By Adebayo Abubakar
Corruption, remains one endemic virus that has eaten deep, into the fabric of our society. Therefore, the phrase, “fight against corruption” is a mantra that politicians, and successive governments, since the birth of the current democratic dispensation (the 4th Republic) has deployed as a campaign line, during electioneering to make us believe that, there would be a policy of zero-tolerance for corruption if and when elected into office. Therefore, since the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), by the Obasanjo administration in 2004, most Nigerians believe, it is a question of any administration in power, having the “political will” to fight corruption, for the menace to become extinct, or at least, to be drastically reduced. This is because, the instrument with which to embark on the crusade is believed to be readily available in the establishment of the Commission. As a result of the eagerness to see the back of corruption in every facet of our social lives, little attention was paid to the modus operandi of the EFCC. No sooner was it set up than it started to compete with the defending champions of impunity. That is talking about its much older “sister law enforcement agency” – the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). The reason is not far-fetched. The majority of its pioneer staffers were drawn from the force. This is a law enforcement agency which operatives, especially the lowly ranked ones, have supreme contempt for the rule of law; rule of engagement, as enshrined in the best global policing standard practices, as far as respect for fundamental human rights while discharging their statutory responsibilities, is concerned. They break, or barge into people’s privacy without “a search warrant” duly issued by a competent court of law, as stipulated in the ”Administration of Criminal Justice Act” (ACJA) 2014. From the era of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, through those of Mrs. Farida Waziri, Ibrahim Lamorde, Ibrahim Magu, to the incumbent Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, it’s been a litany of Impunity in different molds.
Just last week, a colleague of mine had the door to her apartment broken by some men who were later identified to be operatives of the EFCC, Ilorin Zonal office, scaled their fence to gain entrance in to their compound, at about 1:30am, on Thursday 4th of May 2023 at “Mandate” area of Ilorin Metropolis. They came without a search warrant, while every normal human being who is law-abiding was, or is expected to, be sleeping. According to her, there are no fewer than seven apartments belonging to the same number of families in the compound. The hooded operatives reportedly claimed to be acting on “credible Intel” that there were internet fraudsters, popularly known to as “Yahoo Boys”, occupying one of those apartments in the compound. In the case of my colleague who is currently nursing a six month-old baby, she was so lucky not to be at home on that fateful day. She’d earlier, the previous day, gone to visit her parents in other parts of the city, and decided to pass the night there, since her husband, who works in Lagos, had traveled. So, it was shocking to her, when one of her neighbours put a call across to her, at dawn, narrating the incident. She was told by the neighbour, what her apartment looked like, as its door had been broken and the whole place ransacked. She therefore needed to start coming to assess the whole thing. Everything in her apartment was turned upside down, and inside out. Since she was not at home, they probably thought she was hiding somewhere within the apartment. They, therefore, started turning everything inside out, including cooking pots in the kitchen, boxes, wardrobe, mattress, fridge etc. Another apartment was said to have been broken, while a lady-occupant, her husband, and their little children were not allowed to dress up properly before they were ordered out of their rooms almost, completely naked, with guns pointed at their heads. The same treatment was meted to everybody in the compound that fateful morning. Due to the consequent psychological trauma, the woman, according to report, ended up in the hospital, and she is still there, as I put this piece together.
Similar stories were told of similar incidents in other parts of the state capital that last week, especially in residential areas housing students. With the EFCC, Ilorin Kwara State Zonal Office, impunity is on steroid.
When I spoke on the phone, with one of the officers, he was trying to deny culpability, claiming that an eighteen-minute video clip sent to him by my colleague, showing the wreckage his colleagues left in the trail of the illegal operation did not show any of their men. Then I asked him; would your men allow anyone to video-record them while the orgy of Impunity was ongoing? At that point, he started sounding incoherent. Then another officer, who did not mention his name, but claimed to have led the operation to my colleague’s apartment, hijacked the conversation, by snatching the phone from the first one. He said, all they did “was within the ambit of the law”. I began to wonder which of the laws? Was it the law of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, or the law of the emotions of EFCC operatives! I, at that point, offered to bring my colleague, who, I believe, had a more vivid account of the whole incident than I could ever give, into the conversation through a conference call, and they agreed. As my colleague joined us, narrating the incident, the self-acclaimed “team lead” requested for another set of short video clips of the scene to ascertain, if it was truly where they went for an operation. We obliged, and sent them the clips. They have since, after receiving the clips, gone incommunicado.
