It is no longer in doubt that Nigerian politicians have near-infinite capacity for mischief. But what is new is the limit to which some politicians can push their luck through the erection of certain contraptions decorated as anti-graft institutions to curry favour from the rest of the largely gullible public and by so doing carefully hide their misdeeds and escape the long arm of the law when they are long gone from the corridors of power.
In playing these games of hide-and-seek, Nigerian political office holders have clearly discovered that the best way to succeed in hiding their misdeeds and heist of public fund is to cultivate friendship with leaders of religious institutions and also compromise high profile law enforcement operatives to look the other way while they escape with their loots. Collectively, Nigeria has lost over $400 billion USD to political corruption since crude oil was discovered in commercial quantities over four decades now.
Those among the political office holders at the state level like governors who have lost favour with the powers -that -be at the national level are actively busy with their State House of Assembly to introduce certain bills that may undermine the authority of some national anti-graft institutions that directly take operational orders from the presidency.
Since the two federal anti-graft institutions were established, some state governors whose activities have attracted the investigative attention of these anti-graft bodies have used several confrontational measures to slow down the efficiency and effectiveness of these bodies namely-the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and allied offences Commission (ICPC).
When Mr. Nuhu Ribadu was chairman of EFCC he told the National Assembly then that over 15 governors were under the investigation of the anti-graft commission but since these governors lost their constitutional immunity from criminal prosecution, they have individually deployed the huge financial muscles and resources they acquired illicitly while in office to hire senior lawyers and also financially induce some judges to undermine the speedy prosecution of these cases.
During the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo who created these anti-graft bodies, they came under considerable criticism for allowing themselves to be deployed as attack dogs against political opponents of the then President.
The pattern of criticism against the anti-graft bodies is yet to abate even under the current dispensation to an extent that the Imo State political administration has not only accused the anti-graft bodies of witch hunt but the state house of Assembly has proceeded to initiate a bill to establish a miniature type of anti-graft commission.
The resolve of the Imo State House of Assembly to establishment its own type of EFCC was activated recently following persistent arrest of key political officials in the current Imo state government including the Finance Commissioner and the speaker of the state legislature under whose watch the drama of establishing a miniature EFCC is playing out.
Since two years that the current Imo State government came on board under Governor Rochas Anayochukwu Okorocha, there have been several cases of contractors running away with huge financial resources meant for projects that they failed to execute.
The inability of the Imo state government to arrest and retrieve these huge state fund stolen by contractors in connivance with state officials has created considerable worry in the minds of people who have filed petitions with the Federal anti-graft agencies praying them to recover these public money stolen-under the watch of the current Imo state administration.
The current Imo state government belongs to the opposition All Progressive Congress different from the national ruling party-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Rather than work actively with the national anti-graft bodies to recover stolen Imo state fund, the current political administration accused the national ruling PDP of deployment of the anti-graft bodies to go after the Imo State officials because of their political orientation. To add insult to injury, the Imo state House of Assembly has commenced the drama of creating a state controlled Economic and Financial Crime Commission in clear contravention of the popular legal maxim that a man cannot be a judge and prosecutor in his own case (Nemo Judex, non Causa Sua).
While the political officials still go about with the drama and foolery of setting up Imo State EFCC which must not see the light of the day, the Imo state government must provide clear answers to the questions that have arisen from the disappearances of huge public fund into private pockets of failed contractors with the criminal connivance of some Imo state government officials who still draw huge salaries and wages from Imo state treasury.
Recently, the EFCC arrested and released the Imo state Accountant General Mr. George Ezenna Eche and the Commissioner for Finance – Mr. Chike Okafor.
The two officials were arrested relating to petitions sent to the commission alleging that a construction company JPROS International Limited was paid over N1 billion for a construction contract.
The company was alleged to have been paid the full cost of the contract even though work had not commenced on the project.
The contract led to the impeachment of the former deputy governor in the state, Jude Agbaso, according to news report. Newspaper report say this is the second time the anti-corruption agency has carried out the detention of the two officials over allegations of fraud and abuse of office. The duo were arrested in January and granted bail but were never charged with a crime, thus making tongues to wag regarding the professional efficiency and effectiveness of this anti-graft agency.
