A flurry of legislative activities is currently underway to amend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act and other related laws. The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, recently went further to suggest that the diverse proposals be harmonised to produce a new, improved enabling law. The law, however, needs strengthening, not scrapping. Scrupulous vigilance should be exercised by stakeholders to ensure that vested interests do not weaken the agency and hobble the war on corruption.
In response to ongoing efforts to amend the EFCC Act through different bills at the two chambers of the National Assembly, Malami suggested a comprehensive review instead of piecemeal amendments. In a presentation to the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes, which is considering several bills on financial crimes, he stressed that the many lacunae in the EFCC Act required its repeal and re-enactment so that it “would address all the issues” raised by the suggested amendments. Apart from the main EFCC amendment bill, there are several others that deal with the agency and other anti-corruption laws; one seeks autonomy for the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, which is currently domiciled in the EFCC, and others to amend money laundering laws, as well as new ones on Mutual Legal Assistance, Proceeds of Crime Bill, Asset Management System and Whistle-Blowers’ Protection Bill. Provisions in these bills impact on the work of the EFCC.
Updating laws to reflect current and anticipated future challenges and strengthening institutions for greater efficiency as claimed by the initiators, are in line with global best practices. The EFCC is proposing an amendment that would address its perennial funding deficit, including allowing it to keep a percentage of the stolen loot it recovers.
The Nigerian experience, however, demands alertness: stakeholders should keep an eagle eye on the legislative review to ensure that the EFCC becomes stronger and the anti-graft war rejuvenated. Neither the track record of our lawmakers nor, sadly, that of the Office of the AGF inspires confidence that they are fully committed to rooting out corruption. The National Assembly has barely come short of declaring war on the Executive for its insistence on retaining Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman, after being rejected twice by the Senate. Bickering between Malami and Magu over the AGF’s attempt to oversee the agency’s prosecution of high profile suspects has been laid bare in public. His two immediate predecessors were alleged to have expended much energy to hinder the anti-corruption efforts and de-fang the EFCC.
Apprehension is also heightened by the intrigues that informed the NFIU’s suspension earlier this year by the Egmont Group, the informal network of 156 national financial intelligence units, and the desperation of the Senate to “tame” the EFCC after successfully amending the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act. A clause in the EFCC Amendment Bill sponsored by Bassey Ewa, a representative from Cross River State, provides for the removal of the EFCC chairman by a two-thirds majority vote in the National Assembly upon receipt and deliberation of a petition against him; it also provides for parliamentary override of a presidential veto of such removal. Given the animosity by parliamentarians towards Magu and the reality of at least 15 senators and several Reps being under investigation or prosecution by the EFCC, the booby trap is obvious. In the light of the serial involvement of our lawmakers in corruption cases over the years, this could weaken the bite of the agency. This particular clause should be strongly resisted.
President Muhammadu Buhari, the Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption, civil society organisations, the mass media and every stakeholder should weigh in to ensure that we have a strengthened, independent and generously funded EFCC. It should be placed on the first line charge budgeting platform. The EFCC’s request to keep a portion of its recoveries is unacceptable; it is immoral and subject to abuse.
We insist that the agency’s power to prosecute, independent of the AGF’s office, be retained. Two former AGFs have, or are being investigated for alleged corrupt acts. No official should be immune from anti-corruption investigation as the State Security Services appears to be suggesting by refusing to release its officials for questioning over the $2.1 billion arms scandal as requested by the EFCC. Its defiance snowballed into reckless impunity on November 21 when its armed agents prevented the arrest of a former SSS director-general by the anti-graft detectives. Yet, the EFCC Act unambiguously authorises the agency to enforce all legislation relating to financial and economic crimes.
One amendment provides for special economic and financial crimes court, a long time request of the EFCC and other Nigerians, but this should not, as Ewa’s amendment seeks, exclude the regular high courts from trying financial crimes to avoid a pile-up of cases in the special courts. Legislation should be tightened to encourage and protect whistle-blowers.
The game-changer in the war on corruption should be the adoption of the Presumption Clause; the joker adopted by Singapore in its vaunted anti-corruption system, and the United Kingdom’s Unexplained Wealth Orders. Under the first, the onus is on the accused person to prove that the source of his or her suspicious assets are legitimate; “the law”, according to Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, “must support law enforcement with a cutting edge,” including independent oversight; the UK’s new rule passed in April triggers investigation when a person acquires assets above his income. Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission is monitored by five independent bodies to ensure its integrity. Romania’s National Anti-Corruption Directorate’s independence is enshrined in its enabling law. The United Nations Convention against Corruption reported that apart from effective laws, sound governance, effective agencies, the critical tipping point for success in an anti-corruption war is the strong political will to prosecute one.
Buhari needs to muster the will to fight corruption creatively, honestly and impartially.