Monday, April 25, 2016

Nigeria: Blackmail As An Act Of Corruption

By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Nigeria is an interesting country. All you need do to have fun is sit back and watch the unbelievable drama in this theatre of the absurd.
Despite the very difficult times, you cannot but be amused. It is one day, one drama. The dramatis personae, the cast, are as interesting as their art.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu
So, when the news broke on Tuesday, April 19 that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) named Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, its Anti Corruption Ambassador and went to his lair, the National Assembly (NASS), to do the investiture, I knew that a new drama was in the offing and it would be a long running series.
Ekwere who? was the first question on my mind.
I was nonplussed, not because I adjudged him unworthy of the award, but knowing the character of this administration and the belief of President Muhammadu Buhari that all Nigerian politicians are corrupt, particularly those in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the overt endorsement of his sentiment by the EFCC, my first reaction was that some smart Alecs had conned Ekweremadu.
That was even before the drama unfolded fully and the facts became clearer.
Now we know that Ekweremadu was not fleeced by con artists. The visit and investiture were carried out by the EFCC’s NASS Liaison Officer, Suleiman Bakari, who led a team of officials of the anti-graft agency.
The EFCC team officially applied to visit Ekweremadu for the sole purpose of giving him the award.
On the appointed date, Bakari and his team went to his office clutching a plaque with a picture of Buhari bearing the inscription: “If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.”
Conferring the award, Bakari said to Ekweremadu: “It is, therefore, my honour, your excellency, to, on behalf of my acting Chairman, Ibrahim Mustafa Magu, and the entire management and staff of the EFCC, decorate you as an Anti Corruption Ambassador and formally present this frame as a token of our appreciation to your person and office, and as a symbol of institutional partnership between the EFCC and the National Assembly.”
The EFCC, thereafter, solicited the support of the NASS in the anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration.
An elated Ekweremadu responded in kind, calling for the establishment of Special Anti Corruption Courts to reduce the burden on regular courts and fast-track trial of corruption cases.
He thanked the EFCC for the honour and promised that the bills before the NASS aimed at strengthening the fight against corruption would get speedy attention.
But 24 hours later, all hell was let loose at the EFCC. It issued a statement rejecting Ekweremadu as its ambassador and disowned Bakari.
A statement issued on Wednesday, April 20 by EFCC Head of Media and Publicity, Wilson Uwujaren, said: “The EFCC totally dissociates itself from the purported action of Bakari as he acted entirely on his own and clearly outside his liaison officer brief as he was never instructed by [Magu] nor mandated by the management and staff of the Commission to decorate Ekweremadu or any officer of the National Assembly as ‘Anti Corruption Ambassador.”
The investiture and the disclaimer are interesting scenes in the EFCC-Ekweremadu drama series.

But first things first. Bakari is an employee of the EFCC. The EFCC has not denied him. It only denied his action. But is it possible for him to do the investiture without clearing with higher authorities knowing the temperament of the Buhari government and the mood in the country?
I will be surprised if he acted alone as the EFCC claimed. But assuming he did, what could be the motive? Was it for pecuniary reasons or in good faith?
Nigerians may never know the truth. The answer will be ensconced in the womb of time because I doubt if Bakari will talk about this, at least not now. There is so much at stake. Many reputations are on the line.
But what I found most revealing in all this drama is the reaction of Magu himself. While vowing that the EFCC will take “stern administrative action” against Bakari, he said the investiture is another evidence of “corruption fighting back.”
How? Magu didn’t explain.
Did Ekweremadu induce Bakari for the award? At least, he insists that the award was not solicited. It was the initiative of the EFCC and, therefore, couldn’t have been paid for.
Could it be that the investiture was an attempt by the embattled eighth NASS to rubbish the EFCC?
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is standing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over alleged false assets declaration, but how will the case be affected by the investiture? Nobody has told us.
Then Magu made a most absurd claim, saying: “This leg of the despicable campaign, which is unfortunately being carried out by [an employee] of the Commission, had been foreshadowed in recent weeks by other questionable acts. “For instance, all through last week, some courts issued a string of anti-EFCC rulings looking like calculated attempts to derail the anti-corruption war, even as there were indications of the capture of a prominent section of the media by dark forces.”
*Prof Nwabueze 
This is not the first time Magu would blackmail and malign Nigerian judges and journalists. His motive needs to be interrogated.
Does it mean that any judgment which goes against the EFCC is evidence of corruption fighting back? If so, the implication is that any judge who gives any ruling that does not favour the EFCC has been compromised. This is sheer blackmail and it is dangerous.
It then means that the only thing it takes for a Nigerian to be railroaded into jail is for the EFCC to pronounce you guilty.
All over the world, judges give rulings on the weight of evidence before them. In other climes, the onus is on prosecutors to prove the guilt of the accused beyond all reasonable doubt.
And that is why the bulk of the job is done by the security personnel who investigate cases. Investigations are so thorough that by the time an accused is brought to court, all the evidence to complete the job is available.
Here, the reverse is the case.
The EFCC arrests and even charges people to court before scouting for evidence. It then leaks unsubstantiated allegations to the media and gets the accused convicted in the court of public opinion and then sets up judges for blackmail.
The EFCC also turns round to accuse the media which has done more than even the Commission in the war against corruption. It is the Nigerian media that has mobilised the people behind the war against corruption.
So, for Magu to impugn on the integrity of journalists simply because a few people have written articles he considers not palatable is unfortunate.
I won’t be surprised if this article becomes another evidence of the “capture of a prominent section of the media by dark forces.”
But if Magu must know, many Nigerians also believe that the EFCC is a cesspool of corruption. If in doubt, he should ask Professor Ben Nwabueze, the intrepidjurist, one man Magu cannot tar with the brush of corruption.
Nwabueze has said publicly that the EFCC is Nigeria’s most corrupt institution. And why not? A Commission that once had Ibrahim Lamorde as its poster boy should not have the luxury of soiling the image of other institutions. So, there is enough tar to go round.
Magu may well know that when the EFCC fails to diligently carry out investigations and prosecute accused people successfully but hopes to get conviction in the courts by blackmailing judges and journalists, that in itself is an act of corruption.

 *Ikechukwu Amaechi is the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, The Niche Sunday newspaper (ikechukwuamaechi@yahoo.com)

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