Ten years down the road however, and contrary to the optimistic assertions of EFCC officials, the level of corruption in the country does not appear to have changed much. Public perception of government officials is that they are mostly corrupt, notwithstanding government protestations.
A major consequence of corruption is its adverse effects on the capacity of government to deliver services to its citizens since resources meant for public purposes end up being frittered by public officers. Corruption also discourages foreign investment and increases the cost of doing business in the country.
In its early days, the commission performed well, arresting and prosecuting high-ranking government officials, including a state governor and an Inspector General of Police. Such prosecutions were meant to send signals that the government meant business and there would be no sacred cows in its anti-graft crusade.
Despite spirited efforts, the work of the EFCC became politicized and it came under sharp criticism for allegedly engaging in selective prosecution by targeting political enemies of the president. It has not recovered from that damaging public perception of its work, despite a couple of changes in its leadership.
Corrupt elements, especially politicians, have found a useful alibi in alleging that they are victims of a witch-hunt every time they come under EFCC investigative spotlight. They cry foul when they are caught, although many of them are far from innocent. Recently, politicians estranged from the ruling party have alleged that the EFCC has been let loose on them because of their differences with those in authority. This is a persistent accusation against the EFCC and once again it is a wakeup call for the organisation to discourage the perception that it is a tool in the hands of the government to hound its opponents.
Even when the EFCC decides to prosecute, cases tend to drag on for too long with no satisfactory outcome assured. Many cases have been investigated with very few convictions. Many out of 36 governors previously under investigation for alleged corruption have never been brought to trial.
Instead foreign judicial services, like in the cases of James Ibori, a former governor of Delta State, found for the prosecution. Mr Ibori is now serving time in British prison
In another case, a governor who was accused of fleecing billions of naira from his state was allowed to enter into plea bargain with the prosecution and asked to pay a paltry sum in fine and let off the hook. Given the corruption in the judiciary, its role in aiding corrupt practices has made the job of the EFCC much harder.
Nigeria’s ranking in the hall of infamy called the Corruption Perception Index, published by Transparency International, has not improved much over the years and has continued to dent the country’s image.
The danger the country faces is that the more corrupt public officials go scot free, the more encouragement it gives to others. Those flaunting illegal wealth assault the senses of innocent citizens who feel cheated and frustrated.
They also constitute a threat to social cohesion, encouraging other forms of crimes, including the growing incidence of kidnapping.
The EFCC must clean up its acts because it has a crucial role to play in the fight against corruption. It must resist pressure from public officers to turn it into an instrument to intimidate others, and must redouble its efforts in carrying out its assignment without discrimination to reassure Nigerians of its commitment, sincerity of purpose and fairness.