Abdulrasheed Bawa’s unusual combination of youth, intelligence and vast experience kindled Nigerians’ hope for an invigorated anti-graft battle. But his confirmation as the first substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in six years, was not without controversies, especially the perception that he might be a pawn in the hands of a powerful godfather in government. Lawyers tell ADEBISI ONANUGA that Bawa must show that he is his own man and rekindle the anti-graft war.
Last Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Abdulrasheed Bawa as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC).
This followed his February 16 nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari. Bawa succeeds the former Acting Chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Magu, who held the fort from 2015 to 2020.
Of the 109 senators representing the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, only 19 senators of the Red Chamber asked questions from Bawa before his confirmation.
After his confirmation, Bawa promised to lead by example as EFCC chairman. He also noted that the EFCC establishment Act empowered the commission to investigate any person suspected to have acquired unexplained wealth without any formal petition in consonance with Unexplained Wealth Order and Act (UWO/UWA) obtainable in advanced countries.
He said his qualifications, training, and rank in the commission qualified him for the job and that he had received training as a law enforcement officer to function as an EFCC operative.
Qualification for appointment as EFCC Chairman
The EFCC Act 2004 states the criteria for the appointment of a person to the position of chairman of the commission.
Section 2(1)(i) of the EFCC Act 2004 stipulates that the Commission shall consist of a Chairman who shall “be the Chief Executive and Accounting Officer of the Commission; Section 2(1)(ii) said the chairman must be a serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or equivalent; while Section 2(1)(iii) said the person so appointed must “possess not less than 15 years cognate experience”.
Controversy over nomination
Bawa’s nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari was not without controversy. Firstly, there were arguments that Bawa was not qualified for chairmanship; that his level at the commission and qualification were not in conformity with legal requirements of the office.
But this was rectified on February 20, when Bawa was promoted alongside 88 others by the commission. They were moved from Grade Level 13 Principal Detective Superintendent (PDS) to Grade Level 14 Deputy Chief Detective Superintendent (DCDS) and with effect from January 1, 2021.
As at time of nomination, Bawa, 40, was a Deputy Chief Detective Superintendent with the EFCC and head of the Lagos Zonal Office. He is the first person to be appointed chairman of the EFCC without a background in the Nigerian Police Force.
Some stakeholders, however, viewed the elevation as a ‘cover up’ by government to make up for his deficiency.
There was also allegation of corrupt practices against his person during the disposal of some forfeited trucks in the Port Harcourt zonal office through public auction. But Bawa refuted the allegation before the Senate.
Allegations of compromise
Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Prof Itse Sagay expressed fear Bawa might be compromised and not be allowed to work independently. Sagay was worried that the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) may exert undue influence on the activities of the new EFCC chairman.
Sagay, in an interview with The Punch, said the power of the AGF must be checked so as not to control the activities of the anti-graft agency under Bawa.
The PACAC Chairman was also uncomfortable with the fact that Malami and Bawa come from the same state.
According to him: “This issue is a very big question because I noticed that they both come from the same state of Kebbi and they may even be related. For me, that is not a very healthy thing because the chairman of the EFCC and the EFCC are supposed to be independent.
”They are not politicians, they are trained security officers. The Attorney-General is a politician who has all the weaknesses and loads of a politician. He has people he is obliged to. He has people who are close to him. Some of them may be criminals who might have committed crimes. In fact, some of them may deliberately do things because they think they know the attorney-general.
“So, in such a situation, if Bawa is related to the attorney-general, then there will be a problem because he will not be able to do his job freely because the attorney-general will certainly interfere.
”Malami has never been inclined to allow the anti-corruption agencies to operate freely. He is always sitting on their neck one way or the other.”
He added: “He has already indicated his tendency to interfere in both the EFCC and the ICPC with the regulations he purported to make months ago. So, I am not comfortable at all by the possibility that they might be related.
“I have complained about that several times and nothing has happened. In fact, he has become more powerful. So, I will not be comfortable if they are related. I don’t want any outside influence on the EFCC or the ICPC.”
In defence of Bawa
But not everyone shares Sagay’s view.
One of those who worked closely with Bawa as well as with Magu is Rotimi Oyedepo, an EFCC prosecutor.
Oyedepo, in a February 22 Facebook post, described Bawa as one of the best (if not the best) hands at the commission.
