With the Tuesday, July 7, 2020 suspension from office of the embattled acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the agency has furthered the tradition of having its bosses kicked out of office in questionable circumstances.
Also, despite Magu’s ironclad mien, his removal besides swaying in the wind, the integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft war, also appears to have vindicated the 8th National Assembly, and the Department of State Services (DSS). Both bodies had earlier described Magu as unfit to head the anti-graft agency.
Since Magu’s suspension, stakeholders, including legal practitioners and civil society groups have advanced reasons chieftains of the EFCC have always been sent packing unceremoniously. They range from political interference, which has eroded the integrity and independence of the commission, to claims that successive governments have not been truly committed to the fight against corruption.
They also claim that the ugly trend has continued because successive chairmen of the commission have compromised their offices as a result of their susceptibility to corruption and partisan disposition even as the anti-graft body lacks institutional independence.
Established in December 2002 by the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led government, the agency’s premier head, Nuhu Ribadu, got his immaculate image tainted by evidence that his fight was partisan and heavily influenced by his employers. Besides being accused of double-standard, he was also alleged to be insincere in his fight against corruption.
However, just two weeks after Ribadu made moves to prosecute the former Delta State governor, James Onanefe Ibori, a close associate of President Umaru Yar’Adua, who succeeded Obasanjo, he was forcefully removed from office, and sent on study leave to the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru near Jos, Plateau State.
Farida Mzamber Waziri, who replaced Ribadu in 2008, was alleged to have taken the fight against corruption several notches down from where Ribadu left off. A handful of politicians and activists, who were displeased with the development mounted a steady campaign for her sack, while some even accused her of being corrupt.
Like Ribadu, the EFCC under Waziri was accused of being selective in its investigations, and was particularly alleged to have compromised investigation into financial misappropriation against the former governor of Bayelsa State, and current Minister of State for Pretroleum, Timipreye Sylva.
Having oscillated between one corruption-related scandal to the other for a reasonable part of her stay in office, President Goodluck Jonathan showed her the door on November 23, 2011, after which the Independent and Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission launched a “broad investigation into her tenure, and what appears to be very disturbing evidence of corruption.”
Ibrahim Lamorde, who was made Director of Operations after Tiyamiyu Oluwagbemiga retired as the pioneer Director or Operations and Strategy in 2006, was in 2008 appointed acting chairman of the commission after Ribadu was sent back to school. He held office for five months until Farida Waziri was appointed chairperson in May 2008.
Shortly after Waziri took the reins, he was posted to Bauchi State only to return in December 2010, again as Director of Operations. When Waziri was dismissed in November 2011, Lamorde, then an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) was again appointed acting chairman, and was confirmed as substantive chairman on February 15, 2012.
Like his predecessors, there were different allegations of corruption leveled against Magu, one of which was the petition to the Senate, by one George Uboh, who alleged that the suspended EFCC boss failed to remit more than N2.05t, being funds recovered from corrupt leaders.
Lamorde was also accused of diverting over N1t recovered from the sale of confiscated property belonging to convicted government officials, including the former governor of Bayelsa State, the late Diepreye Alamieyesiegha, and a former inspector-general of police, Tafa Balogun.
Magu, who took office as acting chairman of EFCC on November 9, 2015, had earlier served under Ribadu’s at the commission, and was even credited with some of the successes recorded during that era.
Since arriving on the scene the second time, Magu thrived in controversy and was never afraid of squaring up against elite members of the political class; other government appointees, as well as government institutions, including the NASS and the DSS.
After ignoring a groundswell of corruption allegations levelled against Magu in 2017, the Buhari government last week suspended him as the probe by a presidential panel investigating alleged corruption and insubordination against the anti-graft czar got underway.
The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, who made the allegations, accused Magu of insubordination, re-looting of recovered funds, victimisation of Nigerians, among others.
HOWEVER, the Presidency, yesterday, declared that Magu must give account of his stewardship to the people, claiming there were no sacred cows under the Buhari-led government.
The Presidency however, stated that Magu was still innocent until otherwise declared by the Justice Ayo Salami-led panel investigating sundry allegations brought against him.
In a statement by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the Presidency said with the preliminary review of a series of documented allegations leveled against him and several other members of his staff, there were grounds for a detailed investigation to be conducted.
“Hence, an investigative panel was constituted in compliance with extant laws governing the convening of such a body.
“As is the proper procedure, when allegations are made against the chief executive of an institution, and in this case an institution that ought to be seen as beyond reproach, the chief executive has to step down from his post and allow for a transparent and unhindered investigation.
“The EFCC does not revolve around the personality of an individual, and as such cannot be seen through the prism of any individual. Therefore, the suspension of Mr. Ibrahim Magu, allows the institution to continue carrying out its mandate without the cloud of investigation hanging over its head.
