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Emmanuel Onwubiko: Abdulrasheed Bawa and a rebranded EFCC

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the good work of the anti-corruption Agency under its chairman Mr. ABDULRASHEED BAWA are subjects of this statement by the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA).

Patriotic Nigerians are aware that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been revitalized, reshaped, and made much more alive to its statutory responsibilities under the leadership of the present Chairman despite corruption always fighting back ferociously.

The media and indeed Nigerians can recall that the EFCC was established in 2003, partially in response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), which named Nigeria as one of 23 countries non-cooperative in the international community’s efforts to fight money laundering. The agency with its head office in Abuja, is, therefore, a Nigerian key law enforcement agency that investigates financial crimes such as advance fee fraud (419 fraud) and money laundering.

Before the coming Bawa, the work of the EFCC had come under public scrutiny and criticism. Many criticized the agency and branded it as a political tool in the hands of the presidency. All this has changed under Bawa as the agency is now far more professional and focused on its statutory responsibility.

By Section 7(2) of the Establishment Act 2004; EFCC is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the provisions of laws relating to economic and financial crimes, including:

The Money Laundering (Amendment) Act 2004 and 2011 as amended
The Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud-Related Offences Act, 2006 • The Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 (ICPC Act, 2000)
The Failed Banks (Recovery of Debts) and Financial Malpractices Banks Act, 1994 • The Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act 1991; and
Miscellaneous Offences Act, 1985;
Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011 and 2013, as amended • Any other law relating to economic and financial crimes including the criminal code and the penal code
You are aware that addressing itself these onerous responsibilities has met such resistance and challenges. It is operatives have faced intimidation, harassment, and death threats. Public misconceptions and cynicism are common and militating against its capacity to discharge the great responsibilities that would pave the way for the financial health of the nation and safeguard the funds meant for the development and delivery of democratic dividends.

You will recall that the Agency has made a case for special courts to focus purely on financial crimes. This request has not been attended to by the National Assembly. This has led to delays in the conclusion of cases to say nothing about the paucity of funds to carry out corruption prevention assignments.

EFCC under Bawa’s watch and leadership is dealing with these constraints and delivering despite them. Thus the Commission has carried out the core function of investigation of all financial crimes including advance fee fraud, money laundering, counterfeiting, illegal fund transfers, futures market fraud, contract scam, etc. with admiration and with significant success.

The coordination and enforcement of all economic and financial crimes laws and adoption of measures to identify, trace, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities have been carried out to higher delivery levels for which the Commission deserves commendation, not condemnation and vilification.

The media is further aware of the friction and prima Dona syndrome that existed before this time in methods to eradicate the commission of economic and financial crimes and collaboration with government bodies both within and outside Nigeria to ensure the eradication of economic and financial crimes in Nigeria. You will agree with us that it is self-evident that there is greater cooperation among agencies. The reputation of the EFCC has also been shored up of late and no longer seen as a corrupt agency fighting corruption, which was the image the Commission cut after the removal of its immediate past chairman, Ibrahim Magu.

HURIWA and I believe a significant number of press are aware that the EFCC is working closely with the ICPC in sharing information and strategy, and with the Code of Conduct Bureau to authenticate asset declarations claims by political office holders. EFCC under Bawa is not throwing its weight around or lording it over any agency.

Gentlemen of the press, we are all witnesses to the fact that there is greater transparency today in the dealings of the EFCC. The Commission under Bawa has been more engaging in education and enlightenment campaigns against the evil of economic and financial crimes within and outside Nigeria with the Nigerian public. There has also been more engagement in enlisting the partnership of the media. EFCC has also been offering more orientation to the general public on anti-graft requirements using public lectures; media sensitization campaigns among others.

Of particular importance is the Commission’s handling of politically exposed persons, PEP. This refers to individuals who are or have been entrusted with prominent public offices o have considerable connections with such highly placed individuals. EFCC under Bawa has not been a respecter of persons and does not pander to political pressure, thanks also to President Muhammadu Buhari who has given the Commission a free hand to operate, the freedom the Commission under Bawa has maximized to the fullest.