Meanwhile, when the bill for the establishment of the Commission was passed into law (the EFCC Act, 2004), it was intended, by the author, the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to majorly tackle the “economic vampires” arresting our national development, by feasting on our exchequer. But today, with the way they carry on with the mandate, I wouldn’t know what could have happened, or been happening, if the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force were not scrapped. There would definitely have been clashes, as they (the EFCC and SARS), would have been targeting/chasing the same petty customers in “Yahoo Boys”, while billions of Naira, as well as dollars, develop wings and fly out of government coffers, now and then, and while bandits reign supreme in the forests of Niger, Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto and Katsina States. Yet, none of those big fries who are responsible for the disappearance of public funds has been prosecuted, or is being chased by the EFCC, with the kind of “gung ho” approach they deploy in chasing the alleged Internet fraudsters. None of the gangs of bandits would be taken on by SARS. All they’d be out, looking for are dreadlocks-wearing young chaps, in possession of laptops or high-end phones. The major motive behind their targeting them is purely extortionist, if reports on the pages of newspapers are anything to go by. Any part of a town in Nigeria that houses students is, usually, their go-to area. Meanwhile, the real “Yahoo Boys” resident in MDAs are there, walking free, having greased the right palms. Do not get me wrong, when it comes to the issue of definition, “a thief”, whether it is a treasury looter or an Internet Fraudster (Yahoo Yahoo). A thief remains a thief, in so far as he takes what does not belong to him or her. They should be equally treated. But trust me, the dreadlocks-wearing guys are not responsible for the government’s loss of oil revenue, or funds disappearing from the treasury. They’re not the ones speculating in Forex, thereby progressively weakening the country’s currency against the dollars, and should therefore not be the major target for the EFCC. The Commission has not been able to demonstrate this their “gung ho” approach towards treasury looters, except it has a political undertone. Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) are daily, rummaging customers’ account, and pilfering their hard-earned savings through fraudulent and frivolous charges, and sometimes, outright stealing of large chunk of the money, but that does not interest the so-called “Economic and Financial Crimes Commission” because the culprits are the big fish who “pay” the right amount. But you’d see them mobilising in full force, like a military detachment planning to invade the Sambissa forest, breaking into people’s homes and privacies, all in the name of cracking down on Yahoo Boys. And the most dangerous and annoying part of the whole venture of Impunity is that, they do it during unholy hours, when every law-abiding citizen tries to get a well-deserved rest, in readiness for the next day’s hustle. There is no difference between the way they operate, and that of an armed robber. What if their victim (suspect) has a gun with a license, takes them for armed robbers, and decides to shoot, in self-defense? That would be an avoidable calamity, resulting from the EFC C’s barbaric mode of operation.
Meanwhile, a Yoruba adage says, “no matter the level of misfortune that befalls a hunter, he should never fire a shot at a snail”. This proverb explains why there was no record of fire arm used in the case of the FBI’s tracking of the Nigerian Instagram celebrity, Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi, when he was arrested in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate (UAE), sometimes in June 2020 over an extensive transnational fraudulent scheme that has robbed victims of their money in the U.S., Qatar, the United Kingdom, and other places. They tracked him all the way from the United States of America, to the United Arab Emirates, without firing a shot. They took their time to build up mountains of evidence with which to nail him during the prosecution. The seamless prosecution by the FBI is an eloquent-enough testimony to the efficiency in the method. I believe a right-think law enforcement agency could have borrowed a leaf from that. But No. That is not the way of law enforcement agencies in Nigeria. Impunity is in their DNA, especially that of the Commission, perhaps, inherited from its “parent organisation”, the NPF, from where the bulk of its pioneer staffers were drawn. They harass, arrest, and traumatise a suspect before they commence investigation, which amounts to putting the cart before the horse. That was why I, like many other Nigerians, was a bit relieved and excited, when Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, the current, and the first Chairman without a Nigerian-Police-Force background, was appointed, about two years ago. The belief was that, having been recruited as a fresh graduate who underwent anti-graft training under the commission itself at its training school in Kubwa Abuja, he would be more refined, and thus adopt a more civilised tactic of crime-fighting than the ones in use by those (operatives) plucked from roadblocks on the highways, where motorists are being extorted. Unfortunately, however, nothing has changed under Bawa. The more things seem to change, the more they remain the same. They still operate in blatant violation of ACJA 2014.
It is, therefore, high time somebody told the EFCC, and other security agencies in the land with the colonial style of law enforcement that, this is the “Federal Republic of Nigeria”, not the “Federal Republic of Impunity”. For an agency that is a creation of the law, to turn around and operating, with lawlessness as its operational manual, calls for concerns of critical stakeholders, especially the National Assembly. They need to take another look at the Act. There is an absolute need for checks and balances in the way those guys carry out their operations. Nigeria is not a “Banana Republic”. Nigerians, therefore, should not be treated like a conquered people by the EFCC. An organisation whose establishment went through a thorough legislative process shouldn’t be operating the way the EFCC does. It should be guided by the law, to show that, it is indeed, a product of the law. It should borrow a leave from its sister anti-graft agency – the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), as I believe they’re a bit more diligent in the way they go about their businesses than the EFCC. In most cases, they even start by writing letters of invitation to suspects. They don’t make arrest, or harass people, before they commence investigation, unlike the red jacket-wearing counterparts.
Abubakar writes from Ilorin. He can be reached via 08051388285 or email@example.com