Still on EFCC’s onslaught against fraudsters

Since the establishment of the EFCC in 2003, the agency has been commended for its anti-corruption efforts, which have led to the arrest and prosecution of corrupt politicians, businessmen, internet fraudsters, among others. However, the agency has also come under heavy attacks as a result of the method of its operations. PAUL OKAH reports.

The EFCC was established in 2003, partially in response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), which named Nigeria as one of 23 countries non-cooperative in the international community’s efforts to fight money laundering. 

Since its establishment, on a daily basis, the media is often inundated with news of the activities of the EFCC with regards to the arrest and prosecution of internet fraudsters, corrupt politicians, dubious businessmen, among others; sometimes in collaboration with sister agencies and with the cooperation of well meaning Nigerians.

While many Nigerians have berated the Commission for often arresting suspects even before investigation, others have alleged that many of the officials are not as thorough as they would like Nigerians to believe, with many alleging that the commission is often used by politicians to witch hunt political opponents.

Internet fraudsters

Part of the reasons for the establishment of the EFCC in 2003 is to fight financial crimes especially the defrauding of unsuspecting Nigerians and the Commission has been impressive in this regard as the media is awash with the news of daily arrests of internet fraudsters in different parts of the country.

On October 15, a statement signed by EFCC spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, indicated that the EFCC, Ibadan Zonal Command, arrested 12 suspected internet fraudsters at Alapata and Awotan areas of Ibadan in Oyo state.

Uwujaren said the suspects, most of who claimed to be undergraduates, were apprehended following actionable intelligence on their alleged involvement in internet-related crimes. He said that a series of fraudulent documents and other instruments allegedly used in committing the crimes were recovered from them at the point of their arrest.

Invasion of homes

Regrettably, while the EFCC has been commended for fighting crime and curbing internet fraud, many Nigerians have lamented the invasion of their private homes and hotel rooms by officials of the commission, in the quest to arrest fraudsters.

In fact, two weeks after the Commission’s mode of operation came under severe criticisms, following the 4 a.m. raid on former Big Brother Naija housemate, Dorathy Bachor, in the early hours of Monday, September 14. In a commando-like manner, the operatives of the EFCC, raided three hotels in Abeokuta, Ogun state, and arrested 56 lodgers, who were alleged internet fraudsters, after allegedly breaking down the hotel doors and damaging property.

A lady, who identified herself as Romoke Adisa, told journalists that when she revisited the hotel around 8:00 a.m. in search of her bracelet the operatives were heavily armed and took away valuables.

“We did not hear anything, it was when they put off the generator that we discovered that there was a problem. It was the cry of someone that we heard. Like six phones were taken in our room. Those people are acting thieves; they enter different residences in the midnight. The person I slept with escaped, but his vehicle was taken away,” she said.

Also, when contacted by journalists, Head of Public Affairs, Ibadan Zonal office of the EFCC, Tokunbo Odeniyi, confirmed the incident, saying 10 cars were confiscated among other gadgets.

“Suspects were arrested in three different places so I can’t tell you how many were arrested at the government owned hotel, Mitros. 56 suspected internet fraudsters were arrested in three different hotels in Abeokuta with items such as laptops, mobile phones and cars were confiscated from the suspects,” he said.

Also, on September 17, armed EFCC operatives left several people injured after opening fire to disperse a youth conference and arrest guests during an overnight raid of a hotel in Enugu. 

According to a Twitter user, Ike Oraifite, between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. on Friday, September 17, EFCC agents, believed to be from the anti-graft department’s field office in Enugu, arrived at Castle Majestic in Ogui, about 10 kilometres south-west of the city centre, just before midnight, causing serious disruption and commotion. 

Oraifite said the operatives broke into rooms, without apparent warrants, and arrested several guests before disrupting a youth gathering that was underway at the hotel’s conference room. At least 40 guests were feared driven away by operatives, who reportedly arrived in five unregistered vehicles, including two Toyota Hilux buses. 

Analyst’s admonitions

Speaking with our reporter, a public affairs analyst, Mr. Peter Abiodun, said it is within the armpit of the law for EFCC to use necessary means to obtain evidence against suspects for prosecution, but cautioned against overzealousness and illegality on the part of official.

He said: “The alarm rate at which fraud cases are recorded in Nigeria is a thing of concern. Many unsuspecting people are being duped on a regular basis and it is no longer funny. Just at the beginning of the week, news emerged of a couple defrauding innocent Nigerians to the tune on 22 billion naira in a Ponzi scheme and disappearing into thin air. 

“This is hard-earned money of innocent Nigerians trying to make ends meet in a harsh economy. As you are reading this, the couple are now in hiding in God knows where, while their victims, many of whom even borrowed money to invest in the Ponzi scheme are gnashing and thinking of how to recoup their money, with many probably going suicidal.

“Bearing the above in mind, not many people will be against the EFCC if it decides to use extreme means to make sure that fraudsters are arrested and prosecuted. Yahoo Yahoo or internet fraudsters are now going to the extreme in defrauding people. They rent hotel rooms for days to evade arrest and divert attention, so it’s only fair that the EFCC can go to hotels as Intel directs.

“However, I will caution against high-handedness and overzealousness on the part of EFCC officials. Obtaining duly signed warrants from judges will go a long way to solve the issue of legality on the part of EFCC when they break into homes and hotel rooms in search of fraudsters. As the saying goes, what is worth doing is worth doing well.”

EFCC solicits cooperation

On September 14, in a statement signed by the spokesperson following the arrest of 56 suspected internet fraudsters in different hotels in Ibadan, the EFCC solicited the cooperation of Nigerians in tackling internet fraud, urging hotel owners across the country not to accommodate suspected internet fraudsters in their facilities.

He said, “The operation was carried out based on verified intelligence backed by weeks of surveillance. The operation was earlier frustrated by the hotel owners, who employed various antics, including shutting down of power supply, to enable some of the suspects to escape arrest.

“Despite the lack of cooperation by the hotel owners, the operatives demonstrated professionalism in ensuring that no one was hurt nor property damaged during the operations, contrary to the narrative in some sections of the media. The action of the hoteliers amounts to deliberate sabotage and obstruction of law enforcement officers, an offence punishable under Section 38 (2) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004.

“Argument made in certain quarters that the hoteliers have no means of determining who a fraudster is before allowing them to lodge in their facilities runs counter to the law. Section 3 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2006, provides for a prison term of five to 15 years without option of fine for persons who allowed his premises to be used for any offence.

“If the hoteliers are not enablers of the alleged crimes, as some have demonstrated by offering information to the commission, they are under obligation to cooperate with law enforcement officers.”