EFCC has not been involved in political witch-hunting as happened in the past when the Commission was accused of working for the ruling party and allowing itself to be deployed as a witch-hunting tool. This is the hallmark of professionalism for which the Commission again deserves commendation.

Let it also be put on record that the EFCC of the day is so thorough in its investigations. And that is why it has secured higher levels of convictions, almost triple the rate in the previous years.

The EFCC recorded only 195 convictions in 2016, in 2017, EFCC recorded 186, which went down; in 2018 when the Commission recorded 312 convictions, in 2019, they recorded 1280 convictions, which went up by over 312 percent. In 2022, when the nation went through the harrowing experience of COVID, convictions went down to 976.InI 2021, which was part of Bawa’s administration they recorded an unprecedented 2,220 convictions and in the year 2022, we have so far recorded 3615 convictions before the end of the year. This was both unprecedented and phenomenal and it happened under the leadership of Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa.

Recall also that on July 29, 2022, the EFCC raided Abuja Bureau de change operators, in a bid to save the naira, which traded for N710 against the dollar in the black market then. The check of the EFCC on the activities of the Bureau de Changes played a major role in the halting decline of the value of the naira, which may have exceeded N1,000 naira today unchecked.

Again under Bawa, the EFCC extradited many Nigerian fraudsters convicted abroad but hiding in Nigeria. One example of such extradition by the commission was on March 22, 2023, when the Commission handed over one Ms. Onyegbu to the FBI, following an extradition order granted by Justice Z.B. Abubakar of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on December 2, 2022. On February 14, 2011, a US court sentenced Onyegbu to 46 months in prison and ordered her to pay approximately $1.3 million in restitution but she took refuge in Nigeria.

Another of such many examples was the extradition of one Adedunmola Gbadegesin to the United States over a wire fraud scam worth $148,000Thereportst had it that Gbadegesin who was arrested on September 2, 2021, by the EFCC defrauded an American lady living in Kentucky, United States for over $148,000.

Another key achievement of the EFCC worthy of drawing media attention to is the drastic reduction in cases discontinued before final judgment. Section 174 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, FRN, 1999 empowers the Attorney General of the Federation to discontinue (Nolle-Prosequi)or take over any matter filed by any agency before final judgment. But this usually happens when investigations are not thorough or where the investigation is politically motivated. This has not been the case in the present-day EFCC

The media can also notice that under Bawa, Plea Bargain by EFCC is now an exception, not the rule. The Commission’s emphasis today is getting the criminals to account for their financial crimes and not easily allowing them to negotiate their way and freedom through a Plea bargain, which is a process of mutually working out the acceptable disposition of a case between the defendant and the prosecution subject to the Court’s approval. Yes, the Nigerian criminal jurisdiction provides for the application of plea bargains. It helps to reduce the time and resources spent in protracted litigation. But Bawa and EFCC believe that that should no longer be the rule but rarely the case.

So much has changed in the EFCC under the leadership of Abdulrasheed Bawa. Traducers should take note; the media and Nigerians must also ignore them and support EFCC to rid the country of corruption and financial crimes, which have crippled the nation’s economy, growth, and development.

This new look EFCC is what its traducers are bent on tarnishing. Any claim today that EFCC is still a political tool is often made by accused persons and their sympathizers to win public sympathy. The Commission is under a statutory obligation to keep the public informed of its activities and it does this often and when it does so, it should not be used as a blackmail tool against the Commission by branding such public information as a media trial.

EFCC today does not ignore corruption at any level of government. The Commission’s mandate empowers it to investigate and prosecute cases of economic and financial crimes at all levels of governance, including the local government. Several cases of graft have been investigated and prosecuted at the Local Government level under Abdulrasheed Bawa, to his credit and the credit of the Commission.

