By Abdullahi Mantu
The establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2004 marked a watershed in the fight against corruption in Nigeria. For the first time, Nigeria had all previous laws and enactments on different aspects of financial and economic crimes consolidated under one agency in order to achieve a seamless and co-ordinated detection, prevention and prosecution of financial crimes.
In a nutshell, EFCC was mandated to prevent, investigate, prosecute and penalise crimes. It is charged with enforcing the provisions of other laws and regulations relating to economic and financial crimes including the EFCC Act of 2004, Money Laundering Acts of 1995 and 2004 and Advanced Fee and Other Related Offences Act of 1995.
The others are the Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices in Banks Act of 1994, the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act of 1991 and the Miscellaneous Offences Act.
From the foregoing, it is apparent that the EFCC has enormous powers. It actually needs to be empowered properly for it to acquit itself creditably. It is often said that if you fight corruption, corruption will definitely fight back because it won’t just go down willingly or quietly. This means that for any anti-graft agency to be effective and win the corruption war, it must have strong “legal teeth” to be able to ‘bite’ successfully.
In the last few years, Nigerians have come to appreciate the work EFCC has been doing. However, while the officers and leadership of the anti-graft agency have shown great professionalism and dedication in the discharge of their duties and in ensuring that the EFCC is properly positioned to live up to its mandate, a few bad eggs in the system may make the agency to lose public support and erode the confidence Nigerians repose in it.
The junior officers appear to be on the loose. Even cases of financial disagreement between business partners or friends that can be sorted out by simple arbitration are referred to EFCC operatives. Instead of handling such low profile cases with circumspection to preserve the dignity of those involved, these operatives behave in a way that thoroughly embarrasses those unlucky to be in their net and expose them to public ridicule.
One such case is the arrest on September 12 of Alhaji Mohammed Gobir, a former director of Afromedia Plc in his residence in Ikoyi, Lagos. On that day operatives of the anti-graft agency had stormed his Gobir’s house, accused him of advanced fee fraud and what they called ‘corporate fraud’ and whisked him away. It was a Saturday and he was not released till the following Wednesday.
What was issue? The EFCC had relied on a petition by Mr. Akin Olopade, managing director of Afromedia in which he accused Gobir of collecting various amounts of money in a phony business deal. Shortly after Gobir was arrested, his picture was taken and the media was called in. Within 48 hours, the story went viral but in all of that his own side of the story was not heard.
If the EFCC operatives that stormed Gobir’s house had taken time to look at the other side, they would have realized that contrary to the impression created by Olopade, the transaction was not between Gobir and Afromedia but a business transaction involving two individuals who were hitherto bossom friends. They would also have known that when Gobir and Olopade decided to end the transaction, the Afromedia CEO asked for refund of his money and that Gobir had started making refunds to him in three currencies – naira, dollars and pounds sterling – all documented.
The true position is that as somebody who was in charge of business development in Afromedia from 2009 up till the time he resigned from the board of the company in 2013, Gobir’s main duty was to secure high level business opportunities for the company. It was on this basis that in one of the several private meetings he held with Olopade, both men agreed on the possibility of the company exploring and receiving capital investments following the melt down in the Nigerian stock market. In accessing the capital investment, money was required to process and access the fund of which part of the sum was expended by Mr. Olopade who later requested for refunds of which several payments were made as repayment to him (Mr Olopade.)
Both men disagreed on the arrears to be paid having deducted earlier payments from total sum, with the two parties resolving to seek legal adjudication on the matter to determine what was due.
That was the main issue in contention. It is on record that Olopade even got a mutual friend involved in the matter. While they were still discussing, EFCC operatives arrived that Saturday, September 12 and whisked Gobir away for interrogation, accusing him of “corporate fraud” and “419”.
Linking him with ‘419’ is what is beyond comprehension for a man of Gobir’s standing. In 30 years of doing business in Nigeria, he has never been indicted, has never been arraigned for any criminal offence, he has never been involved in fraud. Why would he now, at the height of his professional and business life be involved in ‘419’ or what they called ‘corporate fraud’? He has been a credible businessman and contractor to federal ministries, para military and state governments.
It is this background in business with extensive contacts that earned him the recommendation to join the board of Afromedia in 2009 at the time the company was seeking funds to enhance its operations. He was specifically invited because of his network and goodwill which Afromedia identified and needed at the time to obtain big accounts. And he did not disappoint. In the four years he served on the board of Afromedia and headed the business development committee of the board, he got businesses worth over N2 billion for the company.
If you are right-handed from birth you cannot learn to be left-handed in old age. After being a clean businessman for 30 years, it is not now, at the height of his career when the stakes are too high that Gobir will want to be associated with fraud or shady deals.
The EFCC has been applauded by a cross section of Nigerians. That applause will become higher and will be sustained If the top officers put the junior officers in check so that they do nothing to subtract from the goodwill the commission enjoys from not a few members of the public.
More importantly they should find a way to exercise their power with restraint and ensure that every party to a case gets fair hearing. There is no need to make a case a media issue especially when one side has not been heard. This was clearly the case with regard to Mohammed Gobir.
We are in democracy and the EFCC itself is a creation of democracy. Therefore, it’s method of operation should be based on democratic principles. One of the values of democracy is right to fair hearing and equal opportunity for everybody in a dispute to state their case freely. It is important that the EFCC takes note of this so that innocent people are not harassed or embarrassed unduly.
*Mantu is civil rights activist based in Kaduna