President Bola Tinubu, in his first 16 days in office, ordered the suspension of the chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, in a sweep that earlier saw the suspension of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele.
A brief statement from the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) announcing the development on 14 June, said the president suspended Mr Bawa over “weighty allegations of abuse of office levelled against him.”
In a quick succession that same day, the State Security Service (SSS), Nigeria’s domestic intelligence service, took to its recently launched Twitter handle to announce that Mr Bawa had honoured an invitation for investigation.
Mr Emefiele was picked up by the SSS days before Mr Bawa, also for investigations, details of which have yet to be disclosed. Both top officials, who were either appointed or reappointed by the immediate-past president, Muhammadu Buhari, are still in SSS custody.
The dramatic role reversal that suddenly turned Mr Bawa from a hunter to the hunted is a reenactment of the unflattering ending that characterised the exit of the previous substantive chairpersons of the anti-corruption agency since inception.
It mostly comes with change in power in the presidency, and it does not matter if the new president comes from the same party as the old. Successive EFCC chairpersons have faced varying degrees of unsavory exit in the hands of a new government, and sometime during the administration of the same president.
The EFCC was established in 2002 but became operational in 2003.
The President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration founded the anti-corruption agency to combat the menace of advance fee fraud and public corruption that flourished under decades of military rule. By the time Nigeria returned to democratic rule in 1999, it had become a pariah nation that needed to put systems in place to fight the menace to secure a place in the comity of nations.
Nigeria is no longer where it was during the military rule, due to the contributions of anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC in mitigating the plundering of public treasury. But political interference and allegations of corruption levelled against its officials remain part of EFCC’s undoing.
The pattern of the EFCC chairpersons’ removal has been steeped in controversies around allegations of corruption. But none of the sacked heads has ever been put on trial over the alleged wrongdoings.
Since inception, EFCC has had four substantive chairpersons, and in-between, four acting chairpersons. This alone bears witness to the chequered leadership succession that rattles the organisation in the last two decades.
This began with the pioneer chair of the agency, Nuhu Ribadu. From Mr Ribadu to Farida Waziri, Ibrahim Lamorde, and now Mr Bawa, none of the substantive chairpersons stayed till the last day of their tenure in office for a modest valedictory.
Has the president breached the law?
Many have wondered if Mr Tinubu’s action suspending the EFCC’s chairperson which the law confers with some guarantee of tenure, violated the law establishing the EFCC.
A constitutional lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said the president’s suspension of Mr Bawa was in tandem with the EFCC Act 2004.
Mr Ogunye, a human rights activist, while weighing in on the trajectory of leadership succession at the anti-graft agency, noted that “the president has the power to remove the EFCC chairman and any member of the commission.”
Referencing the law, he said Section 3 (2) provides that, “The president may at any time remove either the chairman or any member of the commission for reason of incapacity to exercise the functions of that office, arising from infirmity of mind or for misconduct, or if the president is satisfied that it is not in the interest of the commission, or in the interest of the country for such an officer to continue to retain his office.”
The lawyer, however, clarified that the law provides for removal of the EFCC chairman not “an indefinite suspension.”
Situating Mr Bawa’s suspension, Mr Ogunye explained that the Public Service Act of the Federation, of which the EFCC Act is an offshoot, empowers the president to suspend any of his appointee’s pending investigation.
“The EFCC Act says in Section 10 that the EFCC Act is under the Public Service Act of the Federation. And under the Public Service Act, we know of interdiction, suspension pending investigation and if the person is not found blameworthy, he may then be returned to the office.
“The president in my view acted within the confines of the law,” Mr Ogunye explained.
Another lawyer, Monday Ubani, agreed with Mr Ogunye that the president’s action was in line with his power to appoint the head of the commission.
“If you go to court over this removal, I can assure you that the court will rule that the president has the right to suspend,” said Mr Ubani, who chairs the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA)’s Section on Public Interest and Development Law (NBA-SPIDEL).
