By Olalekan Adetayo,Eniola Akinkuotu and Sunday Aborisade.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Tuesday absolved its new Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, of allegations of corruption.
A few hours after President Muhammadu Buhari appointed him as the EFCC chairman on Tuesday, there were reports of his involvement in corruption.
But the commission defended him, saying he had no corruption record.
The EFCC Spokesman, Mr Wilson Uwujaren, said this in a statement on Tuesday while reacting to reports that Bawa was arrested and removed from his position as Port Harcourt zonal head of the commission for allegedly diverting 224 forfeited trucks.
The PUNCH recalls that the diversion of 224 forfeited trucks was one of the allegations levelled against Magu which was brought up before the Salami-led panel.
Bawa was also said to have appeared before the panel over the issue but said he had no hand in the auction of the assets as it was supervised by a different department.
The EFCC statement titled, ‘Abdulrasheed Bawa Has No Corruption Record – EFCC’ read in part, “The commission wishes to state categorically that Mr Bawa was never arrested or detained over sale of any assets.
“As zonal head of the Port Harcourt office of the commission in 2019, Bawa’s responsibilities did not include the sale of assets as the commission has a full-fledged Directorate of Assets Forfeiture and Recovery Management, which remit such matters.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the disposal of finally forfeited trucks in the Port Harcourt zonal office through public auction, was conducted after the exit of Bawa as zonal head. It is therefore illogical for him to have been indicted over an auction that was not superintended by him.
“The auction of trucks at the Port Harcourt Office was among the issues examined by the Justice Ayo Salami Panel, leading to the suspension of some officers of the commission. The commission, therefore, enjoins the public to disregard the false publication which is believed to be sponsored by mischief makers to impugn the integrity of the EFCC chairman-designate.”
The PUNCH learnt that a shake-up was imminent at the EFCC following the appointment of 40-year-old Abdulrasheed Bawa as the substantive Chairman of the EFCC.
Bawa succeeded Ibrahim Magu, who was suspended in July 2020 when the President set up a panel led by Justice Ayo Salami (retd.) to investigate allegations of corruptions against him.
Bawa, who joined the EFCC in 2005 and who currently serves as the Head of the Lagos EFCC zonal office, still has several officials senior to him, most of whom are policemen including the current acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr Umar Mohammed, who is 55 years old.
It was learnt that based on the Salami panel recommendation and in a bid to ensure that Bawa is given full control of the commission, many policemen would return to the Nigeria Police Force.
A former EFCC director, who spoke to The PUNCH, said Bawa, who is currently a deputy chief detective superintendent, would have been a Divisional Police Officer if he were in the police force.
He said it would thus be difficult for senior police officers some of whom are deputy and assistant commissioners, to take orders from him.
The former director said, “Bawa is a member of Course 1 which is the first set of the EFCC detectives. They have been reporting to police officers since 2005 when they joined the EFCC. Bawa currently reports to the Head of Operations, Umar Mohammed, who is the acting chairman.
“I would not expect Mohammed to turn around to begin to take orders from Bawa. In the coming weeks and months, policemen would return to the Force while the core EFCC staff members will take over. That is what the Salami panel recommended and the President is already implementing it.”
On Tuesday, The PUNCH learnt that the President was waiting for a White Paper on the report of the Salami panel to decide the fate of Magu.
It was further learnt that the fate of embattled Magu would be determined by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof Ibrahim Gambari; and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), who had been saddled with the responsibility of producing the White Paper.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, confirmed this in an interview with The PUNCH.
One of our correspondents had sought to know the fate of Magu following Buhari’s nomination of Bawa as the new Chairman of the EFCC.
He had asked whether Magu, a police officer, who was probed by the Salami panel would be recommended for trial or would be returning to the Nigeria Police Force with the announcement of a replacement.
In response, Shehu said, “There is going to be a White Paper on the report of the Justice Salami Judicial Commission of Inquiry and the responsibility for doing that is with the office of the Chief of Staff, Prof Gambari.
“That is being done with the supervision of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.
“The question you asked about the suspended Chairman, Ibrahim Magu’s fate will be determined by a decision of the President upon the receipt of the White Paper.”
Earlier in the day, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, had through a statement quoted Buhari as naming Bawa as the substantive EFCC chairman.
Adesina, in the statement titled, “President Buhari requests Senate to confirm Abdulrasheed Bawa as EFCC boss,” noted that the President had requested the Senate to confirm Bawa’s nomination.
