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Nigeria’s EFCC and sacred cows

The  Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) getting more active and showing greater courage, the impression that there are still fat, sacred cows strutting the grazing field of corruption is disappointing.

As the Commission vigorously investigates the Siemens bribery scandal with the interrogation of some highly placed Nigerians, it is a mockery of justice that it has no-go areas in the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of financial crimes and corruption-related cases.

One would have expected the Commission to handle the high-profile Halliburton bribery case with its renewed vigour. But no, the Commission said last week that it would not revisit the controversial case unless it is so directed by the Presidency.

The Commission initiated the investigation of the case and had progressed it steadily, but its spokesman said it is a no-go area because ” a Presidential Committee headed by the office of Inspector-General of Police is now in charge.”

The late President Umaru Yar’Adua set up a Presidential Committee in 2007 to take the case off the EFCC. The Committee headed by the then Inspector General of Police, has EFCC Chairman, and representatives of the National Security Adviser, State Security Service and National Intelligence Agency as members.

Its terms of reference, among others, are “to establish the extent of involvement or culpability of any Nigerian in the bribery scandal and the sums of money allegedly paid out to any person in Nigeria by Halliburton as bribes in respect of the Bonny LNG Project; and to liaise with the Swiss authorities with a view to tracing and recovering any sum stashed in Swiss banks for the benefit of those involved in the Bonny Liquefied Natural Gas Project bribery scandal.”

Between then and now, while many Nigerians have been sentenced to jail or have been kept behind bars to await trials over far lesser offences; while various reports have revealed Nigerians suspected to be involved in the scandal, nothing seems to be happening.

The bribery scandal began in 1994, when the NLNG board under the chairmanship of MD Yusuf, opened bids for the award of contract for the Liquefied Natural Gas Project in Bonny, Rivers State. A consortium of four companies – Technip of France, Snamprogetti , a subsidiary of ENI SPA of Italy; Kellog of the United States later known as KBR and Japan Gasoline Corporation, which was registered as TSKJ, bid for the contract with BCSA. TSKJ is a subsidiary of Halliburton. TSKJ subsequently won the contract for $1.8 billion in September, 1994.

However, the lid over the bribery scandal that influenced the contract award to TSKJ was blown open in June, 2003. Further investigation into the Nigerian deal was opened in France in October, 2003, where it was deposed at the hearings that Jeffrey Tesler, a 60-year-old British lawyer, was the intermediary between Halliburton and the Nigerian government, who channelled the bribery money through Tri – Star Investment Limited owned by him.

All that is public knowledge now! Also of public knowledge is Tesler’s confession in court that the payments he made included two transfers amounting to $75,000 to Yusuf, then chairman of the LNG, that awarded the original contract to the consortium. His testimony showed that the bribe was used to secure Yusuf’s support in facilitating a meeting between TSKJ officials and the late Sanni Abacha.

Why Nigeria should dilly-dally with such a high profile case, with a big impact on the country’s image and its attraction as an investment destination, has become a sad statement on its anti-corruption efforts.

The long wait for justice has been made more depressing by unconfirmed reports that the Presidential Committee has indeed sent a report of its findings that implicate some highly placed Nigerians and former heads of state, to President Goodluck Jonathan.

So many people have been smeared by these reports in the public domain, and will forever remain tarred if the case remains inconclusive. That perhaps is why former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, wrote to President Jonathan last month hoping that it “would bring about a decision of the Federal Government to make available to the public, the full details of the circumstances surrounding the Halliburton bribe scandal and who, if anybody, are the culprits.”

All the developments on the case are now in the glare of the world. In the interest of justice and for the image of the country, the Federal Government should move quickly to bring the case to a judicial conclusion. It should disabuse the minds of Nigerians that in these times and age, there are still sacred cows.