Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is meant to bring wrongdoers to justice. So why is it mostly President Jonathan’s opponents who have anything to fear?
Days after seven governors, a former vice president and several party heavyweights walked out on President Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to form a rival PDP, the embattled president is surveying his options.
His loyalists are insisting that he will negotiate rather than fight back. Jonathan’s new media advisor, Reno Omokri, told Think Africa Press that “President Jonathan is naturally open to dialogue and this issue will be resolved through dialogue.”
Nevertheless, rumours are circling in the Nigerian media that Jonathan is preparing to point the glare of the country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the direction of the rival PDP’s leadership. Those challengers, some of whom have already faced EFCC probes, are taking the rumours seriously.
A statement released on Tuesday by the 57 members of the House of Representatives who support the new rival PDP voiced these concerns: “We call on the security agencies and other anti-graft bodies to be professional in their activities and not allow themselves to be used by anybody, no matter how highly placed, for their political ambitions.”
If these fears are borne out and the EFCC becomes a weapon in Jonathan’s political arsenal, Nigeria’s democratic development will be dangerously undermined. Unfortunately, if recent history is any guide, it looks like Jonathan might be preparing for a dirty fight in the run-up to the 2015 election.
The Temple of Janus
The EFCC was established in 2003 by then-president Olusegun Obasanjo, in response to growing condemnation of corruption in Nigeria. That year, Transparency International placed Nigeria 132nd out of 133 in its Corruption Perception Index.
Under the leadership of Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC went after several high-profile individuals, with varying degrees of success. Former Inspector General of Police Tafa Balogun was convicted of looting in excess of 18 billion Naira ($110m) earmarked for modernising Nigeria’s police force. In spite of this, Balogun was able to negotiate his punishment down to just six months in jail and forfeiture of the stolen funds.
Political interference has been a hallmark of the EFCC. Confidential cables from 2006 released by Wikileaks, show the American Ambassador at the time, John Campbell, expressing grave concerns about the anti-graft body. He described the EFCC as ‘The Temple of Janus’ which operated “without regard for Nigeria’s laws or civil rights protections” in focusing on then-president Obasanjo’s opponents.
Big fish, little response
Perhaps the most egregious EFCC failure came in 2011, when it was revealed that massive theft had drained the fuel subsidy scheme of at least $6 billion – more than 20% of Nigeria’s budget that year.
With the bill for the fuel subsidy running wildly over budget without legislative oversight, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki and Senate President David Mark initiated an investigation. The list of importers allegedly involved in the multi-billion dollar scam included the names of many prominent Nigerians, including some with strong government ties.
Some of the biggest oil company owners making an appearance were Conoil’s Mike Adenuga, Forte Oil’s Femi Otedola and MRS Oil and Gas’ Sayyu Dantata. In addition and particularly galling to those now setting up the rival PDP was the alleged involvement of the Party Chairman’s son, Mahmud Tukur.
The few arrests made by the commission gave rise to the familiar charade: the culprits were brought in for questioning but released promptly on bail and, after endless delays in the courts, their trials were allowed to go cold. In November 2012, EFCC head Ibrahim Lamorde complained to the Senate that the financial and political clout of the accused was compromising the legal process. As of yet, not one conviction has been made in Nigeria’s best documented massive-scale fraud.
Making an example
The scale of the problem is evidenced not only in the fate of the accused, but also in that of the accusers. Senator Saraki, one of the men most instrumental in bringing 2011’s subsidy fraud to light, has been repeatedly questioned by the EFCC since the story broke.
Saraki was subject to an investigation between 2010 and 2012 but was never charged. Last month, he was brought back in for questioning on similar matters, mostly relating to his time at Societe General Bank of Nigeria. When governor of Kwara, Saraki waived his immunity to allow investigations to take place.
Saraki’s case is not unique. In recent months, both Sule Lamido, governor of Jigawa State, and Rotimi Amaechi, governor of Rivers State, have seen their allies targeted.
Lamido’s son, Aminu Sule Lamido, was charged by the EFCC for transporting too much cash out of the country. He was stopped at Mallam Aminu International Airport in Kano State with $50,000 on his way to Cairo.
The EFCC claim that Lamido only registered $10,000 in his customs declaration. The case bears similarities to the arrest of former president Ibrahim Babangida’s son Mohammed in 2006, when Babangida was believed to harbour ambitions to run for president in the 2007 elections, which irked then-president Obasanjo.
Last month, the EFCC arrived in Rivers State to investigate Amaechi supporters in the State House of Assembly. House Majority Leader, Chidi Lloyd, a key Amaechi ally was questioned and the EFCC are currently seeking to extend their investigation into the running of the state and Amaechi’s wife.
Amaechi was recently suspended from the PDP following his re-election as Chairman of the powerful Nigerian Governors’ Forum over Jonathan’s preferred candidate, Jonah Jang of Plateau State. The PDP claim his suspension and re-election were not linked.
Having objected to this method of state-sanctioned harassment before the split, the leaders of breakaway PDP now fear it will be directed at them.
Another brand of corruption
Jonathan’s opponents may all have cases to answer. However, the perception that the EFCC is acting politically undermines its credibility in bringing even these cases to court.
Political analyst Raymond Eyo explicitly links the EFCC’s failure to deal with the biggest cases to this lack of independence, telling Think Africa Press that “The EFCC has garnered very few convictions at the highest level because they are not really going after corruption. They are doing selective prosecution which is itself another brand of corruption.”
This “selective prosecution” undermines the battle against corruption. It also undermines the efforts of international partners in aiding any anti-corruption drive. The EFCC has received support from a number of international law enforcement and development agencies – generally in the form of IT systems and training.
The EU is one of the Commission’s main funders and has supported the fight against financial and economic crimes with almost $25 million. It appears that this aid is not being used to end the culture of impunity for economic crimes in Nigeria but, as Eyo says, to use the EFCC’s powers “only when some politician or public office holder has fallen out of favour with the powers that be or to deter them from pursuing some real or perceived political ambition.”
A truly independent EFCC would play a crucial role in ending theft carried out by many members of Nigeria’s elite. For now, it is all too often a tool used by one part of that elite against another.