Barely a day after the National Assembly liaison officer of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) decorated Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu as an anti-corruption ambassador midweek, the anti-graft agency issued a brutal rebuttal that revealed much more about itself than the object of their fury. The EFCC said its liaison officer, Suleiman Bakari, acted on his own and outside his brief, and would be sanctioned. While decorating Mr Ekweremadu, Mr Bakari had said: “On behalf of my acting chairman, Mr Ibrahim Mustafa Magu and the entire management and staff of the EFCC, I decorate you as an Anti- Corruption Ambassador and formally present this frame as a token of our appreciation to your person and office, and as a symbol of the institutional partnership between the EFCC and the National Assembly.”
An obviously infuriated Mr Magu caused an incendiary rebuttal to be issued. “The EFCC,” said the commission’s spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, “totally dissociates itself from the purported action of Bakari, as he acted entirely on his own and clearly outside his liaison officer brief. He was never instructed by the Acting Chairman nor mandated by the management and staff of the commission to decorate Ekweremadu or any officer of the National Assembly as ‘Anti- Corruption Ambassador.’” Had the EFCC limited itself to this merciless putdown of its representative, neither this column nor anyone else would be aghast. But the EFCC seized upon the ‘misjudgement’ of Mr Bakari to lash out at everyone the anti-graft agency believed rightly or wrongly to be opposed to the ongoing anti-graft war.
There will be no end to the EFCC’s search for bogeymen. Still bristling at Mr Bakari’s unauthorised action at the NASS, the EFCC said: “The commission views this highly unprofessional conduct of the officer as yet another manifestation of ‘Corruption Fighting Back’. This leg of the despicable campaign, which is unfortunately being carried out by a staff of the commission, had been foreshadowed in recent weeks by other questionable acts. For instance, all through last week, some courts issued a string of anti-EFCC rulings looking like calculated attempts to derail the anti-corruption war, even as there were indications of the capture of a prominent section of the media by dark forces.” Aside from the commission’s bad-tempered language and its far-fetched logic and paranoia about dark forces capturing the media, it is clear the EFCC merely allowed its frustrations to boil over. Has the intemperate EFCC appealed to higher courts to reverse what it peevishly describes as ‘anti-EFCC’ rulings? The ‘reverses’ came only last week; is it not too early for the EFCC to conclude that a conspiracy had been engineered against the commission?
But that was not all. According to the EFCC, “The picture of organised corruption marshaling its evil forces to launch a sustained fight-back becomes clearer, if cognizance is taken of the bewildering insistence of the Senate to carry on with the ill-advised amendment of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal Act, as well as the inexplicable provisions proposed for amendment of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.” Evil forces, ill-advised amendment, inexplicable provisions: Is the EFCC not embarrassed by its disrespectful and insolent use of words? The timing of the parliamentary amendments of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) law proposed by the Senate is undoubtedly deplorable, and the objective deeply troubling and questionable. But for an agency of government to use the kind of words that the EFCC blurted out middle of this week is also an indication of the consistent and ingrained pattern of contempt the executive arm harbours towards the parliament. The EFCC, like any other agency or individual, can disagree with the parliament; but such reservations must be shown in civilised and restrained manner.
Nigerian democracy is still evolving, and the interactions between agencies and the various arms of government may not always be as smooth as the constitution or individuals expect. If public officials are sensible enough to appreciate this, they will moderate their speeches and conduct themselves in such a manner as not to undermine any arm of government regardless of its failings and weaknesses. It is left to the EFCC to determine whether its agent, in this case, Mr Bakari, had gone beyond his brief. They are also at liberty to punish him as they deem fit if they establish he acted on his own. But the EFCC has no right to lash out at everyone; and its helmsmen must demonstrate their capacity for restrained reaction to provocations and even antagonistic policies. Just one week of ‘reverses’ and the EFCC has appeared to lose every sense of moderation and respect for both the legislature and the judiciary. Would it not have made sense if the EFCC had pursued the ‘reverses’ up to the highest judicial level, avail itself of the judicial reasoning offered by the courts, before coming to a conclusion?
The constitution of the country as well as the concept of democracy are threatened not only by what the EFCC describes as calculated attempts to undermine the anti-graft war, but also by the anti-graft agency itself insulting and ridiculing those who disagree with its point of view. The EFCC should learn to make its case decently, professionally, logically and persuasively. It must resist the temptation to judge others, or appear to equate dissent with conspiracy and subversion. Its methods, which reek too much of blackmail and intimidation, must be reviewed by its leaders if it is to make a success of the war against corruption. The corrupt will do everything to get away with their loot, but in resisting their effrontery, the commission must ensure it does not lose its mind, its perspective, or even the composure and decency expected of an agency empowered by the same constitution it indifferently seeks, perhaps inadvertently, to subvert. After all, the EFCC cannot expect to be always right.
When a few months ago the EFCC first alleged that certain dark forces had captured the media, it came under a barrage of criticisms that compelled Mr Magu himself to rephrase and tone down his sweeping characterisation. Apparently, the EFCC boss is sure he has evidence of both that conspiracy and the dark forces prowling through the land and capturing and strangulating the unwary and corrupt. This is probably why he has taken the opportunity of Mr Bakari’s indiscretion to restate his unsubstantiated accusation. He therefore has a duty, as the nation’s top anti-graft czar, to expose those involved in the conspiracy. He and many top government officials often talk of corruption fighting back; surely phantoms can’t be doing the fighting back. He should go ahead and name the warriors and their accomplices. And rather than attempt to railroad suspects to jail and hope that the public would trust his view and judgement about their culpability, let him argue the EFCC case in court, even up to the Supreme Court.
Sadly, rather than the patience and meticulousness required to apprehend and jail those accused of looting the treasury, the EFCC and the Muhammadu Buhari presidency have sometimes acted as if they would rather dispense altogether with the services of the ‘ponderous’ and ‘contentious’ Nigerian courts as currently composed. But short of recruiting their own law students and taking them through a curious and unique course of crash programme jurisprudence, it is hard to see them achieving their objectives outside the Nigerian justice system. To ensure the war against graft is not personalised and endangered, the EFCC must find a way to brilliantly argue its case in the courts and secure convictions, as indeed it has done in many instances. They will encounter frustrations, and even sabotage; but the answer is not to dismiss everyone as saboteur, speak derisively of the parliament, or angrily and arrogantly label every case it loses as a product of corrupt jurists and their accomplices ‘fighting back’.
There are many ways to skin a cat. The legislature, judiciary and the executive may harbour some clearly malfeasant officials, against whom the anti-graft agency must assiduously campaign in its inimitable fashion of inculcating public service rectitude. That fight will not be easy, nor, contrary to what the EFCC hopes, be quick and uncomplicated. If the commission does not reform its ways and train and retrain its staff and sectional heads to carry out their assignments with the circumspection and culture of trained agents, the war will be lost or imperilled, and with it the future and stability of the society and constitution.