Two public office holders, Godwin Emefiele, and Abdulrasheed Bawa, who held sway at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as governor, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as chairman, respectively, were the first high-profile figures to be enmeshed in the web of President Bola Tinubu’s inchoate anti-corruption campaign. Their indefinite suspensions from office in June have just transmogrified into permanent exit. The circumstances under which they occurred are anything but transparent and justifiable.
Nonetheless, the country is in a democracy, whose cornerstones are constitutionalism and the rule of law. The president admitted this much during his inauguration when he said that “Nigeria will be impartially governed according to the constitution and the rule of law.” However, the travails of Emefiele since 10 June when he was arrested, and Bawa’s on 14 June, negate this position. Markedly, Tinubu’s administration has shown disdainful violations of the rule of law, disrespect of court orders and abuse of human rights, emblematised in the excesses of the State Security Service.
A news report, which quoted a CBN statement on 17 September, stated that Emefiele, who was serving his second five-year tenure, had resigned his appointment. Two days earlier, his successor, Yemi Cardoso, was announced, which provoked public concerns over the legality of such appointment, as no vacancy, strictly speaking, existed prior to this. The CBN Act clearly provides for how the president can terminate the appointment of a CBN governor. The removal is to be supported by a two-thirds majority of the Senate, as amplified in Section 11 (2) (f) of the Act. Alternatively, the president is to wait until he is convicted of a criminal offence by a court of competent jurisdiction. The third option is through the resignation of such official, which, in the present circumstance, is suspect, as no one has seen evidence that Emefiele actually resigned.
Held in SSS detention for more than four months now, Bawa also purportedly resigned his chairmanship of the EFCC. The Federal Government has not made public the resignation letters of these officers and neither have they been allowed to publicly speak on the matter. As it is, the government will be hard put to convince anyone that the two resigned of their free will.
We should make no mistake about it, PREMIUM TIMES is not speaking for Emefiele, having repeatedly called for his removal from office over gross incompetence in handling the country’s monetary policy space. However, our concern is the non-observance of due process or the legality in the manner of sending him packing. It is curious that a government which alleged a welter of evidence of his abuse of office did not activate the provision of the CBN Act that requires the Senate’s imprimatur for his removal.
From the initial charge of illegal possession of firearms, to terrorism financing, he was finally slammed with 20 counts on 16 August, along with his associates, for conspiracy and procurement fraud to the tune of N6.9 billion. The twists and turns that Emefiele’s trials have evinced so far, are blights on the respect for the rule of law credentials of this government: his bail denials, re-arrest in a Federal High Court, Abuja premises, and the open assault of prison personnel by SSS operatives, in their bid to have their way, are sore points.
The handling of Bawa’s case smacks of impunity and a return of the Gestapo tactics of the military era, which are alien to democracy. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, in Section 493, prescribes only 56 days as the cumulative lifespan of a remand Order. Bawa’s incarceration from 14 June to 23 October, without being charged, is unacceptable as it goes against the canons of democracy. Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, does not permit such executive overreach. Tinubu and the SSS should, therefore, release Bawa now, make his offence(s) public and charge him to court, if need be.
No authority is above the law in a democracy. The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation, should, without further delay, draw Tinubu’s attention to the infamy that Bawa’s case has become. The magistrate’s remand Order that empowered the SSS to detain Bawa has elapsed. As Femi Falana (SAN) observed, it “has been spent” and is now “invalid and illegal.”
It is a supreme irony that Tinubu, who often flaunts the record of being one of the Argonauts in the trenches who pushed the military back to the barracks, thus paving the way for the birth of the Fourth Republic, pivots this revolting and anti-democratic charge. Claims of Bawa’s possible financial impropriety are being whispered in official and public quarters, but if they are publicly undisclosed, they lend credence to the view of a conspiracy that Bawa is only being persecuted for the feathers he might have ruffled in the discharge of his official duties as EFCC boss.
The incarceration of anyone beyond legal limits, with no publicly known offence or charge, typifies violence to the Constitution. A former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was, therefore, right when she noted that, “Any country or government which wants to proceed towards tyranny starts to undermine legal rights and the law.”
While the circumstances of Bawa’s purported resignation remain questionable, the Senate confirmed the nomination of his successor, Olanipekun Olukoyede, last Wednesday, in what many say was in breach of Section 2(3) of the EFCC Act 2005. This stipulates that the Commission’s 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; (who) possesses not less than 15 years experience.”
Four months are enough for the government to open up on its claimed “weighty allegations of abuse of office” levelled against Bawa. His predecessors – Nuhu Ribadu, Faridah Waziri, Ibrahim Larmode and Ibrahim Magu – had faced similar wide-ranging allegations and were hounded out of office in actions that were no more than the handiwork of vested interests in the corridors of power; and powerful politically exposed persons, who were then out of office but still controlling the levers of state power.
Instructively, the rule of law is one Tinubu’s Eight Point Agenda. So far, the claim does not wash. Consequently, AGF Fagbemi has a lot of work to do: first, to rein in the SSS, then advise Tinubu aright, and push through the World Justice Project preachment that the rule of law is, “A durable system of laws, institutions, norms and community of commitment, which ensures accountability, just law, open government and accessible and impartial justice.”
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