EFCC: Two decades of fighting corruption
Interesting times are here. Few days ago, dozens of Civil Society Organizations (CSO’s) took to the streets to press for some demands. Among the demands was for Nigerian courts to abstain from entertaining corruption cases that involve the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and removal of the EFCC chairman, Barrister Abdulrasheed Bawa.
The campaign by the CSO’s underscores the problems associated with fighting corruption. Some Nigerians saw the campaign as an affirmation of a popular saying that corruption will always fight back to discredit any structure put in place to fight the scourge. This is not an attempt to jump into the fray, but it is important to note that any attempt to distract the EFCC is counterproductive, especially now that Nigerians are expected to rally round the Commission and encourage its operatives to do more in the anti-corruption war.
Two decades ago after it was created, the EFCC has shattered the myth of invincibility that surrounds corruption in the past. Especially under the current management, the Commission is doing a fantastic job and more Nigerians are beginning to believe that, with greater motivation and encouragement, corruption in our national life can be degraded. Such an important agency does not need distractions. Rather, critical stakeholders like Civil Society Organizations should spearhead the campaign to pressure the incoming administration to strengthen and empower the Commission.
Nigeria has been haunted by the ghost of corruption since the beginning of the modern history of the country. In fact, right from colonial times, people were jailed for various degree of corrupt practices. Though latter-day facts tell us a different story, the coup plotters of January 1966 cited corruption in high places as a prominent reason for their act. Corruption might have been around for ages, but it began to attract attention after it assumed an epidemic proportion during the oiler boom era of the early 1970’s.
It was the short-lived administration of General Murtala Ramat Muhammad that first launched a major attack on corruption in Nigeria. There was a lull in the anti-corruption war after the assassination of General Murtala Muhammad. Meanwhile, corruption spread into unlikely places and soon became a way of life especially during the Second Republic. There was a brief return to the war on graft with the return of the military in 1984. The military government of General Muhammadu Buhari which launched the War Against Indiscipline (WAI) in 1984 and vowed to fight corruption was sacked after being in power for 20 months.
The military administration of General Sani Abacha also waged a brief war against financial crimes in 1994. In other words, not much was done to fight corruption from 1985 when General Buhari was toppled till the return to civilian rule in 1999. The anti-corruption war received a major boost when President Olusegun Obasanjo set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In prosecuting the anti-corruption war, the EFCC was given the mandate to promote transparency and accountability in the conduct of public and private businesses, plug drainpipes, institute good governance and end impunity.
Corruption manifests differently from country to country but it is universally accepted that practices such as extortion, demanding and giving monetary inducement to gain undue advantage is corruption. The phenomenon manifests in different forms and this may vary from country to country but in Nigeria, it may include bribery, lobbying, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, and embezzlement.
Though corruption affects societies differently, the vice is generally believed to distort and stunt economic growth as well as discourage foreign direct investment. Corruption lowers people’s confidence in public institutions, undermines the rule of law, excludes honest businesspeople from competing for contracts and has become an impediment to efforts to diversify and transform the economy. It is for these reasons that Nigerians are unanimous that all hands must be on deck to fight the scourge.
One way of the CSO’s can help to strengthen the Commission is to put pressure on the incoming government to recruit more operatives and create state offices for effective monitoring and coverage and prompt deployment of operatives. For an important body like the EFCC, there is absolutely nothing wrong in maintaining offices in the 36 states and Abuja.
Another way of making the EFCC more effective is for CSO’s to let the incoming National Assembly see the need to set up special tribunals to try corruption cases. The conventional courts, as they are presently constituted, are not adequately positioned to handle corruption cases because even the civil cases they handle normally drag for years without being resolved. Anti-corruption tribunals means corruption cases would be swiftly handled and appropriate punishment meted out to culprits to deter potential looters.
It is cumbersome to rely on colonial-era laws to fight corruption in the 21st Century. This is because the existence of archaic laws provides opportunity for corrupt people to engage the services of lawyers who can easily identify lapses in the laws to secure freedom for their clients. In this regard, CSO’s should press the National Assembly for an urgent review of existing laws that prescribe ridiculous jail terms and fines for people who hijack public funds.
Other ways of taking the anti-corruption war to the next level include engaging the EFCC in the war against examination malpractices, the establishment of active anti-corruption clubs in primary, post-primary and tertiary institutions as well as effective collaboration between government and non-governmental organizations for behavioural change among Nigerians.
Local and international companies that contravene the laws of Nigeria should be made to pay heavy fines. Furthermore, there is need to strengthen linkages with countries and international organizations so that felons do not have safe havens to enjoy their loot. The whistleblowing policy should be fine-tuned in a way that people who expose cases of corruption are compensated and their identity kept secret so as not to expose them to danger.
The consequence of losing the anti-corruption war is too serious and should not even be contemplated. It is a war that the incoming administration should fight with all available resources.
By Zeenat Magaji is a Zumunta Scholar and student of Federal University of Technology, Minna