As propounded by the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), and by extension the government of the day, to all Nigerians, anti-corruption remains a cardinal programme of the government. In virtually all facets of life of Nigerians, the government of Nigeria has been struggling to eliminate corruption. To what extent the government has been able to address this concern, remains a subject of controversy. Suffice, however, to state that from my personal perspective I have always said that there is over-concentration of efforts on loot recovery at the expense of combating corruption holistically. There is no doubt that fighting corruption surpasses that enclave of loot recovery. Beyond actively blocking leakages, restructuring institutions, particularly in the way things are done, adoption of technology, eliminating conducive atmosphere for the thriving of corruption, there is compelling need for improvement in the welfare of the people to discourage temptation. Be that as it may, however, this is not the business of this discourse as that shall be undertaken in future. I am more concerned about the quality of the person that occupies the driver’s seat in the anti-corruption agency called the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In the last couple of years, the agency has been manned by an Acting Chairman, consequent upon the failure of the erstwhile Acting Chairman to pass the screening exercise of the Senate twice. With the nomination of Abdul Rasheed Bawa, a 40-year-old detective as the substantive chairman of the organization, tongues have been wagging. Initially it was a story of corruption woven around the gentleman. After the commission debunked that aspect as a figment of imagination of those peddling the rumour, it appears that the mongers are satisfied as the fuss would appear to have vanished. Not quite long after, the issue of legal qualification of the nominee to occupy the substantive office surfaced. The argument, according to the analysts or commentators, as I would refrain from tagging them as antagonists, revolved round the interpretation of a section of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act (EFCC Act) that relates to the level of attainment in the public service before a nominee can be qualified to be appointed as the substantive chairman of the commission. The contention is that because the nominee was on Level 13 as at the point of nomination, which in the analysts view is not equivalent of the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police in the Nigeria Police Force, the nominee cannot be qualified for appointment as the substantive chairman.
Upon coming across this contention, the immediate question that comes to mind is who determines the equivalent of the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police as stated in the Act in the circumstances of this nature. I found no assistance from any of the provisions in the EFCC Act. This is not a novel provision as I know that, even in the Constitution of Nigeria, the question on the import of the equivalent of School Certificate expected to be possessed by candidates contesting elections, has most times been determined by the arbiter, the Electoral Tribunal. In this wise, therefore, the meaning of the equivalent of Assistant Commissioner of Police lies with the Senate, which is the screening and approving authority in this instance. In my humble view, therefore, the determination of that criterion lies with the screening body, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
As indicated earlier, this is not peculiar to the EFCC Act. Even in the public service, lateral movement of public servants across agencies and or inter-state movement of civil servants, or movement from state to the federal and vice versa are usually determined by the relevant Civil Service Commission. It is not unusual and in fact a reality that a Level 16 officer that transferred service from the state to the federal civil service may, at times, be demoted by one step or two, depending on the determination of the body, that is, the Federal Civil Service Commission, based on parameters known to them but in which I reckon experience and attainments in the organization, would be part of the criteria considered. The converse also obtains in the country where civil servants moved from federal to state, no automatic rule of placement obtains. It is largely determined by the relevant Civil Service Commission. Thus, it is my submission that the determination of the equivalent of Assistant Commissioner of Police in the Commission lies exclusively with the Senate as the appropriate authority in this instance. It is not a straightforward issue as being speculated and circulated. Now that a lawyer has approached the court on the subject, it would have been interesting to know the court’s position on the issue. Regrettably, however, as rightly hinted by the Senate’s spokesman, Dr. Ajibola Basiru, I am not too sure that we would have the privilege of such pronouncement.
This is premised on the fact that the matter certainly is premature for determination by the court. The Senate has not taken a position that could be a subject of adjudication yet. The substance of the suit will, therefore, appear to be speculative. Jurisprudence is settled on the question whether one arm of government can prevent the other from carrying out her statutory duty. No court, based on the principle of the separation of powers, can stop the Senate from carrying out the screening. It is the outcome of the screening, which, if considered unconstitutional or illegal, that could be a subject of litigation. Thus, predictably, that suit cannot see the light of the day. Beyond all the above is the promotion of all the set of the nominee by the EFCC. It is understood that the promotion that was long overdue has not been done due to various issues surrounding the commission since. This is not an unusual practice in the public service where promotions are done in arrears.
