When anti-graft czar, Nuhu Ribadu, fell out of favour with the Nigerian political powerbrokers and was subsequently forced out of office in December 2007, he went under the radar for many years.
He was axed when he unsuccessfully tried to prosecute the influential former Delta State governor, James Ibori, who was a known associate of the late president, Umaru Yar’Adua.
But years after his controversial exit from leading the nation’s controversial anti-corruption war, Mr Ribadu, who had a dexterous ability to court media attention, came out with guns blazing, opening a ‘can of worms’.
Mr Ribadu named some Nigerians he said ‘’tried their best to frustrate the nation’s fight against corruption’’.
Top on his long list was the Attorney-General of the Federation, he served alongside in the fight against graft: Michael Aondoakaa.
“I still recall with amazement and shock how some very senior lawyers made it a duty upon themselves to bring down the EFCC and stop the work we were doing. Many of them, like Prof Ben Nwabueze, SAN, teamed up with politicians to wage very serious propaganda to discredit the work we were doing,” he told an amazed audience.
Not done, he added: “Take the case of Mr Michael Aondoakaa, whose most cardinal agenda as the AGF seemed to be destroying EFCC by every means possible and frustrating all the cases.
“In that regard, he attempted to take over the prosecutorial powers of the commission, which would have rendered the EFCC into a toothless bulldog. But, of course, we resisted,” he said.
He also said Mr Aondoakaa ‘’later found a partner in Farida Waziri’’ (Ribadu’s successor) when she was appointed as the chairman of the EFCC to replace Mr Ribadu.
Mr Ribadu also said ‘’Mrs Waziri inflicted serious damages on the EFCC from which the commission is still struggling to recover”.
Mrs Waziri later refuted the claims. There was no response from the Aondoakaa camp.
Mr Ribadu was widely known for his aggressive battle on the prominent personalities involved in alleged graft. In the course of this, analysts say he inadvertently put himself in the cross-fire.
To his credit, he was able to secure the conviction of many high-profile individuals, ranging from a former chief law enforcement officer to many bank chief executives. In 2006, he stunned many Nigerians when he said 31 of Nigeria’s 36 state governors were being investigated for alleged stealing.
However, his sporadic battle with Mr Aondoakaa, his ‘ally’ in the war on graft, attracted undue attention.
In December 2007, embattled, Mr Ribadu was ‘temporarily’ removed from office by the then IGP, Mike Okiro, who ordered him to attend a one-year course at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru.
12 months later, he was unceremoniously sacked by the Police Service Commission. He would later be reinstated though.
The Act (2004) setting up the EFCC mandates it to be the principal outfit combatting financial and economic crimes.
The commission is empowered to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalise economic and financial crimes and is also charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes.
In addition, it is viewed legally as the key agency of government responsible ‘’for fighting terrorism.’’
But in carrying out its duties, it is mandated to liaise with other government agencies especially the Attorney-General of the Federation
On its board are representatives of the AGF, security agencies, CAC, CBN, NCC, SEC, security agencies and others.
But over the years, conflicts between the heads of the prominent anti-graft commission and AGFs have threatened the progress of the war on corruption.
A former Daily Trust editor, Theophilus Abbah, in a recent piece, perhaps aptly captures the unending battle for supremacy between the two top offices over the years. He also examined the difficulty EFCC heads have faced over the years.
‘’Nuhu Ribadu booted out, demoted (2008). Farida Waziri sacked! (2011). Ibrahim Lamorde removed, under probe (2015). Ibrahim Magu arrested, detained, grilled (2019),’’ he said. ‘’With these fragmented statements and reads-on that scream from the headlines of dailies, each chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was, with bleary eyes, ingloriously booted out of the seat of fire.
“Were they round holes in square pegs? Were they hypocrites, double-faced or impostors? Did they come under the spell of powerful witches or wizards who have put a curse upon the executive chair? The answer may be none of the above.’’
Political analysts believe the prime reason majority of the EFCC bosses over the years have been sacked may not be unconnected with their inability to navigate the thin but sensitive line between politics and the arduous job of frontally battling corruption.
A few other also opine that their less-than-friendly relationship with the office of the AGF has also largely contributed to their ouster from office at various times.
‘’The recurring cold and open warfare between Ministers of Justice and EFCC Chairpersons is inimical to Nigeria’s integrity in her fight to end corruption,’’ Mr Abbah, now a public affairs analyst adds. ‘’Nuhu Ribadu was chased away by Michael Aondooka; Farida Waziri’s no-love-lost relationship with Mohammad Adoke was not hidden, as Adoke openly declared in an interview that Farida was too powerful as EFCC chairperson. It is the turn of Magu to face fire from Malami, and this fire is more ferocious than those faced by Magu’s predecessors.’’
