Obasanjo: Was EFCC Chairman Permanently Zoned to the North?, By Ropo Sekoni

Before the final nominee to replace Magu is announced and before professional demonstrators carry placards to remind President Buhari of the sanctity of federal character in choosing nominees for the post of the country’s chief warrior against corruption, Baba should speak if there was any hidden subtext to the establishment of EFCC.

Ordinarily, though nothing is ordinary in Nigeria, former President Olusegun Obasanjo should not be subjected to queries for what he did as the first post-military president of our country at a time when corruption was considered normative and probity deviant by members of the ruling class. But recent developments in the pattern of appointment of chairpersons to lead the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) make sending this open letter to President Obasanjo urgent, in view of suggestions of candidates that should be appointed to replace Ibrahim Magu, who failed to get his appointment confirmed by the Senate a few days ago.

Whatever may be the faults of Obasanjo while he served his second unrenewable terms as president, it is on record that he was the man with the vast imagination to recognise that corruption within the country had reached a point that it had to be arrested, or made to seem so, if it was not to suddenly suffocate the country to death. It was Obasanjo who, in the least expected of responses to festering political and bureaucratic corruption, established the EFCC to the chagrin of many members of the ruling class.

From official records on the establishment of EFCC, the agency was formed to perform, among others, the following objectives: the enforcement and the due administration of the provisions of its enabling Act; the investigation of all financial crimes, including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, 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. Also, the adoption of measures to identify, tract, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities; economic and financial crimes related offences or the properties the value of which corresponds to such proceeds; the adoption of measures to eradicate the commission of economic and financial crimes; etc.

It is also necessary to find out from the former president if he gave anyone, in his hand-over notes, directives that, as founder of the anti-corruption commission, he did not want subsequent governments after his own to comply with principles and provisions of Federal Character in appointment of chairman of the EFCC.

Since nobody can say with certainly what the expectations of Obasanjo were when he dreamed about establishing a commission to detect and prosecute corruption in the country, in addition to what the traditional police force was designed to do, it is not out of place to find out from him if he meant then to establish the EFCC to serve the interest of any specific region in a country of six regions. It is also necessary to find out from the former president if he gave anyone, in his hand-over notes, directives that, as founder of the anti-corruption commission, he did not want subsequent governments after his own to comply with principles and provisions of Federal Character in appointment of chairman of the EFCC.

The reason for this question to Baba, as he is fondly referred to, is that since his exit from power the president and vice president he assisted to succeed him, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, appeared to be glued to appointing chairpersons of EFCC from the North. Just two days after the refusal of the Senate to confirm Ibrahim Magu as chairman of EFCC, the media identified four potential nominees likely to be appointed to take over from Magu. These candidates are Nuhu Ribadu, foundation chair of the commission appointed by the founder of EFCC, General Obasanjo; Hameed Ali, the current Comptroller-General of Customs, appointed by President Buhari; Zakari Biu, retired Commissioner of Police; and retired AIG Amodu Ali. It is curious, even before the shortlist, that no potential nominee is from any of the Southern states. The least curious of citizens in a multi-ethnic federation that prides itself on guarding jealously the principle of Federal Character in federal appointments cannot but be perplexed by the fact that the fifth nomination to the chairmanship of the EFCC since its founding is being projected to be from the North. This is after four chairpersons of the Commission in a row – Nuhu Ribadu from Adamawa; Farida Waziri from Benue; Ibrahim Lamorde from Borno; Ibrahim Magu from Borno, and now either of Ribadu, Biu, Ali and Ali – all from the North.

President Obasanjo is in the best of positions to tell the nation if the choice of states for the nomination of the chairman of EFCC has been pre-ordained, or to be politically correct, permanently zoned to the North. If so, he needs to assure the nation why this agency should defy the country’s much vaunted Federal Character Principle. Is this because former President Obasanjo believed that it is only law enforcement officers from the North who have the proper skills set to catch corrupt people. Or is it that Baba believed, at the inception of EFCC, that most of the people to catch for corruption are from the North, even though the identities of those fingered for corruption so far have indicated that there is an unmistakable federal character distribution in the affliction with corruption in the country. Whether it is in the military, the civil service, federal agencies, and the judiciary, those whose names had gone from Magu’s office for prosecution constitute a mini Nigeria in terms of ethnicity, faith, and profession.

…deafening noise about giving the impression that there is nobody in the 17 Southern states who has the skills, equanimity, confidence, and competence to detect and present suspects for corruption to the courts needs to be averted.

Knowing this country as much as President Obasanjo does, having ruled it for a total of about thirteen years as both military dictator and elected head of state, Baba should not feel bothered about this open letter to him. Many of the citizens of the country he so loves to the extent of seeking to be its head of state for two terms: military and civilian, despite his rhetorical style, enjoy his candour to the extent that they would ordinarily like him to speak on the questions in this letter. Before the final nominee to replace Magu is announced and before professional demonstrators carry placards to remind President Buhari of the sanctity of federal character in choosing nominees for the post of the country’s chief warrior against corruption, Baba should speak if there was any hidden subtext to the establishment of EFCC. This is very important in view of the complaints last year from various corners of the country about the pattern of appointments to the nation’s security agencies.

It is not as if the world would come to an end if President Buhari should decide to choose a new EFCC chairman from the ranks of security and law enforcement officers from the North, a region that has produced a higher percentage of such professionals for over 60 years of the country’s life. But deafening noise about giving the impression that there is nobody in the 17 Southern states who has the skills, equanimity, confidence, and competence to detect and present suspects for corruption to the courts needs to be averted. Such noise has a way of distracting attention from the other urgent problems at hand, especially the raging recession that has no North nor South in the spread of its negative impact.

Given the propensity of the media in our country to promote intrigue, even when there is no good reason for doing so, it is not impossible for the speculation about Ribadu and others to be the only nominees for Magu’s job to be like crying wolves where none exists.

Ropo Sekoni, a professor of Semiotics, is Board Chair of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ).

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