That EFCC tweet
IF Peter Strzok were a Nigerian government official, a private conversation by way of exchange of textual messages between him and Lisa Page, his lover and fellow American official, would not have led to his unceremonious exit from a crucial state assignment and a grueling drill by Republican congressmen at the Capitol Hill. But Strzok is a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) official and so he could not have escaped sanction for his indiscretion. Strzok made critical comments on US president, Donald Trump, via text messages sent to Page. But since Trump was a subject of investigation by the FBI, his boss, Robert Mueller, promptly relieved him of his assignment. The logic is simple: the personal opinion which Strzok expressed in private could impair the outcome of FBI investigation because it could affect the facts gathered and the line of inquiry pursued. And that is no joke. But that was in the United States. In Nigeria, similar and even worse levels of recklessness by public officials in their individual and official capacities often go unchallenged and without sanction.
The recent unwarranted and incendiary tweet directed at Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, by one of the country’s anti-graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), eloquently typifies the level of official imprudence in this clime. Barely 24 hours after the recent governorship election in Ekiti State, EFCC, on its official twitter handle, gloated over Fayose and his party’s loss in the election, saying that the party was over and that he should prepare for trial. The tweet read: “The parri is over. The cloak of immunity torn apart, and the staff broken.#Ekiti Integrated Poultry Project/Biological Concepts Limited N1.3bn fraud case dusted off the shelves. See you soon.” A picture of a poultry site overgrown with weeds accompanied the tweet. By any standards, the tweet was unnecessary. It came across as EFCC’s own way of mocking the governor, just like some Presidency officials did shortly after the election. But while the Presidency officials are politicians and so could be excused, the EFCC officials are not and cannot afford to be.
It is rather unfortunate that national institutions are unabashedly descending into the political arena. Other than serving the purpose of mischief, the essence of EFCC’s tweet is difficult to fathom because whether the Ekiti election was won or lost by Fayose’s party, the constitutional immunity he currently enjoys expires in October when he ceases to be governor. What EFCC has done by its tweet is to make its job of prosecuting Fayose a difficult one because it will now need to purge itself of allegations of bias. Indeed, the fact that the tweet has a precedent in the EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu’s wearing of Buhari’s re-election gear, a lapel pin, during a television interview is unsettling.
It is even more tragic that the agency, in its response to public outcry over its tweet, claimed that it did not represent its position, even though it was posted on its verified handle. Pray, what was the tweet doing on its official handle if it did not reflect its official view on the matter at issue? It should be noted that the EFCC did not say that its account was hacked or that the official in charge went beyond his brief. It only deleted the tweet after three hours following public outcry. The bitter truth is that the tweet was a clear expression of EFCC’s opinion. This is why many are asking whether the EFCC has now become an anti-Fayose institution.
The EFCC being a national institution, every Nigerian is entitled to its protection. And by virtue of the statute establishing it and the sensitive nature of its mandate, it is expected to operate without bias or political, ethnic and/or religious sentiments. As it stands, the EFCC will have to clear itself of possible allegation of political persecution in the court of public opinion when Fayose’s trial starts. This surely cannot be the way to go. It has, therefore, become expedient that the political leadership quickly weigh in on this unsavoury state of affairs before the country’s national institutions are degraded beyond repair.