The Nigerian Senate on February 24 confirmed President Muhammadu Buhari’s appointment of Abdulrasheed Bawa as the new chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC), marking the beginning of a new era for an organisation that has gone through nearly five years of leadership uncertainties and months of a probe that smeared its integrity.
Mr Bawa, a pioneer EFCC cadet officer from Course One of 2005, rose through the ranks to head the Ibadan, Port Harcourt and Lagos zonal offices of the commission at various times.
A graduate of Economics from the Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto, and holder of a Master’s degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy from the same university, Mr Bawa has garnered vast investigation experience since joining the EFCC in 2004.
His appointment comes with historic distinctions which he is expected to leverage on in steering the organisation in the right direction.
The Kebbi State-born chair, who is the fifth person to hold the position, will be the first non-police officer, and at 40, the youngest person to head the agency since its establishment by former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration in 2003.
During his screening by the Senate, Mr Bawa told the lawmakers about his credentials and achievements in his 16 years of working at the EFCC, and promised to rebrand the commission.
He also assured the lawmakers that the EFCC under his watch would work closely with strategic partners around the world, particularly in the recovery of looted asset, and ensure more transparency and accountability in its activities.
Beyond Mr Bawa’s promises, PREMIUM TIMES has gathered the views of a cross-section of Nigerians, expressed in the media and in interviews with our reporter, about what they expect of him in his new role.
Below are 10 of the key expectations that Mr Bawa is expected to meet.
Independent working relationship with AGF, others
Of all the misgivings many Nigerians have expressed about Mr Bawa’s appointment as the new EFCC chair, none of them is as widespread and strongly held as the belief that the commission’s independence, under his watch, will be totally submitted to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
The view is rooted in the chain of events triggered by the enduring subtle hostility that existed between Mr Malami and the former acting chairman of the agency, Ibrahim Magu, which in turn led to the exit of Mr Magu and paved the way for Mr Bawa’s appointment.
The hostility between the two men reached its peak last year when Mr Malami levelled allegations of corruption and insubordination against Mr Magu, and the Ayo Salami panel was set up by the president to conduct a probe of the charges that put EFCC’s integrity to test.
The probe brought about an upheaval that sent Mr Magu and other top officials of the commission on a suspension. Mr Magu, who was appointed by Mr Buhari in acting capacity on November 9, 2015, never returned from the suspension slammed on him on July 7, 2020.
Both Mr Magu and Mr Bawa are believed to have enjoyed a good relationship up till 2019 when a crisis which ensued between them saw Mr Bawa redeployed as the head of the Port Harcourt zonal office to the EFCC training academy in Abuja, a posting many considered a punishment.
It is believed that Mr Bawa started getting closer to Mr Malami from that time up till when the probe by Mr Salami’s panel sparked by the AGF’s allegations led to Mr Magu’s sudden exit.
Many Nigerians fear that with the role Mr Malami played in Mr Magu’s exit, and in the choice of Mr Bawa to lead the EFCC, coupled with the fact that the AGF and the new chair are both from Kebbi State, the agency will likely operate as a mere appendage of the AGF office.
Interestingly, a top anti-corruption adviser of Mr Buhari, Itse Sagay, shares this fear.
Mr Sagay, who is the chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), cited Mr Malami’s alleged previous attempts to control the EFCC and interfere in the activities of anti-corruption agencies, as well as the fact that Mr Bawa shared the same state of origin with the AGF, as the basis for his fear.
In September last year, Mr Sagay, a professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, alleged that a bill which was largely credited to Mr Malami in the media, was scheming to weaken the EFCC and turn it into an annex of the AGF office.
A member of Mr Sagay-led PACAC, Femi Odekunle, a professor of criminology who died of COVID-19 complications last December, had also blamed Mr Magu’s ordeal leading to his suspension on Mr Malami.
While the Magu-Malami crisis may have its peculiar features, it fits into the same pattern of turf wars between successive EFCC chairpersons and AGFs.
Nigerians now expect Mr Bawa to walk the talk of his promise to run an independent EFCC and strike the much needed balance of ensuring a sound work relationship with the AGF office and other relevant institutions.
“I expect him to be sensitive to the unceremonious exits of his predecessors. If you look at the chairmanship of the EFCC from Ribadu to Magu, they all allowed themselves to be used at some point by the government and politicians.”
“So, if Bawa is going to succeed, he should live up to the oath of his office, he should carry out the mandate of the oath of his office dispassionately,” said Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer and anti-corruption crusader.
Impartial anti-corruption crusade
President Buhari rode to power on three key promises to address the insecurity in the country, redeem the economy and lead a never-seen-before anti-corruption war.
But almost six years down the line, President Buhari’s anti-corruption war is generally believed to be ineffective and one-sided over the years.
Many Nigerians believe that EFCC is generally by default, not inclined towards prosecuting powerful members of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) accused of infractions, but is eager to serve to be a witch-hunt tool against the opposition and critics of the current government.
For instance, PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the EFCC, in July 2019, withdrew the corruption charges against a former Gombe State governor, Danjuma Goje, who had been on trial for nearly eight years.
Mr Goje, then a senator who was aspiring to become the President of the 9th Senate, was being prosecuted by the EFCC for allegedly misappropriating N25 billion while in office as governor.
But in a dramatic twist, Mr Goje after a meeting with Mr Buhari, dumped his aspiration to become the Senate President, to support Mr Buhari’s favourite candidate for the position, Ahmad Lawan.
The subsequent withdrawal of the corruption case after it was taken over from the EFCC by the AGF’s office was generally seen as part of the deal struck at the presidential meeting.
Nigerians expect Mr Bawa to reverse public perception that powerful APC members enjoy immunity from probe and prosecution while unevenly on the hot chase of perceived enemies of Mr Buhari’s administration.