Although Mr Ubani said there is no provision in the law establishing the EFCC that gives room for suspension from office, “the rule is that if you have power to appoint, then you have the power to suspend, especially when there is an allegation of malfeasance against the person,” he added.
Wahab Shittu, an EFCC prosecutor, also said Mr Tinubu possesses the power to remove the anti-graft agency’s boss.
But, Mr Shittu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), cautioned that due process must be followed in the course of Mr Bawa’s investigation. “Mr Bawa must be given fair hearing,” he said.
Implications of arbitrary removal of EFCC chair on anti-corruption war
Beyond the legal ramifications, Mr Bawa’s suspension has also raised concerns over the implications for the stability of the agency and its ability to fight corruption without fear of political backlash.
Lawyers point out that such actions tend to weaken the government’s anti-corruption posture.
Mr Ogunye wished “the office of the EFCC chairman and the members, given the responsibilities given to them by the Act, is more secure.”
He noted that the EFCC boss should “enjoy some kind of protection such that any president or president cannot just remove the chairman. It is desirable that the chairman enjoys the security of tenure.”
Weighing in on the circumstances that threw up Mr Bawa as the commission’s substantive head in 2021, where he enjoyed the Attorney-General’s tacit backing, Mr Ogunye said Mr Bawa’s suspension was expected.
Recalling the drama that characterised Ibrahim Magu’s removal after five years of serving as acting EFCC chair, Mr Ogunye said Mr Bawa “received a poisoned chalice given the way he was manipulated into office by the former AGF, Abubakar Malami.”
Calling for a legislative intervention to strengthen the security of tenure of the EFCC chairman, the lawyer said “the stability of anti-corruption agencies and the stability of the occupants of the offices created by the laws establishing the anti-corruption agencies are very important for the sustenance of the anti-corruption war.”
He averred that such a legislation would ensure heads of anti-graft agencies do not “pander to the whims and caprices of politicians.”
In his assessment, Mr Ubani questioned the propriety of the SSS investigation of Mr Bawa when the police with their statutory mandate could have done the job.
He advocated that Mr Bawa’s rights to fair hearing must not be infringed on, saying, “I don’t believe in indefinite detention.”
A Lagos-based human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, believes Mr Bawa’s “indefinite suspension” amounts to his removal from office.
He added that “suspended indefinitely in law can be construed as removal, because if you are suspending him indefinitely, it means that the suspension can as well lapse for the duration of his tenure.”
Here is the timeline of the seven substantive and acting chairpersons that have led the EFCC since inception about 20 years ago.
Ribadu: 2003 – December 2007
Nuhu Ribadu was appointed by then President Obasanjo as the first chairperson of the EFCC in 2003. He completed his first tenure of four years in office. Before leaving office in May 2007, Mr Obasanjo reappointed Mr Ribadu for a second term in office.
But, on 27 December 2007, seven months after assuming office as president, the late Umaru Yar’Adua ordered Mr Ribadu’s suspension from office. Then-Inspector General of Police, Sunday Ehindaro, would later send Mr Ribadu on a course at Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Study (NIPSS), Kuru near Jos, Plateau State.
But things got out of hand when Mr Ribadu, who was the poster boy of Nigeria’s anti-corruption battle, was forced out of his graduation ceremony by security operatives at NIPSS.
Subsequently, he was demoted from the rank of an Assistant Inspector General of Police to that of Assistant Commissioner of Police, a rank he held in 2003 when he assumed office as EFCC boss.
In 2008, Mr Ribadu was forcefully retired from the police, and he fled Nigeria after two failed assassination attempts. The anti-corruption czar’s ouster was allegedly linked to his attempt to prosecute a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who was an ally of Mr Yar’Adua. But Mr Ibori was later jailed in London for money laundering.
