The show of shame being branded as legitimate operations that is gradually becoming a pastime of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission agents has disturbingly cast a pall over whatever feats the commission recorded in the past. This is a throwback to the brutal underhand tactics of the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s secret police against perceived enemies.
In commando-like fashion, the EFCC agents have developed a fondness for storming hotels and relaxation centres at odd hours, and barging into the rooms of near-naked, deep-in-sleep lodgers. They do this ostensibly in pursuit of Internet fraudsters otherwise known as ‘Yahoo Boys.’ Residences are also not spared. The resulting puerile statements to explain away the oddity exacerbate the provocation. They portray the commission as out of tune with global best practices in tackling financial fraud. Intelligence gathering – surveillance, monitoring and research-drives the operations of anti-graft agencies globally, not brawn. Unlike here, law enforcement agencies elsewhere do not apprehend suspects first and thereafter search for evidence to prosecute them. Investigation and evidence gathering precede arrests.
This current EFCC operational style is ludicrous, drab, and hideous. It is a crude way of gathering intelligence by tarring hotel customers and everyone in an apartment with the same brush. The commission appears in a haste to execute its goals but ends up sabotaging the onerous task it is saddled with. This explains why it loses celebrity cases for lack of irrefutable evidence. Treating lodgers in this brute way disincentivises business, which the country does not need in this difficult economic period.
A Nollywood actress in July narrated on her Instagram page how EFCC officials broke into her hotel room in Lagos at 3am when she was fast asleep, expressing shock that one of them had the temerity to ask for the whereabouts of her partner. She said they later apologised and left the room, observing that she was not the one they were searching for.
A similar incident played out penultimate Monday as the commission’s officers barged into the Lagos residence of an ex-Big Brother Naija Lockdown housemate. The lady accused the invaders of entering her room around 4.45am that day. She expressed anger as she narrated the incident on her social media platform almost immediately after the raid occurred.
If the two stories appear bearable to the victims of this fad, it was not the same for a man, who lost his life to an EFCC invasion in February 2021. The victim jumped to his death from an apartment at the 1004 Housing Estate, Victoria Island, Lagos, when the commission’s officers stormed the building in search of some suspected Internet fraudsters.
A man also narrated how the EFCC agents arrested his Italy-based client when they raided a hotel in Ibadan, Oyo State, in which he had lodged with his children in preparation to return to Italy. He stated that the man’s pleas that he needed to take the COVID-19 test to enable him and his family to return to Italy fell on deaf ears until they missed their flight. It was alleged that the man was later called into the office of the ‘boss’ who gave him two bottles of wine, a clock and card to say they were sorry. This is simply unjust. It is preposterous to treat VIPs accused of financial crimes with civility but brutalise others because they are not politically connected.
Indeed, the dust raised by the appointment of Abdulrasheeed Bawa as the EFCC chairman was settled with the consolation that his youthfulness and knowledge would inject fresh ideas into the commission to vigorously adopt and deepen investigative techniques and deliver on its core mandate. It was believed that his coming on board would change the narrative. But the faulty start has put paid to the attainment of any significant milestone so far.
The commission needs to be reminded that the modern way of tackling economic crimes primarily involves applying the brain, not brute force. It requires precise intelligence and investigations and not knee-jerk operations. In 2019, the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs announced that a coordinated law enforcement effort against Business E-mail Compromise schemes (cyber-enabled financial fraud) by the DOJ, the US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Treasury, US Postal Inspection Service, and the US Department of State, conducted over a four-month period, resulted in 281 arrests in the US and overseas, including 167 in Nigeria, 18 in Turkey and 15 in Ghana. Arrests were also made in France, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom. The arrests led to the seizure of nearly $3.7million. The operation was deliberate, specific, and painstaking. Above all, it was undertaken clandestinely; surveillance and electronic monitoring tools were used. The EFCC has a lot to learn from this if it intends to record major breakthroughs in its fight against financial crimes.
It must quickly retrace its steps from the path of other Nigerian security agencies that disreputably operate with impunity and attract odium from within and outside the country. Invariably, they have not been efficient. The EFCC may be similarly programming itself for failure and creating more problems if it continues revelling in recklessness. Victims should cry out and seek legal redress for the infraction of their rights. Civil society organisations should take up the fight by resisting the commission’s new-found appetite for illegality and assisting those victims who cannot afford to fund their litigation. Bawa should infuse sanity into the EFCC’s operations.
Stakeholders, especially the CSOs, should remember that as it is with many public security agencies in Nigeria, power abuse by the commission’s agents through overzealous acts, will worsen except class action push-back cures them of their unruly conduct. Besides, those whose rights were abused by the commission’s officials should not hesitate to approach the courts to seek redress and stop the festering of the shambolic operational style.