Apparently coming under pressure from home and abroad, President Goodluck Jonathan may be revving up the anti-corruption war by sacking the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission
At last, Farida Waziri got booted out as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, last week Wednesday, after three years of turbulent service. And in an ironic twist, Ibrahim Lamorde, an assistant commissioner of police who had been vegetating under her as unfavoured director of operations, took over her job in acting capacity. Lamorde held the same position under Nuhu Ribadu and became acting chairman when Ribadu was axed. He is one of the officers the commission trained to international standard on anti-corruption war. Unfortunately, he was hounded out of EFCC when Waziri became chairman.
But after Tunde Ogunshakin who replaced him was removed as director of operations over an alleged examination scandal at the University of Abuja, Lamorde returned to his position in what has been a game of musical chairs. But he could not bring back the effectiveness of the Ribadu years because the terrain had changed under Waziri. Sources told the magazine that Waziri operated like a sole administrator and effectively made Lamorde a toothless bulldog.
His appointment is obviously an attempt by President Goodluck Jonathan to convince Nigerians and international investors and friends, sceptical about his anti-corruption credentials, that he indeed means business. In 2011, Nigeria broke the African record in fiscal indiscipline when the government allocated 75 per cent of the budget to recurrent expenditure, which funds the insatiable appetite of top government officials; leaving only 25 per cent to capital expenditure. The United States, US may have made a case to Jonathan to appoint Lamorde who is said to be in the good books of the US Mission in Nigeria. His return as director of operations under Waziri was described as an attempt to please the US that has always thought he could do a better job.
Waziri’s sack did not come as a shock to most people as the anti-corruption war was bedevilled by conflicts under her. What surprised many was that she survived three long years on the job. She was appointed November 18, 2008 and confirmed May 27, 2009. If Jonathan had not been a gradualist, Waziri would have been removed September 2010 along with the former service chiefs, but the President buckled under intense lobby and postponed the inevitable. By Friday, November 18, it appeared certain that Waziri was on the way out but given her past survival ability, cautious journalists adopted a wait and see attitude.
By Monday November 21, while she spoke as guest lecturer at the Defence College Abuja she was oblivious of the sword of Damocles hanging over her head. As she dwelled on the topic: Economic Crimes and National Security: Challenges for Nigeria, Farida described corruption as the biggest threat to Nigeria’s economy and national security. She maintained that there was a direct nexus between security and the economy. “Indeed the rallying cry should be that, as a nation, ‘seek ye the kingdom of economic prosperity and every other thing shall be added unto thee’. In other words, secure your economy first, and the other essential parameters will be easier to handle”, she explained.
Waziri further identified what she called the four essential pillars of integrity as necessary conditions for national security. These are: political will; effective law enforcement; effective and incorruptible judiciary and an independent, virile civil society.
According to her, “first, there must be a political will to fight corruption. When the chips are down, the essence of political leadership is to provide a direction for policies...” One source thought this was a critical, if not outright indictment of the government. Was this the immediate cause of her removal?
By Wednesday when government announced her removal, it appeared the Presidency was not yet sure of the reasons it wanted to give to the public. The statement of Reuben Abati, senior special assistant to the President on media and publicity, gave no reason for her removal.
After that statement, Abati sent messages to the media, claiming that government action was part of efforts at bringing about reforms. Human Rights Watch, HRW does not think her removal would solve the problem of the anti-graft body. Hear this, “One of the EFCC’s greatest weaknesses has been its lack of independence and susceptibility to political pressure. President Jonathan’s sudden firing of Farida Waziri will only make that problem worse unless the government pushes through reforms to bolster both the EFCC and the other institutions it depends on”, says Daniel Bekele, Africa director, HRW. That strikes a cord. The commission was recently subjected under the ministry of justice, and may have to clear with the ministry before it can institute a case against anybody in court. If that ministry is run the way it was ran sometime ago, when a former minister of justice allegedly collaborated with corrupt politicians, then it may have been castrated.
Our sources confirmed Waziri had always been at the ‘departure hall’, only that the government was bidding its time before kicking her out. Femi Falana said that sacking Waziri is coming rather too late, as she is not competent to occupy the position, noting that the anti-corruption war has suffered under her watch. Nasir El-Rufai, a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, equally acknowledged that she was incompetent but is of the view that government is sacking her at the wrong time. He accused the government of contravening the EFCC Act by her removal.
When finally the axe fell, the woman was allegedly caught unawares. Sources say she was in her office holding a crucial meeting on how to fast track some high profile cases when a staff walked to asked confirmation of a news report on her removal. Apart from what many believed to be lacklustre performance, some governors have alleged extortion by operatives of the EFCC under the constantly bejewelled Waziri. Others have alleged political and personal motives for her coming after them.
In July this year, she was engulfed in controversy over her rank as a retired police officer. While she claims to have retired as an assistant inspector general, AIG of police, Hafiz Ringim, inspector general of police, confirmed to the attorney general of the federation in writing that she actually retired as a commissioner of police as she was acting AIG and was not confirmed for that position.
However, some of her sympathisers said her problem was not really knowing whether the government wanted to fight corruption or not. When she got serious with her job she appeared to have got into trouble; when she pulled her punches she knew no peace either. The recent onslaught of EFCC against corrupt politicians and former bank executives put her at the cross hairs of many destructive forces. Her vociferous crusade for special courts for corruption cases and public affirmation that the commission had done its job and that it needed political will to get the judiciary to do theirs and convict the suspects or dismiss the cases worsened her relationship with government and judiciary, they said.
The next few weeks will determine the true game the government is playing.