Since the controversial Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, has been detained, the anti-graft agency has been unusually quiet, especially in light of the unfulfilled threat to detain some of the recently-ex-governors and prevent the corrupt among them from traveling. DIRISU YAKUBU examines this development and explains why the President Bola Tinubu-led government must restore Nigerians’ faith that he will fight corruption.
Despite the controversy surrounding his election in February of this year, many Nigerians felt that President Bola Tinubu got off to an impressive start. For a large portion of Tinubu’s supporters, he is the person destined to succeed Muhammadu Buhari and lead Nigeria to a more promising future.
His election is viewed by his supporters as a great chance for the country to experience a fresh start across all sectors, including a comprehensive fight against corruption, which has been identified as a major hindrance to the country’s development given his background as a democracy enthusiast who, alongside other notable Nigerians, fought to return the country to democracy. He is expected to support a paradigm shift in the development of the country because he has stated that becoming president is his life’s ambition.
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For many people, it’s interesting that Tinubu’s eight-point agenda, which includes “food security, poverty eradication, economic growth, job creation, access to capital, improving security of life and property, rule of law and fight against corruption,” captures what the country needs right now. They argued that these areas are essential for a country that wants to finally realize its full potential as the real giant of Africa and a player on the world stage in good governance.
After only a few weeks in office, the president ordered the suspension of Godwin Emefiele as governor of the central bank and Abdulrasheed Bawa as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. This indicated that the president was no longer taking a merely passive approach to the fight against corruption. It’s interesting to note that the two men have been in the care of the Department of State Services rather than the EFCC, which is responsible for investigating economic crimes.
When the EFCC warned in a memo that some of the departing governors, starting with Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, were on the commission’s radar for conduct related to corruption in May 2023, it showed that it was prepared to address corruption at the subnational levels.
The current Minister of State for Defence, Matawalle, had demanded Bawa’s resignation and claimed that the EFCC had made a financial demand on him.
In an effort to overcome the obvious knowledge gap and inertia displayed by the EFCC chair, the former governor had argued that “the probe should be all-encompassing and cover all officers.” I demand that the EFCC chair extend comparable invitations to officials in the Federal Executive Council and the Presidency, which is the nation’s highest governing body.
The anti-graft agency stated in response to the claim that “the real issue with Matawalle is that he is being investigated by the EFCC over allegations of monumental corruption, award of phantom contracts, and diversion of over N70bn” during a press conference addressed by its Director, Media and Public Affairs, Osita Nwajah.
“The governor is accused of diverting the funds obtained as a loan from an old generation bank intended for the execution of projects across the local government areas of the state through proxies and contractors who received payment for contracts that were not carried out.
“According to the investigation conducted by the commission so far, more than 100 businesses received payments from the funds despite there being no proof that they provided any services to the state. Startling revelations about how the governor allegedly forced some of the contractors who had been invited and interrogated by the commission to return the money they had allegedly received from the state coffers back to him through his aides were made.
The director further claimed that the contractors admitted they did not perform any services for Zamfara State, but rather that they were given instructions to exchange the money they were paid for US dollars and return it to the governor of the state via some of his commissioners, particularly the commissioners in charge of finances and local government affairs.
“One of the contractors, a well-known Abuja real estate developer, amassed N6 billion on a N10 billion contract without providing any goods or services to Zamfara State. A different contractor earned over N3 billion from a deal to supply medical equipment, but the commission was able to track N400 million from his account to a Bureau de Change operator. According to Nwajah, the contractor admitted that the money was used to buy the equivalent in dollars for the state governor.
The EFCC asserts that Matawalle’s allegations “ought not to be dignified with a response.” In this situation, corruption is merely fighting back. As a result of the stress of the EFCC’s legal activities, Matawalle’s outburst was the result of paranoia.
However, a measured response has become necessary to expose Matawalle’s outburst for what it is—a hollow gambit to divert attention away from the real problem—for the sake of some credulous citizens who might be swayed by the governor’s sudden burst of crusading zest.
“The problem is unrelated to the EFCC’s asset recovery and disposal process’ transparency. In direct opposition to Matawalle’s assertions, the commission oversaw an asset disposal process that was widely hailed as the most transparent in the nation’s history. The proceeds from the open and transparent exercise have since been transferred to the Federal Government’s coffers and are being used to build infrastructure for Nigerians.
Additionally, a plea agreement is not at issue. It is hypocritical of Matawalle to criticize a process from which he has benefited. Plea bargaining is a legal practice, and the commission has never violated the law in implementing this principle. Matawalle is free to disclose any evidence of abuse of the plea agreement process if he has it.
A month later, in an unexpected turn, the hunter was the one who was hurt.
The President suspended Bawa after he promised to charge Matawalle after he resigned as governor.
Willie Bassey, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation’s Director of Information, noted that the action was taken to ensure that the investigation into Bawa’s activities while in office would be completed.
“This comes in response to serious allegations of abuse of office made against him. The Director of Operations in the Commission, who will manage the affairs of the Office of the Chairman of the Commission until the investigation is finished, has been instructed to take over Mr. Bawa’s office immediately, according to the statement.
The commission’s activities appear to have slowed down since Bawa’s ordeal started.
Former governors frequently attended EFCC events as guests after finishing their terms in office in the past. For questioning regarding graft-related enrichment and improper handling of funds while in office, the commission frequently invited them. The public was frequently given access to the information.
Ayo Fayose, the former governor of Ekiti State, was one of the interesting cases. He submitted himself to the commission dramatically after leaving office as a result of the invitation that was still pending for him. He went with his bag, hoping to spend some time in the commission’s care. It contained his clothes and other personal belongings.
On the same charges of corruption, Anambra State’s former governor Willie Obiano was also detained at the airport hours after he handed over power to his successor.
While it appears that theft in public offices has gotten worse, there are worries that not much is being done to hold dishonest public officials accountable for their crimes against the populace, the majority of whom are sinking further into poverty while many more are falling further into poverty every day as a result of the harsh economic environment that should have been improved if there was wise resource use.
In fact, the embattled EFCC chairman had previously declared that corrupt governors would be prevented from leaving the country and that the Nigeria Immigration Service would be notified of their identities to ensure they didn’t flee. However, no former governor has been reported to have been detained as of yet, either at the airport or elsewhere. Only Samuel Ortom, a former governor of Benue State, is known to have received an invitation from the commission in June. After spending hours being questioned, he was later let go.
Even though the commission has looked into and prosecuted other corrupt individuals besides governors, little is known about other groups of people it also focuses on, such as lawmakers and influential business figures.