Politics is in the air and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is at it again. The former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke has become a pawn in the politics of President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election bid. Obviously, this failing government has nothing to sell as its achievement to promote its re-election bid. So as the elections draw near, it’s scrambling desperately in search of how to sell its re-election bid to the people.
The EFCC, under the influence of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), has suddenly realised that its most potent arsenal – Alison-Madueke’s alleged misdeeds – need to be brought back to public consciousness in its propaganda war on corruption. Pronto, it dug up the case file to deceive and distract the public from looking at the performance scorecard of this government with its not-so-clever ploy of extradition shenanigans. The EFCC sold this dummy to the media to deceive the people that it is on top of its game, and the headlines rolled out fast.
However, we should expect to see the revving up of its media war against corruption with sensational probes into “diverted” or “missing funds” within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled states in the days and weeks ahead as the elections approach.
Please make NO mistake, I am not in support of Mrs Alison-Madueke’s alleged crimes as some dumb supporters of President Buhari might want to conclude. Rather, this piece is a cautionary intervention and an excursion into how the EFCC has become a plying tool to fight the election campaign for the APC. Fighting crime must be devoid of politics. The moment you politicise it, as EFCC is doing, you lose the confidence of the people and unwittingly create sympathy for the alleged offenders.
Let me rejig your memory a bit: In October last year, this same EFCC surprised discerning Nigerians when it opposed an affidavit by Alison-Madueke asking a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to compel the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami to formally facilitate her return to Nigeria to enable her defend herself in a suit in which her name was mentioned. Specifically, it filed a counter affidavit urging the court not to order the former minister’s return from the United Kingdom to Nigeria.
A little background on the situation is necessary: In the application she had filed then through her lawyer, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu before Justice Rilwan Aikawa, Alison-Madueke had said she wished to appear before the Federal High Court in Lagos to defend a criminal charge bordering on the alleged money laundering of N450million. But the anti-graft agency countered, describing her prayer to be brought back to Nigeria as a ploy to escape justice in the UK, where, according to the EFCC, she was being investigated for several financial crimes by the Metropolitan Police.
According to the commission, investigation by the Metropolitan Police in Alison-Madueke’s case had reached an advanced stage and her prosecution in the UK was imminent. It therefore said it would not be in the interest of justice to grant her application seeking to return to Nigeria, and that she had designed the instant application to distract and scuttle both her investigation and imminent prosecution in the UK.
The EFCC, in its counter-affidavit deposed to by one of its operatives, Usman Zakari, explained further: “That the applicant, who knows full well that she is on bail in the United Kingdom where she is being investigated for several financial crimes, and that she would not be able to leave that country in view of the ongoing investigation and imminent trial, is seeking the order of this honourable court for the charge before this honourable court to be amended to include her name on the face of the charge, in order for her to escape from investigation and prosecution in the United Kingdom under the guise that she is coming to face her trial before this honourable court and also to scuttle the trial before this honourable court.”
Arguing the counter-affidavit, the EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, described Alison-Madueke’s application as a “violent abuse of court processes” and urged Justice Aikawa to reject same. Those were pretty strong words used to oppose the former minister’s demand for the court to order that she be brought back home. But Alison-Madueke’s lawyer, Ikpeazu, maintained that justice of the case demanded that her client should either be given the opportunity to defend herself, or the charge sheet should be amended and her name expunged.
Now, fast forward to November 2018. The same EFCC that opposed Alison-Madueke’s demand that the court should order the AGF to facilitate her return to Nigeria to defend herself against criminal charges, was now claiming that it was pushing for her extradition because the British authorities had failed to arraign her. The government pushed out all sorts of funny narratives then that were celebrated by many including the sensational news story, ‘FG to Diezani: Face Trial in UK, No Need to Come Back to Nigeria.’
I read the articles gloating about the federal government’s response to Alison-Madueke’s demand to be brought back home to defend herself. Of course they simply parroted the EFCC’s narrative and even went further to insinuate that because she knew she couldn’t “buy” her way through the UK judiciary, as she could back home with wads of money, that was why she wanted to face trial here. Some even argued then that she wanted to escape her ongoing trial in the UK even though there was clearly no trial going on over there.
Let everyone of sound mind (because I have come to realise there are so many irrational people amongst us these days) ask the EFCC: Why demand for the extradition of someone who last year, asked a Federal High Court to order the government to bring her back to defend herself? A demand that was vigorously opposed by the same agency now brandishing talk of extraditing the very same person? Does this make sense? Can anybody help me make sense of this?
It was shocking beyond belief that the EFCC chose to forfeit the opportunity to have the former petroleum minister face allegations against her in Nigeria rather than in the UK. The bulk of her alleged crimes were committed here. So why really did the EFCC choose to oppose her return then? It could be it didn’t have confidence in the evidence it had gathered against her other than whipping up the mass hysteria and lynch-mob mentality that wants blood at all cost. This brings to question the quality of legal advice the EFCC gets before decisions to either prosecute or not are reached. Who evaluates the evidence after investigation to determine whether the evidence it has unearthed establishes a prima facie case against an individual or a company under target? Is it the EFCC chairman or the legal department/ legal advisers?
