I watched Ibrahim Larmode, the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at a budget session with the House of Representatives Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes. He was a sorry sight as he bemoaned the financial impecuniosity his commission is grappling with.
Larmode was worried that the Budget Office slashed the commission’s 2013 budget proposal from N21 billion to N9 billion which is less than half of its request to meet capital, personnel and overhead expenditure items next year. He said such drastic cut in budget proposal would hinder the commission’s operations in 2013.
Larmode was almost drawing sympathy from observers owing to his pensive look until the committee took him on on specific details. For instance, he was at pains to explain why the commission is proposing to spend N535 million for local travels in 2013 when it could not utilize the N357 million it budgeted for the same sub-head in 2012.
His nebulous defence was: “we intend to expand our operations”. His verdict on government’s funding of the commission went thus: “We do not have resources and that is why we refer the issue to other sister agencies with similar responsibilities. We operate within the resources given to us…” That is Larmode’s EFFCC in 2013. I do not know whether to sympathise with Lamorde or dismiss his worries with a wave of the hand. But the point I will not fail to make is that EFFCC is passing through its lowest moments under the present leadership.
From being a firebrand anti- graft agency under Mallam Nuhu Ribadu to a middle-of-the-road anti-crime commission under Farida Waziri, the EFCC has plummeted to an all-time low under Larmode. The commission now lacks bite and grit. It is almost a shadow of its old self. By this characterization, I do not, in anyway, suggest that EFCC before Lamorde was the ideal anti-crime body. The commission has always had its drawbacks. Ribadu imbued the agency with an image of awe. Under him, the commission was dreaded. It was largely so because of the personality of Ribadu. He is a sharp shooter. He cuts the image of a no-nonsense public officer.
His mien says that much. He is brash and abrasive. He also issues threats with gusto and even braggadocio. In the light of the image the man presented, many were scared stiff of him. But his rating in the eyes of the public began to wane when suspicions became rife that he was being goaded on by the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, to deal with his (Obasanjo’s) enemies, real or imagined. Such allegations may not have been established against Ribadu but they, nonetheless, worked against him.
The succeeding government of Umar Yar’Adua was ill at ease with Ribadu and his style. He was, consequently, shoved aside. Farida Waziri stepped into his shoes. But as is usual with situations under which she came into office, she shunned Ribadu’s approach. She was considered a lot more methodical and patient. But many interpreted this to mean inactivity and even indolence. But Farida refused to be blackmailed into playing slave to other people’s systems. She tried her best under the circumstance but still fell by the wayside. The musical chairs thrust forward Lamorde, the man who had, all this while, been Director of Operations at the commission.
While he was operating in this capacity, many saw him as the unseen hand, the quiet operator who was driving the commission from the background. The expectation therefore was that when the lot fell on him to lead the commission, an era of action and toughness would dawn on Nigeria. But that was as far as it went. Soon afterwards, Nigerians were to discover to their chagrin that the Larmode era is the real anti-climax that the commission has ever witnessed. So far, EFCC under Larmode is anything but inspiring. As things stand, Nigerians have come to take it that the commission exists now only in name.
The fire has gone and what is left is a cold, impotent ash. When therefore I encountered the pitiable sight Larmode presented the other day, I felt for him. But then I honestly feel that he should not put himself under pressure for the sake of the commission. I say so because I believe that the agency is not programmed to work. Every government appears to have its own ideas about what the commission should be or accomplish. Obasanjo had his under Ribadu.
Today President Goodluck Jonathan knows what he wants EFCC to accomplish for him. The commission can attain any height in line with what the Presidency wants. Therefore, Larmode does not need to lament or fret over poor funding. Whatever he gets may be enough for the job government expects the commission to do.
Practical wisdom demands that Larmode should limit himself to the fund available to him. If the government wants him to reach for the skies tomorrow, it knows what to do to empower his commission for the great expectations. Larmode should be wise enough not to mis-read the mood of the government he serves.