In the quest to emerge the zone with the highest number of arrests and convictions, the authorities at the Lagos zonal office of the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC) are exposing operatives to COVID-19 infection , PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
Sources at the Lagos zonal office of the commission, who asked not to be named because they could be punished for talking to the media, told this newspaper that the leadership of the zone, while relentlessly pushing to outdo other zones in the country, in the number of arrests and convictions, have provided next to nothing in personal protective gears for field operatives.
They said the Lagos office has carried on its business with a complete disregard of the government’s COVID -19 protocols.
Since the second wave of the pandemic, no fewer than 12 operatives at the EFCC Lagos office has contracted the virus, the sources said.
The EFCC’s Operations Department, which runs its business in at least 15 zonal offices across the country, is the centre of the commission’s investigations. The department, which is headed by a director, reports directly to the agency’s executive chairman.
According to our sources, there exists a friendly rivalry among the 15 zones of the commission, which is mainly used as a bragging right among operatives. However, the best performing zone was given an award once, though no formal recognition for the best performing zone has been given since then, some zonal heads have made sure their units score the most arrests and convictions.
They usually encourage operatives under them to go after suspected internet fraudsters, who make up the bulk of the arrests by the commission.
However, the sources explained that while the inter-zonal rivalry is primarily an ego-boosting exercise, operatives are required to list the cases they prosecuted successfully during staff appraisal exercises and promotion examinations.
Business as usual
Since the outbreak of the commission, the sources said the authorities at the Lagos office of the commission has carried on its business as if they were oblivious of the outbreak of the pandemic.
They said apart from EFCC branded masks that were given to operatives, the commission has failed to adhere to the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols.
“Last October, each operative was given on EFCC branded mask. That was all the commission has done in term of provision of PPE against coronavirus. Yet they keep pushing us to raid yahoo boys and other fraudsters,” said one of the operatives.
“As of today, at least 12 operatives have tested positive for coronavirus at the Lagos office yet our bosses are acting as if nothing has happened. Sometimes positives officers infect negative suspects.
One of the officers, who said he has a mild underlying condition, which makes him a potential candidate to develop acute COVID-19 symptoms, said they are fearful for their lives, if they caught the virus.
The sources explained that during the weekend of January 16 and 17, 2021 about 80 suspected internet fraudsters who were arrested from two raids in the city were all thrown into a congested cell at the Lagos office.
“The commission does not conduct coronavirus test for its arrested suspects. The commission only conducts COVID-19 for suspectS before handing them over to be remanded by the Nigerian Correctional Service because they will not take any suspect who has not done a COVID-19 test, However, because our detention cells are usually congested imagine how many other suspects and officers those suspects who are positive before they were arrested would have infected during the time they are in our custody,” one operative said.
We are strictly enforcing COVID-19 prevention guidelines – EFCC
When reached for comment, the spokesperson of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, said he was not aware of that 12 operatives have tested positive for the virus at the Lagos zone of the commission. He, however, said the leadership of the zone has taken “extra step of guaranteeing the safety of staff.”
Some of these steps, Mr Uwujaren said, included the issuance in December of “fresh guideline advising staff to maintain social distancing in all offices and official engagements, limit the number of persons allowed in the elevator to 4, made it mandatory for all staff and visitors to the EFCC to wear face masks, stopped staff from receiving visitors in the office and suspended religious gathering and meetings.
“Staff were also encouraged to wash their hands regularly while hand sanitisers are provided in all offices. All the teams were also advised to limit the number of suspects brought into custody.
“The leadership has taken the extra step of guaranteeing the safety of staff by mandating every staff returning from leave to come with the result of a COVID-19 test taken a few days to their return. Those who fail to take the test are mandated to have theirs taken in the Commission’s health facility before fully resuming duties.
“COVID-19 is a global health challenge and all institutions including the EFCC are committed to helping their staff prevent getting infected. However, where staff come down with the virus, adequate care is available,” he said in an email.
He did not say whether suspects in EFCC’s custody are being handled in line with the government’s COVID-19 prevention protocols.
However, our sources said holding cells at the zonal headquarters in Ikoyi are congested with suspects. They said that although the commission issues a detailed COVID-19 prevention protocol at the outbreak of the disease in 2020, the Lagos zonal office only adhered to it for two weeks before the went back to the usual ways of doing things with little or zero regard for the protocols.
“It is only in Abuja that the protocols are still being adhered to. In fact, when one person tested positive to the virus in Abuja, his entire department was shut down and the person directed to embark on self-isolation for two weeks. But in most of the zones, it is business as usual. In Lagos, after two weeks were allowed to arrest and bring in as many suspects as we want, in clear violation of the guidelines issued by the leadership of the commission,” the source said .
“See, what is happening here is that the leadership in Lagos is doing everything possible to beat the over 200 conviction it scored last year. But they are putting the lives of staff members at risk in the process,” the source added.
Buhari goes tough on violators of COVID -19 protocols
The disregard for the federal government’s COVID-19 prevention protocol at the EFCC office in Lagos comes at a time the government is tightening its enforcement of the guidelines. On Thursday President Muhammadu Buhari signed Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health Protection Regulations 2021. According to the regulation, persons who flout rules of social distancing and other prevention measures could face up to six months in jail.