The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered about N511.9 billion in 2017. This disclosure was made by the commission’s chairman, Ibrahim Magu, at the defence of his agency’s budget before the House of Representatives’ Financial Crimes Committee. The recovery included N473bn, $98.2m, 294,851 thousand pounds sterling. Apart from the loot retrieved in 2017, the disclosed recoupment for 2015 and 2016 was N738.9 billion ($2.9 billion).
Undoubtedly, recovery of N500billion of stolen money from government purse in one year is a big task that should be commended, given the tortuous way recovery of loot via prosecution or plea bargaining has become in the country. It is, therefore, not surprising that a German organisation cited the EFCC as one of the most active anti-corruption agencies a few days after Magu’s release of the size of his agency’s repossession in 2017. It is also reassuring that the commission has confirmed to the House of Representatives that all recoveries had been passed to the Federal Government.
But the commission needs to appreciate the need for a direct communication between an agency fighting corruption and the public. Responding at all times to the citizens’ right to know is a sure way to grow citizens’ confidence in the fight against corruption.
For example, EFCC’s penchant to release important information about progress of the commission at special national or international events needs to include direct briefing of citizens. For example, the commission’s boss had to wait for the need to defend the budget of the agency for 2018 to tell the nation how much was recovered in 2017. Similarly, when the chairman announced last year that $2.9billion was recouped from 2015 to 2016, he gave the information at a meeting at the United Nations Convention Against Corruption in Vienna. Citizens do not have to be kept in the dark at anytime about activities of this important agency nor do they need to be kept abreast of the commission’s activities by foreign media.
It is in order that Magu confirmed at the House hearing that all funds recovered from corrupt individuals and companies had been passed to the Federal Government. We, however, urge the government to take quick decision on the future of such monies, more so that such funds had been subject of undue speculation in the past. Further, we call on the commission not to relent, in spite of daunting challenges, on looking for stolen public funds wherever they may be.
There is also urgent need for the agency to hone the skills of its prosecutors so that they can win more cases and thus make more recoveries. Above all, citizens have the right to know all the faces behind the looting of public funds, especially those who have volunteered for plea bargaining instead of facing trial as well as other conditions given to such individuals at the plea-bargaining table.
There is no good reason to delay release of such important information till when citizens or the media feel the need to invoke the Freedom of Information Act to request for such important details. Nothing should prevent the EFCC from posting important information about completed corruption cases on its website. Disclosing information about how much money has been recovered without providing full information on the individuals who have defrauded the nation is tantamount to taking the sting out of the anti-corruption fight.