Retooling the anti-graft war
Going by the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, the controversy and intrigues over the confirmation of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) need not concern the House of Representatives. The task of confirming nominees of the President rests on the shoulders of the Senate as constitutionally required.
Yet, besides confirmation, the House is strategic in the formulation and amendments of all Acts that are used in the country. Members of the lower chambers of the National Assembly (NASS), who represent constituents across the nation, are also crucial in lobbying and in some cases Senators seek their views in legislative processes.
When the confirmation of Magu’s nomination threw up debates, especially as the Senate rejected his appointment twice, House members showed keen interest. Some looked beyond individual considerations and the confirmation process. They had their minds on reviewing the nation’s anti corruption laws to regularize certain policies and activities of the anti-graft agency, and strengthen it through legal instruments for optimal results.
At the Senate, it was a blend of individual and collective interests that was brandished.After the Senate disallowed the nomination of Magu for the second time, former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume claimed that it was not a hopeless situation, as the President could still re-nominate him. It was learnt that the controversy generated might have accounted for Ndume’s removal as Senate leader.
The upper legislative chamber hinged Magu’s rejection on an unfavorable security report obtained from the Department of State Security (DSS).It is also purported to be an organized sabotage of some high-profile suspects facing the commission’s investigation and trial from the courts who are angry that Magu was not yielding to attempts at compromising him. This, observers argued informed the EFCC’s boss decision to write to the presidency protesting that he was not given opportunity for fair hearing.
But in a chat with The Guardian, Chairman, House of Representatives’ Committee on Financial Crimes, Mr. Kayode Oladele said the claim by Magu that the security agency denied him opportunity to defend himself on the various charges in the report, is not tenable.
“A security report is usually not made available to the person at the centre of the report or to the public. It’s like a fact finding that an employer carries out on an applicant. Whether the applicant is employed or not, the employer is not at liberty to disclose his or her findings,” he stated.
He said there were several amendments being sought by the lower legislative chamber on the EFCC Act, that were aimed at strengthening the anti graft body, adding that one of them is the liberalization of the position of chairmanship of the commission.
According to him, there was need to review the existing laws to allow the President nominate credible persons for the office from whatever profession, contrary to the current practice of nominating candidates from security agencies only.
“What we are saying is that, rather than limit the area within which to appoint, a lawyer or any other Nigerian whose character is worthy, can be nominated for the office. With this amendment and several others, we intend to reposition EFCC and make it a first line charge,” Oladele explained.
He said by this way, there would be fairness and independence of the commission, stressing that a situation where the EFCC currently reports to the presidency, is inappropriate.
However, a human rights activist and Calabar-based legal practitioner, Mr. Utum Eteng contended that with the rejection of Magu’s nomination, Senators are no longer defending Nigeria’s Constitution or the manifestos and ideology of their political parties.
To him, their actions showed that they are more interested in protecting themselves from looted treasury.“Nigerians now know that as a way to stash ill-gotten money outside the shores of Nigeria some state governors pretend to gallivant across the globe searching for imaginary foreign investors, yet none can boast of foreign investors up to the number of trips abroad and the huge state resources involved. Ibrahim Magu is known to have directed his searchlight on some of these dubious foreign trips by some governors,” he claimed.
He said the actions of the Senate should not surprise anybody, as anyone fighting corruption should expect corruption to fight back.Although EFCC has embarked on seizures of property alleged to have been gotten fraudulently in line with its mandate to identify, trace, freeze confiscate or size proceeds derived from terrorist activities, economic and financial crime related offenses or the properties the value of which corresponds to such proceeds, there has been some hindrances in implementation.
This informed recent actions taken by the green chamber of NASS to strengthen the organisation and enhance its efficiency.Specifically, the House mandated its Committee on Financial crimes to carry out an audit of car dumps and inventory of movable and immovable forfeited assets seized by the EFCC.
According to members and based on the commission’s Act, the assets include cash that are currently being held by the anti graft agency on the orders of the court.The lawmakers want ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to carry out such inventories to avoid cases of missing, diversion and unaccounted items. They urged the MDAs to operate current assets registers in their domains.
The resolution followed a motion by Mr. Babajimi Benson (APC) Lagos State, who called on members to support the move to prevent seized assets under interim orders of courts to be disposed off by suspects while hearings on cases concerning them are in progress.
The House also authorized the committee to ascertain the legality of all forfeitures done in favour of EFCC, the conditions and current values of the assets and make appropriate recommendations.
“Acting under these provisions, the EFCC, since its establishment in 2003, has seized several movable and immovable properties and assets under interim orders of courts in order to preserve the properties/assets and prevent them from being disposed of by the suspects while cases were being investigated or tried,” he said.
Besides the amendment being canvassed at the lower chamber, Oladele is also pushing for the establishment of a special crimes court as a superior court of record to allow for speedy trials of certain offences, including economic and financial crimes, terrorism, money laundering and corruption.
The bill is currently in its second reading at the House of Representatives, along with similar ones aimed at reinforcing workings of the commission.Also, there is a bill to amend the EFCC Act, 2004 to provide for quick recovery procedures for stolen assets; implement active pursuit of cases, build capacity and improve trust and cooperation with foreign counterparts, ensure adequate funding of the commission and establish the economic and financial crimes court.
Similarly in the works, is a bill to amend the EFCC Act to make the commission more independent and effective in the enforcement of economic and financial crimes as well as a bill to amend the Act, to enhance the body’s effectiveness and for other related matters.
Others who are passionate and pushing for amendments of certain provisions of the EFCC laws are: Mr. Bede Uchenna Eke, Mr. Bassey Ewa and Mr. Oladipupo Olatunde Adebutu. Meanwhile, a bill for an act to make comprehensive provision for the confiscation, forfeiture and management of properties derived from unlawful activities and other related matters, 2016 has been reintroduced to the Eighth Assembly.
The bill was passed by the House in the last Assembly and forwarded to former President Goodluck Jonathan for assent, but was not signed into law by May 29, 2015. Oladele expressed the hope that the bill would soon become law.
“As soon as the committee is through with its consideration, it shall be forwarded to Mr. President for assent. And with the political will he is showing, there is no doubt that he will do justice to it,” he assured.
He explained that the bill is essentially intended to introduce a regime of civil forfeitures and also protect the property while investigations are ongoing.“This is because we use civil burden of proof in civil forfeitures. In this way, proceeds of forfeitures are being held under interim orders. If the person is innocent in the end, he or she is allowed to recover his or her property.
“This is the reason the bill is canvassing for EFCC to have recovery account with the CBN. In this way, the innocent person recovers his or her property, especially in the case of cash with interest,” he maintained.
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