The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), last week hit hard on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and its Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu. He alleged that Magu was frustrating Nigeria’s anti-graft war. In a statement titled, ‘EFCC’s ignoble role that led to Nigeria’s Egmont suspension,’ Malami’s spokesman Salihu Othman Isa, alleged that the EFCC “manipulated and misused intelligence to the detriment of the fight against corruption and financial crimes in Nigeria.”
This allegation is very weighty, and contradicts the perception that the EFCC is one agency that gives the government’s fight against corruption a meaning. In the last two years, Magu-led EFCC has investigated many top Nigerians suspected of corrupt practices. In spite of the sluggish judicial process, courts have ruled on the forfeiture of hundreds of properties and billions of Naira to the Federal Government, based on EFCC investigations. If the AGF’s office is alleging that EFCC is frustrating anti-graft war, it needs to do more to prove the allegation, much more than a statement by Malami’s aide. The only significant accusation is that EFCC wants to keep the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) under it, the cause of Nigeria’s suspension from the multilateral Egmont Group in June.
The Egmont Group, made up of 156 Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs), representing 156 countries, serves as a platform for exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing and functions as the operational arm of the international anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) apparatus. Nigeria, represented in the group by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), was suspended because the NFIU lacks independence.
Magu, in his response, insisted that the EFCC had not compromised NFIU guidelines, arguing that what is needed is the allocation of budgets to the unit as well as giving the head of the unit a fixed tenure. He also said, because investigating financial crimes is a core mandate of the EFCC, it was essential to maintain NFIU as a semi-autonomous unit under the anti-graft agency. Magu, who claims to be a long-term representative of Nigeria at Egmont Group meetings, says most member-countries’ NFIU are semi-autonomous under anti-fraud agencies. In spite of the Senate’s eagerness to pass the NFIU bill, there is no consensus between the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly on it because Speaker Yakubu Dogara has spoken strongly against the Bill, saying NFIU independence could breed unhealthy rivalry between it and EFCC.
It is also evident that though the AGF has constitutional oversight function over the EFCC there is no harmony among them. There is inter-agency rivalry which endangers the anti-graft war of this administration. Nigerians expect the AGF’s office and its agencies to cooperate on how to rein in the judiciary in the fight against corruption. The courts have been identified as the weakest link in this all-important war. Considering the fact that the National Bureau of Statistics recently said judges are among high profile bribe-takers, the AGF should have put more efforts into converting them into anti-corruption disciples instead of this quarrel with EFCC over NFIU.
We call on The Presidency to wade into this matter to ensure that the agencies involved in the anti-graft war work together. The danger in the squabbles is that corrupt elements could infiltrate their ranks and use the cracks in the walls as escape routes. As at now, it is evident that the Department of State Security (DSS) and AGF’s Office are not cooperating with the EFCC in this battle, yet the three, plus the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) should be in the forefront of this anti-corruption war. It will be a disaster if, with several anti-graft agencies, the Buhari administration fails to deliver on its promise to rid Nigeria of corruption.