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Rights Group: Despite Dismissal, Reforms Still Needed in Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption Campaign

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James Butty

A U.S.-based rights group says Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s sudden decision to fire the chairman of the anti-corruption commission will not solve the agency’s longstanding problems.

President Jonathan Wednesday dismissed Farida Waziri as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, or EFCC.  A government statement did not say why she was removed.

Chris Albin-Lackey, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, says Nigeria must carry out broad institutional reforms if the country is to make real progress in its fight against corruption.

“I think the important thing to bear in mind is that, however one feels about Waziri, firing her isn’t going to make things that much better or worse for the EFCC, unless the government starts to tackle some of the institutional reasons why that institution’s role in the fight against corruption has been a bit disappointing,” he said.

Albin-Lackey said the government’s failure to give reasons for Waziri’s dismissal points to one of the major problems that the EFCC has had - which is executive interference.

“The president should not be able to fire the chairman of the EFCC at will without even explaining why it is happening.  As long as the head of the commission can be stopped by the president for no reason, it’s not going to be able to be independent and be able to do its job in any kind of respected manner,” Albin-Lackey said.

He said Nigeria’s “weak and overburdened judiciary” has also been an obstacle to the effective prosecution of corruption cases.

“The institutions that it [EFCC] has to work [with] in order to do its job, in order to effectively prosecute anyone, have to be made more functional.  A lot of the EFCC’s most important cases have been bogged down, literally, for years in procedural delays in the courts.  And, unless the courts are empowered and also pressured into handling some of these cases in more expeditious manner, justice delayed will continue to be justice denied,” Albin-Lackey said.

Waziri was replaced with Ibrahim Lamorde, who was previously the EFCC's director of operations.

Albin-Lackey said it was not clear whether Waziri’s dismissal was an indication of President Jonathan’s renewed commitment to fight corruption.

“As to whether this signals a good or bad change on the part of the president and his policies toward the fight against corruption, it really all depends on what happens next.  If this is followed up by nothing, then I think it’s pretty hard to interpret [it] as a good sign, but if Waziri’s firing is followed by serious reforms to address some of the things that prevented the EFCC from working as well as it could, then there will be reason to be optimistic,” Albin-Lackey said.

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