The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is charged with the recovery of stolen assets in Nigeria, by arresting and prosecuting offenders. The agency sends errant politicians jittery, and interestingly, it is no longer hearsay that these eagles deployed by President Muhammadu Buhari since he came to power in 2015 have gouged many preys as they are equipped with sufficient weapons to hunt both the ants and the elephants, launching their attacks on political parties widely believed by many Nigerians, not on the same wavelength with the ruling party. As a month seldom passes without the agency issuing warrants and invitations, the media is set agog, digging up stories on the EFCC’s expeditionary force.
From 2016 till now, prominent Nigerians have had cases with the EFCC, and what often begins as a light grilling sometimes does climax in a jail term, with victims having to part with huge sums as bail. Phrases like ‘adjourn’, ‘arraign’, ‘forfeiture’, ‘part of crime proceeds’, ‘sureties in like sum’ and ‘unlawful proceeds’, no longer require us to look up their meanings in the dictionary. It is necessary to emphasize that in an ideal democratic society, government belongs to the people. The people have the fundamental rights, which permit them to ask how the affairs of their country are being run, how much the government generates as revenues and how much it spends. In fact, the masses in democratic societies must participate fully in the governance. But the prospect of enjoying such rights does not beckon in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, the present administration has won kudos for itself for recovering some of the assets stolen from Nigeria. Its posture is laudable even though the administration is not the right bet considering the tattoos of banditry, hunger, insecurity, poverty, and unemployment etched on the face of an average Nigeria. For many people, the matters arising from the funds retrieved by the EFCC and the Federal Government’s plans concerning these funds are on the front burner. If the funds are in the coffers, the Federal Government will do well to channel them into the education sector, ASUU and teachers at various levels that are owed salaries/pensions running into months and years, deserve a better shot at life. The N30,000 chickenfeed called ‘the new minimum wage’ should not be further caged but be increased to N70,000 without fear of inflation, especially as the naira has irredeemably plummeted. Rather than build new classrooms, government can rehabilitate existing ones and provide them with modern facilities. Next to the aforementioned is the health sector, which requires government to furnish hospitals with up-to-date medical equipment as this will guarantee effective health care services and a significant drop in mortality rate.
Pensioners should be duly paid their pensions so that they can take care of themselves and their families. Orphans (especially unmarried girls) and widows (whose children are not salaried) should receive stipends. If huge numbers of widows, pensioners, and orphans will discourage government, each pensioner can be paid sixty per cent of what they are entitled to. Then each orphan and each widow is to receive N50, 000 every month, after which the Federal Government will create jobs for the orphans. If the funds recovered by the EFCC are available, government should tackle youth restiveness. As a realistic approach to curbing crime, insecurity, and unrest which many Nigerians have inured themselves to, some of the funds should trickle down to unemployed graduates no matter the challenges such an approach may present, the Federal Government can tackle them in its stride. The cybercrime and other vices common in some parts of Nigeria today are as a result of the workshops, which the devil has opened in the idle minds of many unemployed graduates. While one acknowledges the plight of these graduates, one should not blink the fact that many of the graduates are half-baked; ne’er-do-wells at schools and interviews.
When, in 2018 the Federal Government announced its decision to disburse the $321 million of Abacha loot (about N120 billion) to ‘vulnerable Nigerians’, it was a welcome development that triggered a whirling vortex of emotions amongst graduates nationwide even when the term ‘vulnerable Nigerians’ remains equivocal. It is not clear till today if ‘vulnerable Nigerians’ is an exclusive term for farmers, traders, and IDPs. While the feelings last, the EFCC has recently uncovered another of Abacha’s booty hidden in Jersey Island, putting the total of his and his families’ rake-off at over $5 billion (over N1.8 trillion), an amount enough to build a mini refinery in Ondo State and the surplus, to pay money owed workers and pensioners nationwide. In my opinion, the funds recovered by the EFCC and those yet to be recovered are ‘vulnerable.’ Again, if the population of unemployed graduates is nettlesome and threatens the success of this scheme, government should focus on only PhD and Master’s students that have had the degrees but no job, and those aspiring to run the programme but stopped by financial constraints. It is high time the Federal Government proactively evolved initiatives aimed at empowering its graduates. The TETFund, Petroleum Trust Fund, and LNG scholarships are not enough. Also not enough is the CBN’s proposal to offer loans to NYSC members. If there are not enough funds for the categories of people mentioned in this discourse, President Buhari needs to source more funds from the National Assembly by reducing to N2.5 million what a senator receives both in basic monthly salary and allowances. It has been reported that “a senator in Nigeria earns N15 million monthly in basic salary, and allowances”, an equivalent of what thirty university professors or fifty bank workers earn in Nigeria. Whether these are rumours, hard facts, or intrusive tittle–tattle. I believe that paying N15 million in monthly salary to a senator is toxic to Nigerian economy.
The EFCC and President Buhari have shown a promising direction in their fight against corruption. At the moment, the president remains the quick-witted Eagle under whose watch are Nigeria’s assets. He has eyes on cyber criminals, and has also passed a bill aimed to prosecute looters within and outside Nigeria. In fact, the steps listed here concerning how the recovered funds should be disbursed can only become success if the president takes full charge of the schemes, entrusting the funds with nobody. In conclusion, the EFCC’s activities have spawned considerable arguments amongst Nigerians: while some believe in its cause, others doubt the agency’s credibility. The outcry that trails the state of the funds recovered so far by the EFCC, should not be drowned by the mortar shells of insurgents. This present administration has huge problems to address, for example, flooding, gridlock on our roads, fake drugs, leaders’ insincerity, poor electricity supply, insecurity, population explosion, INEC’s ineptitude, etc. For Nigeria to attain peace and the despair to heave a temporary sigh of relief, there has to be a well-nigh equitable distribution of wealth. For crime to reduce, the Federal Government as well as our billionaires and millionaires have to build empires in each of the 36 states in Nigeria, and be there to give to the needy. The FG should “empower us” rather than “kill us”. But can President Buhari and his machinery successfully fight corruption in Nigeria?
•Sola wrote from Department of English Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Rivers State