Why Bawa’s conviction on contempt charge is wrong – EFCC

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EFCC said Mr Bawa was wrongly convicted of contempt.
ByKunle Sanni
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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has faulted the conviction and jailing of its chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, on a contempt charge.

In a statement by its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, Tuesday night, the commission said its chairman did not disobey any court order as ruled by the court.

The commission described Mr Bawa as an advocate of the rule of law and due process who would not disobey any legitimate court order.

It said the ruling created a wrong impression of the person of the EFCC chairman as “encouraging impunity”.

“As far as the relationship between the EFCC and the judiciary is concerned, the Executive Chairman, Mr Abdulrasheed Bawa has been an apostle of rule of law, due process, and close collaboration between the two institutions in justice administration.

“As an investigator, and the only Chief Executive of a law enforcement agency who regularly goes to court, the Executive Chairman will not tolerate impunity or disregard any lawful orders of the court.

“Abdulrasheed Bawa, in his capacity as Executive Chairman of the EFCC since March 5, 2022, did not disregard any order of court. For the benefit of the public, the said order of the FCT High Court was given on November 21, 2018, three years before Abdulrasheed became EFCC Chairman. ”

It said this in reaction to a ruling by the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Abuja which found Mr Bawa guilty of contempt by violating an earlier order of the court.

In the ruling, the judge, Chizoba Oji, convicted and jailed Mr Bawa on 28 October in a ruling on an application by a former Director of Operations at the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Rufus Ojuawo.

Mr Ojuawo had in his application called for the jailing of Mr Bawa for EFCC’s continued disobedience of a court order directing the commission to release a Range Rover car and N40 million seized from him while he was facing trial.

The judge ordered the Inspector of General of Police to put the anti-graft agency’s boss in Kuje prison in Abuja for disobeying the court’s earlier order.

The EFCC had in an interview on Tuesday vowed to appeal the ruling.

Bawa not served with any notice of contempt before comviction

Faulting Mr Bawa’s conviction, the EFCC said contempt proceedings being quasi-criminal in nature, the alleged contemnor ought to be personally served with the charge against him.

But it said Mr Bawa was not served with Forms 48 and 49 as expected in contempt proceedings.

The statement also stated that the EFCC, after becoming aware of the aforementioned order dated 21 November 2018, released the aforementioned Range Rover to the applicant on 27 June 2022, and approved the process for releasing the remaining N40 million.

“Taking into cognisance the procedural lapse in the proceedings the commission has initiated a process to set aside the entire contempt proceedings and committal of the Executive Chairman for contempt.

“Despite the discomfort of this ruling which is seemingly promoted by misinformation, the commission remains committed to working closely with the judiciary in furtherance of the fight against economic and financial crimes in Nigeria.”

Backstory
Mr Ojuawo, a retired air vice marshal (AVM), was previously prosecuted by the EFCC on corruption charges but was acquitted by another judge of the FCT High Court.

He was arraigned in 2016 on a two-count charge by the EFCC before another judge of the Nyanya, Abuja division of the FCT High Court, Muawiyah Idris.

The prosecution charged the former military commander with taking kickbacks of N40 million and a Range Rover Sport (Supercharged) valued at N29.250 million from Hima Aboubakar of Societe D’Equipment Internationalnaux Nigeria Limited, a contractor for the Nigerian Air Force.

However, the judge acquitted Mr Ojuawo in a judgment delivered on 21 November 2018.

It rejected EFCC’s case, saying the commission was unable to show that Mr Ojuawo accepted the gifts while carrying out his official duties as military chief and that the gifts were incentives or rewards.

The court ordered EFCC to release Mr Ojuawo’s assets.

But due to the failure of the EFCC and its leadership to comply with the order, Mr Ojuawo applied for the jailing of the commission’s chairman for contempt.

The court upheld the application by convicting Mr Bawa of contempt and ordering that he be imprisoned at Kuje correctional centre in Abuja “until he purges himself of contempt.”

Mr Bawa as of the time of this report has, however, not been put in prison as the commission gets set to appeal the ruling.

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