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Beloxxi Biscuit

As anti-graft war runs into a hitch

I’m not one given to gloating over the misfortune of others but I can hardly resist this I-told-you-so feeling that has taken over me since last week.

I’d always maintained that the manner we were going about the fight against corruption in the country was wrong and unsustainable.

It began with the freezing of Governor Ayo Fayose’s bank account, in total disregard of the immunity cover enjoyed by serving governors in Nigeria. A court came to the rescue of the Ekiti State governor by unfreezing the account. But as soon as the governor paid his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, from the unfrozen account, the commission clamped down on the lawyer’s account. Last week, in what Ozekhome says is now his eighth victory over the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the last two years, the court ordered unfreezing of the account.

A few days later, another court removed the lid on the account of former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, with another bank. That account, said to have about $5.9 million had also been frozen by the EFCC. The unfreezing came on the heels of the victory, at yet another court, of the embattled Justice Ademola and his wife, victims of that infamous wee hour sting operation by operatives of the Department of State Security (DSS).

A few days earlier, Andrew Yakubu, the former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corperation (NNPC), also got some reprieve at the courts and is now demanding the return of ‘his’ $9.3 million confiscated from that little bungalow in Kaduna.

Now, I suspect that very soon, the owners of the over N400 million found in a shop at LEGICO Plaza as well as the N250 million found inside Balogun market, Lagos, would also come forward to claim their money – and remind the EFCC that it is not a crime to have cash after all. They would also remind the commission that virtually all the politicians whose biddings the commission is currently doing have huge war chest of cash stashed in their homes.

And lest I forget, there is also the little issue of N30 million allegedly stolen from Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki’s home but which Saraki says was never stolen from his house. How can you insist on having stolen somebody’s money when the person said he did not lose any money? So much cash all over the place! Yet we’re all broke! The other day, another person sent a truckload of cash by waybill to the Kaduna airport; now, the EFCC has the cash but no owner in sight. I love this country!

For me, the only thing that is true about this our war against corruption is that President Muhammadu Buhari, in his heart of hearts, is determined to stamp out corruption in the country – or, at least, deal it a serious blow. Even at that, I can’t really vouch for the president’s original motive – whether it’s an altruistic desire to cleanse our country or a vindictive push to settle scores with certain people, who had offended him in the past.

Everything else about the anti-graft war – beginning from the persons charged with leading the fight, their modus operandi and those advising the process – is suspect. And it has always been like that ever since the Obasanjo administration kick-started the charade.

Of course, for apologists of the warped anti-corruption war going on in the country, there is a ready explanation for the recent “setbacks” at the courts: Corruption is fighting back.

But is corruption really fighting back? Or the graft-war mongers have been confronted with their first real reality check? I’ll wager on the latter.

I’ve always insisted that there is more to the fight against graft than media trial. I have followed one or two of the trials closely and I can vouch that there’s so much hot air and no substance.

In virtually all the instances where conviction was secured, arm-twisting, intimidation and other extra-judicial means had played a major role.

People whose bank accounts were frozen, and whose means of livelihood was shut down ad infinitum, were left with no choice than to cut their losses by pleading guilty to offences they probably never committed, or agreeing to some bogus plea bargain arrangement. Many who returned money did so, not because they had stolen it but because of other extraneous reasons.

On very few occasions have the EFCC been able to thoroughly investigate a case and proven the case against any suspect beyond reasonable doubt.

They detain you, refuse to release you whenever the court grants you bail, or they trump up fresh charges and re-arrest you right inside the premises of the court that granted you bail.

And if they can do all this to prominent persons, especially the politically exposed ones, one can only imagine what happens to smaller fries who get petitioned against.

And then, there is the media trial. The EFCC identifies one or two partner (pliant) media that are willing to always tell the story from the EFCC perspective. Cases are given the desired spin through reports in these mediums. Several other media outlets are left out of the ‘scoop’, simply because they would not play up the story from the angle the EFCC wants it played. The unsuspecting public laps up everything. And the accused stands convicted before the public, even before he has had his day in court. And if he refuses to play ball, everything he ever owned is tied to the graft case, confiscated and deliberately allowed to waste away, as the case drags in court.

Oftentimes, the commission begins to believe its own lies and heads to court, believing the case would be a walkover. At court, however, the pile of make-believe evidence begins to crumble like a pack of cards. The commission has not done its homework. No judge has the patience for such shoddiness. The case is dead on arrival.

Instead of two or three watertight charges that have been thoroughly investigated – and on which the commission is likely to get a conviction, EFCC often ends up with as many as 30, 40 or 50 charges – more like a trial-and-error thing, believing that, at least, one of the charges would ensnare the accused – rightly or wrongly.

This has been the approach since as far back as the days of Nuhu Ribadu at the EFCC.

Apart from the media, they also have a gang of lawyers  (otherwise respected Senior Advocates of Nigeria), including one who desperately wants to be Attorney General of the Federation, who praise every crude thing the EFCC does (and lately, everything about Ibrahim Magu).

If the Senate rejects Magu for confirmation as substantive EFCC chairman, they tell Buhari that the man can be re-nominated. And if he fails again, they offer PMB the self-serving advice that the man can be allowed to act indefinitely as ‘Acting Chairman’. 

If our Senate summons anybody, they encourage the person not to appear. Yes, for the narrow interest they hope to serve, they are ready to stand the constitution on its head and endanger our democracy. The law is indeed an ass!

Lately, they have been calling for special courts for corruption cases, believing that some of their current crude tactics, which are an anathema to the rule of law, would find judicial expression in such special courts. I guess they also hope that at such a court, the onus would now be on the accused to prove that he/she is not a thief, rather than the accuser to prove that he/she is one. In other words, the accused stands guilty, until proven innocent, rather than the current practice of remaining innocent until proven guilty

But the question to ask is: If they get a new court, would they also get a different constitution?

Now, when they say the judiciary is frustrating their work, I know what they mean: They are impatient with the rule of law. They want their own lawyer, their own court and, I dare say, their own constitution. And for this, they have been blackmailing the legislature non-stop.

But, jokes apart, until we reviewed the current approach to the fight against corruption, we would continue to watch helplessly as all manner of rogues loot our treasury and have a good laugh at us, as we continue to trash around aimlessly. Of course, we would not be able to make progress until we honestly take politics and vengeance out of this war against corruption.

No amount of blackmailing the legislature (and demonising the last PDP government) would fix the problem. We sure need a change of tactic.

But, let’s even assume that all our senators are thieves, why would anybody in his common sense expect these thieves to now endorse the appointment of a Magu, who has not concealed the fact that he intends to make life unbearable for them?

Don’t our people say it’s only a tree that would overhear people planning to cut it down and still remain on the same spot?

I dey laugh o!

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