President Muhammadu Buhari has initiated moves to unbundle the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and create a new body to be known as Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Agency. To this effect, the President has forwarded a Bill to the National Assembly. The aim of the bill is to address the problem of lack of transparency and accountability associated with the management of recovered funds by anti-corruption agencies. The President added that the agency would be critical in sustaining the fight against corruption, money laundering and illicit movement of stolen funds through the banking system and across Nigerian borders.
“Most importantly, the agency will ensure that Nigerians can benefit from proceeds of crime by ensuring that once recovery is made, the properties and assets will be secured and that the final forfeitures granted through a court order can be paid into the Confiscated and Forfeited Account to be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria,” Buhari stated in a letter to the National Assembly.
If signed into law, the bill will stop the EFCC and six other anti-corruption agencies from securing freezing orders on suspicious bank accounts under investigation. The other agencies include Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC); National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA); Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU); National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP); Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the police.
The move by the President is not surprising. There have been calls for the reformation of the various anti-corruption agencies, especially the EFCC and ICPC on account of allegations of malfeasance by their officials. That of the EFCC has been more strident.
Established under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004, the EFCC has, among other functions, been saddled with the responsibility of investigating all financial crimes, including the advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, futures market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, computer credit fraud and contract scam.
It is also empowered to examine and investigate all reported cases of economic and financial crimes, with a view to identifying individuals, corporate bodies or groups involved. It can also identify, trace, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities, economic and financial crime related offences or the property whose value corresponds to such proceeds.
Given the initial successes of the Commission in reining in advance fee fraud suspects and scammers, it was generally seen as a bold move in tackling financial crimes that had dented the nation’s image. Nonetheless, given the closeness of the successive leadership of the organisation to the government in power, the EFCC has gradually been seen as an instrument of blackmail and intimidation of perceived political opponents.
Besides, there were charges against officials of the commission of deviating from its original agenda. There were allegations of officials of the agency arranging with others to re-loot the confiscated property of convicts. The operatives were accused of under-valuing the assets of convicts slated for public auction and positioning their proxies to buy such them. The Commission and/or its operatives were also accused of not remitting the full proceeds of the transactions they oversee. These are issues that may have informed the government’s decision to unbundle the EFCC and others. The government may also have considered the issue of accountability.
However, as weighty as these allegations may appear, we think that appointing a new body to supervise the management of recovered proceeds of crime may not be the best solution. It may even compound the problem at hand and lead to multiple agencies undertaking the same function. This will come at a huge cost to the nation. The way out is to ensure transparency in the management of the EFCC.
We endorse every patriotic move that will make EFCC and other anti-graft agencies more efficient. However, the exercise should not be reduced to ego tripping by government officials or be allowed to vitiate the war against corruption. Whatever moves to reform the EFCC operations must not be used to undermine its autonomy and independence. The war against financial sleaze is too serious a business to be politicised.
We believe that creating a dedicated account for recovered proceeds of crime at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) can be a way out of the current crisis of confidence surrounding the Commission. EFCC should be strengthened rather than whittling its powers.