Abuja — There was excitement at the headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja and other zonal offices nationwide yesterday as President Muhammadu Buhari broke with tradition to pick an operative, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, as the next chairman of the commission.
Buhari in a letter addressed to the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, sought legislative approval for the 40-year-old nominee from Kebbi State.
If the Senate ratifies his nomination, Bawa will succeed Mr. Ibrahim Magu, who had been acting as EFCC chairman since November 9, 2015, until his suspension on July 7, 2020.
In the letter to the Senate, the president, in a statement yesterday by his media adviser, Mr. Femi Adesina, said he was acting in accordance with Paragraph 2(3) of Part 1, CAP E1 of EFCC Act 2004.
Bawa is a trained EFCC investigator with vast experience in the investigation and prosecution of Advance Fee Fraud cases, official corruption, bank fraud, money laundering, and other economic crimes.
He has undergone specialised training in different parts of the world, and was one of the pioneer EFCC cadet officers in 2005.
Bawa holds a B.Sc. degree in Economics, and a Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy.
The nomination of Bawa is a break with the tradition of the reign of police officers as head of the anti-graft agency.
From the first chairman of the agency, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu to Mrs. Farida Waziri, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, Magu, and the present Acting Chairman, Mr. Mohammed Umar, all, except Waziri, a retired assistant inspector-general of police, are senior police officers.
A visit by THISDAY to the Jabi headquarters of the commission in Abuja showed palpable excitement amongst staff of the agency.
Most of them expressed happiness that the "long suspense" was over.
Some pointed to the age of the nominee (40 years) as an indication of a "breath of fresh air" for the agency.
"At least, the long suspense is over. We received the news this morning (yesterday) with excitement because it gives the agency a breath of fresh air.
"Everybody here is happy with the appointment of a substantive chairman for the commission," a staff, who identified himself as Gambo, said.
Another senior staff, who preferred anonymity, said: "Age is on his side and we expect that youthful flavour to drive the agency. He has a whole lot ahead of him."
Others believed that Bawa's exposure to foreign and local training would be brought to bear on his headship of the commission.
The nomination of Bawa, a certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS), ended the era of the headship of the commission by police officers.
Bawa is a product of the EFCC Academy and has worked in the agency since his graduation from the academy in 2005.
Bawa, who was also trained by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), United States Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FINCEN), the World Bank, the United Nations Office of Drug and Crimes (UNDOC), the Nigeria Police Force, the Department of State Security (DSS), the EFCC Academy and United Kingdom's Global Training Consulting is expected to deploy his knowledge to give a new bite to the anti-graft war.
His exposure to global security agencies and organisations is also expected to give credibility to the government's anti-graft war.
On the expected relationship between the EFCC and the police with regards to the deployment of police operatives to the commission, a police source told THISDAY that it would depend on Bawa's preference.
"It would be his decision. He will be the one to decide that," he said.
Bawa's academic qualifications include Bachelor of Laws (LLB), University of London-in view; Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto in 2012; and Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics (Second Class Honours, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto in 2000.
In his curriculum vitae, Bawa said he "supervised the biggest operations zonal office of the EFCC in Lagos, having 604 officers and men and securing 227 convictions despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
"He also supervised the investigation of all cases in Port Harcourt Zonal office in which an unprecedented 215 convictions were secured in eleven months and securing final forfeiture of hundreds of properties to the federal government."
Senate to Screen Nominee at Plenary
The Senate has said it will screen Bawa during plenary.
In the letter by the president, which Lawan read at yesterday's plenary, Buhari requested the Senate for expeditious consideration of the request.
According to the president, the request to screen and confirm Bawa's appointment as the substantive chairman of the commission is "in accordance with paragraph 2 subsection 2 of Part 1 CAP E1 of the EFCC Act 2004."
Lawan, after reading the letter to senators, told them that the screening of the nominee will be done in plenary for thoroughness.
"Distinguished colleagues, screening of the newly-appointed EFCC chairman will be done in plenary in line with our tradition and in particular, for the thoroughness it requires," he said.
Lawan, however, didn't specify when the screening will be done.
Southern, Middle Belt Leaders Ask Buhari to Probe Corruption Allegations against Bawa
Meanwhile, the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum (SMBLF), has called on Buhari to investigate corruption allegations levelled against Bawa.
The group, in a statement jointly signed by Mr. Yinka Odumakin (South-west), Chief Guy Ikoku (South-east), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-south), and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt), while frowning upon Bawa's nomination, said the anti-graft war had suffered so much mismanagement under the Buhari administration.
The forum lamented that despite a probe of Bawa's alleged theft of confiscated proceeds of ill-gotten loot at his previous appointment in Port Harcourt, the president still chose him as Magu's replacement.
The leaders also alleged that the investigation into Bawa's alleged corruption and a crackdown on Magu and other ex-senior officials of the EFCC were yet to be concluded when he was nominated for the top job in Lagos.
EFCC: Bawa Not Involved in Fraud
But the EFCC last night denied reports that Bawa illegally sold forfeited trucks to proxies in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The agency was reacting to a publication by an online news medium, Peoples Gazette, alleging that Bawa was arrested and detained by the agency under the former acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, over illegal sale of 244 forfeited trucks.
The report claimed that the illegal sale was uncovered by the suspended Secretary to the Commission, Mr. Ola Olukoyede, who alerted Magu, leading to Bawa's detention and subsequent redeployment to the EFCC Academy in Abuja.
But the EFCC spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, in a statement, said Bawa was never arrested or detained over the sale of any assets.
'As Zonal Head of the Port Harcourt Office of the Commission in 2019, Bawa's responsibilities did not include the sale of assets as the commission has a full-fledged Directorate of Assets Forfeiture and Recovery Management, in which remit such matters reside," said the statement titled, 'Abdulrasheed Bawa has no corruption record - EFCC.'
The anti-graft agency explained that the disposal of the forfeited trucks in the Port Harcourt Zonal Office through public auction was conducted after the exit of Bawa as the zonal head.
"It is, therefore, illogical for him to have been indicted over an auction that was not superintended by him," the commission stated.
The statement read, "The auction of trucks at the Port Harcourt Office was among the issues examined by the Justice Ayo Salami Panel, leading to the suspension of some officers of the commission.
"The commission, therefore, enjoins the public to disregard the false publication, which is believed to be sponsored by mischief-makers to impugn the integrity of the EFCC chairman-designate."