EFCC’s request for assets declaration by bankers

THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s (EFCC) helmsman, Abdurasheed Bawa, has requested that bank staff  declare their assets by June 1. But it is unclear what law he relies on to make such demands from workers who operate in the private sector. The new anti-graft czar is apparently intent on setting some new rules that will help him to facilitate the discharge of his official mandate and there is nothing wrong about that to the extent that such new rules are within the realm of policies that do not contravene the extant laws, as in the instant case. As it stands today, assets declaration is outside the ambit of the powers vested in the EFCC; it is within the province of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and it applies essentially to public officers.

Banks belong to the private sector, which is not covered by the enabling laws establishing the CCB and CCT. So, how will the EFCC implement its new rule without breaching the extant laws? Even if the EFCC wants to have access to the assets declaration of the staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN)  which is  autonomous but is essentially  public, it would have to do so through the CCB, not directly.  In other words, the EFCC’s new request from bank staff is fundamentally flawed on two grounds. One, the law that makes assets declaration mandatory applies to public officers only, but bankers are in the private sector. Two, the two related public organisations charged with the responsibility of accepting, documenting, reviewing and determining the adequacy or otherwise of assets declaration are the CCB and the CCT. There is currently no official role for the EFCC in that regard, except when those being investigated by it on corruption allegations are involved. Even at that, its request for information still has to be channeled through the CCB.

To be sure, we are aware that the motive of the EFCC for asking bank staff to declare their assets may be noble. But then, it has to be lawful too. Public institutions cannot and  should not be run using the rule of the thumb; there must be legal and enabling instruments. This point bears stressing, judging by the less than procedural circumstances that threw up Bawa as the EFCC chairman. It will be recalled that necessary ‘enhancements’ to his record of service and profile  that should have been made to enable him to meet the requirements for the position of chairman were not made until after public announcement had been made of his nomination. That was less than tidy and the fact that he got away with that unscathed does not make it right. It is inappropriate to put the cart before the horse.  If the EFCC wants to bring the private sector within the ambit of assets declaration obligation as contemplated by the CCB law for public officials, then it should approach the National Assembly to legislate on that. The EFCC will be acting extra-legally and literally taking the laws into its own hands by asking bankers to declare their assets. We urge Bawa to reverse himself forthwith.

There is no doubt that a lot of sharp practices are being perpetrated by some undisciplined  bank workers, managers, owners, and especially owner-managers, resulting in capital erosion, diminution in shareholders’ funds and even loss of customers’ deposits. In addition, some unscrupulous bank staff are known to collude with corrupt public officials to plunder state and national treasuries while also making sleaze difficult to track by tampering with banks’ internal records. And it is evident that some of the proceeds of these crimes will end up as assets of the aberrant bank staff, making assets declaration really imperative. But it is equally imperative that the EFCC go about its request in a lawful manner.

The EFCC’s noble intention is inadequate to explain away the illegality that it is about to engage in. It is urged to be content with the extant arrangement whereby if any member of staff of a bank commits financial crimes, the  bank can invite it to intervene and tackle them. And where suspects under its investigation are public officers who ought to have records of asset declaration, it should continue to liaise with CCB and CCT for the needed information. Otherwise, it should wait until the National Assembly gives it the green light to request private sector staff to declare their assets.  It may be convenient and seem easier, cheaper and faster to short-circuit  the law to get things done but in the end, it can be really costly because whatever is achieved will forever wear the toga of illegality. And in any case, it is too early for Bawa  to be contemplating acting outside the law to do his job.

It is hoped that the freshness he promised to bring to the EFCC upon assumption of office  is not about abridging the law. We sincerely  hope that Bawa knows and comprehends the implications of what he is doing: this seems very much  like bad optics.

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