Farida Waziri, you can quit, you know

Mrs Farida Waziri chose the wrong time to say the wrong things. Last week the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was sensationally reported as saying that Nigeria may seek the extradition of former FCT minister Malam Nasir el-Rufai to face corruption charges. What was the lady thinking about, you wonder. For a public officer struggling to convince an increasingly skeptical public that she is up to the task. – Garba Deen Muhammad writes

If Nigerians were impressed, as Waziri had hoped, they are not cheering. But many of us are wondering why a seasoned police officer with a rich background in economic crime investigation as Waziri is reputed to be should be so tactless. Now she has provided el-Rufai, whose pretentious occupation of the moral high ground had been exposed, the excuse he badly needed to engage the government in media war at a time when the government’s own public rating is as low as it can be within such a short period of time. el-Rufai has nothing to loose, while the government, needless to say has so much hanging on the way it is perceived to be handling the war against corruption.

For now the perception, at home and abroad, is negative. Some donor countries that support the commission with funds are said to have either suspended their gesture or preparing to do so. And why not; between the EFCC and the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Mr. Michael Andoaka, there seems to be a conspiracy to undermine the war on corruption. And now this crazy declaration that with a plethora of unsolved cases and suspects comfortably sitting on huge public wealth at home, the EFCC is going after a suspect thousands of miles away.

As if the charges against el-Rufai are graver than the ones against former governors whose case files the EFCC sheepishly told us were missing; to say nothing of the curious attitude of the government over the ‘done deal’ Halliburton scam.  In the unlikely possibility that the EFCC boss hasn’t heard, the buzz is that she was planted there by a cabal of self-interested public looters to protect their interest rather than to fight corruption on behalf of Nigerians. The way the war against corruption is progressing, or more appropriately retrogressing, this rumour is not without a sound foundation. By the way who told Mrs. Waziri that if Nigeria seeks el-Rufai’s extradition the United States Government where the former minister is studying for a Masters’ degree in Public Policy, would oblige?

Here is another unconfirmed rumour that should help Waziri to answer that question. A usually reliable diplomatic source told me that a few weeks ago, foreign minister chief Ojo Maduekwe, former Nigerian Ambassador to the US, Senator Jubril Aminu and one or two other big names travelled to the US with the objective of booking an appointment with President Obama for our own president. The reception they got was a huge diplomatic snob; the group could not even get to see the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, instead an insignificant under-secretary was detailed to receive the group and to tell them Obama was too busy to see our president. That is our rating with el-Rufai’s host.

If Waziri has constraints, she should let Nigerians know. For instance the excuse that the EFCC is unable to continue with the cases of former governors because their case files were missing is self-indicting. Why can’t, or wont, she reopen investigations in those states that her predecessor indicted so categorically? Malam Nuhu Ribadu had publicly accused more than 30 sitting governors at the time of stealing their states dry. He was particularly emphatic on some states where the poverty level was as high as 70-80 per cent. Some of those same governors are today either senators or free citizens gallivanting around and even playing kingmakers in their states. In view of what we knew and what we are now seeing, it is difficult to understand how Mrs  Waziri expects us to take her serious when we are not stupid. In some cases some states have even taken to crying out in the media over the inaction of the EFCC and its sister organization the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). A case in point is Sokoto state where the government is claiming huge amount of money had been misused and had submitted a comprehensive report by way of a petition to the ICPC and the EFCC but to no effect.

Another case that briefly raised our hopes was that of the Vaswani brothers. The Vaswani brothers are a trio of Indian nationals with a history of controversial business dealings in Nigeria. When it emerged that the EFCC was investigating them over a case of defrauding Nigeria of about N3bn tariff on imported rice, many patriotic citizens became interested and hopeful that at last the EFCC is attacking the epicenter of corruption where it would have the greatest impact. There are two reasons for this optimism.

First, most Nigerians know that the Indians are among the most unscrupulous economic saboteurs that are operating in our country. Most of the fake drugs that come into the country come from India; in addition, some state governors have confessed that some Indian nationals have brazenly approached them offering to help them launder any available loot for them.

Secondly, almost all Nigerians are aware that if Nigeria is regarded as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, then the Customs and Excise department is one of the most corrupt government institutions in the country. That the Vaswani brothers’ investigation had led all the way to a former comptroller-general of the Customs had gotten so many patriotic Nigerians excited and hopeful that the investigation would lead somewhere.

But what happened in the end? The Customs department, predictably, came out with some silly defense of the Vaswani brothers while the EFCC started singing an equally silly song about the Vaswani’s agreeing to pay back to the country about N2bn. The question is: was there a criminal offense, or was there not? Isn’t this a very good opportunity to take the Vaswani’s apart, and in fact launch a thorough investigation into the affairs of Indian and Chinese (another dangerous customer) nationals in the country?

Hundreds of years after Shakespeare, there is still no art to find the mind’s construction on the face; but sometimes we can tell what a fellow is not. Waziri does not project the image of a dishonest personality, so it is possible she is having to confront odds that are overwhelming her. If that is so she could do one of two things: enlist the support of Nigerians by divulging those odds, or simply quit. This, with all sense of modesty, was precisely the candid advice that this column offered to former EFCC Chairman Malam Nuhu Ribadu sometime in 2007, when it became clear that he was getting carried away. What followed is history, still unfolding.