BAWA’S MANY CONTROVERSIES
•How suspended EFCC boss ran the anti-crime agency •Battle with APC chieftains
By Akani Alaka
The suspension, or if you like, the sack of Abdulrasheed Bawa, chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by President Bola Tinubu on Wednesday was expected. For one, most of Bawa’s predecessors in office from the pioneer chairman of the Commission, Nuhu Ribadu had been removed from office in similar circumstances at the inception of a new government. And just like those predecessors, Bawa has had different forms of controversies and allegations which if confirmed to be true are enough for any government to boot him out of office.
Indeed, the Presidency had indicated that Bawa was being asked to set aside “to allow for proper investigation into his conduct while in office,” in the statement issued to announce his suspension.
“This follows weighty allegations of abuse of office levelled against him. Mr. Bawa has been directed to immediately hand over the affairs of his office to the Director, Operations in the Commission, who will oversee the affairs of the Office of the Chairman of the Commission pending the conclusion of the investigation,” It was added in the statement read.
With such an allegation from the Presidency, it was not a surprise that Bawa was taken into custody by the Department of State Services, DSS, immediately after his suspension was announced.
However, details of the ‘weighty allegations’ for which the youngest person to occupy the office of EFCC chairman was removed from office and arrested by the DSS are not in the public domain at the time of writing this report.
However, many controversies have trailed Bawa since he was appointed as the chairman of the anti-graft agency in February 2021. There were even contentions about whether Bawa who was Deputy Chief Detective Superintendent, the youngest official (at 40 then) and first to be person to be appointed to head EFCC without being a high-ranking officer of the Nigeria Police Force was even qualified for the office.
Bawa was appointed after Ibrahim Magu was suspended from office in controversial circumstances. EFCC sources said he owed his appointment to former Attorney General of the Federal and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
As was gathered, Magu had transferred Bawa from the EFCC zonal office in Port Harcourt which he headed to the Commission’s training school in Abuja following his involvement in the alleged sale of vessels of stolen crude oil seized by operatives of the agency.
But it was gathered that Bawa who was angry about his transfer to the ‘dry EFCC training school’ had reached out to Malami who was determined to get Magu out of office for refusing to take orders from him in terms of whom to arrest or prosecute.
The alliance between the two resulted in the petition filed against Magu which was submitted to former President Muhammadu Buhari.
Magu was suspended from office following the setup of a committee headed by former Court of Appeal President, Ayo Salami to investigate the petition while Bawa was appointed in his stead.
While the report of the probe of Magu has not been made public, Bawa was allowed to remain in office until last Tuesday. Sources in EFCC accused Bawa of high-handedness and brashness in his management of the EFCC.
“He sacked people at will and on flimsy excuses,” a source told this newspaper. He was also accused of nepotism and sectionalism in terms of appointment and treatment of staff.
He also allegedly incurred the anger of the staff by stopping some of the allowances usually paid out to them during festivities. Thus, it was learnt that his suspension was received with celebration by the staff of the commission on Wednesday evening.
Outside of the EFCC, Bawa had been involved in battles with chieftains of the ruling APC which many had predicted would lead to his ouster from office after the election of Tinubu.
Tangles With APC Chieftains
Indeed, he had repeatedly affirmed in interviews with the media that the Commission was investigating Tinubu in the run-up to the 2023 elections.
Supporters of Tinubu had accused him then of doing the bidding of the cabal desperate to see the former Lagos governor out of the presidential race. Even more significant was his recent battles with Bello Matawalle, the former governor of Zamfara State, and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State.
The anti-graft agency had indicated that it would arrest Matawalle over an alleged N70 billion fraud after the May 29, 2023 end of his tenure in office. But the former governor had accused Bawa of demanding a $2 million bribe. The former governor said he had details of a discussion between him and Bawa to prove the bribe demand.
Bawa denied the allegation and challenged Matawalle to make the evidence he had public. However, an unconfirmed report indicated that Matawalle showed the chats between him and Bawa to the President before his suspension was announced last Wednesday.
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi has also been up in arms against Bawa over the ongoing prosecution of his wife, Rashida, cousin, Ali, and three others on an 18-count charge bordering on alleged money laundering to the tune of N3 billion.
The EFCC had arraigned the accused on the charges last December 15. But the Kogi government dismissed the charges while accusing EFCC of being a “pawn in the hands of political opponents in a bid to satisfy certain political interests.
In addition, the Kogi State Government said the arraignment was in disobedience of a court order made on 12 December 2022, barring the EFCC from arresting and detaining him.
The state government returned to court in February 2023 and successfully obtained an order directing the Inspector General of Police to arrest Bawa and remand him in Kuje prison, Abuja, for the next 14 days.
Bawa Must Go
Based on the court rulings, scores of anti-corruption civil society organisations had at a press conference in Lagos asked the then-President Muhammadu Buhari to sack Bawa, for “incessant disobedience of court orders.”
They claimed that under Bawa, EFCC had become an “institution known for brazenly disobeying court orders in such a manner that does not only undermine the institutions of Nigeria’s democracy but also indicates a contradiction to the anti-corruption agenda of Buhari.”
According to them, Bawa must be sacked for the commission to “recover its past glory.”
Analysts contended that Bawa was asked to get the EFCC off the back of the APC chieftains. How his successor treats the cases involving the ruling party members will determine how true this assertion is in the days ahead.