Former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Farida Waziri, has achieved great feat and has remained an enigma of sorts to many women in the country. In this interview with Sunday Sun she talks about women in politics, the controversies that dogged her tenure as EFCC boss, the loss of her husband and other sundry issues.
By Bolatito Adebayo
Looking at the Nigerian political scene, do you think that women are well represented in politics now?
Well, I don’t think women are well represented at all and it even appears to me that it is reducing with what we have in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. Even though women have shown that they can hold their own and they work very hard but the political system is not very encouraging for the women. Politics in Nigeria is very expensive and most women cannot compete well with the men. However, I think there is a lot that has to be done by the women themselves to prove their own and they should not sit back and say because they are women they want this or they want Beijing Declaration. They should work hard so that they can be identified in the political scene.
There was a bill sent to the house sometime ago seeking gender equality and women have been clamouring for equal rights. What is your view on that?
I don’t think it is on gender equality per se but I can recall that the bill was poorly represented. There is nothing like equality, nobody is equal and the Nigerian women are not competing with the Nigerian men because they are there to support. Go to any polling station on election day take a look at the voters on the queue, you will find out that majority of them are women and their children. These are the most vulnerable members of the society; they are the ones that are trampled on. The countries that really know the worth of women, they push them up and encourage them to participate in politics.
The EFCC seemed to have been enmeshed in one controversy or the other during your tenure. Do you think this had more to do with your gender?
Will I say I came in at a wrong time? At that particular time I was not in Nigeria. I was in Turkey with my husband, we just returned from that posting and the chairman then was removed in controversial circumstances and that controversy rubbed on me. Typical of Nigerians, they thought I was gunning for the job. The second reason was that I am a woman and majority of the people involved didn’t want a woman in that sensitive position. The third reason was that some of them that knew my antecedents didn’t want me there because in the past I had held sensitive positions and you know that women cherish their reputations a lot. You know what a lot of men can do for money; some men can even sell their mothers for money, which women can’t do. So those were the three reasons and so they went all out so that I was not confirmed for the job. They did so many things and eventually when I was confirmed some of them said to my face that, “we are giving you three months.” During those three months they resorted to a campaign of calumny against my person, perpetually engaged in churning out devilish documents; they would cook, spice and garnish these things that were not even connected to me. At a point I started asking myself, ‘are there two Farida Waziris?’ It was amazing they did all that so that I would be thrown out but the truth prevailed. You can deceive some people some of the time but you can’t deceive everyone at the same time. Let me give you one example: I was fought, locally, nationally and internationally. When they saw that I was working and obeying the rules of law, the late President Umaru Yar’Adua called me and said to me, ‘Farida, I want you to follow due process and the rule of law, we will give you the protection to do this job and remain focused.’ Anytime I was depressed then, I remembered what the president said to me then to remain focused. He gave me attention to have access to him in the villa; I was free to see him anytime. So, a letter went out to the United States purportedly written by Director General of the DSS. It was a voluminous document and it was titled security report about activities of Farida Waziri. Here, I am working in a sensitive organization for my country and then there is a report against Farida Waziri activities going to a foreign country, it means I was even a security threat to my country. I had worked in the SSS. We started the special branch of the force, moved to NSO located at 15 Awolowo Road, before I went back to the police. So, I know the working systems, you have traces, you become a threat to the security of the country. I had lots of challenges. It was only God that saved me and the late President Yar’Adua, a God fearing man, a great leader, a gentleman to the core and a courageous man. Even though sickness held him down but because of his support I survived it, I even went to the US State Department and I saw all of these things and it affected me somehow but I remained focused.
But while you were battling with all these challenges was there a time you wanted to throw in the towel?
