In the corridors of power, where accountability should reign supreme, recent events have laid bare a distressing pattern that reeks of familiarity: Aa path worn down by the footsteps of those who have wielded power unchecked for too long. As the Governor of Central Bank Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, and Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa face suspension travails, the nation can’t help but question the rot that has taken root. This isn’t just about two individuals falling from grace. Rather, it is a confirmation of the age-old struggle against the erosion of public trust.
In the annals of Nigeria’s bureaucratic system, the two suspensions are a deafening wake-up call, screaming at the public to confront the spectre of impunity that has haunted our institutions. Both the CBN and EFCC are meant to protect and propel our economic interests, but have overtime become victims of the very misconduct they were supposed to eradicate. Given the history, Emefiele and Bawa might be the latest names in this saga, but they certainly are not the first and painfully might not be the last.
The crux of the matter lies in the way our security and anti-graft agencies such as the Department of State Services and EFCC approach their crucial roles in handling serious and high-profile cases as well as upholding justice. A trail of squandered opportunities, botched investigations and crumbling cases paints a picture of a system teetering on the brink. The heart of the nation throbs with disillusionment as these institutions fail to wield their power objectively, professionally and justly, leaving the citizens to question the very essence of the fight against corruption and malfeasance in public offices.
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If a public office holder – elected or appointed – is found to have abused the privilege of office or accused of sleazy practice, it’s normal and expected to see the authorities going after the suspect – without any bias and ultimately for the sake of state. Painfully, given the approach always being adopted by the successive administrations, seemingly good corruption cases have been bungled by the security agencies and anti-graft bodies. In the end, suits that are supposed to be won by the state were lost to defendants – the accused.
After his suspension as the CBN Governor, the DSS on June 10, 2023 after denial finally confirmed the arrest of Emefiele by its operatives. Interestingly, before now, DSS had requested a court order in December last year to arrest Emefiele over allegations of “financing terrorism, fraudulent activities and economic crimes of national security dimension.” Ordinarily, with this, one would have concluded that the secret security outfit was fully prepared for Emefiele’s prosecution. But this was a wrong impression, given the drama that subsequently ensued.
After struggling to obtain court orders to hold and extend the timeline to keep him in its custody, the DSS prosecuted Emefiele on a two count charge, namely: Possession of a single-barrel shotgun (JOJEFF MAGNUM 8371) without a licence and possession of 123 rounds of live ammunition (Cartridges) without a licence. In other words, the embattled CBN Governor was charged for illegal possession of firearms and not promoting terrorism as earlier envisaged. This was because Emefiele had a standing court order barring the DSS from arresting and trying him for terrorism. This date, the DSS has been unable to vacate the order.
However, while faced with the reality that it had failed to do a thorough job before the arrest, detention and arraignment in court of Emefiele and that his freedom was imminent, the DSS recently changed gear – withdrew its first two-count charge and replaced them with 20 fresh charges, bothering on N6.9 billion conspiracy and fraudulent procurement! This is an error! The question is: Why the new charges against Emefiele? Why didn’t the DSS come up with its new charges against the accused in the first place? We shall return to this later.
In the same manner with Emefiele, shortly after his suspension from office, Bawa was arrested by DSS operatives on June 14, 2023. He has since been held till date! To worsen the situation, the DSS had failed to mention a single charge against Bawa, let alone prosecuting him! Now, the agency is presently under pressure and being questioned on the reason (s) it arrested and detained the suspended EFCC Chairman.
A constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana (SAN), on Sunday this week faulted the action of the DSS. Falana said in a statement: “In view of the fact that Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa has not been charged with any criminal offence whatsoever, the State Security Service ought to have released him from custody. I am not unaware of the claim that Mr. Bawa is being detained on the basis of a remand order issued by a Magistrate Court in the Federal Capital Territory. It ought to be pointed out that the remand order has become spent, invalid, and illegal as no magistrate has the power under Section 493 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, or Section 35 of the Constitution of Nigeria to authorise the detention of a criminal suspect for 67 days without trial.” This is another big error on the part of DSS.
