Time To Rejig The EFCC, By Sufuyan Ojeifo
The conversation about the anti-corruption fight has been robustly engaging. Everybody is agreed that the greatest problem confronting us as a nation is corruption. Remove corruption from our body-politic and there will be no more intimidating bumps, convoluted bends and mystifying roundabouts on the highway to rapid socio-economic and political development.
President Muhammadu Buhari rode into office on the crest of his electioneering promise to fight corruption to the finish. His promised intervention came at a time Nigerians believed that corruption had completely crippled the nation. That perception was and continues to be reinforced by the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which has consistently rated Nigeria as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
In the context of this odious reality, Buhari’s offering to provide leadership enjoyed national and international acclaim on account of his profile as someone with zero tolerance for corruption. He thus benefitted from a near national consensus and favourable international rating that, if voted into power, he would bring the weight of his anti-corruption temperament to bear on the national psyche and return Nigeria to the path of redemption.
The president’s body language, immediately he stepped in the saddle, caused what a friend of mine described as the Buhari effects. There was a mixture of fear and expectation in the land. Nigerians were ready for and eager to see change in the character of officialdom. For Nigerians and foreigners doing business here, it was the dawn of a new era. Business would no longer be as usual. Profligacy would come to an end. There would be discipline in public finance and corruption would be extirpated.
But that new thinking is fast fizzling out. The fault is not in the president. Buhari is well intentioned. His good intention to fight corruption is not in doubt, but good intention is not enough to actualise the objective of the fight. The president and his men have to be much more strategic. And, this is what seems to be lacking in the entire architecture of the anti-corruption battle as coordinated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
This is the reason for a change in strategy. It is now very clear that the combative, intimidating and military-like strategy of the EFCC that feeds on harassment, threat and ballyhoo of media trial has outlived its short term usefulness. It worked in the early months of the administration in the de-marketing of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but now, not anymore.
The stratagem of feeding the people’s psyche with the “humongous corruption” allegedly perpetrated by officials – military top brass, public servants and public office holders – in the previous government to divert attention from whatever the current administration’s burgeoning inefficiency was, had since failed. The indicators of a failing anti-corruption war are now everywhere and the scary reality of a looming apocalypse is staring the administration in the face.
Buhari must swiftly respond to save, redirect and re-energise the anti-corruption battle. He may have to debrief the acting Chair of the EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu, whose nomination the senate has twice rejected. He should interrogate Magu on the task or mission so far to enable him, as president, assess how well he (Magu) has conducted the battle in line with or in the context of the bigger picture.
The imperativeness of this contemplation becomes expedient in the light of the controversies that have assailed the character of Magu based on the report by the Department of State Services (DSS), a sister security agency under the Presidency, which slammed him for allegedly failing the integrity test. The matter has fractiously cast serious doubt on the sanctity of the anti-corruption battle under Magu’s watch.
The impression is already created in the minds of a vast majority of persons that Magu can no longer be trusted to be impartial in his assignment. In the circumstance, it will be counter-productive for the president to stick to the status quo. There is no need for ego trip at all. The investigative and prosecutorial task by the EFCC against corruption and corrupt persons is an institutional mandate, far beyond the personality of an individual heading the agency.
Should the character of the head of an agency be portrayed to have buckled under the weight of probity; that should not bring the agency’s operations to a halt. A replacement should be considered. This will reinforce the credibility and impartiality of the position and its occupier. It will also strengthen the president’s sincerity about the anti-corruption battle.
Going forward, should Buhari scout for another person that will coordinate the EFCC activities, in the circumstance, to bring to an end the lingering face-off over Magu? Without prejudice to Magu, I would answer in the affirmative. Since Magu does not have the exclusivity of capacity to direct affairs of the Commission, a new head should provide a new opportunity for the Commission to take a second look at its strategy of investigation and prosecution of corruption cases.
Now this: since there is a groundswell of opposition against Magu, even from his northern home base, perhaps this is the time to consider the propriety of looking southward, for the first time, for someone to chair the EFCC. Since its inception in 2003, northerners- Nuhu Ribadu, Farida Waziri and Ibrahim Lamorde – have chaired the Commission. It will not be out of place to look for a credible and experienced Nigerian from the southern part to head the Commission should Buhari remove Magu.
This will help to disabuse the minds of Nigerians that the chair of the EFCC is not the birthright or the exclusive preserve of the northern part of the country. Buhari has a golden opportunity to reverse the trend and become the first president that would appoint a southerner as EFCC chair. This would forcefully, given the primacy of the appointment, shatter the charge of nepotism for the north against him. Perhaps, the Magu adversity at this time is essentially to provide Buhari that opportunity of southern exploration for the new anti-corruption Czar.
Mr Ojeifo, journalist and publisher, contributed this piece via email@example.com