By Tony Egbulefu
On April 10 this year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, clocked 16. By all measures, it has been 16 years of command performance in anti-corruption fight. It is instructional to recall that the success story of the Commission takes root in a small beginning that started in No 15A, Awolowo Road, and 10 Okotie Eboh Street all in Ikoyi, Lagos and in a one room office apartment in Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, Abuja.
From these crippling environments where the Commission struggled with everything it needed for efficient performance, men and material included, it earned instant cachet as the nemesis of the corrupt. All the more good news is that it has sustained and improved on this by relentlessly being on the grind.
With all the acclaim the Commission earned in productivity outcomes, it operated as tenants in its Abuja offices barring the one at No 5 Fomella Street, Wuse 2, Abuja. To augment, it rented an adjacent block within same Fomella, and designated it Block C.
Outside the Fomella perimeters, the Commission scrapped out an office space in Presidential Villa, had an additional in Danube Street, Maitama and domiciled its critical Legal and Asset Forfeiture office in yet another location in Ademola Adetokunbo Street, Wuse 2 close to Exclusive Stores.
Mr Tony Orilade, Acting spokesman of the Commission recalls that it was risky and tiring, coordinating the huge activities in the head office from these far apart offices, “especially for an intelligence outfit, which should be heard, and not seen,” he said.
May 15, 2018 brought a change of narrative with the relocation of the Commission to its over N18billion showpiece headquarters in Jabi District, Abuja.
Aside the 10-flight steel-cladded edifice are every structure and facility that the Commission had sorely needed. This ranged from a 16.800sqm parking lot for staff and visitors to turnkey forensic laboratory block, luxury gender-separate cell blocks and self-contained medical block, seated in a five hectare stretch.
The path to the new headquarters began in 2011, with the foundation laying ceremony. Despite strictures from finances, it was delivered seven years after, May 15, 2018.
The ease in operation the one-stop location has afforded officers of the Commission has amply found expression in superlative outcomes.
The Commission within the first four months of this year, beat every record it has set in convictions within the same time frame with a staggering 340 convictions, establishing strongly that the 315 record convictions it secured between January and December 2018 will pale in both figure and significance, this year.
Between May 15, 2018 and May 15, 2019, which marks the first anniversary of its relocation to the new head office, the Commission consummated high profile cases and earned convictions, including those of two former state governors: Jolly Nyame (Taraba) and Joshua Dariye (Plateau), who both bagged 14 years jail terms each, without options of fine.
While the appellate court added a fine of over N400 million to Nyame’s sentence, it reduced his jail time to 12 years and that of Dariye to 10. These two convictions were unprecedented watershed in the annals of the country’s fight against corruption.
That of Air Vice-Marshall Tony Omenyi (retd) also fell within this range. He was committed to a seven years prison time without an option of fine by Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of a Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday, February 28, 2019, having been found guilty of the amended three-count charges brought against him by the EFCC.
Justice Dimgba, also ordered Huzee Nigeria Limited, a body corporate, owned by Omenyi to forfeit N60,000,000 (Sixty Million Naira) to the federal government.
In the area of recoveries within the period on the radar, N11.5billion was recorded in final forfeiture, N133.8billion in non-forfeiture recoveries, N8.92billion in direct deposits, N38.12billion in tax recoveries, N1.82billion in subsidy recoveries, and N42billion from banks (third party), totalling N236billion.
These are in addition to recoveries of various sums in other currencies, assets, jewelleries (gold) and recoveries for major government agencies including NNPC and AMCON.
Within the first quarter of the current year, the Commission has made recoveries which included: N205.9 million in cash, N2.7 billion in draft; $310, 718; 13, 500 pounds; 700 Euros; N5.6billion direct deposit.
Furthermore within the first four months of this year, the Supreme Court of Nigeria on Friday, March 8, 2019 in a unanimous judgement, it could be recalled, dismissed the appeal of a former first lady, Patience Jonathan, wife of former President Goodluck Jonathan, against the interim forfeiture order of Federal High Court, Lagos, to the federal government of $8,400,000 (Eight Million Four Hundred Thousand Dollars) traced to her by the EFCC and believed to be proceeds of crime.
