EFCC Crumbling Ethics: A Glimpse into the the Rascality and Shadows of Justice at the EFCC Headquarters – 31/08/2023.
By. Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq.
I had the most shocking and disturbing experience of my entire career as a Legal Practitioner yesterday when I encountered some officers from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). As someone who has engaged with various government security agencies in the process of work, I had believed that the EFCC maintained a level of professionalism in handling suspects up and above other agencies.
However, what I witnessed shattered that belief completely. Never before had I seen EFCC officers physically abusing, assaulting, and harassing an individual in their custody. Usually, the worst they would do is create a difficult bail process.
My firm is providing legal service to a citizen from Benue State under investigation by the EFCC. His brother had been detained, and I personally advised him to turn himself in, and he heeded the wisdom of my words. Despite it not being directly under my work schedule but to strengthen his resolve, I offered to accompany him and the lawyer handling the matter to the Commission.
We arrived at the EFCC Headquarters, specifically the Capital Market (CFMIS) Department, not even the Cybercrime or Advance Fee Fraud department, which should imply some level of solid financial experts investigators, but I was immediately appalled by the behavior of the officers in the department who ought to be solid transaction investigators with some work ethics.
The investigating officer (IO) confirmed his identity and promptly ordered him inside, referring to him as ‘the bastard they were looking for’. As he made to step into the office he was ordered into, a very hot and brutal slap landed across his face. Again and again and again, and the agent provocateur, another woman officer who I later confirmed to be the 2IC, kept shouting, ‘are you stupid?’ as she slapped him within an inch of his life. She was joined by other officers, and they bore down on this man with such force, slapping, beating and kicking him all round. The assault was relentless, and shocked me beyond belief. Even the police or civil defense wouldn’t act in such a manner, unless faced with extreme circumstances.
Of all the officers, one young Chidera Godwin stood out for his sheer brutality. He assaulted the man in a crude and uncivilized manner that defied comprehension. Witnessing this, I couldn’t help but doubt his education and humanity. Chidera further humiliated him, slapped him repeatedly, and even banged his head against the wall.
Throughout the ordeal, he remained quiet, his broken spirit visible on his face. Chidera warned him not to look at him, threatening more violence if he did. He even promised to beat him in the cell and outside the Commission’s premises. He had become tearful protest to Chidera’s abuse only further invigorated the attacks, and the entire affair left me shocked and seemingly powerless before this man who took the beaten of his life having willingly turned himself in to be investigated.
Amidst the chaos, a senior officer named Stephen intervened, demonstrating a modicum of control. He asked the young man to get off from floor where he had been asked to seat and take a proper seat, then dispersed the crowd, and left. It was an eye-opening moment of how crude the abuse of power could be and the hopelessness of being an onlooker who could very well become a victim himself if a word was gauged as said out of place. This was at about 2:30pm, and I made a show of waving at the CCTV as if to confirm the surrealism of the events happening before me, and to rein in my own frustrations. I was minded to stay calm by recalling the NBA’s advisory that when in the offices of security agencies, we lawyers needed to exercise decorum and restraint at all times.
I however eventually confronted the investigating officer, expressing my concern over the assault’s impact on the young man. Sharing my disappointment with the 2IC, I explained my years of engagement with the EFCC and how this incident was not reflective of their usual conduct. I reminded her of the current travails of the suspended EFCC Chairman, once high and mighty, and now seemingly powerless with some of us, particularly me, continually speaking up about his incarceration regardless of our opinion of him and his time in office. She seemed to calm down a bit at my words and admitted or at least claimed she knew nothing about the man’s case but that he almost ran into her at the door by refusing to wait for her to pass. She claimed he pushed her. Of course, I was not satisfied with such an innocuous rationale of the brutal beating I just witnessed. There was way more venom and spite in the slaps, bangs and knock-ups to be reduced to a matter of perceived inconvenience of her easement.
I immediately reported the incident to the SERVICOM department in EFCC even though I had thought SERVICOM wasn’t a thing anymore, but the professional response and conduct of the officers in SERVICOM disabused my mind of that notion immediately. They immediately moved to the department to enquire what happened only to be shocked again when the entire officers denied beating the man. Even the ‘honorable’ one who stopped the beating, denied it ever happened. They insisted that my the man was treated well and that I was merely trying to cause trouble. Their blatant denial of what I had just witnessed was disgraceful! They even denied asking him to seat on the floor at first, but later claimed all the seats were occupied. The 2IC made the laughable claim that he was rude to her and assaulted her. Same person who claimed not to know about the matter now said they had been looking for him and their investigation revealed I told him not to come.
The whole episode left me questioning the competence and ethics of those investigating crimes. Their inability to take responsibility for their actions, despite being family people, parents and supposed professionals, speaks volumes about the deterioration of values within Nigerian institutions.
Witnessing the powerful Chidera flee from the scene when the SERVICOM department officers surfaced only added to my disappointment. The IO in charge of the matter seemed remorseful after a while and I registered my personal displeasure in her action and that of her colleagues. I reminded her we met before and she wasn’t always like that. If she has any modicum of self-respect, she would apologize to herself in her quiet moments for letting herself down.
One other green-horned operative, a young officer, jokingly said to my ears that ‘you dey report EFCC to EFCC’, and finished off by saying, ‘we dey beat and detain lawyer for here oh’. That’s how deep the rot goes! The sheer impertinence!
While it will be wrong to conclude that this is the situation with everyone in the Commission, the actions of these officers have shattered my respect for the EFCC. It raises the question of whether these are isolated incidents or if the EFCC as an organization has lost its way. How can we build such a magnificent edifice to fight crime but let such characters sneak in and odorize it with their unprofessionalism?! How?
We focus on criticizing our leaders yet we fail in our own little responsibilities. This incident is not just a reflection of these individuals’ actions, but a failure of Nigeria as a whole. It’s a mockery of the rule of law, and a stark reminder that we can’t hope for change if we can’t even address these issues within our own organizations.
To my friends and acquaintances within the EFCC, especially the lawyers, it’s essential to reflect on the organization’s values and contribute to its re-evaluation. I was recently at a public speaking engagement with an EFCC representative on the same panel, and the man talked about honesty and discipline. Looking back now, his words now ring hollow and insincere.
The incident I witnessed at the EFCC has left an indelible mark on my professional journey. It serves as a stark reminder that even organizations tasked with upholding justice and integrity can falter, and in so doing, divest itself of public trust and belief. It was such a disappointing incident, and I verily hope that the Commission will address this.
Pelumi Olajengbesi is a Legal Practitioner and Managing Partner at Law Corridor.