From suspension to EFCC chair: Controversial metamorphosis of Olukoyede

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    punchng.com

    The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission got another helmsman on Thursday. A statement signed by President Bola Tinubu’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, read that he “approved the appointment of Mr Olukoyede to serve as the Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for a renewable term of four years in the first instance, pending Senate confirmation.”

    Ngelale, as though pre-emptive of the fireworks that would follow, prefixed the announcement with “By the powers vested in President Bola Tinubu as established in section 2 (3) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004, that ‘the Chairman and members of the Commission, other than ex-officio members, shall be appointed by the President…”

    Shortly afterward, traditional and social media went agog with narratives for and against Olukoyede’s appointment. The reasons are not farfetched.

    Though a younger brother to the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (formed in the year 2000), the EFCC, which began operations in April 2003, is now the face of the anti-graft war in Africa’s largest economy.

    The reasons behind its formation enforced this position. The administration of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo established the commission in response to finger-pointing from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering—known by its French name, Grouped’actionfinancière.

    GAFI, an intergovernmental organisation founded in 1989 on the initiative of the G7 nations—comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America—ranked Nigeria as one of 23 non-cooperative countries stymieing in the combined efforts to fight money laundering globally.

    For Obasanjo’s nascent administration, this was a putrid tag.

    The first EFCC Establishment Act of 2002 had to be repealed due to inadequacies and re-enacted by the national assembly in 2004, a telltale sign of the hurry with which the Commission was established.

    In the few months after it began operations under its pioneer chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the commission led an effective campaign, dismantling the empires of the renowned 419 kingpins previously perceived untouchable.

    Despite being reappointed for another tenure in 2007, Ribadu was removed from office and eventually dismissed from the Nigeria Police Force by the Police Service Commission.

    His three substantive successors—Mrs Farida Waziri, Ibrahim Lamorde and Abdulrasheed Bawa—have faced a similar fate since then, raising questions about whether the office is laced with a spell of bitter endings.

    Some who served in an acting capacity, like Ibrahim Magu, were embattled until their abrupt removal from office.

    For the fifth substantive Chairman, Olukoyede, the battle appears to have begun quite early. Nonetheless, he is no stranger to the commission and the woes of being part of its leadership.

    As Chief of Staff to the former Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, Olukoyede’s job description involved managing high and low-level personnel to ensure high performance.

    His responsibilities included coordinating and analysing reports from all the directorates in EFCC, supervising investigations involving all suspects, politically exposed persons and other high-profile cases, and analysing updates on the prosecution of all cases handled by the Commission.

    As the Secretary to the Commission from 2018 to 2023, he headed its secretariat and was in charge of developing, implementing and coordinating compliance with Strategic Policy documents for operations, legal and administrative sections of the EFCC. However, his trajectory, according to reports, has not been smooth.

    Olukoyede was suspended in the wake of Magu’s removal and investigation in July 2018. He was reportedly among 11 officials shown the door after days of appearing at the presidential investigation panel probing allegations against Magu, which involved corruption and insubordination, as levelled against him by then Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.

    Under such circumstances, he was expected to hand it over to another official. However, there are no records of that in the public space.

    However, sources have come out to say that the suspension was not connected to any crime he committed but part of administrative protocol demanded by the panel, which said it wanted unfettered access to documents under the purview of the affected officers.

    Also, it is unclear when he was recalled to office, as the Presidency’s statement says he served as Secretary of the commission uninterrupted from 2018 to 2023.

    Nonetheless, Olukoyede’s current battle is not solely about his past but his qualification to serve as chairman of perhaps the most troubled office in the country.

    In the Frequently Asked Questions section of its website, the commission answered the question, “Must the EFCC Chairman be a serving or retired Police Officer?” It said, “No. Section2 (a) (ii) of the EFCC Act 2004 clearly states that the Commission’s Chairman must be a serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or its equivalent and (iii) possess not less than 15 years cognate experience.

    In this answer lies the perceived faultline and legitimacy of the appointment. In the Court of Public Opinion, the narratives have been polarising.

    Prominent amongst voices kicking against Olukoyede’s appointment is Lawyer and Spokesperson for the Atiku Campaign Organisation in the 2023 Presidential elections David Bwala.

    Bwala argued that the who argued that the appointment “is unlawful and illegal…runs foul of the provisions of Section 2 of the EFCC ACT, which requires that the person to be appointed as EFCC Chairman must, amongst other things, have been a serving or retired member of any security or law enforcement agency, must have 15 years cognate experience of law enforcement, and must not be below the rank of assistant commissioner of police.”

