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Sonala Olumhense: The grand corruption conspiracy

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Sonala Olumhense: The grand corruption conspiracy

by Sonala Olumhense

Yes, there is a grand conspiracy in place in Nigeria to protect corruption.  Today, I will demonstrate this thesis.

Next week, I will provide suggestions on effective actions that committed Nigerians and groups can take to test it, and to puncture the plan.

This grand conspiracy involves anti-corruption agencies that hide their reports, a legislature that does not care about such reports and an executive that is happy there is no report to worry about.

Anyone who doubts whether there is institutionalized cover-up of corruption should take a close look at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).  As my 2004 essays on the commission which are available online show, I was one of the most fervent supporters of its mandate until it began to play “let’s pretend.”

On September 27, 2006, this much-heralded agency submitted its first annual report to the National Assembly as prescribed by Section 37 of the EFCC law.

Every year since then, I have looked forward to the report, and to learning how the so-called war is going.  Curiously, it has become increasingly difficult to find: the commission submits late, or delivers only an executive summary, or secretly smuggles the so-called report to the Assembly.

I know all this because every year, I have attempted to locate that report, and I have commented on the mystery.  Former EFCC princess Farida Waziri loathed the very idea of reporting, and I chronicled her annual failures.  After an atrocious term of office lasting three and a half years, she was released in November 2011.  Enter Ibrahim Lamorde, a former Director of Operations/interim chairman who first served under the pioneer chairman, Nuhu Ribadu.

Last year, I wrote two commentaries about the report.  In “The Forthcoming EFCC Report,” published on September 16, 2012 ahead of the September 30 deadline, I underlined the critical nature of his 2011 report. “We get to find out if the EFCC is fighting corruption fundamentally, or helping it,” I said.

After one month of failing to find that report, I wrote another commentary in which I declared that the EFCC had indeed filed none.  That was when the EFCC denounced me for supposedly not seeking the report.

I must explain that the EFCC is not legally-required to publish the report.  In better times, the commission was quite open about this, and it proudly placed on its front door on the Internet, the following reassuring notice:

“The Commission is under obligation by law to make a comprehensive report of…having been presented it to the National Assembly, members of the public may be apprised of its contents by their elected representatives or seek to obtain copies by laid down procedures of the Senate and House of Representatives.”

Prefacing the 2006 report, Mr. Ribadu told the Senate of a few of the highlights, naming names in the tradition of true crime fighting:

Governor Orji Kalu, who allegedly used members of his family to divert N35 billion into his business empire; Governor Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, Patience, who was involved in money-laundering; Ekiti State where the governor and his deputy were involved in illegal diversion of funds, money-laundering, and operation of foreign accounts; and Zamfara State, where Governor Yerima Sani was alleged to have personally logged stacks of currency out of official safes.

These are some of cases that Mrs. Waziri was expected to have followed up when she arrived in 2007.  She didn’t. When the preachy Mr. Lamorde took the reins, these and many other cases awaited him.  They ought to constitute a key part of his annual report, where there is one, because to do so is to pursue punishment and reparation where due, and to combat impunity.

On the contrary, not to report openly not only protects the criminals and their crimes, but nurtures the scourge.  Tragically, what we hear about at the EFCC is how it has arrested housewives and councillors, teachers and clerks.  I repeat: That is not how you fight corruption; it is how you pretend to be fighting corruption.

I chose not to hunt for the EFCC’s annual report this year because it has become clear that the commission is party to a conspiracy to keep the corruption industry going by pretending to be fighting the industry.  How does anyone shame corruption without naming it?

If Mr. Lamorde and his EFCC were truly combating corruption, would they not be so proud of it as to ensure the people they serve know about their accomplishments?  Why is a commission which publishes a daily compendium of every student arrested and every jobless 419-er prosecuted and every police corporal videotaped asking for a N20 bribe shy about broadcasting its success?  The Bible says, “A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.”

Mr. Lamorde’s EFCC seems to enjoy playing both sides of the fence.  At a “capacity-building” workshop it organized for members of the mass media in Lagos two weeks ago, he flattered journalists as a “significant ally” in his work.

“With your pen, you could make or mar the fight against economic crimes and corruption…We believe that on our own, we cannot win the war against corruption without a buy-in by the people…”

This is absolutely untrue. Why is Mr. Lamorde asking for the media’s help to win the hearts of the people when he is unwilling to be accountable to them? Why are National Assembly correspondents unaware when the report is submitted?  Why does the EFCC not even announce the submission of the report?

Sure, the law does not insist he distribute it to the press, but it does not prohibit it, either.  Publishing a transparent account, where there is one, is the only way to build the credibility of the commission and obtain the support of the public. And so, part of the grand pro-corruption conspiracy is the claim of the EFCC of an annual report that can neither be accessed nor assessed.

The second leg of the conspiracy: the “anti-corruption” agencies which protect each other.  Recall that in June 2012, the Independent and Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) was reported to have begun an investigation of Mrs. Waziri, citing “very disturbing evidence of corruption.”  The EFCC has never breathed one word about it, neither has the ICPC since that announcement 17 months ago!

The third leg is the National Assembly, which receives the EFCC report and immediately hides it. Clearly, the law never meant the annual report to be locked away upon arrival, because that would only serve the purpose of the criminals, as it now does. The arrangement for the commission to be answerable to the National Assembly was to prevent the executive from undue influence.

The executive arm of course, is the final leg of the conspiracy.  Think about it: the executive arm never asks about the report and never refers to it.  That is not governance, especially for a government which claims to be fighting corruption; it is collusion.

This four-legged conspiracy explains why our country’s best-known thieves are not only free but are among her most powerful.  It is an embarrassment, a shame, and a time-bomb.  As long as Nigerians ignore it, that bomb will go off.

Next week: how Nigerians who care can detonate the conspiracy.

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Sonala Olumhense. Follow this writer on Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense

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