Urgent Need to Fix Key Anti-Corruption Agency
August 25, 2011
There were high hopes for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as Nigeria’s most promising effort to tackle corruption since the end of military rule. But its efforts have fallen short because of political interference, institutional weakness, and inefficiency in the judiciary that cannot be ignored.
Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch

(Lagos) – The new administration of President Goodluck Jonathan should fix Nigeria’s key anti-corruption agency and refrain from political interference in its work, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Endemic government corruption has undermined the basic rights of millions of Nigerians, Human Rights Watch said.
 
The 64-page report, “Corruption on Trial? The Record of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,” analyzes the record of the commission, Nigeria’s most important anti-corruption agency. Since the commission was established in December 2002, it has publicly challenged the longtime ironclad impunity of Nigeria’s political elite – an accomplishment without precedent in Nigeria. The agency has arraigned 30 nationally prominent political figures on corruption charges, including 15 former state governors. But many of those cases have made little progress in the courts, Human Rights Watch found, and not a single politician is serving prison time for any of these alleged crimes. The commission has secured four convictions of senior political figures, but they have faced relatively little or no prison time. Other politicians widely implicated in corruption have not been indicted.
 
“There were high hopes for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as Nigeria’s most promising effort to tackle corruption since the end of military rule,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But its efforts have fallen short because of political interference, institutional weakness, and inefficiency in the judiciary that cannot be ignored.”
 
The country’s governing elite continues to squander and siphon off the nation’s tremendous oil wealth, neglecting basic health and education services for the vast majority of ordinary citizens. Widespread graft has fueled political violence, police abuses, and other human rights violations.
 
Human Rights Watch examined court records in key corruption cases and interviewed current and former commission and other anti-corruption agency officials, members of the NationalAssembly and judiciary, Central Bank officials, prosecutors and defense lawyers, foreign diplomats and donor agency officials, and civil society leaders. In the report, Human Rights Watch lays out concrete recommendations for bolstering the institution and removing impediments to its work.
 
Nuhu Ribadu, the first chairman of the commission, captured the imagination of many Nigerians with his fiery, rhetorical attacks on corruption and his unprecedented efforts to pursue high-level political figures. But his tenure was also mired in controversy that included accusations of political bias and allegations that he ran roughshod over the due process rights of some suspects. The current chairperson, Farida Waziri, on the other hand, has been widely accused by many Nigeria observers of lacking the leadership needed to push forward the agency’s anti-corruption work.
 
But a comparison of the commission’s track record in fighting high-level corruption yields a more consistent and complicated picture than most analysts might expect, with neither Ribadu nor Waziri able to claim many tangible results, Human Rights Watch found.
 
The Human Rights Watch analysis reveals that executive interference with the commission, and a political establishment that continues effectively to reward corruption, has undermined the country’s anti-corruption efforts and derailed key prosecutions. The commission’s chairperson remains deeply vulnerable to the whims of the president and lacks security of tenure.
 
President Jonathan should break from the bad practices of past administrations, publicly signal he will not perpetrate or tolerate interference in corruption cases, and grant the chairperson security of tenure by amending the legislation that created the commission, Human Rights Watch said.
 
Nigeria’s weak and overburdened judiciary has also been an obstacle to effective prosecutions. Most of the corruption cases against high-level political figures have been stalled in the courts for years, with their trials not even begun. The new administration should initiate the long-term process of repairing the battered federal court system, reforming federal criminal procedure and evidence rules, and examining ways to establish special courts or designating specific judges to hear only corruption cases.
 
Some of the commission’s shortcomings have stemmed from its own actions, Human Rights Watch found. The agency has failed to appeal legally tenuous court rulings in crucially important cases and to prosecute some senior politicians credibly implicated in corruption. Where sufficient evidence of graft exists, Human Rights Watch said, the commission should investigate and initiate prosecutions without delay.
 
“The commission needs good leadership, but even a perfect chairperson would accomplish little unless Nigeria addresses these systemic issues as well,” Bekele said. “By committing itself to reforms, the Jonathan administration could signal very clearly that it intends to work hard to root out endemic corruption.”