Since the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and appointment of Nuhu Ribadu as its first chairman in 2003, the anti-graft agency has been headed by either a retired or serving police officer. The reason is obvious. The EFCC Act is unambiguous on the qualification of the EFCC chairman.
The EFCC Act says a chairman” must be a serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or equivalent; possess not less than 15 years’ experience.’’
But as a result of the performance of the anti-graft agency so far, there is now clamour to expand the scope of persons eligible for appointment as chairman of the commission.
Indeed a bill sponsored by Mr Olawole Raji, Representing Epe Federal Constituency, in the Federal House of Representatives, to that effect had passed first reading.
If eventually passed, it would provide for a person who has held or eligible to hold office as a judge of a superior court of record in Nigeria or a person with recognised financial experience and proven integrity in the public or private sector to be appointed EFCC chairman.
Stakeholders argued that the law establishing the EFCC is not only restrictive and discriminatory, but that it unjustifiably shuts out Nigerians with equal or even greater competence and patriotism to head the anti-graft agency.
They also said that such restriction had reduced the EFCC to a police unit, stressing that widening the eligibility of persons to head the anti-graft agency was the way forward.
Dr Prosper Ladislas, President of Pan African Business Forum (PABF), noted that the fight against corruption were evident during the days of Nuhu Ribadu, Farida Waziri, up to Ibrahim Lamorde, as heads of EFCC before Ibrahim Magu took over.
PABF is an African continental organisation, with mandate to facilitate regional integration, attract foreign direct investments and also generate a good environment for investors.
According to Ladislas, corruption has gone haywire, therefore, there is need for review of the EFCC Act, to expand the scope of persons qualified to head the anti-graft agency.
Ladislas appealed to members of the House of Representatives to support the bill sponsored by Raji, in order to create room for people who are more vast in Nigerian laws and competent to also be appointed to head the EFCC.
“In fact, up to a point EFCC operatives sustained their zeal and style, only to be found wanting later, by being either selective in the arrest and prosecution of suspects or even participants in corruption.
“It is all these undeniable facts about the EFCC that necessitated widespread and comprehensive interrogation of the conceptual, structural and operational frameworks of the commission.
“All with a view to identify its strength and weakness, at the end of which recommendations on specific ways its activities can become more result-oriented.”
In the same vein, Prof. Jonah Onuoha, Head of Political Science Department, University of Nigeria Nsukka, underscored the need for review of the EFCC law, to ensure complete overhaul.
He said that although the commission was established by the Federal Government, the restriction of the anti-graft agency chairmanship position to security agencies alone hindered its growth.
According to him, the position of chairman of EFCC should not be limited to security agencies or any profession; rather it should be open to any person with integrity and determination to move the nation forward.
“The law should be amended to leave it open.
“The chairman should be any Nigerian with credible credential; somebody with zero tolerance for corruption, somebody that is well educated, particularly in the legal profession.
“The mere fact that the presidency appoints the chairman of EFCC should be reviewed, so that the issue about the EFCC being biased will no longer arise.
“There is the need for review; for somebody who knows the law and that cannot be easily used and dumped to make the EFCC to perform better,” Onuoha said.
He said that a legal practitioner who knows the law is better fitted to fight corruption than a policeman.
On his part, Dahiru Yabo, a retired Customs Officer, noted that it has become a routine to remove EFCC chairmen for being found wanting.
Mr Yabo, also a former Commissioner of Water Resources in Sokoto State, said that EFCC’s style of going after individuals or groups accused of pilfering public funds alone would not end economic crimes.
“The linkages with corruption must be blocked through the enhancement of operational laws of the regulatory agencies,’’ he said.
Mr Yabo also stressed the need for the EFCC to be led by fearless and incorruptible anti-corruption crusaders from other law enforcement agencies, with support from well-trained operatives, not necessarily police officers.
A legal practitioner, Kelvin Mejulu, who spoke on the headship of the anti-corruption agency, said that the EFCC could be headed by a legal practitioner, like the ICPC.
Mr Mejulu, a staff of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, said that much could be achieved in the fight against corruption, if such wars were led by legal practitioners.
“Since Prof. Bolaji Owansonoye took over as Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), a lot has been achieved with less efforts and no noise being made about it, because of his legal background.
“So, I think there is the need to throw the appointment of the EFCC chairman open for other respectable members of the society to come in,” Mejulu said.
The concern raised by stakeholders is that the headship of the EFCC should not be restrictive. The bill for the amendment of the EFCC Act before the House of Representatives should be supported in order to widen the pool for selection of persons to head the EFCC.