Jonathan fired me for probing oil racketeers, says ex-EFCC chair

A former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mrs. Farida Waziri, has said that she was sacked by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan for trying to arrest some oil racketeers.

Mrs. Farida said there was a call from the Presidential Villa not to arrest the racketeers but she refused to be compromised on the case.

She said the late Minister for Information Prof. Dora Akunyili knew of the plot to remove her and asked her to beg Jonathan.

But she said she rejected Akunyili’s advice because it was totally against her “conscience and moral judgment.”

She said another highly-placed source said those in and around the Presidency did not like her because she did not contribute money for Jonathan’s elections in 2011.

As part of the countdown to her removal, she said ex- President Jonathan once summoned her on the rumours about her in office.

During the encounter, Jonathan asked her if she would like to go and rest but she was quick to reply if the ex-President wanted to sack her.

She said Jonathan only muttered “no.”

She said she was courageous enough to tell Jonathan not to throw her to the wolves.

Also, she said a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Pius Anyim offered her ambassadorial appointment in line with the agenda to oust her from office.

She said ex-President Umaru Yar’Adua was more committed to anti-graft war than any other person.

She said the death of Yar’Adua left her vulnerable because his demise broke the spine of the fight against corruption

The one-time EFCC chairman made these revelations in her book, “Farida Waziri, One Step Ahead”, which is due for public presentation in Abuja on Tuesday.

She exposed intrigues which trailed her tenure and an attempt to scandalise her out of office.

She said she was on the street of Abuja when the then Head of Media and Publicity at EFCC, Mr. Femi Babafemi broke the news of her sack to her.

Former President Goodluck Jonathan removed Mrs. Waziri from office on November 23, 2011 after spending three and a half years in charge of the anti-graft agency.

She said she got the news as follows: “Ma, have you heard the news?” I was driving on the street of Abuja when his call came in from the office. It was the voice of Femi Babafemi, Head of Media and Publicity at EFCC. I listened calmly to him. Instead of going to the office, I went home.

“I switched on the TV and waited for the news hour. It came on first on Channels, and shortly after, on NTA and AIT. My husband was sleeping upstairs. I went into his room to wake him.

“I have been sacked.” He grumbled about someone disturbing his sleep. “It’s too early for jokes this morning.”

“It is not a joke. I have been sacked. It is in the news. Come and see.” We went downstairs together. He watched the TV in silence. “It’s ok” was all he said.

But she attributed the immediate cause of the sack to the investigation of some oil racketeers.

The excerpts from the book read: “The date was November 23, 2011.  It didn’t take me by surprise. There had been rumblings and maneuverings in the recent past to guess such an end was in the offing. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was an EFCC operation in Lagos.

“The agency got a tip-off about some oil racketeers who were in Nigeria for dubious dealings. People of interest were going to move money into Lagos. The tip-off came from outside the country, one of our reliable foreigner(sic) agents. We flew into Lagos and organised the operation. Detectives moved to the target office, to conduct a search and bring the suspect to Abuja. At the time they got into the office, the target was not on seat.

“I’d asked the team to invite the accountant and to bring along the computers. Few minutes after the arrival of the accountant and the machines, I got a call from Aso Rock, the Presidential Villa.

“The message was an order:  ”Release the man immediately!” My calm explanation to the voice from the villa was “The person you are calling for is not arrested; it is his accountant we invited here.” “Ok, let the accountant go.”

“That put me in a dilemma. We had acted on intelligence. We spent days planning the operation. And indeed, we had on our hands a good case complete with evidence. How do I explain to my operatives that the case has to be jettisoned because of a call from Aso Rock? How do I disabuse their minds from thinking I had compromised?

“I asked the detectives to take the accountant’s statement and release him on bail. While we were at it, the caller from the Villa interrupted us again with another order: “Release the computers to him.” He tried to justify this by claiming, “he contributed so much to the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan.”

“At that point, I asked him: “Is this instruction from Mr. President? “ Yes, the voice affirmed. I played my last card: “I can release the man on bail, but I won’t release the computers. “How did it end?” “The outcome was my sack a few weeks later. I guess this and other events contributed to my removal, although other events took place before this.”

The former EFCC chairman recalled what happened after his removal and how the late Prof. Dora Akunyili hinted her of her imminent sack.

Explaining why she rejected Mrs. Akunyili’s idea to beg Jonathan to avert her ouster, she said: “After listening to the news, I went to the office and  packed my stuff. I didn’t call the President; neither did he call me.  Nobody called me. I handed over to Ibrahim Lamorde, my deputy.

“The handwriting was on the wall a long time ago. My friend, the Minister for Information, Prof. Dora Akunyili, was the first person to hint me about the coming bombshell. Months earlier, she warned me of a plan to oust me from office.

“Out of concern, she advised me to go and see President Goodluck Jonathan. She told me what to say to the President. However, her advice was totally against my conscience and moral jugdement, and I rejected the idea.

“A few weeks later, Prof Akunyili called me to her office. “Sister, didn’t I advise you on what to do but you refused, now they have decided to remove you. Be prepared. Start packing your things little by little.

“Prof Akunyili had good connections to Aso Villa and couldn’t have been unsure of what she heard. I went back to my office and started packing my stuff gradually. In the meantime, the propaganda machine was still working.

“With President Yar’Adua no longer in the picture, my detractors had unfettered access to the Presidential Villa. They retooled, shifted gear and revved up.