It was a very difficult situation. I am a human being but my family stood by me. My late husband and the children gave me the support. Then there were some good patriotic Nigerians that knew what was happening and they encouraged me and above all, the late president was wonderful. One day he called me and said, ‘Farida you really have enemies, you have to be careful and I said I already knew. Then two weeks after, somebody came to him and told him things about me. When he called me and told me, I just collapsed and started crying uncontrollably. He said to me, ‘Farida, I told you that somebody came and said, did I tell you that I believed them? So, I said, ‘Sir you didn’t believe them?’ He said yes and so I wiped my tears and I left. It was that bad and when I went to the United States, I went to the State Department, I went to Clinton’s office, I went to the US Department of Justice after that I addressed the Council on Foreign Relations. I had another meeting in town and my handlers said I should just go in quietly by the time I finished the third meeting. I think it was the SaharaReporters that carried it, they had a placard and they were chanting “Farida Ole! Yar’Adua Ole!” That is hate speech and hate attitude in a foreign country. When the car came at the back, they wanted to force the car open. What did I do to them? It was so personalized but working in the EFCC, I also knew why some people made it personal it was because of their selfish interest. It had nothing to do with incompetence on my part.
If you were given another opportunity what would you do differently?
If I am given another opportunity, there is very little I would do. For instance, I wanted to have a special police, I worked over and over, I went to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I went to the Court of Appeal, the NBA and civil societies because cases were not moving and it was a disgrace to the image of this country. A case that was not murder, treason or treasonable felony, would last for 10 years. Even the poor judge in that court the local people there called it come today, come tomorrow.’ So they even shy away from coming to testify because the cases are endless. When I mooted the idea of a special court, it was as if I had committed treason, they descended on me; they called me that woman. I stopped being Farida Waziri but what is wrong with that woman? But today, I have been vindicated, a Daniel has come to judgment in the person of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen. Where are the organisations that select Man of the Year? He should be given Man of the Year 2017 for his courage at the highest court of the land. He just got there and he must have been seeing what is going on. I did not say that the judges were not working but I felt even sorry for them, very honourable people, very honest. If you see their cause list, one person is trying murder, arson, stealing, bank fraud, internet crime, rape, advanced fee fraud, money scam, Ponzi scheme and so on, just one person. So why don’t we specialize somehow? Especially with the new kinds of crime, the society is not static. The time that somebody would steal a pot of soup and you would shout, ‘thief! thief,’ is gone. There are more sophisticated crimes and there is modus operandi of doing these things but today I feel so happy because that is the man after my heart. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, I can stand proud to say that what I started and for which I was abused, called names and some of the people who descended on me are some of the people clamouring for this now.
You lost your husband sometime ago. What do you miss most about him?
It was too much because he was a pillar of strength. He was a very courageous man; you find a lot of men that are so lily-livered around that if you even want to tell them the truth then go get an ambulance. But my husband was very strong, courageous and hardworking. He went to the Senate twice, he was an ambassador and he held key sensitive positions. And when I was there, if I come in from the office he was there, sometimes with the publications of the SaharaReporters. He would tell me not to worry about the things they said. So, I missed the kind of love, attention and care that I got from him. That is why it was so painful. But my son was given his title immediately even though people were trying to contest it but the community quickly made the decision and we were still crying when they made this announcement. At the coronation there was jubilation but that aspect has also made me feel a little better.
But did you have a premonition about his death?
I didn’t. But my only regret is that as a Muslim I believe that when the time comes there is nothing you can do about it. Otherwise when we were going to India, he said to me, ‘You know, there is nothing I love about that country’ and I said to him I know. You see we have been there before, unlike London you can take a stroll around but in India it is so choking. So I said let’s get your ticket from India to London we tried that but it was so expensive. I was the one who encouraged him to endure the medical trip to India; I said that we would go to London after returning from India. Meanwhile, I lost my daughter too, anytime we were in London and we didn’t have money for hotels we could spend the night in her apartment, she had a three-bedroom apartment. If I had known I would have taken him to London. When we went to India, they kept telling me that he would be okay and the money finished and some people sent me money from home. I didn’t have a bank account, the money went through the hospital account and they took it and they said I was still owing.