There is a reason stable countries are never built on strong men but on institutions. There is a reason the purest foundations of democracy embrace the loyalty of institutions while abhorring the flippancy of men. Democracy, famously defined by Abraham Lincoln as a government of the people, by the people and for the people, leans towards institutions to preserve power in the hands of the people while pulling away from the toxic embrace of strong men. It is for this reason that dictators fear democracy.
It is for this same reason that many of Africa`s strong men want nothing to do with democracy, because where there is democracy, power w be found in the hands of everyday people whom are otherwise used as lab rats for twisted experiments with power. When people are able to call upon strong institutions of state including an independent judiciary, the experience of power is markedly different.
In a country sodden with corruption like Nigeria, the job of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is an unenviable one. Created in 2000 by then President Olusegun Obasanjo with the mandate to combat economic and financial crimes, it is not immediately clear whether the formation of the EFCC was in response to an already pressing problem of corruption, as Nigeria had just returned to democracy, or whether Mr. Obasanjo foresaw what a problem corruption was going to pose to a newly democratic country.
Even in the days of its infancy, the Commission quickly forged a reputation for charging into stormy waters. It was fitting because those who were stealing Nigeria blind usually would travel great lengths to conceal their crimes.
Whether it was corruption fighting back in those early days as Mr. Muhammadu Buhari colourfully described it upon assumption of office, or whether it was just that the case of the payers of the piper dictating the tune, allegations of witch hunt soon began to trail the activities of the Commission.
The Commission has also known some backbreaking defeats at the hands of some of those who have stolen public funds to the tune of billions of naira. There was the former governor who relied on technicalities at the Supreme Court to escape the EFCC`s noose. When the Council of State sat some months ago and finetuned the details of a controversial state pardon for two former governors convicted for stealing billions while in office, more than two decades of painstaking prosecutorial work by the EFCC went through the window. All these happened under an administration supposedly stuffed with anti-corruption evangelists.
Mr. Rochas Okorocha, former Governor of Imo State, philanthropist and serving Senator at the National Assembly is a man of no little controversy. He first came to national limelight when his philanthropic activities gave countless indigent children the opportunity to get quality education through his Rochas Foundation Colleges around the country. However, his time as a two-term Governor of Imo State saw him loathed.
Ebullient and boisterous, his colourful public utterances and actions were always going to put him in the wrong books of many including his people in Imo State.His barefaced attempts to impose Mr. Uche Nwosu, his son-in-law, as his successor in 2019 was for many of his people the last straw that broke the camel`s back.
Since he exited office in 2019, Mr. Okorocha who has been at the National Assembly has had a long running battle with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. A bit of drama ensued on January 31 2022 when shortly after he gave a rousing speech in which he declared his presidential ambition, the EFCC swooped, mopped him up and slammed a 17-count charge against him for embezzling the sum of 2.9 billion naira while in office. The timing of the charge then had political observers knowingly nodding their heads.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, Mr. Okorocha had picked up the one-hundred-million-naira form to contest for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress.The dates for the screening and primaries had been put at 24th and 30th May respectively.
However, a grand drama was in the offing all along. On Tuesday, May 24,2022, after besieging his house in the Maitama Area of Abuja for hours to no avail, operatives of the EFCC broke in through the roof, and arrested him. The operatives of the Commission also shot sporadically into the air to disperse supporters that had come to show solidarity as they whisked him away.
In defence of the commando-like mode of arrest, the EFCC through its spokesman stated that Mr. Okorocha had left the Commission with few options having jumped administrative bail and snubbed several invitations by the EFCC, as well as attempts to serve court processes on him.
Now, the Okorocha saga is as ugly as it comes. The timing of the charge first in January immediately after he declared his intention to run for the office of the president, and his arrest just before the APC screening and primaries have given ammunition to his supporters and even neutrals who have sometimes felt that the EFCC allows itself to be used as a tool for political witch hunt, vendetta and persecution.
In a country riven apart by corruption, the EFCC has its hands full. The overzealousness of the Commission makes life harder for it by giving it away as having something to hide.
As for Okorocha, his position as a former Governor of Imo State and serving Senator demands that he acts more responsibly and deferentially towards the agents of the Nigerian state. Anyone who as a public officer handled public funds during any period should have no qualms submitting to scrutiny when questions about how those funds were used invariably arise from the agencies empowered by law to ask them.
In a country riven apart by corruption, former public officers should welcome scrutiny of their time in office. Whipping up the sentiments of the same public that have known the plunder of public funds for so many years is at best a temporary fix.
As a member of the National Assembly which makes the laws by which the conducts of other Nigerians are measured, Mr. Okorocha as well as the EFCC should be able to live by those laws.
If Nigerians have all manner of misgivings about patriotism, it is largely because there are many in the country like the EFCC and Mr. Okorocha who put themselves above the law whenever they deem fit without commensurate consequences.
However, they will do well to remember that those who live by the sword also die by the sword.