- Category: Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye Esq.
- Published on Thursday, 10 November 2011 12:31
- Written by Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye, Esq
Contemporary history is full of examples; where liberty and basic freedoms are trampled upon under some nice and beautifully sounding slogans. In Germany, during the Nazi regime, some good excuses were given to justify the systemic erosion of rights and established freedoms. In other climes and different times, fancy terms such as “revolution”, “transformation” etc. have all been invoked to cajole the population into silence
while those in power eroded their rights. Closer home, we have seen in the case of Nigeria how fancy coup announcements and speeches were used to lure the people into silence and passivity as decrees were ushered in to sweep away our way of life.
Therefore, the lesson of history consistently shows that the most practiced way to suppress freedom is to do it in disguise. Another aspect of history on this subject shows that to effectively take away the rights of the people you first divide their opinions on critical questions of liberty, then manipulate the opinions and the divisions and thus deny them any prospects of organized or concerted resistance. By the time it dawns on the people what has happened to them, it is too late.
The Nigeria of today displays with astonishing clarity these historical patterns. The area is as regards the regime of the EFCC and its war slogans against corruption.
Every Nigerian understands that corruption is probably the singular most vicious cancer afflicting the Nigerian mass and rapidly eating up its tissue to finish. There is a justifiable desperation in the quest for some lasting solution to that malaise. It is in that atmosphere of urgency and desperation that an organization like the EFCC could emerge, armed with a fancy and seductive slogan of war, to grab the country’s citadels of freedom and liberty in a death choke just like the Nazi’s grabbed Germany at a point in history.
Slogans apart, Nigerians must be prepared to lift the veil of the EFCC. We must lift the veil to peer into the reality of the EFCC. That will reveal a staggering gap between what is promised and what is delivered. The reality of the EFCC reflects a classic depiction of what happens if you gather a bunch of the old Nigerian policemen and policewomen, give them a fancy name, arm them with a nice slogan, give them new leverages and let them loose on the population. It doesn’t matter the slogan you choose. It could be “operation rapid fire”. It could be “operation fire for fire”. Or it could be “operation war against corruption”. The effect has been unfortunately the same: - Corruption, violence, atrocities, subversion of justice and cover-ups. The case of the EFCC exemplifies all these.
Yet, the true dangers of the EFCC may not be that its deliveries are at variance with its slogans. Rather, it is probably that EFCC combines the old Nigerian police tactics with a well-oiled propaganda machine to undermine the constitution of this country in all its aspects and in unprecedented manner. Also, the EFCC has systematically assaulted various institutions that are meant to protect freedom and guarantee justice in the land. Indeed, we need to examine this assertion more closely.
EFCC AND THE COURTS: Right from its inception, EFCC has mounted various forms of attacks on the judiciary. In various media pronouncements, EFCC leadership accused the courts of aiding and abetting criminals and corrupt officials. These attacks were unjustified, and were calculated to intimidate judges and interfere with impartial adjudication of cases before them. Indeed, the primary aim of such attacks was to blackmail the judges into abandoning their duty to protect the constitutional liberties and due process rights of the citizens. While this tactic worked in a number of instances, the judiciary as a whole has continued to resist the EFCC pressures.
Also right from inception, EFCC has tried to induce the members of the judiciary through trainings and sponsoring of overseas seminars for favored judges. It has also clamored for special judges for its cases. And currently it is calling for special courts, with a view to having the judges fully under its control. In its clamor for special courts, EFCC fails to provide essential data and evidence to support its bid for special courts. Nay; which would have shown clearly that it does not need special courts. Readily available data could have shown that EFCC, not the courts, is responsible for 90% of the delay of its cases in court. Looking at any select sample of cases filed by the EFCC, it will be clear even to an uninitiated that EFCC repeatedly files case without evidence and due process, which then legitimately leads to constitutional challenges. Majority of adjournments in such cases are actually at the request of the EFCC lawyers (An on-going study into EFCC cases in the past 8 years will show a startling result and evidence that totally debunk the claims of the EFCC on the point)
The message is that the public should be vigilant and understand the need to protect the judiciary from the increasing onslaught by the EFCC.
EFCC AND THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY:
Through a well-oiled propaganda machine, EFCC has attempted to render the Nigerian legislature unable to make or amend existing laws that pertain to EFCC. Nowhere else in the world would an agency of the government funded by the tax payers spend public resources for the purpose of frustrating the legislature in its legislative functions. In addition to smear campaigns sponsored by the EFCC, it has found various ways to call into question the motives and legislative intentions of the National Assembly. Yet when the former Chairman of the EFCC felt threatened by President Ya’Adua’s administration, he rushed to the National Assembly and declared that the Assembly was the representative of the people and he needed its protection.
EFCC’s opposition to the National Assembly is the most bizarre of all things. The proposed amendment of the EFCC Act is actually the least revision in that widely flawed law. It is important to change the police culture and mentality of the EFCC leadership by having an experienced judicial officer at the top of that commission. That will be consistent with international practice. A good example could be the U.S. when that country introduced the Homeland Security Department; it was headed by a retired federal judge. The idea that the position of the head of EFCC should be the exclusive preserve of police and paramilitary personnel is completely without basis in commonsense and international standards. For EFCC to try to perpetuate such an anomaly is a clear confirmation that EFCC is totally out of touch with reality.
Also, the attempt to amend the law to require that petitions and complaints to the commission be written under oath is a move that would save EFCC a lot of headache. Such a development would protect EFCC against allegations that its officers are the true authors of many of the petitions. It could also save EFCC the looming disaster that will strike when many of these prosecuted unsuccessfully return to court to file suits for malicious prosecution. Because EFCC’s leadership is not well-trained in law, it has failed completely to envisage what would happen if 500 victims head off to the court with malicious prosecution actions in one day.
Finally on this, the proposed amendment could permanently resolve the tension between EFCC and the courts. With a retired judge at the head of EFCC, its leadership will have a better understanding of judicial proceedings and workings of the judicial arm of government. Also the commission will no doubt enjoy a more ready compatibility with the judicial mindset. Rather than spend money on special courts, this could solve the problem. However, with an obsession for perpetuating themselves in office, the present leadership of EFCC will not hear of a word of this amendment. The only time EFCC leadership would allow the legislative to make laws on EFCC is when EFCC leadership is the author of the proposal for amendment.
Rather than back away from its proposed amendment, the National Assembly should expand the scope of the proposed amendment to cover areas such as the funding of the commission, its relationship with the office of the Attorney General, etc.
EFCC AND THE PRESS:
Another area where the EFCC has tried to suppress freedom and democracy is in its dealings with the press. Through a combination of bribery and intimidation and threats to prosecute publishers and owners of media houses, EFCC has tried to control the press. It is common to hear journalists say that their publishers cannot allow them to publish anything unpleasant about the EFCC, even when true. The reason is that EFCC threatens the media business owners with investigation and prosecution in retaliation for any unfavorable mention of EFCC.
In conclusion, EFCC’s circumstances fit the historical pattern of authorities exploiting a fancy message of public good to hide and conceal an invidious campaign against liberty and rule of law. Judged by the evidence on ground, not its propaganda and coerced media flatteries, EFCC is a menace to constitutional liberties in Nigeria. It harms Nigeria far more than it could ever help the country.
It lacks transparency in its budget and accounting, it lacks respect for due process and rule of law. Its offices are corrupt to the hilt. It continues with the age-old police mentality. It tortures detainees and abuses rights. It is so lacking in credibility that is has become a cliché to expect greater integrity from a kidnapper than from EFCC officials. It bribes and corrupts officials of government. EFCC simply cannot continue with fundamental reforms.