EFCC today is a major tool for international diplomacy for the Nigerian nation-state. Nigerians who commit financial crimes abroad and return to hiding in Nigeria have now discovered that Nigeria is no longer a haven for criminals including Yahoo-Yahoo boys, thanks to the Commission’s determined, committed, and visionary leadership.

As you are all aware, the extradition of such Nigerians has been ongoing. For the avoidance of doubt, Extradition is the procedure by which one jurisdiction, upon receipt of a formal request, turns over an individual charged with or convicted of a crime to another jurisdiction. The EFCC applies for extradition when there is sufficient evidence that a crime has been committed by a run-away suspect or when there is a demand for an accused person to be extradited to face trial and follow the due process of law and not pander to the whims of any country.

HURIWA is also aware that the EFCC is a global partner to key international Law Enforcement Agencies, and LEAs, in other parts of the world EFCC works with the Metropolitan Police, Interpol, FBI, Australian Police, German Police, etc. Thus the Commission is seen in the world as working to rid Nigeria of transnational crimes such as terrorism financing and similar high and transnational crimes. This is a reputation the Commission consolidated under its present leadership.

Gentlemen of the press, you know the EFCC is to investigate and prosecute all cases of economic and financial crimes while the judiciary has the powers to adjudicate over the case and make a judicial pronouncement of guilt or otherwise. And a man/woman remains innocent until pronounced guilty by a competent court of law. Corrupt Nigerians particularly politicians use corrupt judiciary officials to frustrate the Commission’s gallant efforts. The media needs to help the Commission in this area by calling out such cases where the Judiciary has created the leeway for the travesty of justice.

There are many cases like that hanging in the courts. Even Legislators at the National or State level or even a Local Government Chairman can be prosecuted by the EFCC. The only persons that cannot be prosecuted following the immunity clause as contained in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) are the President, Vice President, governors, and deputy governors until they leave office.

You will recall that on July 10, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the immediate suspension of Ibrahim Magu as acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). On 16 February, President Muhammad Buhari nominated Abdulrasheed Bawa as substantive chairman of EFCC.

Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa is such a fine officer and gentleman whose career cannot be blighted by politicians who looted their states. During his services as the EFCC zonal head of the Port Harcourt Zonal Office and Lagos Zonal Office, he successfully investigated and prosecuted many cases leading to convictions and recovery of looted funds. He headed the investigations of Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke from 2015 to 2019 which led to the recovery of millions of dollars and properties.

His rise to national prominence led to his being listed among Nigeria’s Under 50 Leaders in Public Service, alongside other government appointees including Ahmad Salihijo Ahmad of the Rural Electrification Agency, Hadiza Bala Usman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Elijah Onyeagba, Nigeria’s ambassador to the Republic of Burundi, Aishah Ahmad, Deputy Governor Financial System Stability of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Sanusi Ohiare of the Rural Electrification Fund (REF), Ahmad Zakari, Special Adviser to the President on Infrastructure, Mrs. Yewande Sadiku of Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission and 3 others under the age of 50 years.

HURIWA is therefore surprised that such a shining star will come under the vicious attack of Governor Matewale of Zamfara state when he accused Mr. Bawa of demanding 2 million USD bribery from him (Matawalle the governor of Zamfara State) as a condition to close the investigation into the N70 bn fraud by the Zamfara governor. It is mere blackmail that should be dismissed with a wave of hands.

HURIWA and well-meaning Nigerians pass a vote of confidence on Bawa and demand immediate surveillance thrown around Matawalle so he doesn’t escape before 28th May. After handing over to the new governor in Zamfara State, the governor’s arrest is crucial. Otherwise, he may get away with the perfidy and disappear from the country to go to enjoy his loot somewhere else.

Thank you.

COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO,
NATIONAL COORDINATOR,

HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA(HURIWA).

MAY 24TH 2023.

 

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