Nigerians hail Waziri’s removal

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Ibrahim Lamorde

Sacked Chairperson: Farida Waziri and EFCC's new helmsman: Ibrahim Lamorde.

Nigerians, yesterday, hailed President Goodluck Jonathan’s removal of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, saying it was long overdue.

Waziri was eased out of the commission after three-and-a half years on the saddle with more than a year to spare in her tenure. With one word, politicians, lawyers, rights activists and groups said the axing of Farida Waziri was a welcome development.

Among those who spoke on the issue, yesterday, were Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN; Chief Maxi Okwu, Mr. Bamidele Aturu, Mr. Lanre Arogundade and the Civil Liberties Organisation, CLO. President Jonathan appointed the Director of Operations in the commission, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, in Waziri’s place, in an acting capacity.

 A terse statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, in Abuja, said Lamorde’s appointment was with immediate effect. The statement read: “President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has approved the appointment of Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde as the Acting Chairman/Chief Executive of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

“The appointment takes immediate effect, and effectively relieves Mrs. Farida Waziri of her position as EFCC Chairman. Mrs. Waziri was appointed EFCC Chairman by Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua on May 18, 2008 and confirmed by the Senate on May 27, 2008. Mr. Lamorde, an officer of the Nigeria Police, was, until this appointment the Director of Operations of the EFCC. He was also Ag. Chairman of the EFCC before Mrs. Waziri assumed duty at the Commission.”

How Waziri got sack news

However, upon enquiry by our correspondent in Abuja, the Head of Media and Public Affairs of the Commission, observed that up till 2.00pm on Wednesday, Mrs. Waziri was yet to get any official notice of termination of her appointment.

He said: “As I am talking to you now, the Chairman is yet to get any official communication to that effect. She never heard about anything; in fact, we were the ones that took the news to her, which, by the way came as a rude shock.”

Why Waziri was axed

Presidency sources told Vanguard, yesterday, that Farida was shown the exit door because the EFCC had suffered huge reputational injuries on account of her headship of the agency.

According to sources, other reasons include shoddy handling of the Chief James Ibori case and the failure to challenge his acquittal by the High Court, Asaba; penchant to arrest before investigating.

The government was disturbed that the agency’s loss of credibility was continuing to attract sneers to the government’s anti corruption crusade as Hillary Clinton was lacerating in her assessment of the EFCC under Waziri. They recalled that the London Metropolitan Police announced a severance of ties with EFCC over the Ibori case. Other partners like the UK Serious Fraud Office also gave the agency a wide berth. It is the loss of credibility that was responsible for the doubts that trailed the recent arraignment of some governors.

The removal of Mrs. Waziri has been a subject of speculation for nearly one and a half years. Some interest groups wanted her removed, immediately Dr. Jonathan became president following the death of former President Umaru Yar’Adua.

Waziri’s perceived closeness to Aondoakaa

Her major undoing was her perceived closeness to former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Aondoakaa, who was seen as one of Yar’Adua’s henchmen, who tried to block Dr. Jonathan from becoming president even when it was obvious that Yar’Adua was too ill to function as president.

It was learnt that the decision to sack Mrs. Waziri was rejected by Dr. Jonathan who was said to have decided to avoid actions that would make him appear vindictive. Her ouster was long foretold by those who knew the tussle for power between her and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Bello Adoke, especially on the fight against corruption.

While the minister wanted due process and rule of law in the operation of the EFCC, the former chair of the body wanted to operate without restriction including those within the provision of the Act establishing it. For instance, the minister frowned at the use of external lawyers to represent the EFCC in some high profile cases. Under the law, to hire such an external lawyer, the anti corruption body would require an approval from the office of the Attorney General.

But in several cases, especially in the hiring of Festus Keyamo to handle the case of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, she got no such approval.

Arrest offive governors

The fight for power between the two got to a head recently when President Goodluck Jonathan questioned the two on why the arrest of five former governors by the EFCC appeared to have been bungled.

The initial arrangement was for a massive haul of former governors, who have case files with the commission. Waziri was said to have told the President that the permission she needed to arrest some of the governors were denied her by the Minister. But Adoke shocked the President when he tendered a letter from the agency asking for permission to go after the governors, dated the same day her operatives arrested Gbenga Daniel and Alao Akala, ex governors of Ogun and Oyo states.

The EFCC chair had also allegedly told the President that Adoke was blocking the arrest of Dr. Peter Odili, former governor of Rivers State. But as the minister was able to prove through letters to the agency, he had advised that the EFCC should concentrate efforts at discharging the court order restraining it from arresting Odili instead of riding rough shod over the order.

Even the decision to arrest the ex-governors was leaked a few days before it took place for which Mrs. Waziri blamed it on the Minister, but Adoke also reportedly proved to the President that the EFCC communication was responsible for the leak. Combination of these immediate reasons and the pressure from diplomatic groups contributed to her fall. Some of the international community seeking her ouster are those contributing to the huge budget of the agency. The United States has been vocal in calling for her removal.