Again, the question is: If the DSS is serious at all or the authorities it’s answerable to is really keen about the interest of the state, why is it always in a haste to arrest and detain accused persons? Why the arrest first and follow up with a shoddy investigation? Why put the cart before the horse? The gaffe, simply put, is systemic. And it’s disheartening to see that the governments in the past and up until now have lost good cases in courts, either on account of pursuing personal agenda – political vendetta – or failure to assemble competent and efficient prosecution and legal teams.
In Emefiele’s case, apart from the 20 fresh fraudulent charges against him, the cashless policy executed under his watch and which cost the CBN and its subsidiary about N74.84 billion to produce and roll out currencies, including new naira notes, in 2022, but without result, is a good case to pursue in the court of law. Except of course the Secret Service is afraid that persons higher up the ladder than Emefiele, who it can’t touch, will be mentioned in court. Another pressing fact the DSS ought to have pursued is that despite the dearth of naira that plagued the country later in 2022, the CBN spent 40.42 percent over the N53.29 billion it spent in the preceding year to roll out currencies! Almost a year after the naira redesign policy, where are the new notes, despite the huge spending?
Obviously, the DSS or those who ordered it to hold Emefiele failed to do the needful ahead of his first appearance in court. Now that the new charges have been pressed against the former CBN lord, the public is watching how the security agency will execute its case against the respondent such that it is the “sins” against the state that are being pursued and not an attempt to settle personal scores.
In the case of Bawa, it’s almost certain that the same blunder is going to be committed. However, a word of advice for the headship of DSS: If public perception and image really matter to its hierarchy in the first place, it’s better a comprehensive investigation is done before the man is docked.
In Bawa’s case, the old path should be jettisoned. Here, acting on speculations should be avoided. It’s very simple that such an approach is dead on arrival. Without adequate information or intelligence, how do you carry out a proper, deep and detailed investigation? It’s assumed that what the DSS was supposed to have done (investigation) before Bawa’s arrest, is what it is doing presently. But to what extent is the outcome going to be effective? We wait to see how events unfold.
Except the evidence that has been documented without the knowledge of the accused, the ongoing discreet investigation between DSS and Bawa is like a voluntary action, a conscious exercise, so it might not yield any fruitful result as the man at the centre would reveal only information he feels like. No doubt, the so-called investigation is like a gamble or guesswork. Once, a senior journalist who worked in a defunct national daily owned by a former Governor was once asked where his employer keeps his money the night before the employer was due to be arraigned in court for alleged money laundering. Where is the link? Where is the seriousness? Doesn’t that amount to chasing shadows? This is the manner and usual tradition our security and anti-graft agencies and their operatives operate. It’s certainly not the best way to go. This is the terrible approach being adopted in handling suits relating to some political figures in the country, who are supposed to be in jail by now, but still walking freely and have the effrontery to pose moral questions on public office holders!
On this matter, Nigeria, as a country, needs to change her approach for the rule of law to thrive and for the security outfits to earn their due respect and for public office holders to be disciplined and behave themselves when in power. In developed countries, high profile cases like those of Emefiele and Bawa are subjected to serious investigation, after which arrest is made and prosecution follows. A good example is that of Nigerian internet fraudster, Ramon Abbas, popularly known as Hushpuppi. The convict, who had been under surveillance for defrauding his victims not less than $1.7 million, was in July 2020 arrested in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and subsequently extradited to the United States of America. Abbas was immediately prosecuted in Chicago and Los Angeles courts. In the end, Hushpuppi was jailed 135 months – 11 years – in Federal prison.
Nigeria must advance to the level of not trivialising serious cases against the occupants of public offices found wanting in the discharge of their obligations. On this old path, an array of hope for a shift recently beckoned. While being screened by the Senate, the newly sworn-in Attorney-General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), admitted that it was wrong for security outfits to arrest an accused and then begin investigation. Such a trend, Fagbemi submitted, must be reviewed and checked.
If the new AGF is deliberate and conscious about his submission and resolve for a new dawn on this national challenge, if he walks his talk, it’s certain that the revolution to a large extent would promote accountability, discipline and sanity both on the side of leadership and the general public. Indeed as the sun sets on another chapter in Nigeria’s tumultuous narrative, the stage is set for a collective reckoning, where the call for reform must pierce through the cacophony of political manoeuvring and self-interest. President Bola Tinubu must avoid similar errors like his predecessors. Indeed, the time has come to retrace our steps from the old trajectory for the principles of accountability and justice to hold sway.