By Victor Graham
Former Governor of Bayelsa State, Senator Seriake Dickson says the greatest problem of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is the perennial issue of political interference and impunity by government.
He stated this following the confirmation of the new chairman of the EFCC, Mr Abduralsheed Bawa by the Senate on Wednesday.
Dickson said until those issues are adequately taken care of, the EFCC will continue to be seen as an arm of the government with a mandate to target political opponents.
According to him, “The general perception which may not be the reality but is a perception we must deal with, is that the entire anti-corruption fight was an excuse to run down opposition elements, de-legitimise others, criminalise and demonise people that do not agree with those in power.
“As the general elections in 2023 approach, what I know if my experience as an opposition leader is anything to go by, is that idle and lazy politicians will leave serving and connecting with their people and be parading the corridors of power in Abuja to influence the EFCC and other security agencies to do the dirty job of running down the reputation and image of people they cannot fight politically with unfounded, frivolous petitions and allegations.
“Nigerians from all walks of life and across the political divide welcomed the fight against corruption initially but we must tell ourselves the truth that no Nigerian now believes that any honest fight against corruption ever took place”.
While congratulating the new EFCC boss, the former Bayelsa Governor said he supported his appointment to the sensitive position at the age of 40 even though it was done accidentally, but that it reinforces the view him and others have about the need to involve more women and youths in the administration of Nigeria at all levels, which the present APC-led Federal Government has not done enough.
Dickson disagreed with all those who have used Bawa’s age as a ground for opposing his nomination, noting that in the history of this country, most leaders who have done well in leadership did so in their youthful age.
He mentioned some to include; General Yakubu Gowon whom he said was foisted with the leadership of the country in crisis and led the nation through a civil war at just 36 years of age.
Also, LT Commander Alfred Diete Spiff (rtd), first Military Governor of old Rivers State, who became Governor at just 25 and until date the legacies of both men and others like them are there for all to see.
The Bayelsa West Senator believes that with Bawa’s background, resume, experience and with his performance during his screening, he deserves a chance which was why majority of the lawmakers, even in opposition, supported his confirmation.
He however pointed out that there are lessons the new anti-graft czar needs to learn from the chequered history of the commission and particularly the way and manner all its leaders ended their service or their career at the commission.
He said: “From my background as one who started life in law enforcement, I have natural disposition to support my colleagues who are doing sensitive assignments at the risk of life and limb either in law enforcement or in defence and national security assignments.
“In 2007 as a member of the House of Representatives, I spoke out in spite of blackmail and sponsored amendments to the EFCC and ICPC act because of what my party at the time and the government of the day did unjustly in my view with respect to the way and manner the then Chairmen of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Ibrahim Larmode and Ibrahim Magu were treated.
“I spoke on the floor of the house against my party and our government and thought it should have been handled differently. From Ribadu to Farida Waziri, Ibrahim Larmode and now to Magu, all these fine officers left in unclear and undignifying circumstances. The latest example being Magu, who for five years could not even be confirmed and had his name as substantive chairman and ended up leaving in the way and manner he left.
“Happily, these issues were raised but it is good to call on Mr President who has appointed this young man to create the environment of independence that will allow the young man and his team to do his job according to the facts, the laws of our country and according to his conscience”.
Dickson stressed that it is only in Nigeria that an anti-fraud unit and the appointment and screening of its head has become a big political issue, insisting that it is not the case of the head of the fraud section of the FBI in the US, the head of the NCA in the UK and others.
He expressed concern that the way and manner the plenary screening was organised and the political razzmatazz and partisanship already surrounding the atmosphere is the beginning of the problems.
“The job of the EFCC used to be part of the police anti-fraud unit where the officers were encouraged to work anonymously as investigators dealing with the facts and laws. The ruling party and leaders of the government need to allow this 40-year-old man who clearly is brilliant and experienced and who has by the grace of God, a long way ahead of him even after his EFCC service to render more service to this country and humanity, to effectively discharge his duties.
“They all need to help him to succeed and not destroy him as they have done to others before him. As was pointed out today on the floor, I call on all those who mean well for him, the institututions and our country to create an environment of independence and impartiality where facts and law are sacred, irrespective of who is involved.
“I call on the supervisory ministry, the Honorable Attorney General of the Federation whose ministry has and should have oversight over the activities of agencies such as the EFCC to help this young man and his officers and men.
“As a former law enforcement officer, prosecutor and Attorney General, I am sad each time my colleagues in law enforcement who are given sensitive national assignments in the EFCC and other agencies end up being scandalized, criminalised, demonised, their careers and their names destroyed at the altar of political expediency by political actors who are not available to assist them when the need arises.
“From Ribadu till date, it has been a case of fine officers being destroyed by the system that created the problems in the first place, particularly in the case of Magu who is left to lick his wounds with his family and few friends. All those who used him as an attack dog against those of us in the opposition are the same people that have now abandoned him and there is no talk of even confirming him retrospectively. No one knows the future that awaits him.
“While I do not know this young man and I am impressed by his performance today, I feel like I should put it on record because as I always do, I support law enforcement, defence and national security officers in their hours of need.
By my values and principles, anyone who is oppressed and victimised or unjustly treated can call me a friend any day irrespective of party, tribe or religion because it could have been me. Justice and fairness are human qualities and have no partisan, ethnic or religious colour.
“I believe even the National Assembly should also be ready to exercise closer oversight in the areas that we can and the appropriate committees to interact and give him and his team the necessary support” Dickson submitted.