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Nigeria’s Anti-Graft War Is More Robust Now Than Before- Hon. Oladele

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Hon. Kayode Oladele is a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives, representing Imeko Afon/Yewa North Federal Constituency in Ogun state, Nigeria. He is currently the chairman, House committee on Financial Crimes that superintends and oversees the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the foremost Nigerian anti-corruption agency. In this interview with the African Leadership magazine, Hon. Oladele outlines the achievements of the anti-graft agency buoyed by the House committee’s support to the agency. Excerpt.

It has been almost two years and it won’t be wrong to say the pivotal achievement of the current administration has been a sustained war against corruption, which is driven by the EFCC – an agency you oversee. What would you say is the status of that fight?

Before we take a look at the fight against corruption, we also need to look at the journey into how the EFCC was established. Let’s have a retrospective analysis of the EFCC before and EFCC now. The emergence of the country’s Fourth Republic was marked with the emergence of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military ruler as Nigeria’s Head of State on May 29 1999. Prior to that time, it had been estimated that about US$400 billion was stolen between 1960 and 1999. Based on his conviction that corruption remains a major challenge of the country, two distinct anti-corruption agencies were created: the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). The EFCC was therefore, created and empowered to prevent, investigate and prosecute economic and financial crimes as entailed in the Banks and Financial Institutions Act 1991, Miscellaneous Offences Act, the Money Laundering Act 1995, the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act 1994, the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act 1995, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act (2004), and the Money Laundering and (Prohibition) Act 2004.

The EFCC under the administration of the Former President Goodluck Jonathan was unable to perform some of its basic responsibilities and mandate, due to the lack of political will on the part of that administration.  Apart from the political inertia that I talked about, there was also a conscious effort on the part of the government of the day at the time to starve the commission of funds so that the commission will not be able to perform its basic functions effectively. The budgets were always very meager and the commission was unable improve the capacity of its core staff.

I can tell you that the EFCC has now been repositioned. The current administration has a political will and President Buhari has left no one in doubt as to his determination to rid the country of the scourge of corruption. The National Assembly is also on the same page with President Buhari as encapsulated in the House of Representatives Legislative Agenda as well as the National Assembly’s budgetary provision for the Commission in the 2016 Appropriation Act. The result is that the combination of this political will and the provision of adequate funding by the president administration has added fillip to the Commission’s activities and I can safely conclude that the fight against corruption is more robust now than before.

What is your committee doing to support the EFCC towards attracting more international funding and support?

The country is fast gaining credibility the world over. Multinational agencies are coming back as they can see the commitment on the part of the president, the legislature and the EFCC. Various countries are also showing interest in assisting us in the fight against corruption.

EFCC have no doubt recovered so much. What is your take about the recovered funds and are the recovered funds already deployed toward improving key societal needs?

Let me quickly tell you here that most of the assets recovered are held under interim forfeiture orders and cannot be converted to use immediately until they have been permanently forfeited to the government. This is because the Nigeria legal system does not have civil assets recovery process. We have criminal asset recovery system which implies that every corruption case has to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The implication of this is that even though we have seized a lot of these assets under temporary Court orders, we cannot dispose of the assets until final verdict of guilt is entered and the Courts have ordered the final forfeiture of the seized assets. For now, the EFCC is a custodian of most of the seized assets; they are not the properties of government and therefore, cannot be converted for development purposes until the cases are finally disposed as I said earlier.

Why then the Interim Orders?

The purpose of the interim forfeiture order is to make sure that the accused person does not have access to the assets while the case is on-going. If you don’t freeze these accounts, there are chances that the accused persons may deplete the accounts before the final conclusion of the case. To that effect, most of the assets recovered so far are held under the interim forfeiture orders and we cannot hand it over to the government to spend unless there is a voluntary surrender by the accused person.

We also should know that some of the funds do not belong to the Federal government alone. Some belong to the state governments, private companies or individuals.

What is the future of the fight against corruption in Nigeria?

Well, the fight against corruption should be the collective action of everybody. Like i said in one of my speeches, fighting corruption without the involvement of the people can be likened to trying to control erosion and flooding with palm tree fences. It cannot withstand it. So, it involves the collective action of everybody. We all have to participate. Most times we look at politically exposed persons as the only form of corruption in the society, forgetting the fact that corruption is endemic in the society. For instance, we have petty corruption. We have corruption within institutions. The politically exposed persons evolved from the society, not outside the society. So if you have a corrupt society, it will only produce corrupt leaders.

Corruption in Africa has a lot of socio-cultural implications attached to it. We should all fight corruption with one voice. For example, while I was with the EFCC as Chief of Staff, when James Ibori, former Delta state governor was charged to court on grounds of corruption, the matter was first assigned to a judge in Kaduna. The people from delta state will hire buses, in their hundreds, to Kaduna state, wearing pro-Ibori uniforms, and abusing EFCC staff. They felt that why should it be Ibori; that he is not the only thief. So they will take it from prosecution to persecution.  They will look at it as persecution on the ground that he is from a minority.

We all have to speak against corruption in one voice. The same people the EFCC is fighting for, the poor and marginalized will be accusing EFCC of persecution. In the case of Ibori, when the judge denied him a bail application, the people pulled down the fence of the court.

Except we all see it as an endemic problem in the society, it may be hard to fight. But the people are becoming wiser with some of the new revelation such as the arms deal relating to the office of the National Security Adviser.  They are now seeing the light of the day. I think we are getting there but we need international support.

There is a popular saying that when you fight corruption, corruption fights back. What is your take on the issue of the Judiciary as partner in the fight against corruption and corruption fighting back?

The Judiciary and the legal system is one crucial factor in the fight against corruption. It is not just the EFCC that is in charge, the buck stops at the judiciary’s table. This is because the EFCC is only concerned with investigation. The conviction is in the hands of the court. Even if the EFCC does a thorough investigation and does its work very well in prosecution, if the court still feels that the case has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt, the court can acquit the person. Therefore, for there to be an effective fight against corruption, the judiciary and the activities of the EFCC has to be looked into. In Nigeria today, I can tell you sadly that we have problems with the judiciary, not with everybody though. The president has said it, and I agree with him, that the judiciary has to be cleansed because of some judges. Some of them work in tandem with some senior lawyers to frustrate some of the corruption cases. Sometime they adjourn the cases so many times. A case may take as much as 8-10 years to complete. If a case takes this long, you know very well that in the process a lot may have happened. There will a loss of confidence in the judiciary. The victims or witnesses may have been relocated to other places; some may even die. Some of the investigators may have been redeployed. Another way of frustrating the cases is through interlocutory appeals.  As a result of this, you will find that sometimes the main case can be left untouched for about five years when the appeals are being pursued. For instance, former Rivers state Governor Peter Odili’s case has been in court in the past 10 years, and it is still at the level of interlocutory appeals.

The good news is that the judiciary on their own addressed the matter and came up with what they call, practice directions. The judiciary issues practice directions for High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The directions stated that cases involving terrorism and corruption should be given a speedy trial. But many judges do not give any attention to the practice directions.

The good thing also is that just at the twilight of the last administration, the National Assembly passed a bill: the administration of the criminal justice act. The bill was signed into law by the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan. That bill revolutionized the entire criminal justice system in Nigeria. The speedy trial now is a legal requirement and there is an express bar against interlocutory appeals that it should be reserved after judgment. The law also frowns against multiples adjournments. So I believe that the act is in operation right now. I encourage Nigerians to take advantage of this review.

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