At a public function in 2013, Mr Ribadu disclosed that his reinstatement into the police and reversal of his demotion was ordered by the court, contrary to speculations in 2010 that the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration pardoned him.
Lamorde: December 2007 – June 2008
Ibrahim Lamorde, who was the director of operations, took over as the acting chair of the agency from December 2007 to June 2008, when Farida Waziri was cleared by the Senate to take over as the substantive chair.
Waziri: June 2008 – November 2011
Following Mr Ribadu’s unceremoniously removal, Farida Waziri, a lawyer, was appointed the first female chairperson of the EFCC by Mr Yar’Adua. Like her predecessor, Mrs Waziri later fell out of favour with President Goodluck Jonathan who succeeded Mr Yar’Adua aftr the latter’s death in office in May 2010.
Her appointment as EFCC boss reportedly had the backing of some former governors, including Bukola Saraki of Kwara State, James Ibori of Delta State and George Akume of Benue State (who is now the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
Mr Ibori wielded enormous powers during the Yar’Adua regime, and reportedly was instrumental in Mr Ribadu’s unceremonious removal from the EFCC.
Mrs Waziri ran into troubled waters over allegations that she issued official clearance letters to two former governors who were indicted or being investigated for sleaze by Mr Ribadu. The two former governors are Mr Ibori of Delta who was later convicted for theft and money laundering in the UK, and Victor Attah, ex-Akwa-Ibom State governor, who was also wanted in the UK.
Other issues included the controversial authorisation given Victor Uwajeh, an Abuja based businessman, to act as a private investigator for the EFCC to help investigate cases of politically exposed persons (PEPs). Mr. Uwajeh, it was alleged, subsequently blackmailed several politicians and businesspeople, the EFCC had revealed.
A few months to the end of her four year-tenure marked by several corruption issues, Ms Waziri was sacked on 23 November 2011 by Mr Jonathan.
He cited “national interest” as the reason for Ms Waziri’s dismissal.
But she later countered Mr Jonathan in her book, ‘Farida Waziri: One Step Ahead.’ She said the former president fired her for probing oil-subsidy racketeers.
She had also alleged that she was victimised for refusing to contribute money for Mr Jonathan’s election in 2011.
Mr Jonathan was vice president, later acting president, and president following the death of Mr Yar’Adua.
Mr Jonathan dismissed Ms Waziri’s claims that she was removed as chairperson of EFCC because of her ”purported refusal” to probe the oil subsidy fraud.
After her ouster, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission said it was probing Mrs Waziri’s tenure. But at the end of the day, there was no tangible outcome of the investigation.
Lamorde: November 2011 – November 2015
Ibrahim Lamorde, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, replaced Ms Waziri as EFCC’s acting chairman.
The Nigerian Senate in February 2012 confirmed Mr Lamorde’s appointment.
The approval was sequel to a 12 January letter from President Jonathan requesting the parliament okay Mr Lamorde for the job in accordance with the law establishing the anti-graft agency.
In 2015, Mr Lamorde like his predecessors was bitten by a fraud allegation bug. The Senate alleged that N1 trillion ($5 5billion) in recovered loot was missing on his and his predecessors’ watch.
A Senate committee led by Peter Nwaboshi (who is now jailed for fraud) at the time alleged Mr Lamorde diverted assets and cash recovered by the anti-graft commission.
A whistleblower, George Uboh, had raised the alarm, prompting the parliament to set up an investigative panel to probe Mr Lamorde.
The controversy raged until President Muhammadu Buhari, on 9 November 2015, sacked Mr Lamorde, and replaced him with another police officer, Ibrahim Magu. Mr Lamorde’s tenure, which began from the date he was cleared by the Senate in February 2012, was meant to last till February 2016.
In February 2016, the Senate authorised its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, to issue a warrant of arrest on Mr Lamorde over the alleged heist.
But the Buhari regime did not prosecute him.
