Wednesday 7 February 2007

Listing to the insignificance of the EFCC

The presumption of innocence

In a democracy one would expect the preponderance of the rule of law and in view of that due process that allows for the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Where legal issues are concerned, one would expect that mere accusations are quite below the threshold of any professional standard, especially, if those accusations are not converted to proper indictments and the accused is given the opportunity to defend themselves in the properly appointed forum.

This might be before a jury of their peers where appropriate, else the case prepared against the accused would just be argued before a panel of judges who with their expertise in the relevant jurisprudence would review the evidence and presentations adjudicating thereafter.

The expectation of due process

It is in the light of this that I have issue with the release of a list of 135 names of politicians by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in a letter to political parties about persons they deem unsuitable for office or rather should be ineligible to participate in elections through party representation.

This is completely wrong-headed, the appropriate agency to decide the suitability of any candidate for elections should be the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) or some appointed organ to screen, vet and approve candidates.

In September 2006, we were informed that 31 of 36 state governors in Nigeria were under investigation, that was probably newsworthy, but what stage has been reached with the investigations and who has been charged with a crime or misdemeanour?

A case of utter incompetence?

Prominently, a case was prepared against the Vice President who has had a protracted falling-out with the President, none of which has passed muster. It makes one wonder if the EFCC is completely incompetent in preparing cases that are presentable and acceptable to the courts considering the number of cases that have not progressed beyond indictments before high courts have quashed the applications.

Alternatively, there is a growing inclination to the idea that the EFCC has become an instrument of vindictiveness – a puppet of the President – to besmirch and smear anyone who has deigned to challenge the Presidency especially in that failed bid to gain a third term last year.

Generally, I have been of the view that Chairmanship of EFCC and the lines of reporting responsibility should be outside the Presidency and Executive arm of government and high up within the Judiciary, probably at the level of the Minister of Justice but appointed by the legislature on the advice of the judiciary rather than the executive.

The people

This is not to say that people on the list and many more surreptitiously and blatantly left out are not guilty of graft, corruption and probably murderous crimes, but they cannot be adjudged guilty until duly proven to be so, short-circuiting the process through letters of presumptive guilt is beneath contempt.

The way times have shifted in Nigeria has allowed for the mendicants, robbers, brigands and thugs of yesterday to present themselves as benevolent and compassionate persons desirous of leading Nigeria out of the doldrums that were the results of their acts years before.

It is seriously gratifying to see that the ex-President Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida had to pull out of the primaries for the presidency knowing momentum and wealth were not on his side to lead Nigeria into a greater nightmare than one he started in the 80s which culminated in the Presidency of the sociopath Sani Abacha.

Reforming the EFCC

Whilst the ideas and policies that lead to the formation of the EFCC are laudable and should be continued, I am not sure that the headship and direction of the organisation has been properly served by a junior functionary being elevated into the spotlight of gung-ho personality vandalism or character assassination, though some of the work of the organisation has been commendable.

The people who have plundered Nigeria’s means and resources need to be fearlessly brought to book through transparent and internationally acceptable legal processes that are beyond reproach and exude commendable legal professionalism.

We cannot have cases been ridiculed in high courts found wanting in necessary preparation to pass the scrutiny of aggressive legal examination and thrown out at the first hurdle – these matters are in need of better heads and hands.

As for the list, Nigerians would just have to decide – if allowed a free and fair election based on their ability to have registered properly – who is worthy of office, when evidently the detail of the cases against the listed cannot have been judiciously addressed in court giving them the opportunity to defend themselves or seek redress for possible defamation or libel before the elections in a few months time. This activity has been pre-emptively disingenuous and has done no one any good.

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