Despite Senate?s insistent rejection of the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as the substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) last week, the House of Representatives is seeking to make the agency financially and operationally independent of the executive and legislative arms of government.
The bill seeking to further empower the anti-graft scaled second reading with unanimous support despite a few dissenting voices to a proposal for a special court devoted to the trial of financial and other related crimes. According to two of the four sponsors of the consolidated bill, Kayode Oladele (APC, Ogun) and Bassey Ewa (PDP, Cross River), if passed into law, neither the Executive nor the Legislature can turn the anti-graft agency into its tool. Oladele said: ?The bill is seeking to expand the scope of those that can head the agency. The extant law restricted it to only former or serving security personnel but we want a situation whereby people of character can be sourced from non-security sector; we don?t want the door to be shut on the rest of brilliant Nigerians with impeccable character. The independence of the agency can only be guaranteed if it is placed on first line charge. If that is done, the agency will no longer have to make do with whatever it was given to it by the Budget office, which may not be enough for its financial activities?. Oladele added that the creation of Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) domiciled in EFCC but independent would go a long way in tackling corruption in the country. ?It would enable Nigeria access the international data of the Egmont Group in tackling complex corruption cases with international dimension,? he said.
On his part, Ewa said the bill is seeking a 20-year minimum jail term for public servants, who corruptly enriched themselves while in office as well as the creation of EFCC court, designed to try corrupt officials to avoid undue delays.
In his comparative analysis of other countries that have passed through similar circumstances, Ewa said Ghana prescribes 15 years with hard labour, Republic of Cameroun had 20 years imprisonment, and India has 20 years imprisonment while Egypt has 20 years imprisonment.
On funding of the agency, Ewa said the bill seeks to delete Section 35 of the Act to be replaced with 0.1percent of the total value of contracts awarded by the Federal Government shall be credited to the commission?s account; 0.1percent of the Internally Generated Revenue of the Federal Government shall be credited to the commission?s account; and 0.1percent of the sums of money recovered from the looted funds shall be retained by the commission.
?The EFCC Act is further amended to establish an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Court to handle all cases emanating from investigations carried out by the EFCC bothering on financial crimes. The court, so established, shall have divisions in the six geo-political zones of the country. The court shall within 180 days dispense with any matter that is properly brought before it as appeals emanating from it shall only lie to the Court of Appeal and the Court of Appeal shall within 90 days dispense with any matter brought before it from the judgment of EFCC Court,? he added.
While Oladele cautioned his colleagues on the establishment of the EFCC court, a number of his colleagues vehemently opposed it. Oladele opined that the scope of the EFCC court would be too limited which was why he was proposing an all ? encompassing Special Court Bill that would take care of variety of financial, terrorism and other related crimes. ?There is need for us to bring all the special crimes such as cybercrime, terrorism, financial crimes together into one so that the special court can be fully operational?.
While he supported operational autonomy for the agency, Oladele however called for caution over funding of the agency, saying if passed into law as proposed; the funding sources might turn out to be over-pampering of the agency. Tajudeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi) who also supported the EFCC court, said it has become necessary to free the agency from its dependence on the Executive. He however faulted the proposed funding of the agency saying it was too huge.
However, antagonists of the EFCC got a boost when Speaker Yakubu Dogara pointed out that the position of the constitution should be considered on the feasibility of the EFCC against High courts. While Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) aligned with the Speaker, saying there was a need to examine the position of the constitution, Igariwey Enwo (PDP, Ebonyi) said, ?Mine is only a voice of caution because it is easy to give out powers but very difficult to take it back as this special court may have to serve as subordinate court to the state high courts?. Mohammed Soba (APC, Kaduna) and a number of others said the EFCC court is unnecessary. According to them, the constitution has already empowered the High Court to carry out the proposed duties for the EFCC court. They opined that being a constitutional issue, an amendment of the constitution must be carried out. They said if passed into law, the powers of the High Court would be usurped. They also felt that the creation of the court would also give too much power to the anti-corruption agency.
But when the bill was put to voice vote, it got the support of the majority of the lawmakers.