Nigeria: EFCC and the Lynching of Obiano

Obiano’s leaked video in custody is in bad taste

Hardly a week passes without the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announcing with fanfare that it has ‘arrested’ and detained one notable Nigerian or the other. While the frequency of these parades may indicate the prevalence of financial crimes in our society, there is also a suspicion that for the EFCC, appearance and drama have overtaken substance and earnestness. The sensitive public is now finding it increasingly difficult to draw the line between when the commission is putting up a dramatic show of its authority and when it is engaged in the nitty gritty of the fight against corruption for which it was established.

Meanwhile, the offences for which citizens are subjected to public embarrassment most often end up being either unfounded allegations or legally untenable accusations. In some cases, the EFCC has ended up dropping the accusations and quietly closing the file. The matter simply fizzles out as the EFCC probably discovers that it may not have any case worthy of prosecution in the first place. But while the comedy lasts, otherwise innocent people are defamed and branded with the tar brush of corruption. Those falsely accused and widely defamed will have been publicly crucified and lynched through the EFCC’s institutional authoritarianism with its media attack dogs. We are yet to hear of cases where the EFCC has come out openly to apologise to the public for parading the wrong persons for crimes they did not commit. Those falsely arrested or paraded have ended up carrying the opprobrium for the rest of their lives.

On Friday, 18th March, it was the turn of the immediate past Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, to face the EFCC’s familiar display of authorised infamy. Obiano was a governor up to that morning when he duly performed his last duty: the swearing in of his successor, Chukwuma Soludo. In the evening, Obiano, now a private citizen, tried to catch a flight to the United States. He was intercepted and stopped from travelling. As usual, Obiano was subjected to media trial following reports that he had been transferred to Abuja. While being held incommunicado, the EFCC let it filter out that Obiano was being held for fiddling with the ubiquitous ‘security vote’ and was yet to account for some N47 billion. This is a charge that has been routinely levelled against literally all persons that have held the office of state governor in Nigeria since 1999.

What has irked the Nigerian public even further is that while in EFCC custody in Abuja, a degrading video of Obiano was caused to be leaked to the social media. The leaking of the video could only have been aimed at diminishing the reputation of the accused and parading him to the public via the social media for a crime that he has neither been charged with nor been formally accused of. It would also be recalled that a couple of weeks before the end of his tenure, the EFCC had openly boasted that it had completed plans to arrest Obiano once he completes his tenure. This threat was a crude defiance of Obiano’s still subsisting immunity from prosecution up to that point in time.

We subscribe to the notion that the law should be no respecter of persons. But elementary decency and justice requires that even villains be accorded the due respect of their persons, especially their privacy even in custody. To parade Obiano publicly as a criminal detainee through a deliberately leaked video is not only barbaric, but it also reduces the EFCC to no better than an organisation where the rights of individuals count for little.

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