“There was one brilliant piece of polemic in the newspaper. It was entitled the Lost Treasure. The grammar was excellent, but the logic was a red herring.

“It was an excellent article that chronicled the fight against corruption from inception. It cited efforts by each previous government, and how they cried and failed. The offensive commentary concluded: to retrieve the Lost Treasure is to get rid of that woman. “that woman” —that was what I had become.”

Mrs. Waziri narrated what she went through some months before her eventual removal.

She added: “The tips were coming from other sources. Someone highly-placed told me what higher executives discussed about me. “They don’t like you, because you did not contribute money for elections,” he told me. “They said you are just busy arresting people all over the place. They are just managing you. ’

“Also, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (5GP), Chief Pius Anyim, phoned, to report that the President directed that my husband’s name be included in a listing for ambassadorial positions. I broke into laughter-Anyim and me were quite friendly. I told him my husband would not take such an offer.

”We were there before, and he has had enough of it.” But Anyim insisted: ‘This is a directive from Mr. President. You better go and ask him.’

“I went upstairs and informed Ajuji (her late husband) about the phone call from the SGF. His response was predictable. He told me that he wasn’t growing any younger; and as a politician, he would prefer to remain at home to serve his people. He was nonetheless very grateful to Mr. President. He asked that I should go and thank the President on my husband’s behalf.

“I went straight first to the office of the SGF to give him my husband’s response. I thought it would end there. “What about you? “Anyim asked. “I did not enjoy being an ambassador’s wife. It will be worse if I become an ambassador myself.” He tried to change my mind, but I stuck to my position. “Let’s wait and see, I said. First, I have to complete my present appointment.” “And when is your tenure going to be over?” I told him. “if we include your name, by the time you finish, it will be a seamless transition,” he suggested. “Won’t it appear questionable that the EFCC chair just finished her tenure and  is going for screening for an ambassadorial position?

“The truth is-with due respect to Chief Anyim-I didn’t believe him completely. I thought they were trying to set me up. Currently I didn’t know whom to trust anymore. After the exchange, I went to deliver my husband’s response to President Jonathan. I thanked him for the great honour extended to us as worthy of being ambassadors of Nigeria. I reiterated my husband’s reasons for declining, age.

“The President agreed it was a job for younger people. I regaled him with our hardship in Turkey, the tedium of travelling from Kano to Cairo, the waiting at the airport, the cash crunch and the minutiae of the downside of living in Turkey. After our conversation, I thanked him and departed the Villa.

“I reflected over the episode and concluded that my husband was not the target of the ambassadorial posting. It was me. If I accepted, it could have been a seamless transition for me from EFCC chair to an ambassador. The government knows how to circumvent laid-down procedures. My change would have been what they called “a soft landing.”

Mrs. Waziri also spoke of how Jonathan personally tried to gauge her mood before sacking her.

But she said she stood her ground by throwing a question back to Jonathan forcing the former President to eat his words that he had no plans to sack her.

She said: “Still, the pressure did not abate. One day, President Jonathan summoned me to express his concerns. “These rumours are too many. Would you want to go and rest?

“Sir, are you suggesting you want to sack me?” He said no, he was just concerned about the spate of negative publicity about me of late.

“I took the time to make a well-thought-out-speech, to remind him of how I had worked extra hard and maintained a hundred per cent loyalty to him. I noted that the job had earned me powerful enemies, and his suggestion was akin to throwing me to the wolves. When I ended my speech, he said “Chairman,” jocularly. He had joked about it. But the issue  was no joke. I’d already been tipped-off by Prof. Akunyili.”

The former Chairman of EFCC said the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was more sincere in fighting corruption than Jonathan or  any other person.

He said Yar’Adua’s death left her vulnerable because his demise broke the spine of the fight against corruption

She said: “I worked for two presidents. I hate to compare them. But I can’t stop talking about President Yar’Adua. Getting to any President inside Aso Villa could be rigorous, due to the ‘barricades’ by Presidential staffers.

“President Yar’Adua cleared the way for me. He assembled all his staff and instructed them thus: “I called you here because I want you to know that Farida, here, has free access to me twenty-four hours every day, either in this office or at my residence.” The respect accorded me after that address gave me easy access to the President.

“Secondly, when I submitted reports of assignments to him, President Yar’Adua would quickly read them and, sometimes, discuss the next course of action with me. There was no President more committed to the Nigerian Project than President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. He led by example. He was the first president ever to declare his asset. While he was not poor, by any ramification, he was a model of humility.

“He wasn’t laid back too in his oversight of EFCC. He had his circle of informants too. Once given a list of looters, he invited me and showed me the names. He then charged me with the task to investigate each case thoroughly to ascertain their guilt.

“As we read through the list of names and monies allegedly stolen, he paused at the name of someone close to him. The pain was evident on his face. “Why is he doing this to me?” he muttered. Sometimes, when he saw the large sum of money allegedly appropriated by an individual, he would ask, “What do they want to do with all this money? How can we have a country like this?

“President Yar’Adua was very committed and patriotic also. Here was a President who knew what he was doing. I found it rather improper that someone would speak of him in negative terms after his death.

“The death of President Yar’Adua left me vulnerable. His demise broke the spine of the fight against corruption. My enemies, despite their tireless efforts, missed their deadline of three months. I spent three and a half years as EFCC chair.”

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