The announcement by the presidency of Abdulrasheed Bawa as the chairman-designate of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) shocked many of his colleagues Tuesday.
The 40-year-old Mr Bawa will have to be screened and confirmed by the Senate before he steps into office as the substantive chairman of the commission.
At the EFCC’s Lagos office, which Mr Bawa currently heads, detectives and other officials of the commission expressed slightly divergent views on the appointment, with some expressing joy that a “workaholic” who pushed staff beyond their limits would now have his attention diverted to other places, while others expressed sadness that a reformer who “transformed” the Lagos office would now have to pay less attention to the Lagos office.
“He’s a workaholic who pushes people to work hard, sometimes too hard,” said a senior detective at the EFCC’s Lagos office, adding that “he hardly approves casual leave and has no regard for COVID-19 protocols. You just must come to the office and work.”
“Spirit (as Mr Bawa is called by his colleagues) really brought professionalism to the Lagos office,” another detective said. “He introduced biometrics to ensure entry and exit of staff can be monitored and has virtually ended the culture of people coming late or not coming to the office. He ensures he gets briefings from team leads, not zonal heads, he tries to know all his staff.”
To understand how Mr Bawa is viewed by his colleagues, PREMIUM TIMES interviewed over 10 EFCC operatives including two senior police officers working at the commission, all of whom have worked directly with Mr Bawa in Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan or Port Harcourt — the four EFCC bases that the nominee has worked from. All of them asked not to be named as they are not permitted to talk to the media.
“Actually Bawa is one of the more thoughtful officers in the EFCC, a former senior official of the EFCC said. “He is also very hard working. What I can remember is that he is one of the finest in his course set. I will say that being the first product of the EFCC academy to head the agency makes good of the promise to end the reign of police leadership.”
Our findings reveal that Mr Bawa’s colleagues see him as a young, brilliant, hardworking, and ambitious reformer who would most likely deliver if his backers in government, including Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s attorney-general, do not interfere with his job. Mr Malami engineered the exit of the former acting chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Magu, and is believed to be one of the nominee’s major backers.
Mr Malami is from the same Kebbi State as Mr Bawa, although while the attorney-general is from Birnin-Kebbi local government area of the state, the new EFCC chairman-designate hails from Jega local government. Both men are not known to have any family, business or professional relationship.
However, Mr Malami is believed to have contributed significantly to Mr Bawa’s nomination for the top EFCC job.
Abdulrasheed Bawa: Profile
Mr Bawa, 40, joined the EFCC in 2005 as one of its pioneer cadets (Course 1).
He graduated from the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics (Second Class Upper) in 2001.
Mr Bawa, who joined the EFCC as an Assistant Detective Superintendent in 2005, also holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy which he obtained from the same university in 2012.
Mr Bawa has spent all his work life at the EFCC and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of London.
He has successfully investigated and testified in the prosecution of many cases leading to convictions and recovery of looted monetary and material assets across the world.
He has been head of the EFCC team investigating Diezani Allison-Madueke from 2015 till date. His team has recovered millions of dollars worth of property in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, the United States and the United Arab Emirates. No fewer than 92 of such assets are in Nigeria.
He also supervised the investigations of Atlantic Energy Group — from 2014 to 2015 — leading to the recovery of assets in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, the United States, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, and Canada.
“Most times, when the EFCC is collaborating with the London Metropolitan Police on investigations, Bawa is usually tasked to head the team. He is that brilliant,” a detective, who worked with Mr Bawa on some of the investigations, said.
Mr Bawa, once his nomination is confirmed by the Senate, will set two records: the youngest ever EFCC chairman and the first EFCC chairperson who is not a police officer.
Among his colleagues that we spoke to, no one expressed doubt about Mr Bawa’s capacity and commitment to the commission. However, they all speculated about his relationship with Mr Malami while some described him as being “very ambitious.”
The Bawa Network and the battle with Magu
Mr Bawa has worked with all EFCC chairpersons since inception, but those close to him say he was closest to Ibrahim Lamorde, a retired deputy inspector-general of police, who headed the EFCC between November 2011 and November 2015.
