The EFCC’s Control Complex -By Ike Willie-Nwobu

Like one wants a woman and her wrapper at the same time, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) wants a complete control of the anti-corruption war and its narrative. It wants to shoot and control the trajectory of the bullet all at once.

Following the arrest of controversial crossdresser Idris Okuneye aka Bobrisky, by the EFCC for Naira mutilation, the commission drew a sharp rebuke from Chidi Odinkalu, a professor of law and former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. Odinkalu who felt that the EFCC was abandoning weighty anti-corruption issues to chase shadows called out the commission for misplacing its priorities.

The commission quickly fired back at Odinkalu, threatening legal recourse against him. In criticizing the Commission, Odinkalu may have lurched out on his own, but as always, his views represented the feelings of Nigerians. A teacher by trade, he has easily transcended the borders of the academe to become one of Nigeria’s most polished public commentators. His deft diction and keen observation deployed in dissecting topical issues affecting the country and its citizens has regularly helped to keep the government, especially the judiciary on its toes.

In the high stakes of Nigerian corruption, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is a key stakeholder and not just for the fact that it is the government agency tasked with leading the fight against corruption. It is also tasked with shaping the government narrative on fighting financial and economic crimes in the country. In this role, it usually sprinkles media duties into its role and is regularly guilty of oversweetening the pudding, betraying rusty skills in the process.

As an agent of the government, the commission is not just desperate to fight corruption, it is desperate to be seen doing that. But its desperation does not stop at the optics of navigating the harsh anti-corruption terrain. It regularly redesigns its desperation to cater to its media needs.

In recoiling from the sharks ruling Nigeria’s corruption-charged waters and hounding small fry for mere misdemeanors, the commission is showing that it craves control but not confrontation. In an age where optics are conflated with optical illusions, the collateral damage to its reputation is considerable.

It is no big deal if the commission bristles at criticism. Even the blind know that corruption blights everything in Nigeria. This sensational knowledge of a country’s struggles with corruption is especially available to the EFCC. So it should rage at criticisms, especially those constructed on poorly rendered arguments, but it cannot afford its ears when the discerning volunteer a word of advice or two? Odinkalu doesn’t need a citation or to submit his curriculum vitae before the commission knows that he is well-equipped to interrogate Nigeria.

In rebuking Odinkalu, the commission called upon a familiar stereotype of what a Nigerian public officer, serving or past, should be:demure, deferent to, and defensive of every government policy no matter how offensive. The implicit reason in this thought is the grave but unspoken admonition that to do otherwise would be to bite the fingers that fed them. The commission clearly implied this.

It is not unusual for governments or its agencies to be disquieted by criticism, especially when it is coming from those who should know better than publicly discussing private matters. Yet, if the lines between the persona of a private citizen and that of a past public officer is blurred in defense of the country, is it such a bad thing? It is even noble in a country where impunity is the ink with which many government agencies write.

It is not just Odinkalu who feels that the commission despite bagging a Pyrrhic victory, majored in the minor. Many believe Bobrisky was prosecuted not for who he is or what he did but for whom he has become.

Respect for sensibilities has never been a strong suit of the government, especially on national assignments. It cannot be now, especially when it is shrouded in the shawls of official duties.

The commission rather than join issues with Odinkalu should show that it was not merely window-dressing over a cross dresser. It should show that it is willing to cross swords with Nigeria’s more influential suspects. It is dangerous for selective amnesia to be in such abundant supply in a sensitive agency of government.

Fighting corruption invariably makes the news. Every invitation, arrest, and prosecution by the commission is bound to draw attention given the sensitive nature the responsibility given to it by law. But it does not mean that the commission can be reckless or adored not to choose its battles wisely.
In discharging its responsibility, the commission must show more rigor both in its operations and optics so that it will save what it can from its rapidly receding reputation.

Rather than allow itself be distracted, the commission must also learn to keep its gunpowder dry for the biggest game not out of trepidation, but out of prudence.

Ike Willie-Nwobu,

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