President Muhammadu Buhari's appointment of Abdulrasheed Bawa as substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is throwing up dust.
Bawa, 40, was on Tuesday named to head the anti-corruption agency by the President seven months after the suspension of the former acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu.
But immediately after the appointment, several allegations of infraction have surfaced against the nominee, whose name has been forwarded to the Senate for confirmation.
Allegations of oil trucks sale
There have been allegations, during forfeiture proceedings in court, of the auctioning of 244 trucks, being proceeds of corruption worth N20 to 30 million, while Bawa was zonal head in Port Harcourt.
Impeccable sources told Daily Trust that Bawa was removed as EFCC's zonal head in Port Harcourt by the Ibrahim Magu leadership of the commission following controversy around the trucks recovered by the zone.
However, a source said on Tuesday that Bawa was not indicted of misconduct as no truck that was sold or diverted by him.
The source attributed that development to "administrative lapse created by communication gap for which Bawa was unfairly transferred out on a punitive posting to Karu.
"He was actually sent out for respecting court orders."
In December 2019, Bawa was transferred to head the Capacity Development Division of the EFCC Academy in Karu from his post as head of Port Harcourt zone.
Two sources privy to what transpired then, separately told Daily Trust that Bawa was punished for releasing some tankers to their owners as directed by the courts.
Also, multiple sources at the commission said Bawa was never detained at any time.
"Bawa was close to Magu, just like he was to Lamorde. They all utilised him very well for his proficiency.
"In fact, it was a shock that Magu even removed him. Many of us couldn't believe it, looking at their closeness," a senior EFCC officer said.
Why Abdulrasheed Bawa?
President Buhari, in a letter to President of the Senate Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, said he was acting in accordance with Paragraph 2(3) of Part1, CAP E1 of EFCC Act, 2004.
A presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, in a statement issued on Tuesday, said Bawa was 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.
Adesina said the nominee had undergone several specialized training in different parts of the world and was one of the pioneer EFCC Cadet Officers in 2005.
He said Bawa held a B.Sc. degree in Economics, and a Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy.
The EFCC chairman-designate hails from Jega Local Government Area of Kebbi State.
EFCC's top vacancy
On November 20, 2020, the retired Justice Ayo Salami-led Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations against Magu recommended that in appointing a new chairman of the EFCC, consideration should be given to candidates from other law enforcement or security agencies and core staff as provided for in the EFCC Establishment Act of 2004.
The Salami panel revealed the recommendation while submitting the report of the team on the investigation of Magu at State House, Abuja.
The retired Justice of the Court of Appeal noted that the four chairmen of EFCC since inception were from the police.
"Your Excellency, our thinking here is that whoever you are appointing other than a core EFCC staff, should be in transitional capacity of two years during which period, arrangement would be made for appointment of any of the core staff who has been commended by the National Crime Agency, UK and other international law enforcement for their professionalism," Justice Salami had said.
He said Magu and 113 witnesses appeared and testified before the commission, adding that 46 petitions and memoranda were presented by individuals and organisations with complaints against the suspended acting EFCC chairman.
President Buhari had constituted the panel led by the former President of the Court of Appeal in July last year to probe various allegations levelled against Magu, following petitions by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
Malami's memo allegedly accused Magu of diversion of recovered loot.
The memo contained 22 allegations against the former EFCC acting chairman.
Magu was suspended during the course of the probe and the agency's Director of Operations, Mohammed Umar, was appointed to oversee the activities of the commission pending the conclusion of the investigation.
'Magu's issue not resolved'
Lawyers to Magu, Wahab Shittu Esq and Tosin Ojaomo Esq have expressed disappointment over the treatment of the former EFCC czar, arguing that the matter was not resolved before the new appointment was made.
Although the lawyers admitted that the appointment is the prerogative of Mr President, there were still some concerns.
"The fact still remains that the issue of Magu has not been completely disposed of. Don't forget that it is not just Magu alone, there were other people who were suspended from the commission. The issue ought to have been laid to rest before a new appointment is made," Ojaomo said.