He said: “He has distinguished himself and is known for performing his statutory functions within the three cardinal pillars of the commission’s core values to wit: integrity, professionalism and courage.”
On allegation of oil theft and fraudulent sales of some trucks at Port Harcourt office, Oyedepo said: “From the much I know of Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, at no point in his career was he ever arrested, detained and or investigated for any crime, let alone the fraudulent sale of recovered proceeds of crime which he investigated and prosecuted to a just conclusion. Truth be told, the man Bawa is a man of integrity.
“I can also attest to the fact that Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa demonstrated his addiction to professionalism and courage at all the formations of the commission wherein he has served. He was posted to Ibadan Zonal Office of the commission as the head of the zone. At Ibadan, the nominee made serious indelible professional and courageous marks in the zone. With his effort, the conviction rate of Ibadan Zone increased exponentially.
“His leadership skills, professionalism and integrity also earned him his last posting to the largest operational hub of the Commission – Lagos Zonal Office. For those who know this Zone, the only conclusion they will come to is that Lagos Zonal Office is now a pacesetter and by far, the most organised Zone in the Commission. To mention but a few, his achievements in the Lagos Zonal Office includes; renovation of the entire premises, re-organisation of the hitherto disorganised recovered proceeds of crimes/exhibits, electronic movements register, migration from paper to digitalised means of official communication and information sharing, accurate data base and statistics, massive recovery of proceeds of crime and convictions.
“I also know that apart from his competence and capacity to lead the Commission, I am highly convinced that in view of the facts at hand and the provisions of section 1(2) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa is statutorily qualified to be appointed as the EFCC chairman.”
EFCC clears Bawa of fraud allegation
The EFCC, in a statement issued February 16, also gave Bawa a clean bill of health. The commission said Bawa had no record of corruption. It said Bawa was never arrested or detained over sale of any assets.
The clarification which was contained in a statement by its Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, read thus: “The Commission wishes to state categorically that, Mr Bawa was never arrested or detained over sale of any assets. As Zonal Head of the Port Harcourt Office of the Commission in 2019, Bawa’s responsibilities did not include the sale of assets as the Commission has a full-fledge Directorate of Assets Forfeiture and Recovery Management, which remit such matters reside.”
The statement further said: “The attention of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been drawn to a report by an online publication, Peoples Gazette, alleging that Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, the Chairman-designate of the Commission, was arrested and detained by the Agency under former Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, over illegal sale of 244 forfeited trucks to proxies in Port Harcourt.
“The publication claims that the illegal sale was uncovered by the suspended Secretary to the Commission, Ola Olukoyede, who alerted the former chairman, Ibrahim Magu, leading to Bawa’s detention and subsequent redeployment to the EFCC Academy, Abuja.
”For the avoidance of doubt, the disposal of finally forfeited trucks in the Port Harcourt Zonal Office through public auction, was conducted after the exit of Bawa as Zonal Head. It is therefore, illogical for him to have been indicted over an auction that was not superintended by him.
“The auction of trucks at the Port Harcourt Office was among the issues examined by the Justice Ayo Salami Panel, leading to the suspension of some officers of the Commission.
“The Commission therefore enjoins the public to disregard the false publication which is believed to be sponsored by mischief makers to impugn the integrity of the EFCC Chairman-designate.”
But supportive attestations on Bawa’s character notwithstanding, his integrity remained questionable in the eyes of stakeholders, particularly considering that he is from the same state of origin as Malami and the hurried promotion to make him qualified for the EFCC top seat as stipulated by the law.
Should Bawa be allowed to work in office as “a willing tool…?” How can the new helmsman maintain EFCC’s independence and succeed in office?
How Bawa can succeed
Leading legal practitioners including a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Sylva Ogwemoh (SAN), activist-lawyer Chief Louis Alozie (SAN) and a former Commissioner of Ogun State Judicial Service Commission, Abayomi Omoyinmi, offered Bawa success tips.
Rebuild confidence in anti-corruption war, says Agbakoba
Agbakoba said it was good to have a fresh dynamic young face in the person of Bawa at the head of the EFCC, “Nigeria’s most important anti-corruption agency”, while also congratulating him on his appointment.
But Agbakoba did not mince word in telling Bawa of the many challenges that lay ahead.
He said: “Bawa must lead the agency on a different path to rebuild confidence in the anti-corruption war of government. New strategies are needed to move the agenda to a transformational new method of combating corruption.
