Graft war, death threat and the EFCC chair

Amidst death threat, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa disclosed recently that the commission was set to begin prosecution of 800 new corruption cases. In this piece, KEHINDE OSASONA asks if corruption is truly fighting back.


While speaking during a meeting with the American Secretary of State, John Kerry in Morocco in 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari admitted that the anti-corruption war in his country is not just tough and grueling but also the type that fights back

The the occasion was the conference on climate change, COP22, which held in Marrakech, Morocco.

But Buhari assured that his administration’s anti-corruption campaign would be won.

He had said “Corrupt people had accumulated a formidable arsenal of illicit wealth, which they were now deploying against the government on diverse fronts.

“But it is a war we are determined to win, and which we will win. People of goodwill are behind us, countries like America and many others are with us, and we will surely win,’’ the president said.

That was in 2016.

Also in 2020 President Buhari charged Nigerians to join the government in combating the menace of corruption and return the country to the values of honesty and integrity.

He spoke at the second National Summit of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) on Diminishing Corruption and launch of the National Ethics and Integrity Policy to mark the 20th anniversary of its establishment in Abuja.

He said, “As military Head of State, I fought corruption headlong and held public officers who abused their offices or misused public funds to account.

“I introduced the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), one of whose cardinal objectives was to promote ethical conduct, integrity, and hard work in 1984, I recognised, as I do now, that corruption poses a clear danger to Nigeria.

“So, we cannot relent in efforts to eradicate it in all its ramifications. As I have often reminded Nigerians that if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.”

Sagay’s poser

Many stakehokders who are on all fours with Buhari had also in the past expressed their disappointment over spate of corruption in the country.

For instance, in 2019, while venting his opinion on the menace of corruption in the country at a conference organised by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Jos, Plateau State, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) noted that corruption was still largely pervasive in the country.

Sagay who traced the history of Nigeria January 15, 1966 and 1975 coup d’état to allegation of widespread corruption in the country, regretted that the justification for the killings was that corruption would be eliminated in 1966, stressing further that since independence, every government had identified graft as a major obstacle.

“The PACAC boss lamented that almost 60 years after the country’s independence, corruption remains a major problem and an obstacle to peace, unity and development of the country,” Sagay noted.

Threat: Like Ribadu, like Bawa

Institutions created by law to fight corruption have been working chasing around corrupt elements in the society. In fact, in 2008, Human Rights Watch called on the Nigerian government to protect the then EFCC Chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, when Nigeria’s leading anti-corruption campaigner was subjected to an escalating campaign of harassment, threats, and an apparent attempt on his life.

In an interview, Ribadu told Human Rights Watch. “I fear for my life, I have made a lot of enemies.”

Although he was removed from his position in December 2007 after the commission arrested and indicted him of alleged corruption charges, the campaign of intimidation against Ribadu, observers and pundits in the Nigerian project believed, was aimed at silencing a key voice in the crucial fight against corruption in Nigeria.

Ribadu was quoted as saying he had received credible information about a planned attempt on his life. He also said he had received threatening phone calls in which he was advised to “say his last prayers.”

“The harassment, the intimidation is meant to put fear in me, to break me, but I am going to stand and continue standing,” he told the Human Rights Watch.

In December 2007, the EFCC sent shock waves through the political establishment by arresting the powerful former Delta State Governor, James Ibori and charged him with 103 counts of corruption, including an alleged attempt to bribe Ribadu with US$15 million in cash to drop the case against him.

In August 2008, Ribadu was demoted from the rank of Assistant Inspector General of Police, on the grounds that the promotions he received while at the EFCC had failed to comply with police procedure.

On November 22 he was forcefully removed by state security agents from the graduation ceremony that followed the course he was ordered to attend.

From all indications, from the former chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu to the current chairman, Abdurasheed Bawa, the lamentations have remained that graft war is tough.

While also confirming the assertion at a weekly ministerial briefing at the presidential villa in Abuja recently, Bawa, was quoted as saying “corruption is fighting back”

According to him, it could be part of the reason his predecessors left office under controversial circumstances, insisting that those the EFCC deprived of illicit wealth will naturally see them as enemies.

Bawa who claimed to have received death threats since he assumed office insisted that it is the case of corruption fighting back.

He said, “Last week, I was in New York, as all Nigerians are aware of. A very senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation. What he (the caller) said to him on the phone is that he is going to kill the EFCC chairman, the young man.

“He said, ‘I am going to kill him. I am going to kill him’. This is to tell you how bad it is. It is actually real. Corruption can fight back.”

When further asked if he meant he has been receiving death threats, the EFCC boss said, “Yes”.