On November 16, 2010, Mrs Waziri (ex-EFCC boss) frontally tackled her counterpart, the then AGF, Mohammed Adoke, accusing him of frustrating the war on graft. She also threatened to resign from office, if her concerns were not addressed.
For many weeks, there had been an intense struggle between the two public officials over an allegation Mrs Waziri, the first and only female to head the agency, paid N1.3 billion to Mr Aondoakaa.
Mrs Waziri, known for her no-nonsense mien, had linked the onslaught and others on her to the then AGF and accused him of causing the commission to lose focus.
“The activities of the AGF office are embarrassing to the commission and have brought us in a bad light to the public perception on the fight against corruption,” she said. “It has made the commission to lose its focus.’’
‘’In recent times the office of the AGF has waded into the commission’s activities thereby scuttling its prosecutions. These intrusions are not in the best interest in the fight against corruption
‘’It is worthy to note that the EFCC loss of focus is as a result of the intrusion of the AGF office, which has made the chairman of the commission, Mrs Farida Waziri to contemplate resigning from the job,’’ her aide, Femi Babafemi, had said in a statement.
The two were constantly engaged in a war of words during her tumultuous reign at the commission.
On one hand, Mrs Waziri was accused of failing to secure convictions for high profile cases involving former governors already commenced by her predecessor, especially as some believed these ex-governors ‘sponsored’ her appointment.
She, however, on the other hands, accused Mr Adoke of stalling the corruption war by withdrawing high profile cases initiated by the commission under her.
Mr Adoke would later throw his former colleague to the wolves when he washed his hands off the non-prosecution deal, which Nigeria reached with a company, Tidex Nigeria Limited, suspected to have ‘’imported toxic substances into the country’’.
He said it was Mrs Waziri, who initiated the deal, wherein, a controversial lawyer, Godwin Obla, was paid $300,000 out of the $6 million ‘settlement’ deal reached with the company in 2011.
‘’It was the EFCC, under the chairmanship of Chief (Mrs) Farida Waziri, OON, that initiated these settlements and nominated Mr Godwin Obla, SAN, as the lawyer to represent their interest in the negotiations that were conducted under the auspices of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice,’’ Mr Adoke said. ‘’It was when the negotiations were concluded to the satisfaction of all the parties, that I signed on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria and Mr Emmanuel Akomoye (then, Secretary to the EFCC) signed on behalf of the EFCC. The copies of the agreements are in the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and I believe, with the EFCC as well.’’
“This was the procedure that was adopted in respect of all the settlements that were initiated by the EFCC in 2011, including those of Shell, Saipem, KBR, JGC, among others, that infracted the laws of the country,” he added in a reply to his successor, Abubakar Malami, who had directed the EFCC to re-open the files on the deal.
Mrs Waziri, the only female head of the agency so far, was later axed by President Goodluck Jonathan and replaced by Ibrahim Lamorde.
Mr Jonathan, years later, cited ‘national interest’ for the removal of the appointee, while Mrs Waziri, in her memoirs, said she was victimised for not going after firms who engaged in fuel subsidy scam. But many believe her first relationship with Mr Adoke was equally a contributing factor to her ouster.
If there was any rivalry between Mr Lamorde and Mr Adoke, during his tenure at the EFCC, this was largely managed and kept under wraps. Not much of their conflict ever made it to the public.
Although Mr Lamorde was confirmed on February 15, 2012 by the Nigerian Senate, he later had a confrontation with lawmakers who sought to remove him from office over alleged corrupt acts.
Before he was removed as EFCC boss by President Muhammadu Buhari, in November 9, 2015, the Senate reeled out several cases of alleged malfeasance against him which included ‘illegally warehousing’ recovered funds; manipulating bank accounts to conceal diversion of funds; releasing of recovered funds to unidentified persons and EFCC officials; collusion with real estate companies to grossly under-value seized assets and other allegations.
Mr Lamorde, who is now an assistant inspector general of police (AIG) was accused by the Senate of diverting $5 billion at the EFCC. The senators even issued a warrant of arrest for him after which he temporarily left the shores of Nigeria.
He denied all allegations.
Perhaps, no other battle has typified the no love lost that has typified the two offices over the years than the ongoing tug of war between the now suspended EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu and the incumbent AGF, Abubakar Malami.
In the current confrontation, despite the suspension of the former, both parties continue to unleash lethal attacks from their well-stocked arsenal on each other.
