The sacking this week of Nigeria’s anti-graft chief may give the country’s fight against corruption a short-term boost, but significant change is unlikely without deeper reforms to the justice system, analysts say.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s unexpected firing of Farida Waziri, the chair of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on Wednesday was welcomed by critics who saw Waziri’s tenure as politicised and ineffective.
Anti-corruption expert Alexandra Wrage described the dismissal as “a step towards greater credibility” for the EFCC. But analysts warned that institutional and legislative reform must be prioritised if the oil-rich nation is to make progress in its anti-corruption efforts, Reuters reports.
“Waziri’s dismissal is likely to revitalise the anti-graft campaign in the short-term,” Roddy Barclay, analyst at Control Risks, told TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“But lasting improvements … will only occur if the government shows a genuine commitment to supporting anti-corruption initiatives and reforming the structures and powers of the EFCC and its supporting institutions, notably the judiciary,” he said.
Jonathan has been criticised, along with his predecessors, for doing too little to tackle entrenched corruption in Africa’s most populous nation. Graft is most Nigerians’ number-one gripe, and foreign investors cite it as the main reason for steering clear of the continent’s second-biggest economy.
“Corruption is endemic and institutionalised – it happens at the very top. So the sacking of the EFCC chair may just be window-dressing. It cannot in itself end the pervasive grand corruption in the country,” said Adetokunbo Mumuni, executive director of the Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a Nigerian watchdog.
A polarising figure, Waziri’s tenure was often compared unfavourably to former EFCC chair and candidate in the 2011 presidential elections, Nuhu Ribadu.
An EFCC official who had worked for both chairs said in an August report published by Human Rights Watch that the “tempo is no longer as it was before.”
“We are doing a good job but you can’t compare it to the work being done under Ribadu,” the official added.
While Ribadu was a more popular EFCC chair than Waziri, neither was able to secure many high-profile corruption convictions. And both were accused of failing to prosecute allies of the presidents that appointed them.
“The EFCC’s mandate is to fight corruption that the political system actually rewards, and to accomplish that by working through institutions that are either broken or compromised,” Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement following Waziri’s sacking.
“That’s an almost impossible job no matter who is in charge.”
Since the EFCC’s formation in 2003, the commission has arraigned 35 prominent political figures on corruption charges, including 19 former state governors, but has only secured convictions against four senior officials, according to Human Rights Watch.
Analysts and officials alike blame Nigeria’s under-resourced court system.
“Clever defence lawyers have been able to delay cases before the courts for years while the suspect enjoys bail and there have been strong rumours of corruption in the judiciary,” said Kayode Akindele, partner at Lagos-based financial advisory firm 46 Parallels.
This week Waziri herself attacked Nigeria’s slow-moving courts as a serious hindrance to her work.
“The best any law enforcement agency can do is to properly investigate cases and file charges, after which the courts take over,” she said in a lecture at Nigeria’s National Defence College.
“The frustrations faced by the law enforcement agencies within the tedious common law process of administration of justice must be voided,” she added.
These obstacles have not been entirely ignored. The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) announced this month that all judges presiding over corruption-related cases must complete them within six months or return them to the prosecution.
“These delays cannot be tolerated any longer,” the Nigerian Compass newspaper quoted Justice Dahiru Musdapher as saying.
LACK OF INDEPENDENCE
Unless the EFCC gets greater independence, analysts are pessimistic about its chances of securing high-profile convictions. The fact that both Ribadu and Waziri were fired before the end of their tenure is one key reason why an EFCC chair might seek political allies.
“One of the EFCC’s greatest weaknesses has been its lack of independence and susceptibility to political pressure,” Human Rights Watch’s Bekele said.
Akindele of 46 Parallels noted that the president has the right to remove the chair of the anti-graft agency, but only according to the provisions of the EFCC Act.
“Even for someone as unpopular as Mrs Waziri, the rule of law must be seen to be adhered to. If not, what stops an effective head from being removed as well?” he said.
President Jonathan, currently in France on a drive to attract foreign investment, has yet to give a reason for dismissing Waziri.