By Sonala Olumhense
“I am yet to find a single EFCC case that was thrown out because of shoddy investigation,” commission spokesman Wilson Uwujaren said last week. “Neither has any judge thrown out any of the Commission’s cases because of the length of the charge.”
Mr. Uwujaren was responding to a statement by Mahmud Mohammed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), concerning why the country’s anti-corruption agencies characteristically make a mess of the prosecution of high profile criminal cases.
The judge, who was speaking to a delegation of the Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum, had attributed the problem to the penchant of the agencies for shoddy investigations before suspects are taken to court.
In a scathing rebuke, Justice Mohammed declared: “Courts cannot carry out investigation and our security agencies must be encouraged to carry out investigation-led arrest and not arrest-led investigation.”
He noted: “In some cases up to 200-count charge are brought before the court which is a waste of court’s time and makes mockery of the constitution and the laws.”
These are the claims to which the EFCC spokesman was publicly shaking his head. He dismissed Justice Mohammed’s words as being no more than an “opinion” to which he is entitled.
Mr. Uwujaren, if he indeed spoke for the EFCC on this matter, should simply have said, “No comment.”
Justice Mohammed was not saying anything new. Various judges have castigated the EFCC in open courtrooms for the poverty of its prosecutions.
Shoddy investigation? Of course the “graft-fighters,” in this case the EFCC, do shoddy prosecution all the time. As an observer who for most of the past 10 years has drawn attention to the games being played with the EFCC Annual Report, it is evident that what is going on in the anti-corruption subsector is a game.
Nothing illustrates this any better than the EFCC’s response to the Chief Justice that “not a single EFCC case” has ever been thrown out on account of shoddy investigation. What the commission’s response suggests is that the EFCC may have names for cases-or categories of cases-that it has bungled, but none is labelled in its offices as “shoddy investigation”.
That is probably because the commission’s investigators do a great job, but its prosecutors a sad one. Or because the commission’s standards are so low that it can identify neither shoddy investigation nor indifferent prosecution.
Whichever it is, it is embarrassing because it means the public should not hold its breath that the EFCC leopard willchange its spots any time soon.
Statistically, there isn’t enough space on this page to list all of the cases in the past 10 years where the EFCC’s organizational and prosecutorial lameness has been exposed, identified, laughed at, or taken advantage of. This subject has been covered so diligently in a long line of reports and analyses that if dismissal is the EFCC’s response to it, there is no point repeating it.
What the Chief Justice did not dwell on is how unprepared and disorganized these agencies often are. Not only do they file innumerable counts of charges, they are forever amending and multiplying them, thereby confirming their lack of preparation and confidence in the first place.
And yet the EFCC rebuffs the criticism it is shoddy and untidy. What is implied by the commission is that blame should go to others-perhaps the judiciary, perhaps a meddlesome government-rather than the EFCC. That would be a strategy which exposes the commission as ignorant and arrogant; as well as incompetent and indifferent.
If you look at many of the cases it is handling (sadly, we can barely speak in the past tense), it is a tale of endless court appearances, and of cases which drift from one year into the other until they collapse or are lost.
In other words, even if the EFCC claims that it is not guilty of shoddy work, it still has to explain why it loses so many of those it manages to bring before the courts.
The truth is that on account of the attitude of the anti-corruption agencies, the sub-sector has become the new gold mine: for anti-corruption suspects, hired prosecutors, the banks, and defence lawyers… everyone but the cause of justice.
It is a game.
Think about it: no lawyers involved on either side of this gold mine lose anything whether a case is won or lost. They don’t lose any money, or sleep, or reputation. Actually, the longer a case goes, the fatter are their wallets.
And when a case is lost, what happens? Someone announces it is appealing to a higher court. Timeout. Injury time. Half time. Extra time. The loser-the only loser-remains the public.
The reason for this is that even excellent investigation and great prosecutorial preparation cannot triumph over an absence of political will, and the real source of the failure in the agencies is character. It is corporate character that drives investigation and prosecution.
This is why I have called on the EFCC, year after year, to publish the comprehensive annual report demanded by law. Such a report would educate the public about how diligent and professional the EFCC is. The agency, on the other hand, does everything to avoid having to prepare such a report, or to be identified with one.
It is a game.
That report is supposed to be submitted to the National Assembly, in the belief that a patriotic legislature would examine and debate it. Never has political faith been more unfounded.
The National Assembly, eager to avoid opening Pandora’s Box, does not question, let alone debate the subject.
In turn, this has encouraged the EFCC’s haphazard and perfunctory character, where it does not matter whether it investigates (shoddily) or not at all; or prosecutes (successfully), or does not prosecute (at all); or reports (indifferently), or not at all. The game of choosing its targets willfully goes on, as does the pepper-soup bar decision as to whether 50 or 150 charges would be enough to scare that target.
It is a game.
Think about it: CCT is currently “trying” one Bukola Saraki for false declaration of assets, a profile that fits at least 30 to 50 persons at the level of former governors and deputy governors alone.
Why now, and where are the others, you ask? It is a game.
Hopefully, this game will be halted by the new “change” government in Abuja by elaborating an anti-corruption mission that aims at justice for all, and makes it obtainable in broad daylight now, not in manipulated manoeuvres long after they have enjoyed their loot and all of the betrayed children have become lost adults.
Sonala Olumhense is a journalist and public affairs commentator, follow him on Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense