Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Mixed reactions as Buhari fires EFCC boss, Lamorde

President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday fired the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, thus bringing his reign as the country’s anti-graft tsar to an end amid fraud allegations.

The President called the EFCC boss into Aso Rock Presidential Villa and told him that his time was up, Africtv learnt.

Lamorde’s sacking came few weeks to the end of his four-year tenure. He would have completed his four-year term later this month.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, in a two-paragraph statement, said Lamorde would be proceeding on terminal leave ahead of the expiration of his four-year tenure in February 2016.

The statement read, “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the appointment of Mr. Ibrahim Mustafa Magu as the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission .

“Mr. Magu, who is an Assistant Commissioner of Police, is to take over from Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde who is proceeding on terminal leave ahead of the formal expiration of his tenure in February next year.”

The sacked EFCC boss had met behind closed-doors with the President shortly after the latter inaugurated the new National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, and five INEC national commissioners.

It was during the meeting that Buhari reportedly told Lamorde to vacate office as the anti-graft commission’s chair.

Lamorde did not speak with reporters at the end of the encounter.

Lamorde recently hit the headlines when a security expert, George Uboh, accused the EFCC boss of allegedly diverting N1trn in cash and properties said to have been recovered from convicted looters.

In the main, Uboh accused Lamorde of diverting proceeds accruable from the sale of properties recovered from a now-late former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyesiegha; and former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, among many others.

The Ministry of Justice recently directed the EFCC to probe Lamorde over the allegations but the House of Representatives countered the order and instead said the police and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission should handle the investigation.

The House’s directive followed public consternation and condemnations by lawyers of the inappropriateness of an agency accused along with Lamorde to handle the probe.

The ex-EFCC boss is also under probe by the Senate.

The upper chamber’s Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions however on Monday announced the indefinite postponement of Lamorde’s probe. The probe had been scheduled to proceed on Tuesday (today).

The Clerk to the committee,   Mr. Freedom Osolo, in a press release in Abuja, failed to give reasons for the postponement.

The statement read in part, “I regret to inform you that the hearing of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, slated for Tuesday, 10th November, 2015, has been postponed for the time being.

“You will be duly informed when the meeting is rescheduled, please. The committee regrets any inconveniences the postponement would have caused you.”

Osolo had on Thursday, November 4, issued a statement that the committee would hold a public hearing with all petitioners and those they petitioned on Tuesday (November 10), by 2:00pm at the Meeting Room, 120, New Senate Building, National Assembly, Abuja.

The Chairman of the committee, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, who had earlier confirmed to Africtv on Friday that Lamorde would appear before the panel on Tuesday, failed to give reasons for the postponement, when contacted on the telephone.

“I am in Lagos for an oversight function and I need to know the true position,” Anyanwu said to one of our correspondents.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan had on November 23, 2011, named Lamorde as the EFCC acting chairman after sacking his predecessor, Mrs. Farida Waziri.

His appointment was later confirmed by the Senate on February 15, 2012.

Africtv had reported exclusively in October that Buhari had ruled out the possibility of giving Lamorde a second term in office.

Meanwhile, mixed reactions greeted Lamorde’s sacking on Monday. Some lawyers said that investigation into allegations against   Lamorde must continue despite his removal from office while others said the ex-EFCC boss was a victim of corrupt powerful Nigerians.

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dr. Joseph Nwobike, said though Lamorde did his best while in office, another anti-graft agency such as the ICPC should investigate the allegations against him.

Nwobike said, “I think he has tried his best. But be that as it may, another agent of government charged with criminal investigation such as the ICPC should go ahead to investigate the allegations against him and prosecute him if he is found to be culpable like any other Nigerian. But there must be regard to his rights as provided for in the constitution.”

A former chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Onyekachi Ubani, also called for investigations into many “unproved” allegations against the former EFCC boss.

Ubani said, “The speculation about his removal has been in the air for some time. There are a lot of unproved allegations against him. There is also an allegation that he did not fight corruption under the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and that he suddenly woke up under the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

“But let it be that the Presidency has complied with all the legal requirements before relieving him of his appointment which is tenured.”

Another SAN, Emeka Ngige, said Lamorde could not achieve much in the fight against corruption because he was appointed by a “corrupt” administration.

He added that there must be an investigation into the allegation against him “despite that it was levelled by an ex-convict.”

The Executive Director, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “What I think should happen further is that investigation into the stories making the rounds must be pursued and the outcome be made public. If indeed Lamorde has committed any offence, subsequently he should be made to face prosecution to see whether he will be able to defend himself before the appropriate court of law. And if he is found guilty, he should face the consequences.

“If the system has tolerated him up till this point, why wouldn’t they give him the couple of days before the expiration of his tenure?”

The Chairman, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said, “One thing that such sacking would engender is the fear of good people serving at anti-corruption or regulatory agencies as chairman or head. It has been established that when you fight corruption, corruption fights back and these corrupt elements are ruthless if they have to fight back.’’

The Chairman, Civil Society Network Against Corruption, Mr. Lanre Suraj, also expressed dissatisfaction over the sacking of Lamorde just days before the expiration of his tenure as the EFCC chairman, more so when he had not been found guilty of any wrongdoing in spite of the allegations against him.

Suraj said rather than humiliate him with a sack, he could have been asked to proceed on a terminal leave, while another leader would be shopped for the agency.

In Suraj’s view, the anti-corruption war in Nigeria can neither be effective nor be sustained where the leaders of the anti-corruption agencies are subjected to summary dismissal.

A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu, said, “I have no comment on the sack of Ibrahim Lamorde except to say that the government has its prerogative to decide who it would make the EFCC chairman. I think it is in line to thank Mr. Lamorde for the service rendered to the country and also wish for the best in terms of who will take his place.”