He said with all the issues of injustice on ground, the morale of the officers and the person being put at the helm will be affected.
'Let Senate decide'
Reacting, Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) said the EFCC Act prescribes that the chairman must be a serving member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank or Assistant Commissioner of Police or equivalent.
"The law is very clear and unequivocal. Our country is immensely blessed in terms of the abundance of human resources. On the strength of these, it should not be difficult to have the office legitimately and legally filled by someone with the requisite criteria. Of course, if the gentleman nominee is qualified for the office, good luck to him as there should be nothing to stop him from being confirmed by the Senate," he said.
On his part, Ahmed Raji (SAN) said any complaint or observation about the nomination of Bawa as EFCC chairman can only be handled by the Senate which now has the role to vet the appointment.
Calls for investigation
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders' Forum (SMBLF) on Tuesday queried the nomination of Mr Bawa as new EFCC chairman.
The forum called on President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate and clear the air on the allegation of corruption against the new EFCC chairman nominee.
The forum made this position known in a statement jointly endorsed by spokesmen of the group, Yinka Odumakin (South West), Chief Guy Ikokwu (South East), Senator Bassey Henshaw (South-South) and Dr. Isuwa Dogo (Middle Belt).
"The anti-graft war has suffered so much damage of mismanagement under this regime and this may be the last straw to break the back of its camel," they said.
The Southern, Middle Belt leaders said the president, despite proclaiming anti-corruption as one of its cardinal programmes, the administration had been tainted with several corruption cases.
"But walking the talk has been a challenge for the president as his first nominee, Ibrahim Magu, remained unconfirmed in almost five years because of the damming report of the DSS on him which showed he is a man that should be running from anti-graft instead of looters running for him.
"As they are managing to clean up the Magu mess, he has put forward Mr Abdulraheed Bawa as a replacement.
"But facts coming out about his latest nominee show that the whole anti-corruption war is a joke that can only impress the unwary."
When contacted, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said as with every agency, it is expected that the president's nominee, Mr. Bawa who is the first to be nominated from within the commission will better understand the challenges of the commission having risen through the ranks.
According to him, if he is confirmed by the Senate, that is what Nigerians and international partners will be expecting from him and that he hoped he lives up to the expectation.
On his part, the Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, said the nomination was a good development that a substantive head has been appointed for the EFCC.
"So, for the new person appointed, he will do well to explore ways of deepening the fight against corruption by making it a collective responsibility. One of the issues used as a pretext to harass Magu was the use of recovered assets. Is there a transparent and accountable mechanism for the management of recovered assets now? These are the difficult questions that the new man will have to confront," Zikirullahi said.
Also, National Coordinator of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, expressed shock that President Muhammadu Buhari has not told Nigerians the current status of the suspended acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, for many months.
On the newly appointed substantive chairman of EFCC, Onwubiko charged the National Assembly not to act like presidential puppets but conduct extensive investigations on the background of the nominee so that the nation would not be subjected to the public odium associated with the monumental fall from grace to grass that engineered the removal of Ibrahim Magu by the government.
Challenges before EFCC chair-nominee
Few hours after the announcement of Abdulrasheed Bawa, a Deputy Chief Detective Superintendent, as the nominee for the position of chairman of Nigeria's anti-graft agency, mixed reactions have continued to trail his nomination.
A retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, who does not want his name in print said, "I think the affiliation of the nominee with Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, if confirmed by the lawmakers will surely affect his delivery.
"I'm not saying he does not have the capacity to deliver but he wouldn't want to bite the finger that fed him. It is in the public domain already that Malami nominated him to become the EFCC boss."
Another security expert, Hassan Jubril, noted that it would be good for Bawa's reputation if he defies all odds to prosecute to logical conclusions, all politicians on trial.
"I know there are enormous challenges if he is finally confirmed by the Senate. One of it is rejigging the system in the commission," he said.
Speaking on whether his appointment would affect his mates at the commission, Jubril said the president has the prerogative of nominating anyone for appointment.