Expensively fiddling as country careens (EFCC), by Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

Chidi Odinkalu

               In the last week of April 2024, Pastor and Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ola Olukoyede, swore that he would “resign as EFCC chairman if embattled former Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, is not prosecuted.” Unaccompanied as it was by any calendar or deadline, this undertaking cannot be regarded as having been made with any intention that it should be taken seriously.

Mr. Bello lost his constitutional immunity from legal process when his tenure as governor of Kogi State ended three months earlier on 27 January. In the third week of April, Yahaya Bello’s successor as Governor of Kogi State, Usman Adodo, accompanied by a retinue of state-sponsored security assets, swooped on Abuja from neighbouring Lokoja, capital of Kogi State to spirit him into fugitive-dom under the hapless gaze of EFCC personnel deployed to arrest him.

               Since then, the Inspector-General of Police has reportedly ordered withdrawn security details previously protecting Mr. Bello; the EFCC has declared him wanted; and the Nigerian Immigration Service has placed him on a watchlist, directing that if seen at any entry or exit point, he should be arrested and referred to the Director of Investigation….” Despite this synchronized hyperventilation by the combined leadership of Nigeria’s leading security agencies, Mr. Bello appears to have vanished into thin air. The completeness of his erasure from the combined radars of Nigeria’s security capabilities beggars belief.

Back in Abuja, repeated efforts by the EFCC to arraign Mr. Bello in court on multiple counts of plunder of public assets valued at over N80 billion have met with his absence. On the most recent court date at the end of last month, Mr. Bello’s counsel taunted the Commission with an application seeking to relocate the venue for his trial from Abuja to Lokoja in Kogi State, where, according to Mr. Bello, the alleged crimes occurred. One notable columnist laments with a touch of acid that “to the chagrin of many, a fugitive like Mr. Bello, transmitting from under the rock where he is hiding, is the one attempting to dictate the terms of how the case against him should be prosecuted.”

Yahaya Bello’s request for his case to be transferred to Lokoja would presumably give him home-court advantage against the EFCC. In his estimation, the people of Kogi State whose patrimony he is accused of having plundered, would nevertheless embrace him as their own home-grown bandit and avatar in the contest for their share of the national loot. The lawyers who make this application on his behalf appear to have secured the complicity of the court in playing along with a script in which they represent a ghost-client who transmits instructions to them through a spirit medium.

If all of this makes the EFCC under its current leadership sound like a cruel joke on the consciousness of Nigerians, it is because that is exactly what the Commission has chosen to become. The week before it embarked on its vain pursuit of Yahaya Bello, the EFCC recorded what in the public imagination has been its most notable success under its current leadership when it got the Federal High Court in Lagos to convict professional transvestite, Idris Olanrewaju Okuneye – better known as Bobrisky –, for the rather ostentatious crime of “Naira abuse”.

The money that Bobrisky supposedly abused was his own. Unlike Yahaya Bello, the Commission did not accuse Bobrisky of having stolen from anyone or institution. Yet, despite pleading guilty, the Court sentenced Bobrisky, a first offender, to six months in prison without option of fine. Upon securing this conviction, the leadership of the EFCC celebrated what was in fact a deployment of the Commission in pursuit of bigoted persecution.

While throwing the kitchen sink at Bobrisky, the EFCC Chairman was busy offering private assurances to Yahaya Bello to accord him the status of an upmarket outlaw. Under severe public criticism for its unconcealed weaponization and duplicities, the EFCC got hot under the proverbial collar and embarked on what looked like high profile feints. In addition to the case of Yahaya Bello, it also went after former Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, and increased motion on its part in the case concerning former governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano. These cases have, however, become performative distractions from the institutional accident that this EFCC has turned into.

Forty-eight hours before it confronted Yahaya Bello’s application to afford him home-court advantage in the trial over multiple counts of rapine he committed as governor, the Federal High Court in Lagos entered a rather curious verdict in another case of “Naira abuse” instituted by the EFCC with the design to show that its pursuit of Bobrisky was Kosher. The accused this time was celebrity bartender and impresario, Pascal Okechukwu, better known as Cubana Chief Priest. Arraigned in the immediate aftermath of the conviction of Bobrisky on 17 April, Mr. Okechukwu – unlike Bobrisky – was able to afford the services of a highly priced Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).

In this case, Mr. Okechukwu and the EFCC reached a deal under which he agreed to pay N10 million into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation; undertake “intensive and rigorous sensitization” against Naira abuse, and “bi-monthly post on his various social media handles a minimum of two video clips of his sensitization/campaign against abuse of naira and sundry offences.”

After taking cognizance of this deal, the trial court reportedly cautioned Mr. Okechukwu and thereafter “struck out” [the] charge against the celebrity bartender. How a court can possibly have jurisdiction to caution a suspect in a case that it has struck out, only the judge and the EFCC can divine. The design, it seems clear, is to ensure that Mr. Okechukwu, a well-connected Nigerian unlike the much-maligned Bobrisky, doesn’t end up with a criminal record. There is only one word to describe the kind of settlement that the EFCC engineered in this case; it was egregiously corrupt and the Commission knows it.

The fact that a Commission created to fight network corruption and racketeering has now degenerated into dealing in the currency it was supposed to liquidate is something Nigerians had suspected, but most people did not expect such brazenness about it. As if to gloat about its evolution into an institutionalization of misadventure, personnel of the EFCC have recently been caught in different states around Nigeria rampantly assaulting poor citizens who were going about their lawful work and lives.

In response to these, some citizens thought about mobilizing to protest against the commitment of the EFCC to the abuse of public trust. Rather than welcome this as an act of concerned solidarity, the Commission defaulted characteristically to bluster and intimidation, and went public to proudly advertise its credentials as a threat to constitutionally entrenched rights of Nigerians. In a release during the past week, it bloviated that it “will not tolerate any breakdown of law and order anywhere in the country especially around its office locations across Nigeria.” Not done, the EFCC also warned that  it was “in concert with sister security agencies,…. taking necessary measures to deal with possible threats to the peace and security of Nigeria.”

Evidently, the EFCC under its current leadership has made a mission of fiddling while the country careens. The tragedy of their latest statement was clearly lost on the leadership of an institution that seems incapable of looking at itself in the mirror. If they were able to do so, they would have seen quite easily that the self-imposed incapacities of the Commission have now become one of the biggest threats to Nigeria’s peace and security. It’s time to remind Pastor Olukoyede of his promise to resign.

A lawyer and teacher, Odinkalu can be reached at chidi.odinkalu@tufts.edu

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