The protracted detention of Abdulrasheed Bawa, without charge, and the continued violation of court orders for the release of Godwin Emefiele have placed a question mark on President Tinubu’s democratic profile.
The suspended chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, has been in the custody of Nigeria’s domestic intelligence agency, the State Security Service (SSS), for over two months.
President Bola Tinubu suspended Mr Bawa from office on 14 June, and since then, the SSS has kept him in detention without explaining what his offences are and which law permits it to hold him for this long without charge.
On the authority of Mr Tinubu, the SSS has now held Mr Bawa in detention for 76 days – about two months and two weeks – without charge.
Conversely, within that period, Mr Tinubu rewarded former Governor Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State, who was being investigated by the Bawa-led EFCC for allegedly diverting his state’s N70 billion, with a ministerial appointment. Another former governor, Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State, who helped to launder late Nigeria’s kleptocratic dictator Sani Abacha’s loot, will also join Mr Matawalle in Mr Tinubu’s cabinet as a minister.
While the ministerial screening was going on, Mr Tinubu also made a push for former Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, despite his unresolved videoed bribery scandal, to become the chairperson of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Mr Ganduje is now the face of the change-promising party that came to power in 2015, vowing to fight corruption.
Many Nigerians believe it is a new height of idolising the suspects and vilifying the investigators by the Nigerian government. It began early in the Tinubu administration with the strong support Mr Tinubu gave former Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State to emerge as the Senate President in June despite his long-existing corruption allegations. The immediate-past administration of then President Muhammadu Buhari had overlooked EFCC’s ongoing investigation of N108 billion allegations against Mr Akpabio to award him a ministerial appointment. Conversely, instigated by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, the Buhari administration ended up humiliating then EFCC chairperson, Ibrahim Magu, out of office by subjecting him to a controversial probe, whose report remains a secret to date.
Mr Bawa’s case is also treading that path: apart from SSS’s terse statement announcing that Mr Bawa had surrendered himself for probe, no one is certain of what he is being investigated for after 76 days of his arrest.
“The invitation relates to some investigative activities concerning him (Mr Bawa),” Peter Afunanya, the spokesperson of SSS, said in a tweet on the night of Mr Bawa’s detention. And that is all any official source has said about Mr Bawa’s case for over two months.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Afunanya on Monday about Mr Bawa’s detention and when the former anti-graft chief would be charged to court, the spokesperson asked that our questions be sent as a message. He has yet to respond to the sent questions at the time of this report.
For many Nigerians, it is fast becoming a tall dream to expect Mr Tinubu to rescue the rule of law from the injuries of the devastating attacks it suffered on the watch of his predecessor.
“This pattern of arresting, detaining and humiliating anti-graft boss(es) whilst the suspects become ministers and lawmakers will eventually kill the very institution of the EFCC,” Daniel Bwala, a lawyer and spokesperson of the 2023 presidential campaigns for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), recently said in a tweet on Mr Tinubu’s incarceration of Mr Bawa while nominating politically exposed persons for appointments.
Attacks on rule of law continues
Mr Bawa’s detention for 76 days without charge is a clear breach of Nigeria’s constitution. Section 35 of the law prohibits the detention of crime suspects for more than 24 hours without trial. His detention has now lasted over 3,600 hours!
His detention fits into a pattern of a chaotic leadership succession history that has made virtually every successive EFCC chair leave office as a villain. Yet, none has been successfully prosecuted for any crime.
So far, the Tinubu administration, through the SSS, has toed the path of its predecessor’s scant regard for the rule of law – trampling on individual’s rights and disobeying court orders at will.
On Mr Buhari’s watch, the SSS arrested and detained a former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, for years in flagrant disregard to court orders. The SSS gave Sahara Reporters publisher and pro-democracy activist, Omoyele Sowore, similar treatments, leading to serial violations of court orders issued for his release.
At one of the court hearings in Mr Dasuki’s case at the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja, Lateef Fagbemi, a minister-designate and possible Attorney-General of the Federation, had described SSS’ disregard for court orders as most unfortunate.
Mr Fagbemi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), during his ministerial screening at the Nigerian Senate recently, tongue-lashed the Nigerian secret police for its penchant for disobeying courts and arresting crime suspects while conducting investigations.
“The major areas where we have this disobedience to court orders are between these agencies (EFCC, SSS). My advice will be, in matters of law, the Attorney-General should be involved. SSS cannot be an island onto… There is law,” Mr Fagbemi told senators during his ministerial screening.
In disobedience to court orders, the spy agency has detained Godwin Emefiele, the suspended governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), who was arrested about the same time as Mr Bawa.
Recently, armed SSS operatives engaged prison officials in fisticuffs before rearresting Mr Emefiele at the premises of the Federal High Court in Lagos despite the court’s order granting the suspended CBN governor bail.Like Mr Bawa, Mr Emefiele is being detained by the SSS, although the latter was arraigned before the Federal High Court in Lagos on charges of illegal possession of firearms.
As questions mount over Mr Bawa’s continued incarceration, constitutional and rights lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, said the suspended EFCC chairman deserves a day in court instead of being held in perpetuity.
Referencing Section 35 of the Nigerian constitution, Mr Ozekhome, a law professor, ssaid that Mr “Bawa’s continued detention is not only illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional; it is also egregious, unconscionable and immoral.”