This medium recalls that the embattled chairman had threatened to resign from the position, if he was asked to compromise.

Bawa while featuring in an interview added, “We need to change our attitudes in Nigeria.

“We are in the habit of worshipping people that have money in the society, but never bother to ask questions about their sources of income. In winning the fight against corruption, we are engaging all stakeholders including religious leaders, community leaders and others.

“We are going to embark on massive public enlightenment to sensitize people on the need to shun corruption in all its forms.”

The EFCC boss continued, “I will continue to do what is right.

“The Commission under my watch will continue to abide by the rule of law. If anybody asks me to do anything contrary to my conscience or against the rule of law, I will resign my appointment.”

HURIWA, FPS show solidarity

Meanwhile, as the death threat against Bawa became a public knowledge, some individuals and organizations have started showing solidarity, threatening that nothing must happen to the EFCC boss.

One of them, the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, (HURIWA) warned that nothing untoward or sinister must happen to the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

HURIWA has therefore called on President Muhammadu Buhari to extend the best protection available to the EFCC chairman.

“Seeing his refreshing youthfulness and his expressed or vocalized zeal to battle relentlessly the hydra-headed monster of economic crimes especially amongst top-flight government officials, we are hereby expressing our solidarity with Bawa and urging the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces to extend the best protection available humanly speaking to his trusted appointee who seems to have started well, so his adversaries will not put him in the way of harm or danger,” HURIWA said.

In a statement, jointly signed by the National Coordinator, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and Zainab Yusuf, the Director of media nationwide, added, “HURIWA is calling on patriots to speak out.

“We are credible civil rights leaders to speak out to put pressure on both the EFCC Chairman and President Buhari to name, shame, prosecute and punish the particular identifiable man that the EFCC chairman said made a call and threatened to kill him.

“In the last five years, life has become very cheap in Nigeria and mass killers are roaming freely even within the corridors of power in Abuja and nothing is happening.

“The early warning by Abdulrasheed Bawa should not be treated with the usual fire Brigade approach whereby the government would wait until the threat is executed before running around trying to spread propaganda”.

Also in another statement issued in Abuja and signed by the chapter chairman and the secretary, Mr. Emmanuel Ekwe Esq, of a Journalism body, Fourth Estate Professional Society have described as an act of cowardice the death threat issued against Bawa.

The body has therefore urged the federal government to swing into action so as to arrest the situation and nip in the bud, noting that the fight against corruption in the country is not about Bawa alone but a collective one.

The statement partly reads; “The Federal Government should as a matter of necessity treat Bawa’s revelation with utmost urgency and action that it deserves.

“The graft war which in our opinion now fighting back is on the verge of consuming one of the best hands trained and saddled with the responsibility of bringing the corrupts in our society to book,”

While bemoaning Nigeria’s status in the recent global corruption index, the body has therefore pledged its support and that of members across the country to government, its agencies and stakeholders¬-alike in the fight against corruption.

Threat, setback in war against corruption

While also addressing a press conference in Kaduna over the threat, Speaker of Arewa Youth Assembly, Comrade Mohammed Salihu Danlami lamented that a few highly corrupt elite in the society are threatening Bawa’s life for doing his job diligently, saying the group will not tolerate any threat to Bawa’s life or any staff of the commission.”

“This threat should not be taken for granted. We as youths of this country have shown our support and respect for the chairman from when he was appointed and we are ready to stand behind him to accomplish his task.

“Any attack or threat on the chairman is a threat on us and we will be forced to investigate who made the threat and will use the law to deal with the person directly to act as deterrent to any other person nursing such thought.

“Mr. Bawa must be supported by all well meaning Nigerians to bring corruption to a stand still. He needs our support and prayers. Just a few months after he assumed office as the head of the anti graft agency, his achievements have surpassed all his predecessors,” they said.

“This intelligent, workaholic, and focused youth has achieved very much in this short period,” he had added

Way out

Commenting on the alleged threat to Bawa’s life, an Abuja based public commentator, Peter Agbunifoh wondered why the country’s hope bearer in the fight against corruption could be so threatened in the course of carrying out his legitimate duty.

He has therefore tasked the federal government to beef security around the EFCC boss and should also read a riot act regarding the threat as a way of sending a signal.

‘’ I think the government should talk tough about letting such people issue threats now that Bawa is on a mission and should not be distracted,” Agbunifoh said.

Now that the anti-corruption czar is being hunted, it would not be out of place to say that corruption is indeed fighting back.

Nevertheless, it is hoped that the government will do the needful so that Bawa will not suffer disgraceful exit, and more importantly would not be a victim of killer hawks out there in the course of carrying out national assignment.