Nigerians want an anti-graft agency that is confident and non-partisan in its fight against corruption.
“The state of the fight against corruption in Nigeria requires a boost. It needs someone who can be daring and without any recourse to any political meaning or affiliation. I expect that he is impartial and good,” Samson Itodo, a lawyer and Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, said in reference to Mr Bawa’s appointment.
Respect human rights, stop parade of arrested suspects
The EFCC under its former acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, was often accused of disregard for human rights, by indulging in indiscriminate arrest of suspects and parading them publicly as criminals when they had not been convicted.
PREMIUM TIMES in January last year, reported how Nigerians on social media berated EFCC over its arrests of 89 ‘Yahoo-Boys’ in a night club in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
Only recently, the Federal High Court in Abuja also awarded a whopping N50 million damages against the commission for the indiscriminate arrest and detention of a defendant.
However, with the emergence of Mr Bawa, many Nigerians expect that the era of disregard for the rights of suspects should be done away with by the commission.
Nigerians expect Mr Bawa to live true to the provision of Section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution which stipulates that a person charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proven in a competent court.
“For me, I think it is forced imprisonment if people are invited for questioning and honour EFCC invitation, detained and then asked to produce a surety to be released on bail. I think that infringes on the right of freedom of movement,” Mr Itodo also said.
Extradition of corruption suspects at large
Another concern raised against the agency in the past is its failure to extradite corruption suspects who fled abroad to evade prosecution or stall investigation.
The most prominent person in this class of suspects is a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, who left the country for the U.K. shortly after leaving office in 2015.
Despite the criminal charges pending against her in Nigeria and series of court orders obtained by the EFCC for the forfeiture of her asset suspected to be proceeds of crime, bringing her to face trial in Nigeria has remained a mirage.
Mr Magu had accused Mr Malami, whose office is indispensable in matters of extradition, of frustrating the former minister’s extradition to Nigeria.
Incidentally, Mr Bawa has headed the investigations of Mrs Alison-Madueke and her allies since 2015 and had previously traveled to the U.K. over the matter.
Extraditing her and other suspects abroad is an area where Mr Bawa is expected to collaborate effectively with Mr Malami.
Reversing the trend of losing anti-corruption cases
Many Nigerians also expect Mr Bawa to step up the commission’s investigations to ensure water-tight cases that can earn conviction and recovery of looted asset.
Although the loss of some of the corruption cases in court by the EFCC, such as the one involving an ex-spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, are not attributable to shoddy investigations, many others such as the one involving an ex-presidential aide, Warimapo-Owei Dudafa, were dismissed by courts on grounds of insufficient evidence.
Stabilising and addressing internal lopsidedness
After his nomination as substantive chair of EFCC was twice rejected by the Senate, Mr Magu was allowed by the president to lead the organisation in acting capacity for nearly five years.
This brought about leadership uncertainties in the system with Mr Magu entangled in the politics of securing Senate confirmation, especially after the new National Assembly came on board in June 2019.
This was still the situation when the turbulence of the Salami Panel’s probe came in July 2020, causing the suspension of Mr Magu and other top officials of the agency.
The ripples of the probe have yet to disappear and Nigerians expect Mr Bawa to quickly restore stability, resolve the issues concerning the suspended officials and unify the organisation’s workforce that was divided along the line of who was for or against Mr Magu.
Nigerians also expect him to address internal lopsidedness in the agency among which is appointment of zonal heads with officials of higher grade levels made to report to them.
More accountable EFCC
A spectrum of Nigerians spoken to by our reporter also wants the EFCC under Mr Bawa to be more accountable in management of recovered asset to avert suspicion that led to the establishment of the Ayo Salami panel to probe Mr Magu and the EFCC.
Over the years, there have been public suspicions about poor management and diversion of recovered asset by the EFCC officials.
Mr Bawa is expected by Nigerians to put in place measures to address the lapses, issues of internal corruption, incompetence, and other sharp practices within EFCC that often lead to public outcry bordering on the integrity of the commission.
Interagency collaboration, asset recovery
Mr Bawa is also expected by Nigerians to collaborate effectively with other law enforcement and relevant agencies to ensure effective investigations, water-tight prosecution, and recovery of looted asset.
Recovery of asset was scaled up under the leadership of Mr Magu as acting chair. Nigerians expect Mr Bawa to do more in identifying, tracing and recovering more of the looted assets.
Making the public own the anti-corruption war
Mr Bawa has also been advised to prosecute the anti-corruption war with the support of the Nigerian public.
Instead of making the war against graft appear to the public like a fight between the elites, Nigerians expect Mr Bawa to integrate the public into the project and give them reasons to see it as something their survival depends on.
He can achieve this by running the agency transparently and professionally, not being blinded by loyalty to the ruling class, and engaging robustly with the public.
Be a hope for the youth
The emergence of the 40-year-old has been lauded by advocates of ‘youth in government’.
Mr Bawa himself admitted he would be carrying the badge of the youth in his position as the EFCC chair.
‘’I’m not unaware of the fact that my nomination caused a lot of hope for the teeming youth around the country,” he said during his senate screening.
Promising to be a good ambassador for the youth, he said, “I want to state that I will give the youth a very good representation so that at the end of the day more youth will be given huge responsibility in the country.” Mr Bawa said this last week at the Senate during his pre-confirmation screening.
It is expected that Mr Bawa will wage a successful anti-corruption war to help validate the competence of young Nigerians to hold important leadership positions.
“He represents the generation of young people who have clamoured for not just representation but an opportunity to show that we (youth) can lead.
“So, I hate to say this but the fight against corruption is now in the hands of young people and he knows that he represents that.
“He bears that burden and I do expect him to perform more than his predecessors,” Mr Itodo said.
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