EFCC’s Lamorde explains why big thieves evade conviction
Nigeria’s biggest fraudsters- mostly ex-governors and politicians-well known for evading justice, do so using their huge loots to lengthen cases filed against them, often repeating trips to the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Lamorde said.
Mr. Lamorde rendered a frustrating narrative of the nation’s anti-corruption war on Thursday to the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes as he defended the commission’s budget.
Hardly offering unfamiliar details, the remarks again put on the spotlight the paradox of the nation’s anti-corruption war, which often punishes the lowly- somehow for lacking the resources to stage a good fight- while the mighty go free with their plunder.
This year alone, Mr. Lamorde said, over 200 convictions have been recorded. But nearly all involved the relatively low-scale pilferers, the 419 scammers, the Yahoo Yahoo boys and dubious bank officials.
But when it comes to multi-billion naira fraudsters, the stolen resources have been deployed to delay justice, with minor injunctions frequenting the Supreme Court.
“The truth is no case has been concluded,” the EFCC chairman said. “I don’t think it is correct to say that whether the charges framed are not properly done or the prosecution is not putting the case properly.”
“We have example of a case we charge to court in 2006; for this very case, we have gone to the Supreme Court twice on just interlocutory applications. They will file this, the judge will overrule them, they will go to Court of Appeal and lose there but they will still go to the Supreme Court,” he added.
When such cases are lost, he continued, the Supreme Court orders it be returned to the trial judge for continuation, then a fresh application will suddenly emerge anew.
“They will come with another application and certainly for lawyers among us we know how long it takes for a trial to go to Court of Appeal and get listed, then go to the Supreme Court get it listed and decided upon. This is the fate of most of the cases we have in court,” he said.
In the commission’s nearly-a-decade history, only a handful of high profile convictions have been recorded.
Several cases involving top politicians, accused of stealing public funds, have lingered for years after an initial public fanfare. Many of such cases, filed as early as 2005, remain unresolved, with some of the indicted officials still roaming the country as kingmakers, lawmakers, and political gladiators.
The EFCC in the past has blamed the law courts for the delays, clamouring for special anti-corruption courts to speed the process.
To block the frustration, Mr. Lamorde said the commission’s priority now is to forfeit the assets of the accused, to freeze the resources that would have been deployed in prolonging cases.
“The first thing we do now is that we try to recover and confiscate the assets of individuals that we are investigating because it is only when you deprive them of their resources that you will be able to force them to stand trial,” he said.
“Once they have access to their resources and asset, they will use it to continue to delay and drag some of these trials.”
Mr. Lamorde also presented a budget proposal of over N21 billion to the lawmakers.
The breakdown of the proposed budget shows that Capital Expenditure is N11 billion; Personnel Cost,N6 billion; and Overhead Cost, N3 billion.
Mr. Lamorde pointed out that the commission’s proposal of N21 billion against the N9.3 billion approved by the Budget Office of the Federation leaves a gap of N11.3 billion which could impact adversely on the operation of the agency.