EFCC: Walking the talk against corruption

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Never in the history of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) has the job of fighting corruption been more pivotal than now. The EFCC and its work has, in the past couple of years, assumed such a central position in the scheme of things in Nigeria that one may be forgiven if he mistakes it for a parallel government.

Nigerians have been riveted with revelations of monumental sleaze by politicians, civil servants and military leaders and many are asking where the EFCC was while all the looting was taking place. Couldn’t they have done more to prevent it?

Under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act 2004, the Commission is empowered to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalise economic and financial crimes. It also has the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes. It will appear however that the Commission has neglected the preventive aspect of its mandate and been more focused on the investigative and prosecutorial aspects. EFCC agents tend to get involved only after a crime has been committed.

It is a truism however that prevention of a disease is better than its cure. Could the neglect of its duty to prevent the commission of economic and financial crimes be as a result of inadequate resources? Is EFCC adequately staffed, equipped and funded to carry out the onerous duties placed on it by the law? Do the staff have the requisite skills and training to fight graft in an increasingly complex global economic and financial system?

It would appear that the anti-graft agency, since inception, has been grossly underfunded. To its credit however, it has continued to achieve commendable results in spite of this. In the words of Femi Falana, SAN “With a few investigators and prosecutors working under a hostile environment, the EFCC has almost performed miracles”.

For instance, the Commission achieved an increased rate of convictions over the years and made huge recoveries of stolen funds and the proceeds thereof. It was 87 convictions in 2012 and 117 in 2013. A year later, it was 126.78 in 2015 and 200 in 2016. The body is projected to record its greatest assets recoveries in 2016 and 2017. It has also won commendations and recognition by international bodies and crime fighting agencies in other countries.

Over the years, annual budgetary allocation to the agency has declined in comparison to its increasing and more complex responsibilities. Inadequate funding has in turn adversely affected the agency’s infrastructural development, size and quality of staff and invariably, limited the scope of its activities.

Fighting graft in a notoriously corrupt society is always going to be a herculean task. Doing so in a country of over 180 million people with over sixty percent living below the poverty line is even more arduous. Interestingly, it is the corrupt political class that crafts the anti-corruption laws and policies. It is therefore not entirely difficult to understand their seeming reluctance to adequately fund the EFCC.

A government’s commitment to fighting corruption is measured by the amount of resources it allocates to the agency for this purpose. In 2014, the EFCC asked for N21 billion but was given only N10.2 billion for capital expenditure, overhead and personnel. Same was the case in 2015 with a N10.4 billion allocation. 2016 witnessed a dramatic increase with a budgetary allocation of N18.8 billion, signalling the present government’s anti-corruption stance.

This increase, as significant as it may seem, in real terms still falls short. Corruption is an endemic force and is debilitating in any society. All over the world, it takes great resources to fight the scourge. The U.S.A. and United Kingdom spare no resources checking corruption. The United Kingdom for instance, spent over £20 million to prosecute Chief James Ibori, former governor of Delta state for money laundering. China is another country that is waging a high profile war against corruption and budgets huge resources every year for this purpose. And the scale and spread of corruption in those countries is nothing in comparison to what obtains in Nigeria.

In addition to the EFCC Establishment Act 2004, the EFCC is also charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes namely; The Money Laundering Act 1995, The Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004, The Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act 1995, The Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act 1994 and, The Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act 1991. Seeing that its remit is this wide, it beggars belief that the agency is given so little resources to accomplish its mandate. It is futile sending a farmer out to the fields without the tools needed for his work.

At a budget defence hearing at the Senate in 2016, Senator Hamma Misau remarked that “we cannot claim to fight corruption without properly equipping the EFCC”. This is so true.
For 2017, the EFCC proposal to spend 18.7 billion naira was reduced to 17 billion by the Budget Office as contained in the 2017 Appropriation Bill already passed by the National Assembly. In the light of the agency’s determination to complete the ongoing construction of its head office in Abuja this year, one would have expected the National Assembly to match or better the 18.8 billion naira allocated to the EFCC in 2016.

In the event that this is not the case, the presidency will do well to accommodate the needs of the EFCC in a supplementary budget proposal. As Ibrahim Magu, the chairman of the Commission has pointed out, failure to increase funding to the agency will greatly hamper its work. The chairman has particularly called on the Senate Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes to increase its Personnel allocation from N7 billion to N9.7 billion to accommodate a proposed recruitment of 750 cadets in 2017 and the 530 already recruited in 2016. It is only to be expected that with the volume and complexity of responsibility thrust on the agency, there is a need for it to boost its staff strength with the addition of more specialist personnel.

An addition of 750 personnel to the current 2,173 will leave the EFCC with a staff strength of less than 3,000 which is largely inadequate. Some current staff need to be retrained to work at putting in place mechanisms for preventing institutional or systemic corruption and in investigating and prosecuting particular crimes like money laundering which is still a new and emerging concept in crime fighting. There is need for the EFCC to broaden its ICT infrastructure, upgrade its forensic laboratory and generally increase the surveillance tools and operational vehicles. The agency will also need to apply more funds in specific areas of its operations especially as has been suggested by Femi Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

How to ensure that the EFCC is adequately funded, and not the arcane issue of who heads the agency, should be the concern of members of the National Assembly right now. That is, if it is indeed our sincere desire to fight corruption in Nigeria. EFCC needs more hands, with requisite skills, to do battle against an increasing array of complex financial crimes. To tackle institutional and systemic corruption, as existing for example, in the Judiciary, the agency needs to enlist the services of specially trained personnel capable of enthroning an anti-corruption system. It is foolhardy to arm the EFCC with cutlasses and hoes to do battle with looters and cheats armed with AK47 riffles. It is not enough for the government to pronounce war against corruption as a cardinal program, it must do more, in practical terms, to win the war.

The government must necessarily walk the talk against corruption. It is only when the Commission is well and fully funded for its activities that we can truly chorus their slogan, “EFCC will get you anywhere, anytime..”.

Prince Nwaeze Onu, [email protected]

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