By Philip Agbese
The forty-one-year-old, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, executive chairman of Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is widely known as crack detective in frauds and economic crimes. For a span of over 15 years in the EFCC, Bawa has dispensed himself as an iconic and phantastic discreet investigator in financial crimes detection and prosecution of suspects in Nigeria.
Strictly, a product of EFCC’s training, I was not surprised when President Muhammadu Buhari nominated him for the commission’s chair and the Nigerian Senate wasted no time in confirming him the agency’s boss on February 24, 2021. I always preach the values of commitment and hard work because it pays unexpectedly. Bawa is my latest idol in this regard.
Bawa came into public service at a tender age, very determined to serve his country diligently and honestly. From the outset, Bawa aspired to assist his fatherland unravel complex mysteries of covert economic crimes, which have tethered Nigeria’s development. So, after his engagement by the EFCC as a Private Investigator, he averred himself for training at the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the United States Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FINCEN), and United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC).
EFFC and its internal operations are very familiar to this financial crime fighter because he was among the foundation staff of the commission. Abdulrasheed Bawa was deployed to the EFCC as an Assistant Detective Superintendent (ADS) in 2004. I am impressed at his career progression; but I also know, it was not dashed to him on a platter of gold. He has earned my admiration because his elevation in the commission delivers a thoughtful lesson of reward in hard work and patriotism.
Before becoming the first non-police officer to head the EFCC, Bawa handled very dangerous and sensitive aspects of financial crimes investigations, but proved his mettle as a patriotic Nigerian public servant. He headed various EFCC Zonal offices, including Lagos and Port Harcourt. And the EFCC boss’s service in the anti-graft agency bears imprints of conclusive investigations and prosecution of high-profile cases of advance fee fraud, official corruption, bank frauds, and money laundering. But he refused to be compromised. These are impeccable credentials any Nigerian can proudly flaunt anywhere.
I have come to appreciate him the more because at every instance, Abdulrasheed Bawa neither disappoints his bosses nor Nigerians. But I know, fighting corruption in Nigeria is a difficult mandate to execute. Like Kenya’s anti-corruption evangelist, Professor PLO Lumumba often exclaim; fighting corruption is not a battle for the fainted-hearted. Nevertheless, in spite of the enormity of the task, Bawa’s youthfulness has not distracted his focus. His age notwithstanding, Bawa is equally a lion in the jungle in the face of looters and economic crimes offenders.
It was our own Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who once proclaimed, that everywhere corruption is fought, it fights back. We cannot deny that Nigeria is a cesspool of corruption. It is endemic and oddly dignified by some elites. Therefore, I am not appalled at the injurious darts hurled at Bawa at any time by his adversaries who work day and night to make him step on the axiomatic banana peels.
These enemies of Nigeria have plotted everything and anything to discredit Bawa’s personality and tarnish the image of the EFCC to make it impotent in the face of conspiratorial gangs of financial/economic crimes offenders. I expected that the siege on the Maitama, Abuja residence of a Supreme Court Judge, Justice Mrs. Mary Odili by security operatives would be dubiously and maliciously linked to the EFCC. I guessed accurately.
Trust Nigerians! We are good rubble rousers. We blamed Bawa and the EFCC for all the wrong reasons, but later evidence discountenanced the alarms as false. Truly, I was stunned at the level the incident was magnified and fresh windows of bile criticisms of Bawa generated. We delight in crucifying the innocent in favour of the guilty.
Unfortunately, the EFCC was persecuted over an act it never contemplated. Fables were crafted and narratives embellished which resisted every logic, but were spewed against the EFCC boss. Therefore, state governors, national parliamentarians, the NBA, rights activists, PDP, the main opposition political party, among others, rose in vociferous condemnations of the siege on the house of Justice Mrs. Mary Odili. It implies that Bawa was the target of some influential power brokers who are desperately searching for a space to cage him.
