Today, it will be 40 days since the immediate past chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, has been in the custody of the State Security Service (SSS).
The embattled anti-graft czar, who has been languishing in the detention facility of the secret police in Abuja, popularly called “Yellow House” since June 14, was arrested by the operatives few hours after his suspension by President Bola Tinubu.
His house and office in the country’s capital were subsequently raided by the operatives of the SSS. Bawa celebrated Eid-el-kabir in the secret police net.
It would be recalled that the Director of Information, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Willie Bassey, via a statement, announced Bawa’s suspension, citing “weighty allegations of abuse of office levelled against him” as the main reason the president took the decision.
Since June 14, Bawa’s specific alleged offences have not been made public by his detainers and he is yet to be charged to court or arraigned for any trial, a development that has been faulted by many prominent Nigerians.
Earlier findings by Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that the suspended EFCC boss was picked up over his role in the cash crunch that shook the country early this year, as well as the agency’s faceoff with a former Zamfara State governor, Bello Matawalle.
Top sources who were familiar with the matter had confided in one of our correspondents that the investigation of the suspended apex bank governor, Godwin Emefiele, could not be unconnected with Bawa’s prolonged detention.
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, lawyers, security experts, academics, among others, berated the SSS over the continued detention of the suspended anti-graft agency boss.
In an interview with one of our correspondents, a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Ekiti State, Dayo Akinlaja, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), wondered why Bawa would be detained for so long without trial.
Continued incarceration against spirit of constitution – Lawyers
Akinlaja said the delay in the arraignment of the former EFCC boss in court was against the spirit of constitution, adding that the theory of fundamental human rights is not hidden or alien in our clime as it is part of our laws.
“However, there is a possibility that he might be detained in pursuant to a court order. As a matter of practice, security agencies have a way of obtaining ex parte court orders to enable such a prolonged detention in the guise of conducting investigations.
“Be that as it may, there is no disputing the fact that any long detention without arraignment in court is against the spirit of the constitution. To that extent, it is expected that he should be charged to court or otherwise released,” the senior advocate said.
Another lawyer, Tijani Ahmed, called on the general public and the media to put their searchlights on the custody of the secret police, saying there are many innocent Nigerians languishing in detention without arraignment in court just like Bawa, Emefiele and others.
According to him, the development defies the tenets of constitutional state.
“There are so many Nigerians languishing in the SSS custody, including Bawa. He may have abused the laws himself, but he cannot be there in perpetuity,” Ahmed argued.
In the same vein, an Abuja-based human rights lawyer, Pelumi Olajengbesi, said it was “illegal” for the SSS to keep Bawa in detention without trial.
Olajengbesi said, “Without any contradiction, the continued detention of Bawa by the secret police for over three weeks now is unconstitutional and a breach of the fundamental rights of the detainee.
“Illegality cannot beget another illegality. The SSS should immediately release Bawa to rejoin his family members without further delay or charge him to court to face charges preferred against him by the federal government. Anything outside these two options is alien to law and won’t stand.”
Nigeria’s law enforcement remains analogue – Security expert
On his part, a security sector reform expert, Chukwuma Ume, bemoaned how law enforcement in the country had remained analogue, saying it is not proper to first arrest someone or a suspect before the commencement of any investigation.
According to him, it is only someone who wants to tamper with evidence that should be incarcerated, not someone like Bawa that has no access again to documents in the EFCC since the day he was suspended by the president.
“The SSS must have some documents from the court to keep him for that long. They won’t be that careless. There is no power that will allow you to keep somebody in detention for that long. Usually, they go to court, and they will get a magistrate to sign for them to be able to keep him for that long.
“Although this style is not only peculiar to Nigeria, it happens everywhere in the world. But it is something they do in connivance with the court. When they (SSS) go before a judge or magistrate, they will argue that they would need to keep more than what is stipulated in law. What is stipulated in law is 48 hours.
“The Act itself is also to the position of the fact that our law enforcement is still very analogue and crude. Usually, in the western world, before you are arrested they would have almost concluded their investigation.
“Here, it is after the arrest that they will start investigation, and in the process, they will infringe on the fundamental human rights of the person by keeping him longer than expected. If they take him to court, the court will also give him bail.
“If they go to court, they might have not prepared to start the case, so the judge would have no choice than to grant the person bail. Of course, his lawyers would argue for the bail,” Ume said in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday.
‘It is a demonstration of naked power’
Speaking further, he said, “Having said that it is a failure of our law enforcement agencies, it is also important to say that it is a demonstration of naked power. It is also something you find where there is a rule of man, not a rule of law, because in other climes, it is supposed that his lawyer would go to court.
“They (secret police) would have gone through the backdoor to get power to keep him longer than expected. His (Bawa’s) detention is not necessary because if you have removed him from office as EFCC chairman, he is not going to tamper with the evidence.
“Definitely, they have removed him and he does not have access to the EFCC anymore for some pertinent files that he would destroy the case. So, why keeping him there for so long? If you grant him bail as expected rather than going to the magistrate or the judge to get the injunction to keep him, it doesn’t mean he would fly away. He has no hidden place. He is not going to run anywhere in the world that you cannot get to.
“If he runs to the United States or Dubai you can bring him back because you have security and defence pact or agreements with these countries. That’s where Interpol comes in. What is happening is just a show of power.”
The spokesman of the SSS, Peter Afunanya, in an interview with one of our reporters, did not state the exact day Bawa would be arraigned in court.
Afunanya said, “All legal procedures are being diligently followed. We had assured of professionalism, justice and fairness in the matter in line with the tenets of the law.”
When Daily Trust on Sunday asked how long the former anti-graft czar would be kept in detention, the SSS spokesman declined further comment.