The nominee for the position of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, is going through his Senate confirmation as you read this. Barring any unforeseen events, he is likely to be confirmed. On paper, the appointment is a run-of-the-mill type; a youthful insider with eye-catching academic credentials and numerous overseas training accolades under his belt. Lest I forget, he also hails from the northern part of Nigeria as were all his predecessors in that post.
Other than that, Bawa will assume office with no significant public profile to speak of; no reputation, weight, or capital outside the confines of the EFCC’s bureaucratic hierarchy. Just a diligent officer, who rose through the ranks without making enemies. By consequence, I fear, the organisation is compounding its problem by this utterly uninspiring appointment. After struggling to find the right media angle to anchor the announcement of its new Chairman, the best the EFCC came up with was to deny news report of Bawa’s implication in an earlier scam; “Abdulrasheed Bawa has no corruption record”. Other media spins harped on his economics degree and “various training around the world”, and, of course, at 40, his “youth”. Let us remember, Yakubu Gowon became head of state of Nigeria aged 32, in 1966. Olusegun Obasanjo was 41 when he became the military head of state in 1976. Even the current President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was only 42 when he took over as head of state in the 1983 coup against the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari. We revere old age in Nigeria, where the average age of federal cabinet ministerial appointment is 60. But, let us not swap our reverence for the old for worship of the youth. Let us focus on ability, competence and vision.
That said, many people may well argue that a quiet unassuming gentleman is precisely what the EFCC needs at this point in time; a diligent ‘technocrat’, who would simply get on with the job of catching and prosecuting financial crimes in high places. Someone who would not talk much, but whose work will speak loudly for him. The spin doctors and the ‘crack team’ of investigators around him will soon engineer some high profile arrests to be paraded on live TV in order to burnish his image as a no-nonsense action man. This may briefly work in Bawa’s favour, but it is not going to advance the cause of the organisation. It must be assumed that President Buhari acted on sound advice, having done due diligence. The shortcoming in this appointment must, therefore, be owned by the entire Presidency but, ultimately, the buck stops with Mr. President himself.
The EFCC is a unique organisation unlike any other. It is not such an organisation where succession plan works. It is not such an organisation where all one has to do to make it to the top is bid one’s time, and simply snake one’s way through the ranks. It is not such an organisation where leaving no marks, no traces and no controversies should be enough to propel someone to the summit of the organisation. The EFCC’s natural currency is reputation. Whoever is chosen to be its leader must, ipso-facto, carries a weighty reputation. Chairman of the EFCC must be either a person already sufficiently known to the public, or someone towards whom the public can immediately gravitate. The person must be such that gives “Politically Exposed Persons” cold sweat and sleepless nights; a person who, himself, has so much to lose and very little to gain personally.
The career of the EFCC boss and the progress of the organisation must necessarily be joined at the hips. Failure is not an option for neither.
It is difficult to imagine Bawa’s appointment unsettling any pilfering official in government. On the contrary, his appointment is more likely to be greeted with a huge sigh of relief by financial crime and influence peddlers in the corridors of power and in the dark alleys of shady dealers and quick fixers. The main reason for this inadequacy of personnel is structural. As things stand, the Chairman of the EFCC, by law, can only emerge from the ranks of the Nigeria Police and other security forces. The hand of Mr. President is effectively tied. It is a wholly inadequate and narrow resource. It totally discounts the pool of ready-made talents in the wider society. I have never understood why the EFCC Act was so badly drafted as to preclude the appointment of its leader from civilian life. After all, the job is not, strictly speaking, policing or law enforcement; it is standing as the face of the nation’s collective endeavour against high-level corruption. The EFCC as an organisation is nothing if not a crusade. Its leader stands as an emblem of probity and forthrightness. Recall that this column argued last year for a change in the law to allow for a civilian head of the EFCC: “The business of fraud, money laundering and financial crime is not squarely a policing affair. Crucially, what is needed at the top of such a high profile body is an individual with judgement and character. An individual who not only enjoys public confidence, but who also has the moral strength to bring to bear upon the work of the organisation” (See, “EFCC: Time for a civilian head”, The PUNCH, July 14, 2020). Anyone arguing?
Before we get dragged into an argument, let us remember that Nigeria’s security forces have elected (through the 1999 Constitution) to operate outside civilian authority. Each unit liaises directly with Mr. President, with no ministerial filter. This is despite the fact that confidence in them remains at rock bottom. Less than 10% of the population has confidence in the security forces. The #EndSARS protest and people’s daily encounter with police, custom, the EFCC ‘operatives’ and the likes, on Nigerian roads tell you all you need to know about why the public holds them in such low esteem. Chairman of the EFCC is seen as just another security officer purportedly fighting crime, sometimes, in a brazen selective fashion. Every single one of the past EFCC chairmen had been relieved of their duties ignominiously. None has departed without standing accused of one type of misdemeanour or another. Yet, the system insists on internal succession, doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome. Albert Einstein tells us that is the definition of madness.
The “Salami panel” established to investigate the former EFCC acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, submitted its report to the Presidency a couple of months ago (November 2020). It was reported in the media that the panel had recommended a change in the selection process to widen the field beyond the police hierarchy. This obviously shows the panel’s sensitivity to the public’s disquiet over the question of the EFCC leadership, noted on this page in July 2020, highlighted above. The panel’s recommendation is welcome, but it falls short of what is ultimately required: a change in the law to give room for future civilian appointments.
Besides, why has the Buhari regime swept the report under the carpet anyway? And, why has there been little or no pressure on the regime to publish its findings and recommendations? It is clear as daylight that the EFCC needs resuscitation as its oxygen has long been switched off by an internal combustion of its own making. In that light, Bawa has his work cut out for him. He will no doubt throw his lot behind the efforts to catch and convict high-level financial crimes, but he is a man who will be punching well above his weight. He runs the risk of being the most inconsequential chairman ever. Let him prove us wrong.