Members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously support the bill that seeks to restructure the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Section 12(1) of the amendment bill also provides for the establishment of witness protection unit and detention unit. The detention unit will ensure that there is a conducive and enough detention space to keep suspects in accordance with the law.
The legal framework, which supports the ongoing anti-corruption campaign of the present administration, also deals with EFCC property under trail, increased penalty and disqualification of convicted persons as provided for in sections 14(1a,b) and 32 of the Principal Act.
The bill, sponsored by Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP-Delta), was passed through second reading and referred to the House Committee on Financial Crimes for further legislative input.
He said: “The creation and establishment of these two units in the EFCC at this time the Federal Government in seriously fighting corruption is very necessary and apt. There is no way the Federal Government can succeed in the fight against corruption when sound evidence is not provided and proved. It is through witnesses that evidence are given and tendered in court.
“It is obvious fact that most Nigerians are afraid to give evidence in court. But with the establishment and passage of this bill, witnesses will be protected and freely give best evidential value that will assist the Federal Government through the EFCC to fight corruption.”
The House also adopted the alteration of Section 2(1a) (ii) of the Principal Act to ensure that the chairman of the agency is not a serving member, but a retired member of the security or law enforcement agencies.
The bill is also seeking for the establishment of a new committee in the EFCC called Operations Review Committee, which shall consist of a retired chief justice of Nigeria, justice of the Supreme Court, retired inspector general of police, governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), president of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and president of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).
In his lead debate, Ossai explained that the Operations Review Committee shall be saddled with the responsibility of reviewing every complaint before the EFCC and advise where necessary.
He said: “This committee is to properly guide the EFCC in the execution of its duties and to ensure that Nigerians get justice, equity and fair play from the administration and execution of official duties by EFCC.”
The bill also seeks the amendment of Section 2(1, 2) of the Principal Act, which added a new area with specificity and particular mentioning of professional bodies and their nominees years of experience who are to be members of the EFCC, the lawmaker said, adding that this is to ensure that only people with cognate experience are appointed into the composition of the commission.
The second segment of the bill is compensation for victims of an offence, trial and investigative processes as provided in sections 3, 4, and 5. “The amendment of section 14(2) and (3) of the principal act is provided for in section 3 of the bill to ensure that offenders are justly treated in court. The newly introduced section 14(2) is to the effect that when EFCC has attached or removed all or a substantive part of the property traceable to an offender, in that circumstances EFCC can charge the offender for a lesser offence if he pleads guilty to that lesser offence of same kind.”
Also speaking, Femi Gbajabiamila, Majority Leader, noted that the bill was apt in view of the renew fight against corruption by the President Muhammadu Buhari led government.
Gbajabiamila however expressed reservation with the Operations Review Committee saying it may be tantamount to oversighting the EFCC “which is supposed to be an independent organisation.”
In his view, Chairman of the House committee on basic education, Zakari Mohammed emphasised the need to professionalize the EFCC for optimal performance.
On his part, Mohammed Bogo, chairman of the committee on marine transport said there was need to encourage police and retrain them to carry out investigation work for the EFCC adding that investigation was primarily the function of the police force.