An opportunity for crucial change at Nigeria’s EFCC

Once again history has repeated itself at Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the state institution charged with responsibility for tracking and curbing economic and financial malfeasance in a country globally notorious for being one of the most corrupt nation-states in the world, a situation which has left the majority of its over 170 million strong populace wallowing in poverty despite its being one of the world’s biggest oil and gas exporters.

The EFCC was established in 2004 as the lead state institution in the fight against corruption and in the effort to eliminate all forms of economic and financial crimes. However, over the past one and a half decades, its conduct has been shrouded in intense controversy, its occasional major successes overshadowed by allegations – both proven and unproven – of misconduct by its top officials and of political targeting of perceived opponents of the incumbent government.

Most instructively, every single chief executive of the EFCC, since its establishment has been forced out of office by one scandal or the other. By turn, Nuhu Ribadu, Farida Waziri, Ibrahim Lamorde, and now, Ibrahim Magu have forfeited the position of Chairman of the Commission amid revelations of self-enrichment, collusion with the very people that it is meant to prosecute, abuse of office, or some other sort of official misconduct.

The latest culprit, Ibrahim Magu, who has been operating in an acting capacity is now suspended while investigations into some of his alleged illegal and unethical acts are carried out. His chances of surviving the investigation are obviously zero; among several other revelations, a search of his house revealed some 501 billion nairas in cash, this amounting to roughly the equivalent of a billion US dollars. It is now becoming increasingly clear that he has been keeping, state funds, supposedly recovered from culprits of financial crimes against the public treasury, for himself. Obviously, this must-have required collusion with the culprits themselves.

This is a situation that has repeated itself time and again since the EFCC was established- the only thing that changes is the identity of the Commission’s CEO caught out.

Finally though, not only is the need for a change of strategy being recognized; a clear opportunity for implemented potentially effective positive change is emerging.

Change is required on two fronts. One is the way the EFCC’s chairman is selected and the other is the way the Commission executes its mandate.

Read More: New Chairman for Nigeria’s EFCC: PABF makes a Case for Dahiru Yusuf Yabo

The 2004 Act that established the EFCC requires that its chairman/CEO be a serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or its equivalent. While this in itself is severely limiting, successive political administrations have narrowed the field even further by reserving this key position to serving or retired top police officers. Nigerians have justifiably questioned the prudence of appointing senior officers from the institution of the state generally regarded as the most corrupt, to lead the fight against corruption. The situation is worsened further by the resultant tendency of the EFCC to operate as a unit of the Nigeria Police Force rather than as an independent institution. With police collusion obvious involved in the committing of financial and economic crimes by public officers in the first place, the likelihood of police officers assigned to the EFCC uncovering such acts is close to zero.

The second requisite change is in the way the EFCC goes about its business. Basically, the Commission operates reactively, investigating allegations of corruption in the form of financial and economic malfeasance. No effort is made towards plugging the institutional and procedural loopholes which enable such crimes to be committed in the first place.

Even the way in which this reactive strategy is executed proves extremely controversial, with the EFCC regularly accused of being used by successive political administrations to hound perceived political opponents, rather than as a neutral tool for curbing state corruption in all its forms. Public policy commentators now agree that primary efforts should be directed towards proactively blocking the opportunities for corruption by getting regulatory institutions and the legal instruments they are empowered with, to do their jobs properly.

Crucially, an opportunity now arises to implement both identified, requisite changes in one go, by appointing a new chairman – who is not a police officer, but a retired government security chieftain from a different arm of law enforcement, with an exemplary track record of personal and professional accomplishment and integrity   – who most importantly has been championing a switch from reactive to proactive strategy by the EFCC for several years now.

This is Alhaji Yusuf Yabo, a 56-year-old Fulani from Sokoto State. Crucially, his 16 years professional career in the Nigeria Customs Service – spanning 1987 to 2003 – where he specialized in the investigation, inspection, and enforcement, alongside general administration, finance, and public conduct, qualifies him for the chairmanship of EFCC as demanded by law. But he is also thoroughly experienced in political governance, an essential skill required for the job. He has been Commissioner for both water resources and foe commerce, industry, and tourism in Sokoto State has been a gubernatorial aspirant in that state and has been the deputy state chairman of a leading political party, all positions that have given him invaluable experience and insights into the machinations of political governance within the framework of Nigeria’s peculiar type of democratic practice.

He is also highly reputed for his professionalism and personal integrity, key attributes for someone charged with leading the fight against official corruption. Furthermore, his formal educational background is perfectly suited for the job. He holds a master’s degree in public policy and administration, another master’s degree in crime management, and a post-graduate diploma in crime management, prevention, and control.

But perhaps most important of all are his perspectives on how the EFCC should execute its mandate. He is the champion of the direly needed switch to proactive strategy.

“Over the years, the fight against corruption has been fought one-sided without any attempt to deal with the other side of the coin” asserts Alhaji Dahiru Yusuf Yabo. “Either lack of understanding of the statutory functions of the organization or poor knowledge or training or both can be the only reasons for operational miscarriage in the EFCC’s anti-corruption operations all this time.

“Over the years, the leadership has dissipated more energy in chasing gratification issues usually committed by government officials as against corruption issues that are more systematic and corporate in nature. That is why the focus of EFCC is targeted at financial crimes committed by persons in vantage positions of authority, with unlimited and unchecked access to power, largely due to failure of institutional mechanisms put in place but not properly implemented.

“The fight against corruption will never succeed by merely pursuing individuals or groups who are accused of stealing public funds, except and unless the linkages are blocked through enhancement of operational laws by the regulatory agencies. Economic subterfuge and cutting corners by compromising standards or negligence on the part of those officials responsible, is certainly the main shortcoming that breeds financial crime, as a result of regulatory agencies refusing to do their duties. The EFCC is simply laying an ambush for stolen funds as against going further to put pressure on the regulatory agencies to do their job proactively by strengthening compliance as a means of blocking leverage to steal.”

New Chairman for Nigeria’s EFCC: Pan African Business Forum makes a Case for Dahiru Yusuf Yabo
New Chairman for Nigeria’s EFCC: Pan African Business Forum makes a Case for Dahiru Yusuf Yabo

He points out, as an example the fact that if the Standards Organization of Nigeria is doing its job properly there would be less chance of crime committed in collusion with manufacturers and importers. Another example: if the National Deposit Insurance Corporation can properly manage the banking sector as the main hub for facilitating corruption by serving as custodian of illegally acquired funds, financial crime would be minimized.

“Therefore for a more effective fight against corruption, EFCC must extend its beam light on major institutional frameworks that have been put in place. The effort should be geared towards ensuring strict compliance with rules and regulations governing the corporate organizations under the purview of those regulating agencies. This is achievable and realizable one the EFCC is conditioned to be on its toes and especially where sanctions are indiscriminately applied to violators as deterrents to would-be offenders.”

This thinking, coupled with his professional training and experience as well as his personal attributes of exemplary integrity and commitment, makes Alhaji Yabo the ideal man for the job of taking the EFCC out of its 16 yearlong loops of falling short of expectations. A new man, with the right new ideas, is just what the EFCC, and indeed Nigeria, needs right now.

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