Similarly, on March 14, 2019, the Nigerian apex court also dismissed an application by Mrs Jonathan, which sought to upturn the interim forfeiture order by a Federal High Court, Lagos placed on the sum of N2.4 billion linked to her.
It could also be recalled that the former Chief of Defence Staff, late Alex Badeh on March 4, this year forfeited six choice properties and $1,000,000 (One Million Dollars) to the federal government, on the order of Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja.
To rein-in the menace of vote buying in 2019 general elections, (a pandemic financial crime that polluted the electoral space), the Commission came up with a country-wide intervention.
Explaining why the Commission needed to step out against vote buying, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, noted that “vote buying is corruption that is fundamental because if you buy votes, it follows that you must recoup what you have spent, when you find your way into office.”
Magu’s campaign against vote buying resonated in all the 14 zonal offices of the Commission, whose heads escalated the message to voters in the 36 states of the federation with the common denominator that vote buying was not just a financial crime, but casts slur on integrity of elections and a thief of electoral m+andates.
While several arrests of culprits were made as well as cash seizures, running into millions of naira, the Commission also secured the conviction of a Gombe State councillor, Ishiyaku Garba.
Justice Sa’ad Mohammed of the State High Court jailed Garba for three months with N100,000 (Hundred Thousand Naira) option of fine following his arraignment by the Commission on a three-count charge that bordered on election bribery.
The more cheery news, however, is that the ubiquity of the Commission’s operatives at the polling stations across the country ensured that the ugly trend which had spiralled out of control, only occurred few-and-far-between in this year’s elections.
It is worth recalling within the period under review that the Commission leveraged on the opportunity of availability of office space to embark on a recruitment drive, increasing its human capital with the full enrolment of 314 Assistant Detective Superintendents and 183 Assistant Detective Inspectors following the completion of their training programme in May and January 2018, respectively and 293 Assistant Detective Inspectors currently undergoing training in Nigeria Defence Academy, NDA Kaduna. Also brought on board are 95 support staff who joined the Commission in January this year.
With the improved staff strength, the Commission expanded its zonal offices from 11 to 14 with the establishment of three new zonal offices in Makurdi, Sokoto and Ilorin.
All these strides, however, have come with added financial worries, especially as revenue allocation from the government in the past two years has progressively tapered.
This year, for instance, the Commission will have to grapple with only N3.6billion overhead allocation that shrank from N7.3billion, approved in 2018.
This is grime in the face of increased running cost, occasioned by the addition of three zonal offices, the planned introduction of group staff life insurance of N650million and huge outlays on generator fuel cost.
Others are: increase in airfares and proposed 60 per cent increase in the rates of duty tour allowance (DTA) payable to staff on official assignment.
The capital budget allocation was also diminished by the Budget Office from N15.196billion in 2018 to N3.978billion presently. This is amidst challenges such as the Commission’s N2.02billion outstanding liabilities to Julius Berger; N1.5billion cost runs on the new head office complex; N0.299billion liabilities for consultancy on the new head office; N0.47billion for purchase of security equipment (ammunition); N1.1billion on furnishing of new head office building.
Others in this category are: the development of the permanent site of the EFCC Academy, Lafia; renovation of the old EFCC head office building, Wuse 2, Abuja, and the renovation of the Lagos Zonal Offices (10 Okotie Eboh and 15 Awolowo Road).
Also begging for financial attention are the challenge of managing the huge and growing fixed asset forfeiture base of the Commission and inadequate ICT infrastructure. There is presently a zero presence of internet services at the new head office and zonal offices, and in other ICT-related service deliveries, which by Magu’s recent disclosure will gulp a minimum of N800million to put in place and bring up to acceptable standard.
For all the Commission has achieved and the challenges it has faced in its one year of relocation, the staff are immensely proud of Magu’s sterling leadership qualities and happily rejoiced with him as Euro Knowledge Group, an illustrious foreign investment network, on Tuesday, May 14, honoured him with “Exemplary Leadership Award 2019 for Outstanding Leadership In Public Service.” #TrackNigeria
Tony Egbulefu is a staff of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC