A Democracy is as strong as the institutions that run it. The Legal institutions need a solid foundation and an iron cast schedule of regulations, rules and code of conduct as well as a written and ascertainable modus operandi. This is clearly because the institutions are supposed to, in a steady democracy, predate as well as remain even after the exit of the current performers. It takes good men to run a good government, but it takes institutions to hold them accountable. Currently, the EFCC is much in the news. The controversy is split right in the middle. There are those who believe that the current chairman Nuhu Ribadu is carrying on the mandate of the people of Nigeria in their aversion for corruption. Then, there is the ‘Due Process Brigade’ that posit that everything EFCC does is corrupt because it is tainted with a lack of Due Process. Many of these persons, however, never yelled during the previous glaring lack of due process in Odi or Zaki-Biam, but have found their voices because some powerful persons within the society are at the receiving end of government action.
Much has been written about the selective investigation/prosecution of the EFCC. Some have openly canvassed that Ribadu is a tool in the hand of the current President being used vindictively against the enemies of President Obasanjo so he should be fired. Their justification is that the EFCC is selective in both its investigation and prosecution. Of particular mention of cases that warrant investigation/prosecution they opine include: Pentascope Deal, Transcorp Shares, N400 Billion Roads Contract to the East, NPA scandals and an open audit of the accounts of NNPC, among others. We agree that wherever there is a hue and cry of corruption, there is more likely than not, going to be found evidence of wrongdoing, this, from our knowledge of the Nigerian corrupt system. The question remains, what is the parameter for initiation of an investigation/prosecution by the EFCC? Does the President have to authorize every investigation? Can a petition initiate such investigation? Put another way, Can the Presidency halt an ongoing investigation?
The major argument for Due Process is an argument for the Rule of Law where the law is predetermined and ascertainable and where in the application, no one but no one is above the Law and justice is not only done, but seen to be done. If a thief is caught stealing oranges he should be tried and if a politician is caught to have diverted millions of government money or patronage to his family and cronies, he should be tried and the appropriate punishment meted according to law. If it would apply to the Vice President, it should also apply to the President, and all the other politicians. In this blanket provision of the law is a problem. The problem is that, although all the politicians of this present democracy paid lip service to righting the ‘wrongs’ of the past miss-governance of yesteryears, although most promised their electorate a departure from the looting past, almost all in positions of authority, abused their privilege from the President to the Council Members. How do we investigate them all at the same time? What is the trigger point of an investigation?
While I do not know the internal workings of the EFCC, I dare suggest that in order to be professional and predictable; the Agency needs to be properly compartmentalized. If they do not already have it, the EFCC needs to create an independent professional arm to be called the investigative Arm. This special arm should be manned by professional law enforcement personnel also trained in law who would know the probative value of evidence before them. These persons should be given the training and/or Training Manual regarding what trigger points would initiate an investigation. For example, can an anonymous call initiate it, can a whistle-blower initiate it, and how would s/he be protected? Can a petition initiate it, how may it be verified etc. Are there any exceptions, why (diplomatic privilege/immunity/national security issues)?
While all should be trained in law, there should be a dedicated core legal team that collates the information, procures the warrants, drafts the charges and commences prosecution in the law courts. To beef up the trial team, external public interest attorneys can be hired to beef up the team and for competitive fees facilitate speedy trial of the matters. The EFCC may request dedicated courtrooms/Judges for speedy dispensation of the corruption matters. The reason for retaining external lawyers is varied. But because the society is deeply ingrained in graft, ingenious ways may have to be applied initially to set up a system that may not be contaminated because of the reach of the rich and powerful and the lure of filthy lucre. Once the initial strong foundation is laid and built upon, it would be cost-effective.
Office of Internal Affairs/Personnel Audit
To ensure professionalism, right from the time of training, all the officers of the EFCC should be under watch of the secretive office of Internal Affairs. If such office does not exist, the commission would need to create one. This office would gauge professionalism with best practices, supervise methods, find and weed out the misfits even before they cause damage. Internal coordination of resources could also be handled by this branch. As a reward, this elite branch could also handle International coordination with allied bodies and International training.
While we concede that the Chairman of the Agency can like any head speak for the agency, we suggest that besides the sensitization seminars, the chairman take a low profile and give the Public Affairs of the EFCC to a professional media team. It would also help if the public gets scoops of pending cases only at the time of arraignment. Most governors have recently been resisting EFCC action with their counter-action because they are almost always forewarned by the EFCC in public statements. Adenuga has left Nigeria possibly because of the publicity in the press. Some sections of the Press also accused the EFCC of Gestapo tactics in their operation because of the undue publicity given to the investigation of Adenuga (with accounts of kicking in a door to gain access). Investigations can be kept under wraps and information properly managed by the experts until arraignment.
The EFCC may hire, train then deploy their officers to set up Regional/State offices in a coordinated manner, subject to availability of resources. At the Head office, a hierarchy established with a proper chain of command so that in the event of career changes, the commission is not groping in the dark. Much as Ribadu may be doing a good job and may be loved, if he has not started to train a successor to be better than him, he has failed in one of the aspects of leadership.
In view of the fact that the stakes in fighting corruption are high and the nature of the job of topmost priority, the country could make an application to the UN for aid and put the officers on the UN scale of services with their budget taken care of either in the constitution or from some external fund so they are not likely to be frustrated by a denial of funds. This would also reduce the likelihood of monetary influence. In making these suggestions, I am aware that I do not know much about the internal workings of the EFCC. I dare to suggest here to beef up this good institution, because the Rule of Law although rule by individuals in a Democracy, is as strong as its institutions. Let us contribute to make the EFCC a viable tool to fight corruption within the Rule of Law in Nigeria’s latent Democracy.