In most cases, such are backdated. On this, I do not have the facts but if, as reported in the media, it is retrospective, backdated to a year, then the question, as the courts would put it, is now academic and moot.
This implies that the question of legal competence to serve as a substantive chairman is ab initio dead, as the nominee would have been qualified prior to the nomination, assuming, without conceding the interpretation placed by the analyst on the equivalent of Assistant Commissioner of Police. Where, however, it is not backdated, it still will not matter as qualification is determined at the screening stage. In other words, it is the status of the nominee at the date of screening that will govern the process. The implication of the elevation will, therefore, serve as automatic cure of whatever deficiency is noticeable in the nomination process. Now, going beyond the law, I have not heard from any quarters that the nominee is not competent to man the commission, either in terms of academic qualification or experience.
This is good news on its own. For me, I attest to the competence of the young man whom I have come across in the course of my professional service to a client at the commission. Although I was on the other side of the divide with him and was not too pleased with the outcome as I could not get the desired result for my client, I still left with a sense of satisfaction as per the professional excellence of the officer. I must confess that, since that moment, something struck me that, one day, this fellow would rise to head the commission. When and how, I did not know. Now that it has happened, I must assert that this is one of the few appointments that the Presidency has got right. Apart from his age that is a major asset in this instance, his being lettered and experienced are additional values he is bringing to the table. I became a commissioner at the age of about 33, and after serving for 12 years I left as the youngest member of the cabinet.
Beyond whatever competence I must have had, age greatly assisted my humble achievements. Most things that I could do then cannot be done at my present age. This much testimony the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, gave when he wished he could be in the saddle at a much younger age. Since my appointment into the cabinet of Lagos State then and up till the moment, I have always believed these younger ones must be given the opportunity to lead the nation. Beyond the capacity issue, where carefully selected or elected, they possess the required energy and exposure to move the nation forward in this technological age.
I understand that the young man has served the commission for more than 15 years. Were he to be a lawyer, he would have been qualified, amongst other criteria, to be appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. What else do we need beyond competence and an impeccable record? Furthermore, if the commission itself is going to be rebranded, it is imperative that the infusion of policemen into the commission must be reversed. Most corrupt and corruptive activities alleged against the commission are perpetrated by regular police officers who dominate the commission and it is public knowledge in this country that the police as an institution would appear irredeemable when the issue of corruption is being considered. Abdul Rasheed Bawa is a product of the academy as a cadet and is in a better position by training and experience to move the EFCC forward. More cadets should be brought into the commission than regular policemen. We need to do away with the regular police in the commission even if it requires recruiting new cadets with proper orientation and training to combat corruption in all forms. We need the regular police, who are insufficient anyway, in the daily policing and detection of other crimes in these days of insecurity. Let them move to the stations to do their job.
With respect to the stop-him-at-all-costs agitators, I remember my experience during my nomination then as the chairman of the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), this same perilous route my adversaries took even at the Senate. When would Nigeria stop this pull-him-down syndrome? It is not worth the energy we dissipate on it. Let objectivity continue to drive our decisions. Nigerians must start eschewing bitterness against one another. You need not like the face of any appointee nor be friendly with such a nominee; your paramount consideration must be competence. I have never believed in other parochial considerations including the so-called quota system or federal character. They are retrogressive impediments to the growth of the nation. I, therefore, once again seize this opportunity to call on all concerned that the time is ripe to jettison these policies, in the interest of the nation. Allow the young man to be. I must, however, not conclude without appealing to the ‘powers that be’ and powerbrokers to give the young man a chance and desist from mounting unnecessary pressure on him while in office.
The office must be insulated against all political influences and the commission must be accorded the independence the law confers it. It must be allowed to function and should not be stifled financially. It is in our collective interest that corruption must be tamed, if not totally eliminated.