Magu: November 2015 – June 2020
Four months after taking the reins of power, Mr Buhari sacked Mr Lamorde, and replaced him with Ibrahim Magu, another cop.
The turbulence that awaited Mr Magu reared its head when the Senate under the leadership of Bukola Saraki, refused to confirm him as substantive chairman of the agency.
It based its refusal on “security reports” by law enforcement agencies in the country, particularly the State Security Service (SSS).
But Mr Magu remained in the office for five years without parliamentary approval.
Mr Magu was on a warpath with the former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
In 2020, the minister accused Mr Magu of wrongdoings ranging from “diversion of recovered loot to insubordination.” Mr Malami reportedly recommended Mr Magu’s sack to the president.
But the EFCC czar enjoyed the support of Itse Sagay, a professor of law, and chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).
Mr Sagay had dismissed the AGF’s allegations against Mr Magu, blaming the minister for being “domineering” and wanting to have the EFCC under his control.
Things got to a head on 6 July, 2020, when SSS operatives working with the police arrested Mr Magu. He was driven to the Presidential Villa where he was grilled by the Justice Ayo Salami-led investigative panel on alleged corruption against him.
Mr Magu was held overnight and on 7 July was suspended from his position as chairman of the agency pending the completion of the investigation. In his place, EFCC’s Director of Operations, Mohammed Umar, stepped in in acting capacity.
Appearing before the panel, Mr Magu responded to allegations of corruptions leveled against him by Mr Malami. Mr Magu had accused Mr Malami of working at cross-purposes with the commission in the disposal of vessels involved in illegal activities to the extent of costing the country at least N283 million in recovered assets.
Mr Magu’s response suggested that the AGF’s action was responsible for the loss of one of the vessels, which was carrying 1,459 metric tonnes (1,979,056.45 litres) of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).
Till date, the findings of the presidential panel remain shrouded in secrecy.
Public commentators argued that Mr Buhari ought to have made the Ayo Salami panel’s report public before nominating a substantive EFCC chair.
Abba: June 2020 – February 2021
Following Mr Magu’s removal, Mohammed Abba, then director of operations, took over as the EFCC acting chair on 14 June 2020. He held the position until the appointment of Mr Bawa and his subsequent clearance by the Nigerian Senate on 24 February 2021.
Bawa: February 2021 – June 2023
In a letter to the Senate, Mr Buhari urged the parliament to screen and confirm Mr Bawa as the substantive chairman of the EFCC.
Mr Bawa, a trained EFCC investigator with vast experience in the investigation and prosecution of advance fee fraud cases, official corruption, and other economic crimes, had Mr Malami’s backing for the job.
Until his appointment, he was the Lagos zonal head of the anti-graft agency.
The Ahmad Lawan-led Senate confirmed Mr Bawa’s appointment on 24 February, 2021. He thus became the first non-police officer to head the EFCC in substantive capacity.
After two years in the saddle, allegations of bribery were levelled against Mr Bawa. In one of the allegations, the immediate-past governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, accused him of demanding $ 2 million as a bribe from him.
But in May this year, the anti-graft agency denied the allegation. Instead, it revealed that Mr Matawalle was under investigation over alleged diversion of N70 billion from the Zamfara State government treasury.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, President Tinubu on 14 June, indefinitely suspended Mr Bawa from office.
In the regular pattern, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), based Mr Bawa’s suspension on “weighty allegations of abuse of office levelled against him.”
Chukkoi: June 2023 to date
Mr Bawa’s ouster paved the way for Abdulkarim Chukkol, the agency’s director of operations, to step in as acting chair.
A statement announcing Mr Chukkol’s appointment said he was the Director of Operations of the EFCC.
“A pioneer staff of the Commission and an illustrious member of the EFCC Cadet Course One, Mr. Chukkol is a consummate and vastly experienced investigator with specialty in cybercrime and money laundering,” the statement from the EFCC detailing Mr Chukkol’s profile revealed.
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