though, so, we should reserve any final judgement until there is a verdict in a court of law. Nonetheless, if true, what Mrs. Alison-Madueke has been accused of, and is being investigated for, both in this country and in the United Kingdom, would be the most brazen raid on the public purse this country has ever known. It dwarfs anything James Ibori could have stolen while he was governor of Delta State. In fact, it makes it look like kindergarten stuff by comparison. It shows corruption, indeed, is a beast of no gender.
Consequently, (and maybe) to the disappointment of some readers of this column, this piece is not going to focus on the ongoing confirmation hearing of the EFCC acting Chief, Ibrahim Magu. Although it is tempting to join in the hoopla of the Senate’s cat and mouse game with the President on that issue, but I am afraid, it is largely a red herring. Instead, the focus is on the raison-d’être of the institution itself, and its ability to fulfil its mandate in stemming the tide of financial crime in this country.
Based on the very latest revelations, Alison-Madueke was alleged to have arranged the transfer of N450m to Dele Belgore and Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman respectively, from several hundred million dollars stashed away in a Nigerian bank. The two recipients of this money have now been arraigned by the EFCC as co-defendants in the case against Alison-Madueke. When the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido, cried out over unremitted billions of dollars from the petroleum resources ministry a couple of years ago, some were aghast at the seemingly “alarmist” claim by the CBN governor and he was put under intense pressure to either put up or shut up. PriceWaterHouseCoopers, a management consultant firm from London, was hurriedly engaged to conduct a “forensic examinations” of the petroleum resources ministry’s books. It gave the books a clean bill of health, with an important caveat: the consultants can only go by the data in front of them, supplied by the ministry. In other words, they are management consultants; not police detectives. No one gave evidence under oath. Now, then, that people are giving evidence under oath, we are seeing a completely different picture of the gargantuan amount of money siphoned out of the treasury, including money from the office of the National Security Adviser meant for the procurement of arms, but ended up in the private accounts of individuals close to the Jonathan administration.
The corruption probe (not the recession), has come to define the Buhari administration’s engagement with the public since inception, and is likely to remain so until the next election in a couple of years from now. The financial crime issue is intimately interwoven with the recession, dilapidated infrastructure, unemployment, budget deficit etc, from which the country is reeling from. We have been treated to a parade of witnesses and defendants, all of them PEPs, caught with their fingers in the cookie jar as it were. Some have made confessional statements, while others are busy contesting the allegations against them in court — as it is their right so to do. A lot of money has been seized in both local and hard currencies, some hidden in real estates, commercial banks, underneath mattresses and even in rabbit holes in remote villages in the country. Nigeria urgently needs a bank; a dedicated bank for looted funds for the sake of transparency and accountability. The bank can also serve as a collecting point for culprits desirous of settling out of court. Its account published online quarterly for all to see. If carefully managed, the bank can be our own interest-free, repayment-free “IMF”.
More specifically though, the EFCC’s ability to function is hampered by the “dual mandate” nature of its operations. First, it is charged with the obligation to prove its case against a defendant “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a court of law. Second, it is also charged with the responsibility to nip corruption in the bud through a pro-active preventative measures. These are two diametrically opposed philosophical foundations. It is this palpable weakness in its foundation that its opponents are exploiting to stymie its operations.
Already, there is a deluge of cases on the EFCC’s books awaiting prosecution in court, while a dozen others are pending investigation. Sooner or later, the organisation runs into charges, counter-charges, amendments of charges, dropping of charges, plea-bargains, motions and jurisdictional matters to resolve, you name it. Over time, the heat and the spotlight on the accused fade as they are slowly reabsorbed into society. To be successful, the EFCC and the country at large need a paradigm shift away from criminal to tougher civil remedy options in going after the horde of PEPs bent on asset-stripping the state for personal gain in this country. The EFCC Act will have to be amended to accommodate a more expansive focus on civil remedy options, and its leadership has to be opened to civilian heads; people with strong moral authority and a proven anti-corruption pedigree.
Being a commissioned officer in the Nigerian Police is an asset, but it should not be the deciding factor for selecting the head of this august body. We have such eminent civilian leaders in abundance in this country capable of leading the organisation. For now, though, there is only so much that can be shoved into my allotted space here, this week. A detailed discussion of the tougher civil remedy options by me was published in the Journal of Money Laundering Control (JMLC), 19 (1), January 2016. It can be googled via: JMLC/Tayo Oke.