October 21, 2021


documenting the nigerian story…

Losing the war on high financial crimes

There is no disputing that the main reason Nigeria is in such dire straits is massive ongoing corruption and treasury looting. Corruption takes many guises and it is increasingly evident that this administration tolerates it as long as it concerns their supporters.

Disgraced former Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun returned to Nigeria and was feted by Vice-President Osinbajo in spite of the fact that she should have been jailed and made to refund all salaries she had earned as a government employee at both state and federal levels.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is not concerned with fighting corruption in all its ramifications, but concentrates as its name implies on prosecuting treasury looting and other financial crimes. Internet fraud is a trending financial crime which represents one of the few ways Nigerian youths can make money in a non-violent manner. The bulk of internet fraudsters (referred to as “yahoo boys”) are aged between 25 and 34 and the stark choice facing them in a collapsed economy is to either live a life of unemployment, despair and poverty; resort to petty crime, armed robbery and kidnapping; or risk death crossing the Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea in search of greener pastures.

When EFCC arrests “Yahoo boys” they are publicly disgraced, paraded as criminals, detained in EFCC cells, and have their property confiscated despite not having been convicted of any crime in a court of law. The EFCC has lost several cases brought against them for illegal detention and seizure of assets. Their Gestapo like tactics reflect amateurism, hubris, and a lack of understanding of what constitutes actionable evidence as opposed to mere circumstantial suspicion. This contrasts sharply with the treatment EFCC gives to high-profile economic fraud committed by government officials. They have neither reason, nor moral right not to name, shame and prosecute high-profile individuals such as the recently reported Director in the Federal Ministry of Works caught with N1 billion in his account.

In truth “yahoo boys” are responsible for foreign exchange inflows and do far less harm to the economy than thieving political office holders who take money out of the country! While EFCC officials praise themselves for making recoveries of different amounts, there are justifiable complaints that while they routinely record successes in investigating relatively petty financial crimes, they have failed abysmally in stopping massive ongoing treasury looting in state government houses, the Presidency, National Assembly, and Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDA’s).

The list of high profile treasury looting cases still being prosecuted after so many years includes a former Katsina State governor and three others (N11 billion), a former Oyo State governor (N11.7 billion), a former Imo State governor ($2.2 million),  a former Niger State governor (N4 billion).

Sleaze by public officials is not limited to occupants of state government houses. Chief executive officers of Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are equally guilty. A former GMD of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is charged with money laundering $9.7 million, a former Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) for laundering $2.1 million, and a former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) for diversion of N544 million.

The Office of the Auditor–General of the Federation has accused the management of the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) of unlawfully and “irregularly” spending N4.97 billion. This is nothing unique, such breach of accounting regulations is standard operational procedure in MDAs. It continues unabated while EFCC relentlessly pursues relatively insignificant “Yahoo boys”.

Alarmingly, the EFCC has declared Aboubakar Hima a citizen of Niger Republic wanted for fraud of $349 million, €N9.9 million and N369 million involving failure to supply weapons to the Nigerian military. It remains a mystery how such a contract wasn’t awarded to a genuine arms manufacturing business, but rather to a man from the President’s self-confessed “ancestral home”.

Evidence abounds that the EFCC is enamoured with media trial of suspects rather than successful prosecution. In a case in point a Federal High Court in Lagos recently freed a senator from a charge involving a N322 million fraud. The presiding judge blamed the EFCC for having “failed to prove the elements of the offences for which it charged”.

A multitude of EFCC prosecutions of high profile individuals have been thrown out for sub-standard prosecution and there are suspicions and allegations that this bungling isn’t by accident. Reprehensibly, the decision to prosecute EFCC cases depends on political allegiances at the federal level. Indeed a former All Progressives Congress (APC) national chairman made it clear that once politicians join, their financial crimes are forgiven.

Several state governments like Lagos, Kano and Bayelsa states, recently set up anti-graft agencies out of frustration with the politics of EFCC. However the same allegations being made against EFCC are being made against state anti-graft agencies.

There is a deep suspicion that state anti-graft agencies are being set up to clear governors in order to preempt EFCC prosecution. Despite their “softly-softly” approach to large scale treasury looting the EFCC claims to have “recovered” over $100 million for the Nigeria Ports Authority, over N6 billion, over $161 million and €N1,730,200 amongst others.

The general public has severally lamented that with all the money they boast of recovering, there is no positive change in the economy of the nation. Indeed there are accusations that recovered looted funds are merely re-looted because the EFCC doesn’t remit all its recovered funds to the federation account and has proved serially incapable of reconciling its own accounts!

The naming, shaming, public parade and successful prosecution of high-profile political office holders suspects is one area which must be strengthened before the EFCC can ever gain nationwide respect and the war against financial impunity can be won.