The statement read, “President Muhammadu Buhari has asked the Senate to confirm Mr Abdulrasheed Bawa as substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“In a letter to President of the Senate, Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, the President said he was acting in accordance with Paragraph 2(3) of Part1, CAP E1 of EFCC Act 2004.
“Bawa, 40, is a trained EFCC investigator with vast experience in the investigation and prosecution of Advance Fee Fraud cases, official corruption, bank fraud, money laundering, and other economic crimes.
“He has undergone several specialised training in different parts of the world, and was one of the pioneer EFCC Cadet Officers in 2005.
“Bawa holds a B.Sc degree in Economics, and Masters in International Affairs and Diplomacy.”
The statement was silent on Magu’s fate, prompting one of our correspondents to seek the clarification from the Presidency.
The Justice Salami panel was set up in July 2020 to investigate various allegations of wrongdoing against Magu.
The panel submitted its report to the President on November 20, 2020.
Salami had, while submitting the report, said the panel received 46 petitions and memoranda from individuals and organisations with complaints against the suspended acting Chairman, EFCC or both.
He added that Magu and 113 witnesses appeared and testified before the commission.
The President, while receiving the report of the panel, lamented that corruption was present almost everywhere and at many levels of government, describing the situation as the sad reality confronting the nation.
Among other recommendations, the panel had recommended that in appointing a new chairman for the commission, consideration should be given to candidates from other law enforcement or security agencies and core staff of the EFCC as provided in the EFCC establishment Act of 2004.
It noted that the four chairmen of EFCC since inception were from the police.
Bawa, who was announced on Tuesday as Magu’s replacement, is a core staff member of the EFCC as suggested by Salami-led panel.
Recall that apart from the probe by the Justice Salami panel, Magu is also being investigated by the Code of Conduct Bureau.
He appeared before the CCB on December 4, 2020to answer questions on his assets declaration.
The CCB had earlier invited Magu asking him to appear on November 17, 2020 with documents comprising, acknowledgement slips of all his assets declaration since he joined the public service, copies of his appointment letter, acceptance, records of service and pay slips from January to May, 2020, as well as all title documents of his landed assets both developed and undeveloped.
But in response, Magu had requested an extension of the invitation on the grounds that some of the documents being requested from him had been seized by the Department of State Services and Justice Salami-led panel
He stated that the DSS removed the documents from his office while he was in detention following his suspension from office in order to face the Salami probe panel.
The suspended EFCC boss stated this in his two letters dated November 16 and 17, 2020 sent to the CCB Chairman, Prof Muhammad Isah, to explain his inability to honour the November 17, 2020 invitation by the bureau.
His lawyer, Mr Wahab Shittu, authored the two letters on behalf of his client.
New EFCC boss will be screened in plenary – Senate President
Meanwhile, the President of the Senate on Tuesday said that the screening of the newly appointed Chairman of the EFCC would be done at plenary.
Lawan said screening the new EFCC boss in plenary was in line with the Senate tradition.
Lawan stated this on Tuesday when he read the official communication from the
President seeking the Senate’s confirmation for Bawa as the substantive Chairman of the EFCC.
10 EFCC officials remain on suspension as Buhari appoints new chair
Also, at least 10 officials of the EFCC have remained on suspension for the last six months, earning no salary while the Presidency has yet to say anything about their fate, The PUNCH has learnt.
Besides Magu, the President also suspended the Secretary of the commission, Mr Ola Olukoyede; and eight others amid a probe into allegations of financial impropriety.
The affected persons who were nicknamed ‘Magu boys’ have not been earning salary while their fate remains hanging in the balance.
Meanwhile, Mr. Tosin Ojaomo, a lawyer to Magu, says his client has not yet been sacked by the President.
Ojaomo said this during an interview with The PUNCH while reacting to the appointment of Bawa.
Ojaomo said Magu had only been suspended by the President, adding that till date, he had neither received a letter of termination nor further instruction.
He said, “Magu has not yet been sacked by the President. He was put on suspension pending the outcome of the probe by the panel. He has not yet been sacked.”
When asked if it was true that Bawa was a cousin to the AGF, Ojaomo said he was not sure but that was the widespread belief.
He, however, said it was public knowledge that Bawa was among the detectives who appeared before the Salami-led panel to give evidence against Magu.
Magu, who served as acting chairman of the EFCC from 2015 to 2020, was rejected twice by the Senate.
He was later suspended along with several others for allegedly mismanaging funds of the commission, an allegation which he vehemently denied.
The panel made several recommendations but the report has not been made public till date.