Denies selling seized assets
By Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu in Abuja
A new Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is in the offing, its Chairman, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, promised yesterday moments before the Senate ratified his nomination by President Muhammadu Buhari to head the nation’s foremost anti-graft agency.
He pledged to rebrand the agency and run an open door policy.
Bawa, at his pre-confirmation screening, also denied allegations that he sold some seized assets when he was in the Port Harcourt zonal office of the agency.
After over two hours of grilling by senators, the Senate at plenary, confirmed the nomination of Bawa as the substantive chairman of the EFCC.
Bawa’s confirmation ended the six-year absence of a substantive chairman for the anti-graft agency as the Eighth Senate thrice failed to confirm the former acting Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, for the job.
Bawa, a 40-year-old Economics graduate took turns to answer questions from senators with the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, moderating the screening.
He answered questions bordering on economic and financial crimes, among other issues, and laid out his plans for the commission.
He assured them that the anti-graft agency under his watch will be transparent and accountable.
He said he would work closely with other strategic partners around the world, particularly the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa and others, sharing information and intelligence with them in order to attain the mutual objectives as well as independent objectives, particularly recovering assets and ensuring the country gets rid of financial crimes.
Bawa stated that his nomination generated hope for the youth across the country, and promised to be a good representative.
The EFCC under his watch, he said, would work on a proactive approach and not retroactive, adding that there is a need to adequately equip the EFCC Academy in line with modern-day realities of fighting financial crimes.
When asked how he plans to reposition the commission to ensure that the controversies that trailed his predecessors are not repeated, Bawa said he would work on the agency’s standard operating procedure with a view to improving on it.
He also said he would curtail the usage of discretion from the office of the executive chairman down to the ordinary person in the EFCC.
Responding to question on access to EFCC information, Bawa said he would embark on the digitalisation of the agency so as to keep proper records as well as allow Nigerians to have access to information on EFCC operations.
He also dismissed the claim that he was arrested by Magu for undisclosed reasons, saying he has a good working relationship with him.
On the sales of recovered assets, Bawa denied any involvement, saying the EFCC secretary is the only person authorised to dispose of recovered assets.
He said: ‘’The assets in question were sold by the EFCC secretary and three directors, who travelled from the headquarters to Port Harcourt to carry out the exercise. Anybody that’s familiar with the processes of EFCC knows that even the executive chairman of the EFCC doesn’t have the powers to dispose of a single asset.
“I’m saying this to confirm to Nigerians that I, as zonal head of EFCC, never for once sold a single asset in Port Harcourt. When I took over the Port Harcourt zonal office in January 2019, the zonal office only recorded 33 convictions but because of the way we transformed the zonal office, we recorded 216 convictions within the year. We never sold anything. It was the head office that did everything. We don’t know who but, who lost out in the auction and so on. Assuming that I did that, the EFCC would have been the first to punish me; they would have investigated and prosecuted me.’’
Addressing claims that the commission only probes members of the opposition party, Bawa faulted the notion, saying that regardless of the party in power, the EFCC probes all and those found culpable are taken to court for trial.
‘’The issue of political witch-hunt has been in EFCC since its inception. When the EFCC came on board, a certain political party was in government and I’m aware that members of that political party were investigated and charged to court. “Currently, another political party is in power and members of that political party were also investigated and charged to court.
‘’When it comes to a court trial, the way we operate in the EFCC is that at the end of every investigation, files are sent to the legal department to vet and see whether or not, the investigation warrants any prosecution in court. We have had 90 per cent success rate of matters we have charged to court,” he added.
Asked if all recovered assets are being remitted to the government or not, he explained that recoveries are made for the public or government and also individuals in the private sector.
These recoveries, he said, are shared among those concerned and not just the federal government.
“The EFCC is not only serving the public but the private sector as well. And recoveries are made for the public or government and of course individuals in the private sector. The Lagos zonal office recovered over N10.9 billion last year, all of that money does not belong to the government, either federal or state government, they all have their own shares. Those are some of the disparities and I hope we are going to digitalise the process and be transparent and accountable going forward,” Bawa stated.