It could also be that the EFCC had more confidence in the UK judicial system than the Nigerian legal system. How shameful! But unfortunately, it did not reckon that the UK police will only rush an accused to court when the facts and the evidence weigh heavily against that person with the likelihood of securing a conviction, unlike here where an accused is arraigned in court on a nebulous charge before commencing the search for evidence.
The chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu’s frustration essentially borders on the fact that the National Crimes Agency in the UK does not act with the same impunity that the EFCC is notorious for. They undertake diligent, painstaking investigations, make an evaluation of the evidence to see if it will stand legal scrutiny before proceeding to court. They will definitely not go to court to lose once they determine the evidence will not be enough to earn a conviction. They will also weigh the legal cost of prosecution on the taxpayers and determine if it is worth it, and whether recovery is possible.
Well, the EFCC is not restrained by such standards. It is more concerned about how much media hype and banner headlines it generates than the actual evidence it has to earn a conviction in court, it is more about the optics even though it has led to high-profile losses in court. Well, the convenient excuse is usually the judiciary was “compromised”. And for an agency more politicised than at any time in our history, the optics are usually good enough for the blood-baying mob.
You see, going by the statements made by top officials of this government immediately the Muhammadu Buhari presidency was inaugurated, Alison-Madueke was supposed to be the big fish in the anti-corruption war. Up till this moment, I am a bit hesitant to believe that the EFCC has done a diligent investigation that will lead to a conviction going by its pedigree. But with the radio silence on the issue from the Metropolitan Police and elections fast approaching, Magu had to flip flop on it with his extradition stunt. He would have gullible Nigerians believe that the tempo of the anti-corruption war has been upped and that the big fish will soon be in the net by giving the issue some media attention to gain votes for Buhari. The EFCC’s new-found ostensible resolve to bring her to trial so that she can pay her debt to society, if convicted, is driven solely by politics of Buhari’s re-election, nothing more! I bet you, nothing will come of it because the intentions are not noble.
Again, while Magu wants to shift attention to Alison-Maduke in the UK, he continues to ignore the petition from the former Managing Director of Alpha Beta-turned-whistleblower on the alleged massive fraud committed by the company amounting to well over N100 billion, bordering on tax evasion, money laundering and outright corruption. Why? Because a prominent APC leader is alleged to own a major stake in the company. So investigating and prosecuting him won’t be in the interest of the president’s re-election.
The Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, aka Gandollar, bribery film is still premiering on the social media, our political EFCC has refused to look in that direction. Each time Ibrahim Magu is asked about it, he dodges the question and switches to a more convenient and sellable topic – the Alison-Madueke extradition. Come to think of it, how would Magu investigate the Kano governor when the man has promised to deliver 5 million votes to Buhari’s re-election bid? In the presidential primary, he purportedly delivered 2.9 million votes to Buhari. Recall that even Magu himself used to wear Buhari’s re-election lapel before the public outcry forced him to drop that ill-conceived, unethical, sycophantic and hypocritical conduct.
Allegations of corruption are swirling around stalwarts of the APC and threatening to choke them, but the EFCC is looking the other way as it always does on matters concerning APC members. Any attempt to move against them will not be in the best interest of the president’s re-election which has become its raison d’etre. What a shame!
For the life of me, I can’t figure out how the Buhari Campaign Organisation is getting “clean” funding. There have been various reports, even though denied by the authorities, that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is providing the cash through slush funds. Under this government, we have seen an unexplained sudden jump in the consumption of petrol from 30-35 million litres to 60-80 million litres a day, despite the economic downturn and the declining purchasing power of the average Nigerian. I heard they call it round tripping. On the fraudulent 60-80 million litres we consume daily, the NNPC pays itself subsidy. Could this be the slush funds being deployed for Buhari’s re-election? Imagine what is being stolen daily by those running the state oil company. The EFCC has looked the other way pretending not to be aware of this monumental heist on a scale never seen before.
In one of his media briefings I attended, I had cause to ask Magu why the astronomical increase in the consumption of petrol was not being investigated despite calls for it and, true to form, he dodged the bullet. In stark contrast, the political EFCC is putting the squeeze on elements of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party, so that it would not be able to raise enough funds to finance its own campaigns.
Earlier in the week, the Buhari Campaign launched a major campaign in the media, spent several millions of naira on adverts in many national dailies. How the money was raised has not been disclosed. This issue goes to the heart of campaign financing which these loudmouthed hypocrites of the APC have refused to address. I am challenging Mr President to come clean to the public on where his campaign monies are coming from. Nothing but full and transparent disclosure would be enough. It is not enough to search an opponent’s plane in search of suspected illicit cash ferried into the country from abroad purportedly for the elections. He should tell us where APC’s cash is coming from. Is it from taxpayers’ money as suspected or contributions from party members and donors?
For Buhari, it is curious that a man who has carried on with pompous arrogance as Mr Integrity, and who has branded all past leaders corrupt (remember how he traduced and lampooned the previous governments for allegedly using taxpayers’ money to fund election campaigns?), but has not disclosed to the public how his campaign organisation is raising money for his re-election, in the spirit of transparency, full disclosure and simply leading by example. Examples are better than precepts, after all.