An elated Mr Malami had quickly announced Mr Magu’s suspension following Mr Buhari’s approval in the aftermath of a probe into the activities of the EFCC boss.
Mr Magu, who served as the pioneer head of administration and finance, when the EFCC was newly birthed in 2003, is currently being investigated by a panel headed by Ayo Salami, former president of the appeal court, over allegations of graft and insubordination levelled against him by Mr Malami.
He was detained for about 10 days and only released after much pressure. Before the detention, like their predecessors, the two had consistently engaged themselves publicly over the manner the anti-graft was being run.
After his arrest, allegations that Mr Magu diverted billions of naira from recovered funds, as well as the interests accruing from the funds, were circulated and published in the media. An unperturbed AGF has insisted, there is more to come in the alleged crimes levelled against his partner in the war on corruption
Mr Magu has, however, denied any wrongdoing and continues to clear his name. It is no gainsaying then that his present predicament is directly linked to his frosty relationship with the AGF, again, just as his predecessors.
Meanwhile, the battle of wits has continued between the duo, even as Mr Magu remains suspended.
‘‘In most of the battles between the two offices, EFCC bosses have usually get the short end of the stick going by their quick fall from grace over the years. Many feel this has impacted negatively on the commission’s activities.
It is perhaps out of these concerns that prominent global groups in the war on graft wrote to the Buhari government on July 12 to express their concern over Nigeria’s ability to curb graft especially in the light of the alleged victimisation of the current EFCC boss.
But the government pushed back later saying the anti-graft was on course and Magu’s trial showed there was no ‘sacred cow’ in the Nigerian government’’.
However, for Fadare Nureni, a lecturer at the Sokoto State University, the war on graft will be fruitless if the two offices (EFCC, AGF) do not work in harmony.
‘‘For EFFC to function effectively, there is a need for synergy between the commission and the office of the AGF and why this is not so is as a result of the collapsed system, corruption, political correctness, party influence, presidential orders among others,’’ the political analyst said. ‘‘The incessant faceoff emanate from conflicting political interest over corrupt cases and so many interests have to come to play and when that happens, crises are inevitable.’’
‘‘Also, the faceoff is an indication that EFCC is not truly independent and there is a political machinery put in place to limit their power and that is the office of Attorney General of the Federation answerable to the presidency,’’ he adds.
Supremacy battle, impact on graft war
Meanwhile, Mr Abbah says, it has become evident that if EFCC is not independent, anyone appointed as chairman of the agency would not escape Mr Magu’s fate.
‘’Yes, AGFs are the albatross of EFCC chairmen. They would always have an ace up their sleeve, accumulating secret details of the slips of EFCC chairmen who would not dance to their music, and wait for EFCC chairmen’s vulnerable moment to strike and bite hard with poisonous and deadly teeth,’’ he said. ‘’From all indications, the EFCC chair and AGF are like apples and oranges, perpetually irreconcilable. The EFCC chair who would escape such unkind treatment must become hypocrites, pretending to fight corruption but, in reality, jumping in bed with corrupt individuals, enjoying himself and drinking wine brewed in the winery of financial fraud.’’
‘’Nigeria depends on an effective the anti-corruption agency, like EFCC, to rid the country of corruption. Other political bodies vested with anti-corruption powers, like the National Assembly, and state Houses of Assembly, have failed to lift a finger in this fight,’’ he adds ‘’Anti-corruption agencies like ICPC, EFCC, Auditor-General of the Federation and Code of Conduct Bureau are the few taking up this challenge. Therefore, the government must protect, nurture and defend EFCC and its leadership from sharks, else, in the near future no man of integrity would accept the position of EFCC chairperson.’’
Ariyo-Dare Atoye, the director of Adopt a Goal for Development, said the inter-agency rivalry is common in many countries, including developed ones.
‘’They (rivalries) are as old as the creation or existence of these agencies until a serious government steps in through legislation in a civilian administration, it is either the executive introducing a bill or the parliament taking it upon itself to address this problem,’’ he said.
He said if the executive will not act or take up the responsibility to correct the anomaly, then the National Assembly should act.
He said subsequent administrations should be blamed ‘‘for the drag in this unabated rivalry between EFFC bosses and the chief law officers (the AGFs) at various times for doing nothing, to either guarantee the independence of the EFCC with the parliament over-sighting responsibly or just effectively putting the EFCC under well-defined supervision of the AGF.’’
‘‘However, to make the kind of gain that will resonate with development and good governance, we will need to build an independent EFCC, and which shall require the anti-graft commission to work without executive interference, while the legislative oversight of the agency shall require a bipartisan, thorough and transparent process.’’