Last week I had argued on this page, in response to Olu Fasan’s argument that the “onus of proof” puts excessive legal and evidential burden on the prosecution in corruption and helps to frustrate the anti-corruption fight, that what appears, to me, to derail anticorruption cases in Nigeria is the lack of political will or, more appropriately, the politicization of the anti-corruption war. I gave two examples of the cases involving the Senate President and Godswill Orubebe where the aim was purely political – to remove Saraki from office and tarnish the name of Orubebe – and has got nothing to do with their being corrupt.
I feel obliged to elaborate on my argument last week that the solution to the lackluster anti-corruption war of the Nigerian government is not in the reversal of the burden of proof but in its complete depoliticisation. Let me explain.
By the time the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was established in 2003, Nigeria had become notorious in the comity of nations and the global business community a haven of advanced fee fraud (popularly known as 419 in Nigeria) and a country that nurtured and encouraged citizens as criminals. There were serious pressures from the international community, especially the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money laundering for Nigeria to do something about the crime. So great was the pressure – and also because president Obasanjo was so desperate for foreign investment – that he set up and empowered the EFCC to investigate and prosecute cases of financial crimes such as advance fee fraud (419) and money laundering.
The EFCC under Ribadu went after the fraudsters – Adedeji Alumile, Fred Ajudua, Emmanuel Nwude, Amaka Anajemba, Nzeribe Edeh Okoli etc – were all arrested, prosecuted, convicted and jailed for advance fee fraud, stealing, extortion and money laundering. The fear of the EFCC became the beginning of wisdom for the perpetrators of such crimes. The international community took notice and was willing to do business, once again, with Nigeria. All these while, Nigerians – both politicians and ordinary citizens – were unanimous in their praise of the EFCC and there was no mention of bias by the EFCC. Most crucially, the EFCC went through the whole gamut of thorough investigation and prosecution of the accused professionally and diligently and was able to secure conviction for most of the fraudsters.
Seeing the successes the EFCC recorded in the fight against advance fee fraud and money laundering, Obasanjo promptly drafted the commission into investigating and prosecuting corruption cases against politicians. That was fine and most needed. However, he could not resist the temptation to use the EFCC to fight political battles or threaten his political opponents while preventing the same commission from going after his cronies/loyalists who were variously accused or have openly confessed to corrupt deeds– and it was at that instance that the war against corruption of his administration collapsed. He turned the effective EFCC in an attack dog, threatening and harassing political opponents that the commission lost its knack for thorough investigation and prosecution.
Obasanjo was also enjoying the successes of the EFCC and the positive reviews it was receiving both locally and abroad that he decided to make the anti-corruption fight a media show – accusing, prosecuting and convicting people in the media and receiving praises as the Nigerian messiah.
I will never forget the night of Tuesday, March 22, 2005, when Obasanjo commandeered all radio and television stations in the country to make a prime-time broadcast in which, without restraints, he accused the Senate President, Adolphus Wabara and six other lawmakers of demanding and collecting a bribe of N55 million naira from the Minister of Education in order to increase the ministry’s 2005 budget. He also accused his Education Minister, Fabian Osuji, the permanent secretary and five other directors in the ministry of collusion to bribe members of the National Assembly. He promptly fired Osuji, suspended the civil servants and referred all of them to the Economic and Financials Crime Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related commission for onward prosecution.
The publicity and praise for the ‘anti-corruption war’ of the former President was unprecedented. Nigerians and foreigners alike praised Obasanjo to high heavens and condemned the corrupt officials. The Nigerian media, for weeks, analysed the matter with most passing the ‘guilty’ verdict on the accused. Very few, if any, bothered to question the motive of the president and why he had to be the prosecutor and judge on the same case.
Besides, perhaps only few perceptive Nigerians saw the incident as an embarrassment and negative publicity Nigeria did not need at the time. If the president had concrete evidence(s) of corruption against the officials, he should have passed it/them over to the police or better still, the anti-corruption agencies to do their work and not embarrass the nation before the world with such an uncouth broadcast that portrayed Nigeria as a haven of corruption.
Interestingly, the allegations have not been proved till this day. When the civil servants were investigated by the Federal Civil Service Commission prior to their being disciplined and sent for trial, they were found innocent. None of them was charged to court for the alleged offence and they all returned to their duty posts. For the six lawmakers charged to court, none of them was convicted. The cases were all thrown out of court for lack of evidence.
Sadly, successive administrations have copied from the Obasanjo manual of fighting corruption – and their anti-graft wars have all come to naught. Have we forgotten how, in May 2010, after it appears that the then National Chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was not in support of President Jonathan running for the presidency and wanted the party to honour its zoning arrangement that zoned the presidency to the north in 2011, he was promptly arraigned at an Abuja High Court on a 17 count criminal charge of N107 million fraud he was alleged to have committed in 2001 as a Minister. Of course, he promptly resigned (which was the real intent anyway). In 2014, he was discharged and acquitted.
Currently we have a government that is so determined of fighting corruption but he is quick, even without any investigations, to absolve his closest allies of corruption while hounding his opponents. There were grave and weighty corruption allegations against General Tukur Burutai, Chief of Army Staff, General Abdulrahman Dambazau, Minister of Interior and former Chief of Army Staff, Abba Kyari, and Chief of Staff to the President, Babachir Lawal, suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
Even the Presidential panel set up to probe arms procurement between 2007 and 2015, and whose reports were being used to prosecute past military chiefs was hurriedly disbanded the moment it began moves to investigate the tenure of the Present National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno as Chief of Defence Intelligence between July 2009 and September 2011. The curious reason given by the government for its dissolution was that it has outlived its usefulness.
Besides appointing an incompetent attorney general – who, by the way, was also accused by Justice Ademola of pursuing a personal vendetta against him for disciplining him as a lawyer in Kano – and blackmailing the judiciary for not convicting accused persons being tried in court without any shred of evidence, the government has done nothing to improve its capacity to successfully investigate and prosecute corruption cases. It is more interested in fighting the war in the media.
source :: https://www.businessdayonline.com/behind-nigerias-failed-anti-corruption-wars/