The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been drawn to the editorial comment entitled, EFCC’s Laughable Subsidy Theft Recovery, which appeared in The Punch Newspaper of Friday, November 28, 2014. The EFCC is dismayed by this editorial which is a horrible attempt to ridicule the Commission and denigrate its modest achievements in the investigation of the fraud in the oil subsidy scheme.
The announcement of EFCC’s recovery of over N5billion oil subsidy scam money, contrary to The Punch’s opinion was not intended for applause. Law enforcement is not showbusiness, where actors openly play to the gallery to elicit raucous applause from spectators. It is serious undertaking which only those who understand the time, energy and resources that law enforcement officials invest in cracking a single case would appreciate. All the Commission set out to achieve by the announcement, which obviously didn’t impress the newspaper, was to inform the public about its activities.
It is a matter of regret that The Punch was so rankled by the announcement that it was prepared to stand logic on its head in the attempt to defame the Commission. The paper’s dismissal of the N5billion recovery tended to portray the sum as mere pittance. It speaks volumes about the times we are in, when even newspapers appear to have reviewed their expectations of the amount criminals must steal, or what is recovered from them, that should be worthy of mention on their pages. If N5billion makes no impression on The Punch, it is obvious that a case involving N500million or one in which N50million is recovered will be a non-issue.
The message which this attitude sends to the criminally minded is obvious: It is only when you steal in trillions that your case will interest a section of the media (led as we are being made to see now, regrettably, by The Punch).
While newspapers have a right to editorialize on any subject they consider important to the nation and their readers, this duty is expected to be carried out with a greater sense of responsibility than is on display by The Punch; which is why reputable newspapers all over the world staff their editorial boards with some of the most cerebral minds within and outside the journalism profession. The expectation is that whatever opinion is coming out of the board, which is passed off as the particular newspaper’s stand on an issue, will be the product of robust debate, a well researched piece crafted in elegant prose, not the hallucinations of lazy writers garnished with hearsay.
Unfortunately, The Punch editorial of November 28, 2014 miserably fails the test of an editorial in name and content, which raises crucial questions to why such a respected medium would elect to devalue its most prized page.
It is baffling that the editorial board of a newspaper in the mould of The Punch could not make a simple distinction between recovery made during investigation and proceeds of crimes recovered at the conclusion of prosecution of cases in courts. What the EFCC announced was funds so far recovered in cases in which investigations are ongoing, with the added information that the matters were all in courts, at varying stages of prosecution, with the prospects for more recoveries at the conclusion of trial, when the convicts will be made to mandatorily disgorge all illicit proceeds of crimes in monies and other assets to the victims of the crime, in this case, the Nigerian people.
If this is pardonable for the board, whose members apparently have no clues about criminal investigation and the easy-to-comprehend-for-the-average-person processes of assets recovery, the paper cannot save itself the blushes from the faux pass in passing off the Farouk Lawan/ Femi Otedola bribery case as an EFCC matter. Any average newspaper reader knows that the EFCC was never a part of the investigation of the Farouk Lawan/ Femi Otedola case not to talk of prosecuting the matter. Yet, The Punch had no scruples blaming the agency for the lack of diligent prosecution of the Farouk Lawan case!
This is The Punch’s very well considered editorial opinion:
“Even when the chairman of the ad hoc committee, Farouk Lawan, was reportedly caught in his own web, while allegedly collecting a $620,000 bribe to strike out the name of the indicted companies, the suspect still trots the Nigerian landscape, a free man. How can the EFCC explain that?”
EFCC has nothing to explain. Rather it is The Punch that has to explain its embarrassing gaffe.
A simple library research would have revealed to the newspaper that Farouk Lawan is not and has never been an EFCC matter. But, we can understand. Otherwise, how would the charge of indolence which the paper desperately wants to hang around the Commission’s neck stand, if unwary Nigerians are not fooled by garnished lies and plain inanities!
Even in the subsidy cases being handled by the Commission for which The Punch is incensed “That (EFCC) has the temerity to triumphantly tell Nigerians that a mere N5billion had been recovered,” there is no evidence to suggest that the Commission has not been diligent in prosecuting the cases, which are at various stages of trial in courts across the country. Of the over 40 subsidy cases initiated by the Commission, not a single matter has been thrown out by court, either for lack of evidence or commitment to prosecute. So, on what basis does The Punch want the EFCC crucified?
Perhaps the newspaper expected the agency to simply round up suspected subsidy thieves and clamp them in jail without going through the due process of the law to, as the paper claims, live up to its past ‘glory’ as an agency that “struck fear in the heart of politicians”. Unfortunately the law does not allow recourse to self help. Were it the case that EFCC engaged in self help to satisfy the blood thirst of The Punch, the same newspaper will accuse the Commission of employing Gestapo tactics and other high crimes (as indeed, many newspapers did in the past).
As Law Enforcement Agency, the duty of the EFCC is to investigate, gather evidence that can sustain a criminal charge and prosecute whoever is accused of a crime. This is exactly what the Commission has been doing in the subsidy case; it is not the duty of the EFCC to convict offenders! That is the exclusive province of the law courts, in case The Punch does not know!
Besides, those who have followed the subsidy trials and other high profile cases of the EFCC are familiar with the antics of accused persons and the many frivolous applications that slow the pace of trial. Tragically, The Punch, which pays such huge salaries to correspondents to cover the trials, betrays gross ignorance of the progress in respect of the same cases that it sermonizes about. In one breath, the newspaper pretends to be concerned that cases have not progressed in courts, and in another reveals its lack of interest in the cases. If it is not interested in a N1.2billion or N1.8billion subsidy case, what moral right does The Punch have to ask for explanations on their prosecution progress? The media cannot continue to select what cases to report and expect magic from anti- graft agencies, when they themselves have failed in their constitutional role to inform the people as the Fourth estate of the realm.
If The Punch is not interested in a N1.8billion case, it will be a tall order to expect it to show interest in the hundreds of cases that the Commission has charged to court in the last three years, prosecuted successfully and achieved convictions. It probably needs reminding that the EFCC recorded 117 convictions in 2013 alone; It needs to be reminded that the EFCC successfully prosecuted and secured the conviction of the son of a serving state governor on money laundering charges; It needs to be reminded that the Commission has secured a conviction in the pension scam for which about 20 other persons are still being prosecuted, while assets running into several billions of naira have been seized.
All these hardly fit the profile of an agency that is “in a gradual descent into irrelevance” (haba, Punch!).
Today, it serves The Punch’s interest to talk glibly about internet fraud as petty crimes. We pray it never becomes a victim. The blind school teacher in Enugu whom the Commission helped to recover the sum of N550, 000 that fraudsters stole from her will not consider the feat negligible. For her, it is an opportunity to live again.
It should be apparent to discerning minds that The Punch editorial was not done in the public interest. EFCC is not adverse to criticisms, if they are constructive and are not over-spiced rumours from yesterday’s pepper soup joint leftovers.
Media & Publicity
December 3rd, 2014