Senators, Reps react

However, the way Waziri was sacked is raising dusts with Senate spokesman and some lawmakers saying that the legislators would revisit the EFCC Act.

We will study the EFCC Act –Senate

Following Waziri’s sack, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia Central; said yesterday that the task ahead of the Senate was to have a cursory look at the Act establishing the Commission.

According to him, this would enable the Upper Legislative arm to ascertain whether it was “expressly stated” that President Goodluck Jonathan can appoint and fire the anti-graft agency’s boss.

I am surprised — Senator Lar

Chairman Senate Committee on Narcotic, Drugs and Financial Crimes, Senator Victor Lar, expressed shock over the sack of Waziri because she has not exhausted her tenure. But Lar said the President’must have a cogent reason for sacking the woman, noting that the EFCC Act allows the President to hire and fire the chairman.

His words: “My reaction is that I am surprised. It is a tenure appointment but she has not reached the end of her tenure before she was removed from office. Her removal from office means that the President, who appointed her has cogent reason for doing so. Since he has not stated reasons for her removal, I can only say I am sure it is for the good of the fight against corruption.

“I am perfectly satisfied with the way the Act is. We know that a reasonable President will always give reasons. Personally, I think that the President would not have acted if he did not have cogent reason and the reason must have been in such a way that it could be detrimental and possibly compromise the work against corruption. If those reasons are averse, it can only inhibit the credibility of the war against corruption and impact on it negatively.”

Jonathan acted in national interest – Jagaba

The Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Hon. Adams Jagaba, PDP, Kaduna; yesterday, said that though the National Assembly had no hand in Waziri’s removal that President Jonathan acted in national interest. He said: “Whatever the President has done in this issue, he must have done it in the interest of this country.”

In an interview in Abuja shortly after the removal of Waziri was announced, Mr. Jagaba said what matters most was not the removal of the head of the agency but “that the EFCC as an agency still exists.”

He stated: ‘The president is saddled with the power to hire and to fire. What matters most is that the EFCC as an agency still exists. We pray that the person that is saddled with the responsibility to run the agency works hard to make sure that Nigeria becomes a corrupt free society. The president did not give any reason for giving the appointment in the first place. He appointed her and I am not sure he needs to publicize the reason why he removed her. What I know is that whatever the president has done in this issue, he must have done it in the interest of this country.”

The committee chairman also denied any linkage between Farida’s removal and the amendment being proposed by the House of Representatives to bar police officers from heading the EFCC saying that the proposed amendment can only come into effect when Nigerians have made their input into it.

He said: “The National Assembly is not responsible for her removal. She was appointed by the executive, which has powers to remove her and she was removed by the executive. Whoever wants to link what happened in the past in the National Assembly to her removal must be doing so in error. What I want to assure you is that the house made a law. It cannot be seen to be contravening that law. For the fact that the National Assembly has allowed the law setting up the EFCC to remain means that we don’t have anything against the commission. Maybe there are a few individuals who may have had their personal opinion about the commission but that should not be transferred to mean it is the opinion of the National Assembly.”

Nigerians react

Human Rights activists, opposition politicians and civil society groups, yesterday described the removal of Mrs Farida Waziri as a welcome development. Human Rights lawyer, Mr Bamidele Aturu, told NAN that Waziri’s removal was a very good development for the EFCC.

He said: “We have called severally for her removal in the past. It is true we want to see the development of the EFCC as an institution, but we need people who are interested in waging war vigorously against corruption. The Presidency must not look for a replacement that would be interested in occupying the position for the sake of it,but a credible official that would be committed to the tenets establishing the EFCC.”

Aturu said there was need for the National Assembly to amend the constitution to enable people from outside the Police Force to head the Commission.

Also speaking, Chief Maxi Okwu, President, Patriotic Alliance of Nigeria, PAN, an association of opposition political parties, described Waziri’s removal as “a breath of fresh air” and urged the Federal Government to seriously consider confirming Lamorde.

He said: “Lamorde should be confirmed because he has a pedigree and a potential to do well,” noting that the anti-corruption war declined drastically under Waziri as she did not live up to the expectations of Nigerians.

In his reaction, Director, International Press Centre, IPC, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said that the EFCC needed to be strengthened and its stability ensured. Arogundade said that Waziri’s removal came as a surprise, but the government must assure Nigerians that it was still committed to fighting corruption.

Meanwhile, the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, has urged the Federal Government to look for Waziri’s replacement from civil society and Human Rights groups in Nigeria. Its Lagos State Chairman of the CLO, Mr Ehi Omokhuale, said that the EFCC could not perform optimally if it was headed by a corrupt person. He said that Waziri’s removal was long overdue as civil society groups had long called for her removal.

On his part, Constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN, said Waziri’s sack was in order because of her alleged selective investigation and hobnobbing with some tainted elites in the polity. He noted: “I have never agreed with her inhuman modus operandi nor been her fan in her not too cleverly veiled cosy relationship and hobnobbing with many of the nation’s tainted political elite. Hers was selective justice, a dispensation that lacked human face, but wore the hideous monstrous visage of persecution rather than prosecution.”

 

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