How Farida Waziri bought the activist community to keep silent on her corruption

Saharareporters has learned that Mrs. Farida Waziri, chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has made illicit overtures aimed at cornering the support of numerous pro-democracy activist groups in Nigeria.

When Mrs. Waziri was appointed the chairman of EFCC last year, some Lagos-based human right activists protested her appointment. In fact, Dr. Joe Oke-Odumakin, the president of Campaign for Democracy (CD), led members of the organization to the Ikoyi office of EFCC bearing placards with harsh words about the new EFCC boss. In subsequent media interviews they also stated why Mrs. Waziri was unfit for the job. They censured her for standing surety for Mr. George Akume, a former governor of her home state of Benue and one of many ex-governors facing investigation for extensive money laundering and corruption. Comrades Olasupo Ojo and Mallachy Ugwumadu also led members of CDHR (Committee for Defence of Human Rights) to the headquarters of EFCC in Lagos to criticize Waziri’s appointment. It seemed as if the opposition to her would prove formidable and enduring.

Instead, our sources said Mrs. Waziri designed a strategy to infiltrate and disarm the activists. That strategy appears to be bearing fruit for her.

A source within the EFCC said Mrs. Waziri was so rattled by the protests that she decided to downgrade the anti-corruption agency’s Lagos office. The EFCC’s Lagos office, which used to serve as operational headquarters, was reduced to a zonal office. An assistant commissioner of police, Mr. Muazu, was redeployed from Abuja and posted as the zonal head, replacing the Director of Operations who used to head it.

When Waziri told the National Assembly that there was no petition against former Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, Comrade Debo Adeniran, who earlier submitted a petition against the former president, led members of the Coalition against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) to picket the Ikoyi office of the anti-graft agency. In what looked like a rehearsed demonstration, one of the top officials of the EFCC, Mr. Sanda (reputed to be a corrupt police officer) was sent to receive the protest letter, even though a substantive head of operations who was Sanda’s senior was there. Sources told Saharareporters that Mr. Sanda is a Man Friday to Mrs. Waziri. Mrs. Waziri recently resisted the Inspector general of Police, Mike Okiro from transferring him back to the police force.

Shortly after submitting the protest letter, Comrade Adeniran made a seeming joke to reporters covering the event that the management of the commission did not offer him entertainment. He also said he was too broke to fix his car.�

An EFCC source told us that Waziri’s representatives quickly decoded the ‘joke’. Three days later, Adeniran was invited to Abuja to see Mrs. Waziri. A source within CACOL told Saharareporters that Adeniran moved swiftly, as if he had expected the call. “Within 30 minutes he was at the airport on his way to Abuja,” said the source. He added: “The Abuja trip to see Waziri explains why we have heard nothing more from Adeniran about the anti-Obasanjo petition.”

Another so-called group of anti-corruption activists called Pro National Conference group (PRONACO) and led by Mr. Wale Okuniyi did not employ any decoys. Soon after Waziri’s appointment, the group issued several press releases extolling her credentials as a crime fighter. The group tagged her an “Amazon” and described her record in the Nigerian police as sterling and unblemished. They also berated those opposed to Waziri’s nomination as enemies of progress and democracy. They took on imaginary enemies of the anti-graft war and lampooned those they said were hired by Ribadu to haunt Mrs. Waziri.

An EFCC source said Okuniyi soon approached close aides of Mrs. Waziri and pressed that the EFCC chair provide financial support to his group and some like-minded others. Okuniyi, the PRO of PRONACO which is chaired by Pa. Anthony Enahoro, reportedly dropped the revered old man’s name “as a staunch supporter of the embattled EFCC chair.”

Waziri was quick to recognize Okuniyi as an “activist of worth” and someone to reckon with in the ranks of civil society groups. During her maiden visit to the EFCC’s Lagos office, an invitation was extended to Okuniyi to meet her. EFCC spokesman Femi Babafemi arranged for Okuniyi and Shettima Yerima, the chairman of Arewa Youths Congress, to form a new organization known as Coalition of Civil Society groups in Nigeria. “The only problem is that only Okuniyi and Yerima are members of the coalition,” said one of our sources.

In Lagos, Waziri first addressed EFCC workers, promising a lot of goodies if they were loyal to her. Thereafter, she had a session with the so-called “civil society groups.” To her dismay, only Okuniyi and Yerima represented the coalition.

A source familiar with the meeting told Saharareporters that the duo tried to be smart, assuring Waziri throughout the meeting that other prominent members of civil rights groups were on their way to the parley.

Okuniyi read a prepared speech to reporters in which his so-called group pledged loyalty to Mrs. Waziri. An EFCC source then said the two members posed for “PR” photos with the EFCC boss before they left with an undisclosed amount of pay-off. “Comrade Okuniyi even told Madam that on his way to keep the appointment with her, the rear windscreen of his Lexus saloon car got shattered. He didn’t have to explain how and where.”

While the trio of Joe Odumakin, Supo Ojo and Mallachy Ugwumadu were consistent in their crusade against Mrs. Waziri, other “civil society” leaders, like CACOL’s Adeniran, Okunniyi and Shettima became insiders within the EFCC. The latter group regularly receives handouts paid from Mrs. Waziri’s slush “information” fund. Last December, the rogue “civil society” activists took the opportunity of UN Anti-Corruption Day to make more money for themselves. The EFCC appointed them to a “contact committee” that planned an event held on December 10 2008 codenamed “Anti-Corruption Revolution Campaign”. They freely made themselves available to distribute letters and hijacked the duties of EFCC officials designated to plan such events. One EFCC official said that they exposed themselves as “hungry activists who could be bought over easily. They made themselves the laughing stock of officials of EFCC with whom they coordinated the program.”

Each member of the contact committee was entitled to flight tickets to Abuja where they usually held meetings. The agency lodged and fed them at five-stars hotels and they collected N10, 000 daily as sitting allowance.

Two EFCC officials said the “activists” deliberately extended the meetings to two or three days to make more money and to have free food and hotel accommodation. “We saw them as pathetic men,” said one EFCC official, “but we had to tolerate them since they were Madam’s guests. And Madam’s purpose in inviting them was to keep them busy so that they would not criticize her.”

Another EFCC agent said the men turned themselves into messengers. “They collected various sums of money to distribute invitation letters for the event. On one occasion, Okuniyi collected N80, 000 to take care of Lagos/Ibadan axis while Adeniran picked up N100, 000 to take care of Edo/Delta axis.”
An EFCC said the regard for the men was so low that, on the day of the conference, they were not even accorded any recognition. “They were not granted a chance to present any paper on behalf of the civil society groups they claimed they represented. Instead, they were reduced to serving the EFCC as ushers at the event.”

With Adeniran embedded with the EFCC, there is little surprise that CACOL’s petition against Obasanjo remains unaddressed.

Meanwhile Mrs. Waziri has reaped huge benefits from her strategy of buying the silence of some “civil society groups.” A labor unionist told Saharareporters that Mrs. Waziri has escaped with little scrutiny. “Your website has exposed Mrs. Waziri’s receipt of car gifts from subjects under investigation by the EFCC. You have also disclosed her extensive and fraudulent land deals in Abuja. Yet, she has enjoyed relative calm since some of the Lagos-based activists are in her pocket,” he said.

The fact became public as another group known as Movement against Corruption (MAC) could not defend a petition it had written against Mrs. Waziri to the Nigerian senate regarding her corrupt practices catalogued by Saharareporters, members bickered over the appropriateness of the petition, especially as Mrs. Waziri reportedly, frequently paid their airfares and nominated them to attended conferences outside the shores of Nigeria.