When Mr Magu was appointed acting EFCC chairman in November 2015, he developed a close working relationship with Mr Bawa. Both men worked under Mr Lamorde and under Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the agency.
“They knew each other very well. In fact, Bawa was the first among his course mates that Magu appointed head of zonal office,” a senior official who worked with both Messrs Magu and Bawa said, referring to when Mr Bawa was appointed the head of the Ibadan zonal office in June 2018.
Their good working relationship continued when Mr Bawa was moved from the Ibadan zonal office to Port Harcourt zonal office in January 2019. It was from there that their relationship went south, those familiar with the matter said.
Recent media reports said Mr Magu had in the past ordered Mr Bawa arrested and detained for alleged theft of some confiscated petro-laden fuel tankers. But PREMIUM TIMES has since determined that report to be inaccurate.
The truth of the matter, our findings show, is that sometime in 2019, the Port Harcourt Zonal Office of the commission, then headed by Mr Bawa, identified 244 trucks alleged to have illegally dealt in petroleum products and whose owners could not be traced. It wanted the trucks permanently forfeited to the federal government and obtained Mr Magu’s approval to proceed.
On May 31, 2019, Justice Isaq Sani of the Federal High Court gave an order of interim forfeiture of the trucks. In compliance with that order, the EFCC publicised details of the trucks in The Nation newspaper’s edition of June 21, 2019. The court granted a final forfeiture order on July 5, 2019.
However, as a result of the publication in the newspaper, owners of 45 of the trucks emerged, saying their drivers acted without their consent. The commission’s legal department then advised Mr Bawa that it would be illegal to auction the trucks whose drivers confessed to having acted alone.
The legal department quoted Section 25 (iii) of the EFCC Establishment Act to back its advisory. That section states, “No means of conveyance shall be forfeited under this section to the of an interest of an owner, by reason of any act established by that owner to have been committed without the knowledge, consent or willful connivance of that owner.”
The legal department also advised that rather than allow the 45 truck owners who showed up to challenge the final forfeiture order granted by the court, the commission should release their trucks to them and prosecute their drivers.
Based on that advice, Mr Bawa’s zone released the 26 of the trucks to their owners on bond. Also around that time, it was found that due to duplication and serial numbering problem, there were actually 235 trucks instead of the 244 Mr Magu earlier reported to the presidency via a July 29, 2019 letter.
When Mr Magu became aware that the 26 trucks had been released based on the EFCC law and the commission’s legal department’s advice, he became angry that there were now fewer trucks than he had reported to the presidency. He directed Mr Bawa to give him a formal report on the matter.
Those familiar with the matter said in his report, Mr Bawa took “absolute responsibility” for his zone’s action, saying all the 26 trucks/vehicles were released on bond and could be recovered.
“It was eventually determined that no truck was missing and that Mr Bawa and his colleagues at the Port Harcourt zone did not engage in any underhand dealings,” an EFCC insider said.
Mr Magu later redeployed Mr Bawa from Port Harcourt and transferred him to the EFCC training academy in Abuja, a posting many considered a punishment.
Three of our sources, two of whom are close to Mr Bawa, say it was from that point that Mr Bawa started getting closer to Mr Malami.
Mr Magu has yet to speak on Mr Bawa’s nomination, but one of his lawyers raised an eyebrow with the appointment, saying Mr Magu has not been treated fairly as he was controversially removed without being indicted of any offence while his reputation was smeared.
Since presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina, announced Mr Bawa’s appointment as EFCC chairman on Tuesday, there have been widespread reports that the attorney-general played a role in the appointment, although no concrete evidence has been adduced for the speculations.
The next stage is for the Senate to review Mr Bawa’s appointment for possible confirmation. With the Senate dominated by President Muhammadu’s Buhari’s loyalists, the lawmakers are expected to confirm the nominee.
However, some EFCC officials said they would be looking forward to seeing how Mr Bawa would guard the independence of the EFCC from Mr Malami’s influence.
“We are happy,” one operative said. “At least Bawa is one of us, not a police officer. As for Malami, we will be watching.”
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