Abdulrasheed Bawa, the new Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), assured the Senate on Wednesday that he would not allow the commission to be used for witch-hunting.
This was after the upper chamber of the National Assembly confirmed him as substantive chairman of the anti-graft body.
He stated that he would ensure that the body was insulated from political interference.
The decision of the upper chamber of the National Assembly followed the outcome of a more than two-hour confirmation hearing where lawmakers grilled Bawa on his academic qualification, career trajectory, and moral strength to reposition the commission and to resist high profile influences in the prosecution of financial crimes.
The confirmation hearing began with the Senate suspending Order 17 of its Rule Book to allow friends and well-wishers of the nominee to witness the exercise on the floor of the chamber.
The new EFCC boss told the Senate that his tenure would focus on repatriating funds stolen from Nigeria and stashed elsewhere.
He said he would approach his job without fear or favour.
He said: “When my appointment was announced last week, an elderly man advised me that I was forty years old.
“Even if you succeed unlike any of your predecessors and serve two terms, you are still going to be forty-eight.
“And he reminded me that you will still be too young. And he said that I have a very long future ahead.
“I am a human being and I am not perfect but I am going to discharge my duty without fear or favour.”
He also clarified the process of funds recovery by the commission.
He stated: “Somebody may think that yes, the EFCC had said that it had recovered one trillion, then they would go to the EFCC recovery account.
“They will see nine hundred billion and then they will ask, where is one hundred billion?
“So, those are some of the disparities that I hope, God willing, we are going to digitalize the process.“We are going to show accountability and transparency in what we do.”
On forfeiture of property, he revealed that the body had a Directorate of Asset Forfeiture and Recovery with directors at the headquarters and at all the zonal directorates of the commission.
“These directors manage all interim and permanent forfeiture disposal of property as well as their return to their owners if need be,” he said.
Bawa disclosed that if appointed, his tenure would not allow for media trial of suspects.
His response followed a question on how his tenure would handle allegations of media trial of suspects.
He explained that it was not in the power of the commission to conceal issues once it is in court.
Bawa cited his team’s management of an investigation into the fuel subsidy scandal.
“If we had allowed what we discovered in that investigation to flow into the public, probably we would have seen another round of major protest that would have shaken Nigeria,” he said.
The lawmakers’ concern for an internal self-cleansing was laid to rest when Bawa promised to ensure that the commission’s Directorate of Internal Affairs would ensure that the EFCC functioned in line with global best practices.
The senator representing Borno South, Ali Ndume, however, took the new EFCC chairman to task, expressing doubt that Bawa’s young age would interfere with the necessary push to fight high profile financial theft.
He noted that the EFCC must find ways to improve interactions with the Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO).
Quoting the provisions of the EFCC Establishment Act section 7 (1e), Bawa explained that the commission has the power to investigate the property of any person if it comes to the knowledge of the anti-graft agency that the subject has questions to provide answers to.
He, however, revealed that the EFCC has over 90 percent success rate in court with the commission having already recovered N10.9 billion in Lagos State alone in 2020.
Going forward, the EFCC would have a more open relationship with the courts with a view to ensuring accelerated determination of cases.
Senator Ndume’s position was corroborated by another lawmaker, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, who expressed reservations at the ability of the EFCC chair to go beyond the prosecution of ‘Yahoo-Yahoo Boys’ to the prosecution of high-profile financial crime cases.
On the continued use of officers from the Nigeria Police Force on secondment to the commission, he stated that his tenure would review the portfolio of the arrangement and decide the next course of action.
“If the need arises to second or not to second at all to your organisation, we are going to review the process. We are looking at the situation where we are going to have a very robust process.
“If the need arises for us to retain some of the police officers, we would retain them. If the need arises for us to return them, we will return them,” he said.
Bawa said that the EFCC was grateful for the foundation laid by the Nigeria Police Force.
The confirmation of Bawa made him the fifth person to be the chairman of the commission since it was established in 2003 as a law enforcement agency to investigate financial crimes such as advance fee fraud (419) and money laundering.
According to Bawa’s profile, the EFCC chairman holds a B.Sc and an M.Sc from Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto State, and he is a Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist.
He was also trained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States and the National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom.
The 40-year-old law enforcement officer joined the anti-graft agency in 2014 and was trained in the Act of Law Enforcement and Financial Crimes Investigation.
Presenting his dossier to the Senate, the young officer disclosed that he was the only EFCC officer that had headed three different zones.