    Bwala argues that Olukoyode is a private legal practitioner and has never worked or belonged to any security or law enforcement agency as a member. e also does not have 15 years cognate experience as a law enforcement officer, the lawyer claimed, adding that “his private legal practice years cannot be equated to the rank in law enforcement. Not enough attending seminal courses as a private legal practitioner can equate to 15 years cognate experience contemplated by section 2 of the Act.”

    According to Bwala, the new antigraft boss “only has a stint as chief of staff of Magu and later became a secretary of the commission, all of which lasted for less than 6 years.”

    Another user on X shared this notion, asserting that “The first criterion according to the enabling law is that is the chairman ‘be a serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of the Assistant Commissioner of Police or equivalent…’ Please, which rank of a lawyer equates to ACP?”

    Others opined that Olukoyede is best suited as the EFCC’s Head of Legal and “an appropriate individual with the requisite qualifications and experience as Chairman. e (President Tinubu) can always invite them together or individually for briefings; after all, he hires & fires the Chairman!”

    Backing the appointment is the Managing Partner of Abuja-based law firm, The Equity Temple, Tony Idoko, who cited a Supreme Court judgement in the Nigerian Army Vs. Abuo (2022).

    In responding to the intendment and interpretation of sections 2(1)(a)(i)-(iii), (p), 2(2), 3(1)-(3) and 8(5) of the EFCC Act which deals with eligibility and qualifications of the Chairman of the Commission, Idoko referred to the guiding principles for the interpretation of laws as established in several settled Judicial Authorities laid down by the Supreme Court.

    He said, “In the recent Supreme Court decision in Nigerian Army Vs. Abuo (2022) LPELR-57980 (SC), at Pg. 35, the apex Court held that The guiding principle in the interpretation of statutes is well settled – see Amaechi Vs. INEC (2008) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1080) 227, wherein this Court observed: The primary concern of the Judge is the attainment or ascertainment of the intention of the Legislature by examination of the language used therein. Here, the language used in the legislation or statute or Constitution is clear, explicit, and unambiguous; thee Judge must give effect to it as the words used speak for themselves.”

    Idoko also referenced the Supreme Court’s verdict in another case, Ejuetami Vs. Olaiya & Anor (2001) LPELR-1072 (SC) at Pg.23-24, which said that the words used are to be given their ‘ordinary and natural sense’. That is, “the legislature is to be presumed not to have put a special meaning on words…that the Court is not concerned with the result of its interpretation: it is not the Court’s province to pronounce on the wisdom or otherwise of the Act but only to determine its meaning.”

    “Therefore the clear, explicit, and unambiguous words used in sections 2(1)(a)(i)-(iii), (p), 2(2), 3(1)-(3) and 8(5) of the EFCC Act must be given their ordinary and natural sense in line with the above guidelines set by the Supreme Court in its long line of undisturbed judicial precedents.

    “Therefore, it is apt to reproduce the wordings of those sections so as to unveil their ‘ordinary and natural sense,’” he added.

    Analysing section 2 of the EFCC Act, the lawyer noted that the term “member” as used in the phrase, “serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency” means “one of the individuals of whom an organisation or a deliberative assembly consists,” according to the Black’s Law Dictionary (9th Edition).

    He posited that being a (serving or retired) member of a government security or law enforcement agency, Mr Olukoyede had satisfied the provisions of section 2(1)(a)(ii) of the EFCC Act.

    Idoko also quoted Black’s Law Dictionary, which defined the words “cognate” and “experience” as “something that is same or similar or alike to another,” and “time spent learning a skill or field of knowledge,” respectively.

    Since section 2 (a) (iii) did not state the nature of the experience which a person is required to possess it is only logical to imply that such cognate experience is presumed to be that of the work or functions of the EFCC acquired anywhere, he argued.

    “The EFCC Act does not state the specific place where the experience must be acquired and the intention of the lawmakers is clear that it can be acquired anywhere, which is why they did not narrow the place of its acquisition to a specific place or organisation.

    “For the purpose of carrying out or enforcing the provisions of this act, all officers of the Commission involved in the enforcement of the provisions of this act shall have the same powers, authorities, and privileges (including the power to bear arms) as are given by law to members of the Nigerian Police,” Idoko submitted.

    Consequently, he said, the ordinary meaning and sense of the provision are that all officers of the Commission (whether engaged in prosecution, administration or investigation who are engaged in the enforcement of the provisions of the EFCC Act) must equally have the same powers, authorities and privileges as are given by law to members of the Nigerian Police.

    “Any other interpretation of the provisions of sections 2(1)(a)(i)-(iii), (p), 2(2), 3(1)-(3) and 8(5) of the EFCC Act different from the above is not in line with the guiding principles of interpretation of statutes established in the above cited Supreme Court cases and therefore erroneous, misleading and probably self-serving,” he concluded.

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