Last Sunday, I commented on what I called “fear of responsibility”: the tendency of powerful Nigerian institutions and officials to starve the public of required information.
I led with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), drawing attention to its annual failure to meet its reporting obligation. The commission reacted the same day, denouncing me in a press statement and demanding an apology.
It described my assertion that the EFCC Act is not on the commission’s website as “completely false claims that (sic) exposes the intellectual hollowness of Olumhense.” A visit to its website, it claimed, “will expose Olumhense’s mischief as the law had (sic) been a resource item on the platform for several years.”
It further asserted that it has never defaulted in submitting the report on schedule and described me as an “ignorant” columnist who has “stubbornly refused to be rescued from the trap of falsehood he set for himself.”
Okay then. Let us have an important Economic and Financial Crimes Conversation.
At the beginning, I was a great admirer of the EFCC. In my “As I Was Saying” column, I praised its efforts.
I had a clear vision of how it could be most successful, and in January 2008, even publicly nominated myself for its leadership. As the agency floundered under Farida Waziri and Ibrahim Lamorde, I directly demanded the annual reports especially in 2008 and 2009.
Indeed, in October 2009, the agency offered no challenge when I reported that the Office of the Senate President confirmed that it had NOT submitted the report. In fact, while we were chasing the report that year, Mrs. Waziri was touring Turkey and the United States. In the US, she lied publicly and was humiliated by Nigeria protesters. I addressed a letter to the CFR debunking her grandiose claims.
So low did the image of the EFCC sink that when Goodluck Jonathan, the “stealing-is-not-corruption” President, fired Waziri in 2011, he cited her awful reputation.
Lamorde, who took over, described Waziri’s as “the meltdown years.” But he then promptly ran into problems of his own, accused of having misappropriated recovered funds. His convoluted explanations are on the website.
In 2012, I expressed regret that the great EFCC hope had become a nightmare. I went on to describe what I called a “grand corruption conspiracy” in Nigeria, and offered ideas on how to detonate it.
Nevertheless, although the EFCC sought to dismiss my interventions last week, I have never ceased to draw attention to why the agency is important.
Yes, the EFCC does successfully “investigate” and “prosecute,” but that is largely in the media rather than the courtroom, and rarely of the major offenders, and its impact has been underwhelming.
In November 2015, Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed rebuked the EFCC for this, slamming the security agencies’ “investigation-led arrests and not arrest-led investigations.” He was aghast at cases in which a 200-count charge would be inflicted on a court, describing it as “a mockery of the constitution and the laws.”
In that light, it is understandable that the agency might be perennially ashamed to tender such a record to the public, choosing to assail a critic who draws attention to it.
The issues: the EFCC insists that it submitted the 2021 report “right on schedule…has never been in default in the submission of Annual Reports to the National Assembly; and the EFCC Act is on the Commission’s Website.”
This nonsense is called the “trust me” argument, and it is false. “Trust me, I submitted the report,” it argues, and “the law does not mandate a ceremony as part of the submission obligation.”
But the law does not classify the report as a secret document, either. Nor have I ever asked for a ceremony. It clearly affirms that while the EFCC is not obliged to publish it, the public may access it through their federal legislators or through procedures of either body of the legislature.
“Not obliged” denotes neither secrecy nor prohibition of dissemination. In other words, there is every encouragement for the EFCC to make sure that its work is shared with the public. “Trust me” is not an option, because the report is meant to educate, not to conceal. “Trust me”—wink, wink—is how the corrupt continue to thrive, but to drive Nigeria under.
And while I understand the commission’s desperation to defend its “integrity”, you cannot defend what you do not have. If the EFCC wants credibility—particularly given the layers of economic and financial fraudsters running Nigeria—it must earn it. How can it prosecute accountability when it is opaque in character, methods, and substance?
If the annual report of the EFCC is not the fiction I say it is, the challenge before the commission is to prove it. It is not the secret police, and there is no genuine explanation why nobody has seen 14 years of reports.
Only reporting can certify that the agency is indeed doing the legitimate work for which it was established. It is the soap of scrutiny with which you wash the oil of malfeasance, just as light—not darkness—is what you fight darkness with.
Perhaps the Economic and Financial Crimes Compromise is afraid that the public can see through its pretensions? Think about it: the annual report of the Auditor-General of the Federation (which has a narrower) mandate, runs into hundreds of pages every year; the 2018 report, the latest, is about 1100 pages. In contrast, the commission offers two words: “Trust me.”
Finally, I turn to the anger of the Economic and Financial Crimes Coverup that its Establishment Act is missing from its website, and “had (sic) been a resource item on the platform for several years.”
I reaffirm that the document is not there. It is dubiously listed but is unavailable. Click on it, Economic and Financial Crimes Confusionists—as I demonstrated to my publishers last Sunday—and it is hidden behind a broken link. That is like someone yelling “Come in!” behind a door that is welded shut.
The EFCC was established to respond to some of Nigeria’s ethical challenges, but has it become a part of it? For instance, whatever became of the $13.5 million it seized from Patience Jonathan? Among others, what happened to the 15 governors it was supposed to have been prosecuting under the Code of Conduct Law? What did the commission do with the Halliburton reports? Why is there such a large thicket of corrupt former and current government officials thriving all over Abuja right in front of the EFCC? How are the EFCC’s, of these 100 cases, going? What about the Panama Papers and the Pandora Papers?
The EFCC’s behaviour has become a sad part of Nigeria’s terrible ethical trajectory given the declaration in 2019 by Bolaji Owasanoye, chairman of the ICPC, that “the executive arm of government in Nigeria is more corrupt than the legislative and judicial arms combined.”
C-O-M-B-I-N-E-D. He obviously meant, “multiplied.”
No, this is far deeper than annual reporting. I am affirming that as an institution, the EFCC has taken sides to deepen poverty, injustice, insecurity, and hopelessness in Nigeria.
[This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials]