In a country whose dreaded anti-corruption agency is racing towards a zero-graft society where cyber criminals and politicians no longer exploit the weak and deactivated institutions and the finite resources, but rather abandon detrimental pathways to fraud. Forcing the dubious amongst us to heed to a chorus call for a corrupt-free-Nigeria and resilient future is celebratory (Italicized) EFCC’s race to achieve a net-zero corruption- free Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation as soon as possible is also a race to stabilising the nation’s economy and by extension, arresting the country’s socio-economic and socio-political configuration from total and immediate collapse.
The importance of a free press in the actualisation of a corruption-free society can never be over emphasized in any democracy. The press, rightly known as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, is a strategic partner to the other three arms of government in the delivery of the dividends of democracy to the citizens.
The Third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson and the author of the famous ‘American Declaration of Independence’ highlighted the critical roles the press played in a democracy when he said that he preferred a free press and no government rather than a government without a free press.
Nigerian journalists have battled for a free press right from colonial times. Fearless journalists like Anthony Eromosele Enahoro went to jail twice for sedition when he edited the Ibadan-based ‘Southern Nigerian Defender’, one of the newspapers in the Zik Group of Newspapers as well as numerous others in their resolve to ensure a free press that would hold the then British colonial overlords to account.
During the heady days of military rule, brave Nigerian journalists like Babafemi Ojudu, a former Senator and current Political Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, Dapo Olorunyomi, the current Publisher of Premium Times, Dele Momodu of Ovation Magazine etc. fought the military to a standstill to instil press freedom in the polity. Some like Babafemi Ojudu, Chris Anyanwu, Kunle Ajibade etc. were jailed. Others like Olorunyomi, Momodu etc. went on exile to safeguard their lives while the likes of Dele Giwa and Bagaulda Kaltho paid the supreme price with Kayode Soyinka now Publisher of ‘Africa Today’ Magazine then London Bureau Chief of ‘News Watch’ Magazine narrowly cheating death as he was in the same room with Dele Giwa in the latter’s Ikeja residence when the parcel bomb ripped his body apart.
Section 39 (1) of the 1999 Constitution guarantees freedom of expression which the Nigerian press has been battling hard to maintain. The current battle that the Nigerian media is now fighting is with the bill sponsored by Hon. Olusegun Odebunmi of the House of Representatives to regulate the media. The editorials of all the national newspapers of July 13, 2021 all roundly condemned the sinister bill. Corruption is the cancer that has plagued Nigeria even before the Union Jack was lowered. A report in 2012 opines that the scourge has caused the nation about $400 billion in losses since independence.
The Transparency International Corruption Index ranked Nigeria 144th out of 180 countries in terms of corruption in 2018. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was established during the Presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo to fight the corruption malaise. The media has been a sturdy partner with the EFCC in this chronic and fierce heroic battle.
For starters, the pioneer helmsman, Nuhu Ribadu of the anti-graft agency made himself a darling of the media when he appointed Dapo Olorunyomi, a media titan to be his Chief of Staff. Using Olorunyomi’s vast global contacts, he was able to enlist the help of the foreign media most notably the ‘New York Times’ to take on powerful interests in the country who had laundered public funds in developed nations.
In February this year, history was made when Abdulrasheed Bawa, the 40-year-old EFCC detective became the first non-police officer and the youngest to be appointed as the head of the anti-corruption body, the EFCC. He started on a good note by making the media a key partner in the fight against corruption by instituting an open door policy whereby crime journalists could easily report the activities of the agency. According to Bawa, the milestones recorded so far include the restructuring of the Commission for improved performance with the establishment of a new directorate as well as the reorganisation and upgrade of a couple of others. He said in line with his vision to run an agency that is driven by intelligence, a Directorate of Intelligence had been created, whose impact is already being felt through the provision of intelligence that led to a major recovery. In terms of the improvement of processes, he revealed that the Commission has commenced the codification of Standard Operating Procedures for all Units and Departments.
The measure, he said, will remove discretion from the work of the Commission. Reiterating a point he made before the Senate, the EFCC boss said he envisions a Commission where he, as Executive Chairman, will give instruction to anofficer and he would say: “Sorry sir, I cannot carry out your directive because it conflicts with the rule.” “I want an institution that works with rules and regulations…we will launch the SOPs soon and the EFCC can run on auto pilot,” he said. Other measures already rolled out by the Commission, the EFCC boss said, include development of policies on Document Classification, Healthcare, Sexual Harassment and Bullying, Staff Welfare, Training, Communication, New Staff Ranking, Use of Firearms and Retirement, among others.
He also disclosed that the Commission had taken steps to improve its operational capabilities through the modification of Assets’ Declaration forms in line with the Commission’s enabling laws. He also disclosed strategies to prevent corruption through fraud risk assessment for MDAs, monitoring of procurement process and extensive public enlightenment, including the resuscitation of the interfaith dialogue. The platform which was launched in 2014 as an avenue for Muslims and Christian to be sensitized on corruption through a teaching and preaching manual is being revived.
The teaching manuals, he said, are being reviewed and will be launched soon. Other measures to prevent corruption, according to the EFCC boss, include the development of a Property Ownership Database with the ultimate objective of determining the beneficial owners of properties. Additionally, the agency has launched an ‘eagle eyed’ App which will facilitate the seamless reporting of complaints to the agency by citizens eager to assist in the fight against corruption. Bawa said the Commission in the last 100 days has strengthened its partnership with local and international partners, fully conscious of the fact that it cannot fight corruption alone.
He further provided updates on the recoveries recorded over the past three months as well as the record of arrest in cybercrime cases. According to him, 1502 suspects were arrested for internet fraud between January and June 11, 2021, adding that the Commission plans to file 800 cases in court in the coming weeks. There is also the swiftness of prosecution of cases under the able leadership of Bawa. Bawa is not an ethnic jingoist and is a highly detribalized Nigerian who favours merit over ethnicity. While Nigerians commend the EFCC boss for his bold anti-corruption reforms, it would be pertinent to make basic suggestions for him to do his job better and leave a long lasting legacy.
Ikhide writes from Abuja