“The EFCC has many good, hardworking men and women who are committed to its ideals, and ensuring that the wealth of our country isn’t plundered and wherein there is an act of misappropriation such person(s) are brought to justice.
“Under this president and government, this is our mantra and guiding principle. There are no sacred cows, and for those who think they have a halo over their heads, their days are also numbered. Mr. Magu was not immune – and regardless of the obvious embarrassment that potential acts of wrongdoing by him, given the office he held, may appear for the government. No other administration in the history of Nigeria would have moved to bring into the light and public domain such an allegation.”
WHILE stating its position on the ignoble exit that past heads of the anti-graft commission have been subjected to, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) said that an integral component of the rule of law is that no one is above the law. “The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the cleaner on the street are equal before the law. It is only in a situation where there is obvious lack of democracy and constitutionalism that we see deviations from these established democratic ethos. We have seen a lot of such deviations in Nigeria. This is why it is surprising to some Nigerians that the arrest of the EFCC Chairman is a big deal. No, it should not be, because he is also subject to the law. Everyone occupying public office should be ready to give account whenever called upon provided it is not a witch-hunt.”
According to the National Publicity Secretary of the NBA, Mr. Kunle Edun, the only admonition that the NBA will give “is that Ibrahim Magu must be accorded all his fundamental rights as a Nigerian citizen, and presumed innocent until otherwise found guilty of whatever allegations made against him by a competent court. He must not be detained beyond the limit set by the constitution. The NBA states that if we take care of the rule of law, the rule of law will take care of us one day. The rule of law is a leveler and it is in the interest of all that we must act in accordance with the due process of the law.”
The body maintained that the “travails of Ibrahim Magu and the unceremonious removal of previous EFCC chairmen makes the office a very sensitive and controversial one; thus the holder of the office must always be above board in his dealings.”
GIVING his perspective on the issue, human rights lawyer, Inibehe Effiong said: “Political interference has eroded the independence of the EFCC. That explains why successive chairmen of the commission have had ignoble exits. Past chairmen of the commission felt beholden to the President because they were not given a free hand to operate. Any head of the commission that tries to assert his authority is shown the way out. However, another reason for this trend is that successive chairmen of the commission compromised their offices because of their susceptibility to corruption and partisan disposition. This makes them vulnerable to political control and manipulation.
“One of the reasons different chairmen of the commission have not been able to function efficiently is because the EFCC lacks institutional independence. The EFCC has been personalised,” Effiong said.
THE chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CA-COL), Debo Adeniran, insists that when governments allow the chief executives of its anti-graft agencies to be disgraced out of office, as has happened, then no persons with integrity would want to go into that office.
Adeniran maintained that Magu’s saga makes a bold statement that “the government is not truly committed to the fight against corruption, otherwise there would have been adequate safeguards in the books that established the EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practice Commission (ICPC). Such safeguards would ensure that chairmen of anti-graft commissions are allowed to serve out their term of office. If they committed any infraction while in office, they should be prosecuted after their tenure and punished accordingly. And the law should have made it clear from the beginning that if they commit any infraction in the areas of corruption, which they are supposed to fight, their punishment should be doubled.
“Right now, the way government has been handling the commission, it is in such a way that no good person that is committed would want to serve, except those who want to use those offices to negotiate for themselves. We know that those being probe by this commission are very powerful in terms of network, they have stolen enough to bribe and buy anybody, including bribing personnel of the commission to implicate their chairmen.”
THE Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday, warned the Buhari Presidency against covering up for Magu, but to ensure that he answers for alleged corruption, reported violation of rules, victimisation of Nigerians and stealing of recovered funds over which he was suspended.
The party described Magu as not only being unfit to lead an agency like the EFCC, but one who had reduced the anti-corruption agency to a house of corruption, and a partisan witch-hunt organisation that thrives in violation of rules, abuse of investigation processes, manipulation of court procedures, as well as a vehicle to harass and extort money from innocent Nigerians.
The PDP demanded that Magu be made to answer for allegations that he was more interested in securing politically induced convictions rather than justice, for which he allegedly turned the EFCC into a terror house, where innocent Nigerians are harassed with trumped-up charges and convicted on media trial, even before being allowed to defend themselves in court.
In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, PDP noted that there were also allegations of violation of rights, including allegedly making his victims to make statements in custody without the services of their lawyers.
This, according to the party, “is in addition to insinuations in the public that the indicted EFCC boss was also harassing certain judges to get conviction on cases.”
The PDP further claimed that there were several cases of officers and ranks of the commission, whose employment in the service were unjustly suspended or terminated.