Ibrahim Magu, acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC

About two weeks ago, I got a call from a friend, who is currently studying for a master’s degree in the United States. She was in a dilemma; the dilemma of virtually every Nigerian student abroad, who are attempting to use local examples from Nigeria to explain global concepts and think up solutions. The dilemma of telling the story of Nigeria as its ambassador in your class, without shaming your country in the process.

How do you explain to a class of 44 students from 31 countries that a former group managing director of your country’s oil company stashed or buried $9.8 million in a safe in his village without getting questions like; “are there no banks in Nigeria?” Need you explain that monies are now being hidden in septic tanks in your great country?

In a friend’s class at the London School of Economics and Political Science earlier in 2018, he was asked to explain how a snaked swallowed $100,000 (N36 million). How does one explain the drama involved in the disappearance of such money, and how Madam Philomena was only transferring her responsibility to a mindless reptile.

My friend wanted to speak to the Muhammadu Buhari anti-corruption war without portraying Nigeria as a den of thieves. How to flaunt cash the Ikoyi cash, and maintain that Nigeria is a country of sanity, law, and order. How not discourage future investors with a 20-minute presentation on one of the best financial policies out of Nigeria.

Based on my experience trying to balance the chaos in Nigeria and the country’s potential for great things, I advised that she stress the results more than the process. Stress the fact that we recovered millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of pounds, in our the anti-graft war. To somehow let the end justify the means.

As I explained how best I thought this should go, I was troubled within myself. It felt like I was not making so much sense to myself. I was convinced there had to be a better way to do these things. I began thinking around how to fight corruption without embarrassing our nation in the process.

In Nigeria, I may be so critical of Nigeria, but once I am outside the country, I am defending the country like I have been paid to do so. Indeed, living in her for upwards of 27 years — my feeblest years — is enough payment for a lifetime defence. But we have to do better.

EFCC CAN DEFINITELY DO BETTER

Last week at  Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) “bursted” a duo who were “attempting to launder over $2.8 million” in Nigeria. The Commission arrested the “criminals” and immediately released a press release, stating that it had caught some “money launderers”. The EFCC did not use those words, but the spirit of what was released to the public was clearly to mean these words.

“The EFCC, Enugu Zonal Office, on Thursday, December 20, 2018, intercepted $2.8million (Two Million, Eight Hundred Thousand United State Dollars), from two people, suspected to be money launderers,” the commission said in its press release announcing the “crime”.

“The suspects, namely Ighoh Augustine and Ezekwe Emmanuel, allegedly working for a company: Bankers Warehouse, were nabbed based on intelligence report.

“During interrogation, the suspects confessed that they have been in the business of conveying cash for ‘some notable banks’, for over six years and were in the process of doing same for Union Bank Plc, located at New Market, Onitsha, Anambra State, when they were caught.”

The choice of words — money launderers, nabbed, caught, confessed — were disempowering, to say the least, and immediately brand the suspects as criminals.

Less than 24 hours later, Union Bank came out to claim the operation, stating that it was an official operation, consistent with the rules and regulation of banking in Nigeria. Union Bank was immediately backed by the Bankers Warehouse, the communal body responsible for such operations in Nigeria.

Then I thought, this may be a case of collusion to save one big man from losing his money. But the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has been informed and the apex bank has not said such services are unlawful.

I conducted my independent research and found that this is standard practice in Nigeria and indeed, the rest of the world. So it got me thinking; what level of investigation did EFCC get to before going to press? What did you find out or confirm before alleging money laundering? What evidence gave them the guts to take pictures of suspects and splash on social media as criminals?

SUSPECT PARADING IS BAD FOR THE INNOCENT

Based on the facts of the case available, Ighoh Augustine and Ezekwe Emmanuel are innocent Nigerians in the line of their duty. This could be you, or your father, brother, sister — this could be any Nigerian in his line of legitimate duty. Overzealous EFCC finds you with potentially incriminating material, which indeed is the core of your legal trade, then in two hours, you are in every newspaper as a suspect of some gruesome crime. This is very damaging! This cannot be the global best practice, and I make bold to say, it is not.

Suspect parading and press hugging by our security officials must stop. You cannot pick up suspects, who show you their ID Cards, confirm the bank they are working for, and give you the necessary information, and you still take them to the cleaners as criminals — using politically safe language.

Dear EFCC, you can shame people all you want, but please be sure they are criminals and not just suspects. In addition to this, do not rush to the press to win a case you know you will lose in court. Be thorough and conclusive. Nigeria is ours to protect and not to tear down.

Sanity has a price, please pay it.

Follow Mayowa on Twitter and other major social media platforms @OluwamayowaTJ

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