It was a rare spectacle recently when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, arraigned some subsidy ‘thieves’. More than 20 suspects were arraigned for fraud running into over N14 billion. When I saw clips of the arraignment on national television, my immediate reaction was “what is N14 billion in a heist involving trillions of naira?” A drop in the ocean, of course. And, I am sure I wasn’t the only one that entertained such thought bordering on incredulity.
However, before the thought would blossom into deep cynicism, the EFCC moved swiftly to allay all fears with the explanation that the 20 or so suspects were the first batch of suspects billed to be arraigned. That was a most timely reaction even though it added a fresh tinge of suspense to the roiling saga. It means that one could look forward to the unveiling of more of the big masquerades behind the looting of the subsidy intervention fund. I can’t wait to see the next batch of suspects. If nothing else, I want to update my list of top political gladiators whose children are involved in the unconscionable looting of the national treasury.
I am almost certain that more of the children of the upper crust of the society will be nailed by the anti-graft agency. It may not even be surprising if some oligarchs within the power loop in Abuja find themselves in the dock. I have looked at the suspects so far arraigned and I am yet to see anyone that is not connected to the ruling elite, one way or the other, which confirms the suspicion ab initio that the subsidy regime was a bazaar contrived by the ruling elite to empty the treasury into their pockets. There was too much money to be made, with little or no effort, to permit entry by commoners.
Ironically, there were no blushes or embarrassment from those involved. Some of the shameless fathers were swift to distance themselves from the alleged misdemeanour of their children. What was their argument? You cannot visit the sins of the son on the father. That is vintage biblical wisdom, but how it fits into the current situation remains a puzzle. Were the fathers completely in the dark regarding the sins of their children? That is a subject for another article.
‘I am one of those who believe that the outcome of the case involving the oil subsidy thieves may define the commitment of the regime of President Goodluck Jonathan to the fight against corruption.’
But my greatest indignation comes not from the tame defence of the patriarchs but from the remorseless demeanor of the suspects themselves, whose mien in court conveys nothing but contempt for the national angst at the malfeasance. Indeed, looking at the carriage of the young men, some of who have no track record of meaningful career before coming into sudden wealth, there is no further evidence of how far the nation’s value system has been debased. No shame. No remorse.
Nevertheless, there are positives to the arraignment; the most glaring being the ongoing trial. It put paid to the cynicism that nothing would be done to the subsidy thieves. The cynicism was buoyed by events following the release of the Farouk Lawan report on the subsidy probe by the House of Representatives. There were claims in sections of the media of a deliberate campaign to discredit the probe report to forestall any sanction of those indicted. Those who promoted this tale cleverly neglect to point out the fact that the House Committee report was a fact-finding inquiry which can only be the fulcrum of a criminal investigation. The EFCC, which commenced investigations into the subsidy regime early this year, I understand, has covered substantial grounds. It is said to have over 140 persons and organizations under investigation. I don’t think the Committee covered half of that figure. This gives hope that none of those believed to have criminally exploited the subsidy regime for personal gains would go scot-free.
Considering the background of the suspects so far charged, I think the EFCC under the leadership of Ibrahim Lamorde has exhibited some courage, for which it should be commended. Indeed, since the exit of Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the agency, this is the first time the commission will be taking on ‘the high and mighty’ in a courageous move that promises to revalidate its slogan that no one is above the law. In an environment where political influence is wielded, sometimes mindlessly, to frustrate the intentions of others, no matter how altruistic, it is to the credit of the EFCC that it was not awed by the power and influence of the suspects.
The EFCC must be encouraged to go the whole hog. The fumigation of the subsidy regime needs a clinical finish. A lot is at stake. I am one of those who believe that the outcome of the case involving the oil subsidy thieves may define the commitment of the regime of President Goodluck Jonathan to the fight against corruption. Many believe that the leadership has so far paid lip service to corruption issues. Now, this is a chance to prove skeptics wrong
Those found culpable in this brazen daylight thievery must be diligently prosecuted and punished in order to deter others from threading the ignoble path. No excuse might suffice to explain away any prosecution lapse which was why I reasoned with the agency when it withdrew the charges it had filed against four oil marketers on the basis of fresh evidence that necessitates a makeover of the charge. Considering the importance of this case, it is not how speedily charges are filed that matters, but ensuring that such charges are supported by credible evidence that will stand the rigour of prosecution. It will also not do the Commission any good to engage in frequent amendment of charges. It is better to get it right than bungle it.
This is one flank to the fuel subsidy scam. At the other extreme is the bribery saga involving perpetually spasmodic businessmane, Femi Otedola, and the diminutive former chairman of the House Ad Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Farouk Lawan. Otedola claims he was coerced by Lawan into offering him a bribe of $620,000 to have his companies removed from the list of firms that benefitted from the subsidy intervention fund without importing fuel into the country. The last I heard about that case, which is being investigated by the Nigeria Police, is that the case file may be forwarded to one of the anti-graft agencies for prosecution.
I think the nation has had enough of the melodrama. It is time the case is put on auto drive so that those found to have violated the law should be punished. This is one case which the Inspector General of Police must ensure that justice is done because, for a very long time, the service has not handled such high-profile matter. This is an opportunity for the police to demonstrate that it can still be trusted to deliver credible investigations.
With all that has happened so far, one can say, perhaps, the inconvenience of the nationwide protest of January was not in vain. Until then, most Nigerians knew that crooks were feeding fat on the subsidy regime, bleeding the economy to death, yet nobody appeared to know what to do as operators in the sector continued to bamboozle us with figures and terms designed to confuse us and create the impression that oil trading was rocket science. They were making billions of naira off hapless taxpayers merely by presenting crooked paper work on supposed fuel imports, most of which never got to Nigerian shores.
The mystic is now gone, leaving the operators with a moral baggage. Whatever is the outcome of the case in court, one thing is certain: the nation will never again witness the kind of impunity that dominated the management of the subsidy regime over the last few years.