“Three key matters concern investigations, prosecution and assets recovery. We need to see these processes driven by transparent, efficient and effective rules.
“The work of the agency can be lifted. This is the mandate that Mr Bawa is called upon to discharge. I wish him every success.”
Why Bawa must change the narrative, by Ogwemoh
Ogwemoh said from Bawa’s credential, “it is clear that he is fit for the job because he has the requisite qualification, expertise and experience that is required for the office of the Chairman of the EFCC.”
According to him, the issue that came up concerning his rank as provided by the law, has also been taken care of by his promotion.
Ogwemoh however, saw Bawa’s relationship with Malami as a moral burden.
He advised: “Being a young man of 40 years, he has a long way to go. So, his performance in this office holds a lot for him, in terms of his future career and his integrity.“
Ogwemoh noted that Bawa had been in the EFCC for some time and “knows the challenges in the fight against corruption. He is better equipped to deal with the challenges judging from his experience in the fight against corruption.
“This appointment, therefore, offers an excellent opportunity for him to deploy his wealth of experience in the fight against corruption. His performance today will definitely, in my opinion, speak for him in the future.
“So, he should not look at it as if it is the last office he is going to hold in life. He should look at it as a stepping stone to greater things.
“Therefore, whatever moral burden his relationship with the Attorney-General holds against him now, if there is any, he can to an extent change the narrative by his performance in office and by doing what is right, what is just and what is required to win the battle against corruption in Nigeria,” he advised.
Can Bawa hold his own?
For Alozie, the extent to which Bawa can hold his own in office “will depend on his rating in the cabal that controls the government.
“Whether he will dance to the tune of Malami or not will depend on his strength of character and personal integrity”.
The lawyer, who insisted that Bawa’s appointment remained controversial, contended that the EFCC had never, from its inception, been an independent organisation.
Alozie claimed that during the time of Nuhu Ribadu, the first chairman of the agency, the commission was manipulated by the presidency to witch-hunt political opponents and suppress dissenting opinions in a supposed democracy. The high point of which he said was selected prosecutions.
“We saw how some State Houses of Assembly were pressured by EFCC into impeaching their governors. A good number of these impeachments ended up being nullified by the courts for not following due process,” he added.
He said it was only during the tenure of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua/ Goodluck Jonathan, that there was a little bit of sanity in the affairs of EFCC, to the extent that there were no more arbitrary impeachments.
Alozie added: “However, the public opinion holds that corruption was at its peak at that time.
“When Buhari took over, the expectation was that corruption was going to be eliminated or at least drastically reduced but, unfortunately, corruption is now perceived to be more than what obtained during the Jonathan’s administration. The worst aspect was re-looting of recovered stolen assets by government officials.”
According to him, there is a lot of infighting between agencies of government with the wrath exposed during the fight between the immediate past chairman of EFCC Mr. Ibrahim Magu and the Attorney-General of the Federation Malami, with each accusing the other of corruption.
“It was public knowledge then that the struggle was more of power tussle in relation to who controls the EFCC, Magu lost out with a good number of the members of his cabal being called to question.”
Integrity, diligence as hallmark of office
Omoyinmi said for Bawa to succeed in office, he must exhibit a high and moral sense of integrity.
“In order to maintain independence and succeed in office Mr Bawa must show a high level of diligence, critical thinking, tolerance and above all scrupulous posture in the course of discharging the outright responsibilities bestowed on him as the new EFCC boss.
“He seems to me a refined young man suspiciously trained to attain this position to make a positive impact in the fight against graft,” he said.
Omoyinmi added: “The new EFCC boss is said to be one of the pioneer cadet officers at EFCC, and has also undergone specialised training in the different parts of the world, worked closely with National Crime Agency of UK and other international crime agencies and to that extent has gathered a lot of experience and expertise to head the position perhaps highly qualified for the post of the chairman.
“The confirmation despite occasioning controversy from some members of the public, has been laid to rest after his successful screening from the Senate, having also considered the provision of sections 2 and 3 of the EFCC (Establishment Act) 2004 on the composition of the EFCC and appointment of Chairman.
“I do not completely agree to the fact that the Attorney-General might influence his job and undermine anti graft war, this is a mere speculation, going by the profile of the new boss at the helm of affairs.
“His relatively young age is an added advantage coupled with his enormous training, I trust and believe that having risen to this enviable position, there’s no doubt that he is duty bound to discharge his duties without influence, fear, or favour.”