The confirmation of Abdulrasheed Bawa as the substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is historic. Mr. Bawa, born 40 years ago, is the youngest person to ever lead the organization which has been without a substantive head since November 2015.
The news of his appointment, however, was largely overshadowed by his age – as the prevailing sentiment over his experience and his capacity to serve as the Chairman of the Commission – despite meeting the legal requirement in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Establishment Act (2004) for the appointment. The act states that a Chairman shall (ii) be a serving or retired member of any government security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or equivalent; and (iii) Possess not less than 15 years cognate experience.
It must be stated at this point that the youth classification, according to the Nigerian National Youth Policy is 15 – 29 and therefore the EFCC Chairman is not a youth; he is however the youngest person to ever lead the EFCC.
Opinions remain divided over his age – a typical socio-cultural mantra in many societies which equates age with experience and capacity. The age-related sentiments following the appointment of Bawa are reminiscent of the experiences of young aspirants and candidates running for elective office in Nigeria during campaign and election periods who are largely dismissed as being ‘too young’ or ‘not ready’.
Youth participation in government is not alien to the Nigerian political space. Indeed, a significant number of the founding fathers of Nigeria were in their youth when they engaged the long laborious process that birthed our independence. The military era that followed the collapse of the First Republic also threw up a significant number of leaders who, though still in their youth, firmly steered the affairs of the country. Thus, the appointment of Abdulrasheed Bawa and the emergence of young people in the decision-making process is a welcome development.
One of the loudest voices with a prevailing sentiment on the appointment of the EFCC Chairman was Prof. Itse Sagay, the chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), who expressed fears about the influence the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, may have on Bawa, either due to the fact that they are both from Kebbi State or the alleged role Malami played in the removal of Ibrahim Magu from the EFCC.
This sentiment also shares similarities with the experiences of young politicians who are perceived to be accountable to certain godfathers and not the constituency that elected them.
In a widely publicized open letter from former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka to Abdulrasheed Bawa, he wrote, ‘I support the generational shift that your appointment represents. We should remove all the clauses in our laws that create an age barrier to executive positions. It is anachronistic and against the spirit of the Not Too Young to Run Act’.
The #NotTooYoungToRun Movement would definitely agree that age limitations can no longer hold sway in a time and age of globalization, technology and the ever-evolving dynamics in global politics.
Regardless of his age, Abdulrasheed Bawa faces the same challenges his predecessors faced. While he must ensure he remains a model of public youth leadership, he must build a strong institution that does not serve any partisan or political interests as well as rebuild the trust of Nigerian citizens (especially the youth population) around the credibility of the Commission.
The Commission is also many times judged according to Nigeria’s ranking on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which was at 149 out of 183 countries in 2020 – three places down compared to 2019 results.
According to Kurt Cobain, “The duty of youth is to challenge corruption”. Nigeria’s youth population is considered a prime audience for citizen engagement against corruption, and organizations and projects such as Yiaga Africa’s Bounce Corruption and the Strengthening Citizens Resistance Against Corruption (SCRAP-C) Projects, Connected Development (CODE)’s Follow the Money Projects, Accountability Lab and BudgIT reflect the role of youth and youth organizations in promoting citizen engagement against corruption.
A 2017 Chatham House Report on “Collective Action on Corruption in Nigeria: A Social Norms Approach to Connecting Society and Institutions” emphasizes that “messages targeted to engage Nigeria’s large youth population will be vital in inculcating a lower tolerance of corruption in the next generation. Social and community media can be effectively used to spread social norms messaging among the youth population, and over time this can have a positive influence on opinions and attitudes in wider society.
Abdulrasheed Bawa has been presented an opportunity despite the sentiments that have surrounded his appointment, nomination and confirmation to challenge corruption and reverse the prevailing sentiment around the age of his appointment, build a strong institution, increase citizen engagement in the fight against corruption and restore citizens’ trust in the promise of this administration to fight corruption.
Ibrahim Faruk is a Program Manager with Yiaga Africa’s Governance and Development Program