By Etim Etim
The appointment of a new chairman for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) last week by President Muhammadu Buhari should bring the drift and commotion within the anti-graft Commission to an end and reposition it to perform its core functions more effectively.
Although the Commission has been fairly successful in its core mandate of fighting corruption, it has also been in the news for the wrong reasons bordering on mismanagement of its resources, poor accountability and political interference in its affairs.
There is so much to do for Abdulrasheed Bawa, the youthful new chairman selected from the rank of the Commission’s Course One Cadets to reset the EFCC on a trajectory of professionalism, independence and service.
The war against corruption must now be strengthened and refocused. The people who stole from the country should never be allowed a moment of peace.
Mr. Bawa is the first non-policeman to head the agency, breaking from a 16-year tradition during which five police officers had run the place and left in varying controversial circumstances.
So far, Bawa’s appointment has been received with some appreciable level of excitement by the about 3,500 staffers of the Commission, of which about 1,000 are police officers. Nigerians are largely struck by his youthfulness and his accomplishments as an investigator who came well-recommended for the job.
There have been many insinuations in the social media about his connection with Abubakar Malami, the nation’s attorney general and Minister of Justice, and the fact that both are from the same state of Kebbi.
For me, that is of no consequence. The important thing is that the new chairman will be assessed based on his ability to act independently and professionally in the service of the nation.
Before this elevation, he was the first Head of Ibadan Zonal Office, after which he headed the Port Harcourt and Lagos zonal offices, supervising the biggest operations zonal office of the EFCC in Lagos with 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 Final Forfeiture of hundreds of properties were secured to the Federal Government.
Bawa also supervised the investigation of all cases in the Ibadan Zonal office in which 113 were concluded and 54 were charged to court within six months.
Nigerians will remember Bawa for his crusading zeal in the investigation of former Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, from 2015 till this day.
Millions of dollars worth of property in Nigeria, UK, USA, and UAE, including 92 properties in Nigeria alone were recovered from the former minister.
In the investigations into the activities of Atlantic Energy Group between 2014 and 2015, millions of dollars worth of property in Nigeria, UK, USA, Switzerland, UAE and Canada were also recovered to the federal government.
Bawa was also commended for his leading roles in this probe, just as he also led the team that probed the fraudulent crude oil swaps during the Allison-Madueke era; Petroleum Subsidy Fraud of 2012 to 2015 during which he identified fraud of about N70billion, recovered billions of Naira and prosecuted several companies that were involved.
In terms of technical competences, Bawa’s resume is impressive. He is a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE); Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) who has undergone training at various institutions, including 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, The Nigeria Police Force; The Nigeria State Security Services; The EFCC Academy and United Kingdom’s Global Training Consulting.
But in his new role as chairman, Bawa will rely more on his leadership skills than his technical prowess in managing the various issues, interests and stakeholders of the commission.
Top on his agenda will be the various reputational issues that have plagued the Commission, especially in the last five years or so.
Bawa will have to deal with the various cases of conflicts of interest among staffs, the questionable character of some operatives and the political interferences from the politicians.
He should not yield himself as an instrument of witch-hunt, and at the same time, nobody should be too big to be investigated.
Nigerians are well aware of the cat-and-mouse relationship between the former EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, and the nation’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
Bawa cannot afford to make himself available to be used by the Minister or even the President. Thank God, President Buhari has never been known for political vindictiveness or vengeance.
To fully insulate the Commission from political interferences, the National Assembly should amend Section 3(2) of the EFCC Act 2004, which empowers the President to remove the Chairman from office for whatever reasons.
Of all the five persons who have led the Commission since inception (Ribadu, Farida, Lamorde, Magu and Umar), none has completed a full four-year as a substantive Chairman.
Such frequent changes at the top hierarchy of the Commission creates institutional weakness, and compels the incumbent to seek to be subservient to the political authority, instead of being only loyal to the Constitution.
Like the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Offences Commission (ICPC), the EFCC Chairman should be tenured for a fixed term of four or five years, and his removal from office should only be effected through the endorsement of the National Assembly.
This will discourage the incumbent from seeking to please the Minister or President at the expense of doing his job independently.
It is such independence and institutional stability that shields the FBI Director from political manipulation in the US, although the director reports to the US Attorney General as well.
As he prepares to face the Senators for his confirmation hearing, the new chairman should also be prepared to work on lifting the sagged staff morale and improving the overall staff welfare.
Delayed promotion, non-payment of severance package and debilitating work culture should be addressed. He should see all staff as stakeholders in the war against corruption and be ready to build a highly motivated and effective team.
Despite its many leadership headaches, the EFCC has been one of the most successful agencies created during this democratic dispensation.
The relentless pursuit of corrupt politicians, the many recoveries of stolen assets and convictions of tainted government officials and their allies have made the Commission one of the most feared, admired and respected institutions in the country.
Nigerians must not be disappointed. Mr Bawa also carries a different kind of burden. For a long-time Nigerians have been talking of the need for a generational shift of responsibility to younger citizens. This appointment is in a way a fulfillment of those yearnings. Bawa must work hard to justify this confidence by improving on the successes of his predecessors.
Mr Etim, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.