The squabble between the EFCC chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, and the outgoing governor of Zamfara state, Bello Matawalle, is a clear pointer to the difficulty inherent in fighting corruption in the country. The governor has launched virulent attacks against the chairman in apparent retaliation against the commission’s investigations into his administration. It is not uncommon for powerful individuals who are under investigation for corruption to either resist or avoid arrests, but Matawalle is the first governor to publicly claim that the EFCC chairman had asked him for a bribe.
It is particularly disturbing. I have contacted Bawa and he has vehemently denied the allegations. The federal government should launch thorough and independent investigations into the governor’s accusation to determine the truth. Nigerians would be particularly disillusioned and let down if Bawa is not above board.
His appointment as the commission’s fourth executive chairman in February 2021 elicited excitement for many good reasons. He was just 41; the first product of the EFCC Academy and the first non-police officer to assume the position. In a way, he represents the yearnings of young Nigerians who earnestly want to play a role in managing the affairs of their country. I had written an article soon after his appointment was announced entitled ‘’Agenda for the New EFCC Chairman’’, asking him to do a thorough job and not to let his generation and the nation down.
The EFCC is investigating Matawalle over allegations of corruption, award of phantom contracts and diversion of over N70 billion from government’s coffers into personal accounts. The commission avers that the money was sourced as a loan from a bank by the Zamfara state government ostensibly to fund some projects across the state, but was allegedly diverted by the governor through proxies and contractors who received payments for contracts that were not executed.
According to the EFCC, over 100 companies have received payments from the N70 billion loan, with no evidence of service rendered to the state. Some of the contractors have been interrogated by the commission and they have made startling revelations on how they were allegedly compelled by the governor to return the funds received from the state coffers back to him through his aides after converting them into foreign currencies.
EFCC alleges that one of the contractors, a popular Abuja property developer, collected N6 billion on a N10 billion contract without rendering any service to the state. Another contractor collected over N3 billion for a contract for the supply of medical equipment, but the commission traced a transfer of N400 million from the contractor’s account to a Bureau de Change operator. The contractor, the EFCC says, had confessed that the payment was to procure the dollar equivalent allegedly for the governor. The commission has also recovered N300 million from a company that was also involved in the alleged sleaze.
These accusations are grave and mind-boggling. I must commend the commission for doing a thorough forensic investigation. But amazingly, the governor has not denied these allegations, instead, he made counter-allegations, claiming that the EFCC chairman had asked him for a $2 million bribe and that he has evidence to prove it. In an interview with the Hausa Service of BBC last week, the governor criticised the seeming obsession of the commission with governors whereas federal officials are not investigated.
He also accused the commission of not being transparent in the disposal of confiscated assets. I have also seen a video in which Bawa is accused of staying in a $15,000-per-room hotel with many of his extended family members during the hajj in Saudi Arabia. The narrator wonders how the chairman, a civil servant, could afford such expensive hotel accommodation for himself and his family members. Clearly, the accusations are meant to ridicule the EFCC chairman, embarrass and weaken the commission and eventually throw it off track. As I said, Bawa has vehemently denied these allegations.
The governor claims that Bawa met him ‘’in a certain house’’. Of course, they couldn’t have met in a beer parlour or bus stop. Matawalle also made the point that the EFCC is focusing more on the state than the federal government. That is neither here nor there. Are the state governors wrongly accused? Is there any former governor that has been sent to jail for committing no offence?
In any case, I know that former federal officials like FFK; Diezani Allison-Madueke; Ahmed Idris (former accountant-general of the federation) and Sale Mamman (former minister of power) have been in the EFCC net for various alleged crimes. If more former governors are being investigated, it speaks to the fact that states’ chief executives control more resources, yet are less oversighted than the ministers. Who does a governor report to when the house of assembly is in his pocket?
Gov. Bello Matawalle should bring forth whatever evidence he has against the chairman or, he should report the matter to the ICPC or the police. The federal government should also launch an investigation into the allegations made by the governor. If it turns out that the governor’s allegations are baseless and fabricated, the chairman should seek redress in a court of law. The EFCC should conclude its investigations into the affairs of the Zamfara government and prosecute all the culprits.
Matawalle should be prevented from leaving the country after May 29. We have seen many instances in the past in which the commission made loud allegations against some politically exposed persons but eventually failed to prosecute them. Former Governor of Anambra state, Willy Obiano, was arrested soon after he handed over to Prof Charles Soludo, detained for a few days and released. Nothing has been heard of that case again till today. The Matawalle case should not be swept under the carpet. The revelations unearthed by the EFCC are staggering. It should also look into the activities of other governors and public officials who are about to finish their terms.