Confirming their arrest and interrogation, spokesman of the commission, Wilson Uwujaren said their detention was part of the ongoing investigation of the N458 million scandal that led to the impeachment of the former deputy governor.
Conversely, report say the EFCC quizzed Hon. Simon Iwunze, Chairman of the Imo State House of Assembly Ad-hoc Committee that investigated Agbaso. He was quizzed and released on administrative bail. Imo state government has alleged political witch hunt for the embarrassing arrest of her officials.
A source from the Imo State Government who spoke to newsmen said the continued arrest and interrogation of senior officials of the Imo State cabinet and members of the state assembly were orchestrated attempts to incriminate the governor, and thus prepare grounds for his impeachment.
“What is happening is not new to us. It is part of the tactics to incriminate the governor and prepare grounds for his impeachment. We know those behind it”.
Citing unspecified Imo state source, a newspaper reporter claimed the official told him that the attack by EFCC has intensified following the comment by the Speaker of Imo state House of Assembly, Benjamin Uwajumogu, that some politicians offered N3 billion to him to facilitate the impeachment of the governor, which he rejected.
Confirming the threats of impeachment, the deputy governor, Prince Eze Madumere told newsmen in Abuja that what was happening was purely politics. These top ranking Imo state officials should provide clear and concise response to the query regarding the whereabouts of the state fund that disappeared into private pockets.
As a citizen of Imo State, I am not worried about the politics surrounding the arrest of these state officials but my fundamental worry is to see that all funds stolen from the Imo State treasury under the current and all previous administrations are returned and deployed to provide infrastructure and social services to both Imo rural and urban poor.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must also come clean and operate in line with the law setting it up just as it is unjust for officials of the anti-graft agencies to let themselves be deployed as foot soldiers of the PDP led federal administration to go after Imo state officials just for the fact that they belong to different political platform different from President Goodluck Jonathan.
Constitutional backing for the establishment of the anti-graft bodies is anchored on section 15(5) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) which obliges the Nigerian government to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.
Under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (establishment) Act of 2004, the key functions of the anti-graft body are found under part II, section 6.
The Federal EFCC is obliged by law in application all across the federation to carry out the functions of; investigation of all financial crimes including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, computer credit card fraud, contract scam…; the co-ordination and enforcement of all economic and financial crimes laws and enforcement functions conferred on any other person or authority and among others the adoption of measures to identify, trace freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities, economic and financial crime related offences or the proprieties the value of which corresponds to such proceeds.
The second anti-graft body is clothed exclusively with the functions of fighting all traces of bribery and corruption under the corrupt practices and other related offences Act of year 2000 [ICPC].
From the above, it can be seen that Nigeria has more than enough bodies to tackle corruption and economic crimes of all facets in all segments of the Nigerian society and so any attempt by any state government to duplicate the functions of these federal anti-graft agencies must be resisted by the people.
This is because economic crimes and corruption at the local and state government levels affects the lives of over 60 percent of the entire populations of Nigeria and so only independent anti-graft bodes can galvanize the credibility and wherewithal to confront these hydra-headed monsters.
What should be upper most in the minds of state government officials and members of the general public is to mount pressure on the National Assembly to amend the extant enabling Acts that set up these two federal anti-graft bodies so as to confer enhanced financial and operational independence and remove them from the suffocating political control of the presidency. Imo state government should partner credible civil society groups to undertake tremendous advocacy in that regard rather than waste money chasing shadows in the guise of setting up Imo state EFCC.
The argument for desiring to set up Imo State‘s miniature economic and financial crimes commission is not grounded in law and so must be discontinued except the current crop of politicians in Imo State derive joy in ridiculing and exposing the good people of Imo State to opprobrium.
The 26 member Imo State House of Assembly who are dramatizing the ongoing joke of establishing miniature EFCC should stop disgracing Imo state and face other challenging functions of making good laws for the betterment of Imo State and should play their Constitutional roles in providing effective checks and balances so Imo State executive Council members and agencies are compelled to effectively deliver services to the good people of Imo State that is why they were elected.