He explained that the law provides that a detainee shall be released within 24 hours where there is a court of competent jurisdiction to try him within 40 miles radius and where there is no such court, within 48 hours.
Mr Ozekhome also dismissed the justification of Mr Bawa’s detention on account of EFCC’s notoriety in arbitrary arrests and detention of crime suspects before fishing for evidence for the alleged crime.
“The fact that the EFCC gained notoriety in detaining suspects before doing investigations does not justify the egregious violation of his rights.”
Comparing the Nigerian government’s rampant disobedience to court decisions and citizens’ rights violations, Mr Ozekhome asserted that “the SSS’ disregard for court orders under (Mr) Tinubu’s watch is more of a threat to Nigeria’s democracy than the junta in Niger Republic.”
On 26 July, a band of military officers staged a coup, removing the elected president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, from power.
But West African regional body ECOWAS, chaired by Mr Tinubu, threatened a military intervention in Niger to restore constitutional order, an action Mr Ozekhome criticised for being a breach of international treaties.He advised Mr Bawa to seek redress in court by filing a fundamental human rights enforcement suit against the SSS, volunteering to serve as his attorney if need be.
“Mr Bawa can go to court but if he doesn’t have a lawyer, I can go to court on his behalf and fight it free of charge. So, you cannot put him away like that,” the senior lawyer said.
But weighing in on Mr Bawa’s detention, a Lagos-based constitutional lawyer, Kurtis Adigba, wondered what use a rights enforcement suit would serve owing to the government’s history of re-arresting “defendants at court premises” in disregard to court orders.
Why is Bawa being held?
While the Tinubu administration keeps mum over the detention of Mr Bawa, many have read political undertone and vengeance into it.
Mr Adigba said daring to probe President Tinubu and Mr Matawalle for corruption could have been responsible for his being clamped into unlawful detention.
In June 2022, Mr Bawa disclosed in a newspaper interview that Mr Tinubu who was then the presidential aspirant of the APC, was under probe.
Also in May 2023, the EFCC revealed snippets of how Mr Matawalle allegedly siphoned Zamfara’s funds sourced from a commercial bank to provide infrastructure for local communities in the state.
But Mr Matawalle who lost his re-election bid in March on the platform of the APC would later accuse Mr Bawa of demanding a $2 million bribe and harassing only governors who were serving out their terms of office. The EFCC denied the allegations describing Mr Matawalle’s outburst as the case of a “thief” saying he must not be touched until other “thieves” are caught.
“The only offence Mr Bawa committed was coming out against Matawalle and the allegation that he was also investigating the president,” Mr Adigba said.
Mr Adigba questioned how Mr Matawalle who was being investigated by the EFCC sailed through security clearance to become a minister-designate.
“How did the man (Mr Matawalle) he (Bawa) accused of egregious corruption pass security clearance to be a minister but you are holding Bawa in detention?”
Mr Matawalle was not the only politically exposed person the Bawa-led EFCC investigated for alleged graft.
Nigeria’s current Senate President, Mr Akpabio, was being investigated by the EFCC over allegations of stealing N108.1 billion from the Akwa Ibom State coffers while he served as governor between 2007 and 2015.
Shortly after the national elections, Mr Akpabio while vying for the Senate presidency as Mr Tinubu’s preferred candidate, was invited by the anti-graft agency for interrogation.
Similarly, this newspaper reported how Mr Tinubu nominated the immediate-past governor of Kebbi State, Mr Bagudu, for ministerial appointment, despite evidence of how Mr Bagudu served as late Sani Abacha’s bagman in fleecing Nigeria of millions of dollars during the deceased dictator’s regime between 1993 and 1998.
Also, Mr Bawa had last year disclosed that Mr Tinubu was under EFCC investigation, a claim that adds to broader questions about his source of wealth, which have dominated public discourse in Nigeria for decades, despite the explanations provided by the president.
Some Nigerians including Deji Adeyanju, the convener of Concerned Nigerians, in October 2019, petitioned the EFCC to probe Mr Tinubu about the bullion vans (allegedly containing lots of money) delivered to his Ikoyi home on the eve of the 2019 presidential election.
Mr Tinubu while responding to enquiries from journalists over the bullion vans, had said he owed no one any explanation because he never worked for the government since leaving office as Lagos governor in 2007.
Calling on Mr Tinubu to intervene in Mr Bawa’s prolonged detention, Mr Bwala said there was no justifiable reason to keep the EFCC boss behind bars.
Depleting democratic acclaim
Mr Adigba, the lawyer, while questioning Mr Tinubu’s pro-democracy credentials, berated the regime for violating Nigerians’ rights.
He noted that Nigerians have chosen democracy over military rule because it promises to guarantee citizens fundamental human rights.
“It is an egregious violation of his (Mr Bawa) rights. This guy (Mr Tinubu) who talks so much about democracy and who was packaged to Nigerians as a true democrat is a dictator.”
Tracing the political history of the SSS harassment of opposition political parties when the PDP-led federal government held sway, Mr Adigba added that the Nigerian spy agency has always been a “tool” of oppression in the hands of the ruling government.
“The rights of so many Nigerians are being violated by this government right now and it is sad.”