Justice Mrs. Mary Odili had no pending issues with EFCC. But in Nigeria, I know that most times, my compatriots’ mouth before cogitation. Certainly, ex-Rivers state governor, Dr. Peter Odili, Justice Mary Odili ‘s husband has his own altercations and nightmares with security agencies over his travelling documents.
And the security siege on the house of the Odilis was sprouted by a whistleblower, one Aliyu Umar who allegedly observed illegal activities at # 9, Imo Street, Maitama, Abuja, home of the Supreme Court Justice. Umar’s allegation compelled the Joint Panel Recovery unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice, to secure a search warrant from a Magistrate Court, leading to the security siege on the house of the Odilis. Till now, I cannot discern the nexus of the EFCC with the operation.
From the narratives I stitched together, it is obvious that the Supreme Court Justice Mary Odili was not the target, but had to bear the heat by virtue of matrimonial and residential association with her husband, Sir Peter Odili. Sadly, in Nigeria, we have placed some people above the law. We see them as demigods and untouchables, but offer others as sacrificial lambs. It’s our peculiar character as a people.
However, in the same African continent, former South African President, Jacob Zuma is now serving a jail term over contempt of court. It is the expression of the supremacy of the law. But perception of citizens in my country, Nigeria is different. And the most offending aspect of the incident was the attempt to falsely link Bawa to the raid or siege on the Odilis or whatever perceived wrong in the security operation.
These are far- rooted plots to intimidate Bawa and make him shirk from performing his duties, manifest in the conspiracy theories. It is meant to set him against the Judiciary, whose cooperation he needs to excel on the job. It’s a scare trick and I imagine the effect on the image of Nigeria in the international community, to read screaming headlines like “EFC C boss raids residence of a Supreme Court judge in Nigeria.”
Pleasantly, the incident has intensified my passion for a patriotic and loyal Bawa, who has remained unbowed despite glaring intimidations. Bawa is not just a youth, but an exceptional administrator and leader. His records of service yawningly attest to it. He is the constituency of Nigerian youths and we shall spare no weapon on his detractors or adversaries. Those wishing to drag his name in the mud should think twice.
Conspicuously, the EFCC boss is determined to discharge this presidential assignment with all decency and in conformity with the provisions of the law. In less than a year on the saddle, Bawa’s reforms and innovations have catapulted the anti-graft agency to a globally recognized financial crimes fighting commission. So, the enemies are trying to gag him, by attacking his credibility.
Observably, I see a confounding capacity of Bawa on the job, who amazes to a level one finds it difficult to blend his performance with his age. But he is a warehouse of experience in financial crimes fighting and no matter the complexity of the web of frauds, Bawa unties the knot. He is reorganizing the EFCC into a super anti-graft fighting agency of world class status. He is activating and operationalizing all the internal administrative structures/units of the EFCC as stipulated by law to streamline operations.
Bawa has purged the agency of attache staff who were famed for stalling case files of suspected looters and fraudsters. And the positive results are visible. In barely nine months of the year, Bawa’s leadership of the EFCC has secured a record 978 convictions, recovered properties from illicit wealth and billions of naira from the convicts in local and foreign currencies. The EFCC has also arrested over 1, 500 internet fraudsters who are being prosecuted.
Truth be told that such milestones are only possible because of the cooperation of the Judiciary and he cannot turn around to embarrass the same institution for no justifiable cause. I am optimistic that the anti-graft agency under Bawa’s watch cannot condescend to such levels of absurdity, infamy and brazen acts of glaring assault on the sanctity of our laws by invading the house of any Nigerian without due process.
I am one Nigerian who believes in Patriot Bawa and his leadership of the EFCC. Those who have devised ambush tactics to scare him have made the wrong calculations. Bawa may be young, with a tiny stature, but inside the small body-frame is encased a strong-walled heart. We are familiar with these strategies often adopted by Nigerians to frustrate or distract every determined public servant. We are ready to tackle them.
Agbese is an international human rights activist and public affairs commentator.