By James Ojo
From a legal prism, allegations – no matter how weighty – remain unverified claims until proven beyond reasonable doubt. On this premise, it is imperative to point out that the intention of this piece is not to “nail” Ibrahim Magu, the suspended acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as some are currently doing. Rather, its aim is to expatiate the overall effect his current travails would have on the mouthed anti-corruption war of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.
It is no gainsaying corruption has remained the bane of Nigeria’s underdevelopment for long. The reality has become a street anthem among the Nigerians and even politicians – particularly during election campaigns. As it stands today, no political party would adjudge its manifesto good enough to curry support of the electorates without a mention of how it intends to tackle corruption if voted into power. Everyone knows. We’re all convinced that to birth the Nigeria of our dreams, we have to expunge corruption from the polity.
Magu is not unaware of that, too. While speaking during the passing out parade of 281 cadets of the EFCC Detective Inspector Course-5, at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, in February, Magu spoke like a man intoxicated with patriotism. He condemned corruption. He even said he “strongly” believed it was the cause of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Hear him: “EFCC has zero tolerance for corruption as our mandate is to kill corruption as corruption is worse than all the diseases we have now and I strongly believe coronavirus is caused by corruption. Corruption is a huge burden to our nation it has spread to insecurity, poverty, unemployment, falling standard of education, weak access to affordable health care, falling infrastructure and so many others.”
knowing the problem, they say, is half the solution to any problem. But if happenings in the country over the years is anything to go by, our realisation that corruption is inimical to the overall development of the nation has not translated into anything meaningful. It all stops with knowing its damming consequence to the polity. We have failed woefully in collectively tackling the scourge headlong. The unfolding drama involving the suspended EFCC boss only further drives home this truism. Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the federation (AGF), had in a memo, accused Magu of corruption and insubordination – a development that had opened the floodgates for further accusations and counter-accusations. A presidential panel led by Ayo Salami, former president of the appeal court, is currently probing the allegations against him.
What is crystal clear is that Magu’s travails remain a big blow to Buhari’s fight against corruption. Buhari’s emergence as president in 2015 owes much to his perceived incorruptibility. For many, he was the “messiah” that would end the monster called corruption which has eaten deeply into the Nigerian system. But years down the line, he has done little to justify the trust reposed in him by many Nigerians. Going by his criticisms of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the build-up to the 2015 presidential election, in which he defeated Goodluck Jonathan, many thought he would foster a holistic change in the system that would make it impossible for corruption to breathe. Sadly, reality suggests the contrary. For long, his anti-corruption campaign has been characterised by controversies bordering on partisan interests with many accusing him of targeting his political opponents only.
His choice of Magu to lead such campaign, perhaps, was his biggest undoing. From the outset, the embattled EFCC boss seemed destined for controversies. Magu was appointed in November 2015, following the sack of Ibrahim Lamorde. The suspended anti-graft czar’s emergence to lead such a dignified body, in itself, contradicts the age-long maxim that “he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.” When he appeared before the 8th assembly in December 2016 for confirmation, the lawmakers rejected him citing, a report by the Department of State Services (DSS) which accused him of corruption and “gross violation of human rights”. Dino Melaye, former lawmaker representing Kogi west senatorial district, had while presenting the report during plenary said: “In light of foregoing, Magu has failed integrity test.”
Magu had dismissed the allegations and would be renominated by Buhari in January for confirmation. But in March 2018 – about three months after — the upper legislative chamber again rejected him. In a saner clime, the DSS report would have probably spelt the end of Magu’s appointment. But he got the backing of the president and had been serving in an acting capacity since then until his recent suspension and subsequent replacement by Muhammed Umar.
The Magu debacle has no doubt oxygenated criticisms about the Buhari-led administration’s fight against corruption. Already, the anti-graft war is suffering a perception problem in the court of public opinion. The corruption allegations currently rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) among others are indicative of the fact that corruption is still thriving under an administration that gave head-spinning promises to tackle it if elected.
Magu’s travails represent two sides of the coin to the Buhari-led government. One on hand, it is an opportunity for the government to indeed prove that there are no sacred cows in its war against graft no matter whose ox is gored. On the other hand, it could further mar its image before Nigerians. The attempt by the presidency to score cheap political point with the situation is sad. Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, had in a statement, recently described Magu’s trial as an indication that the fight against corruption is real. “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,” he had said. “There is no better indication that the fight is real and active than the will to investigate allegations in an open and transparent manner against those who have been charged to be custodians of this very system.”
Buhari should know that mere statements are not enough. That Magu’s suspension is coming when his tenure is almost coming to an end is nothing to be excited about. What Nigerians expect of his administration is to ensure the allegations against Magu are thoroughly investigated and adequate punishment meted out where necessary. As Ayodele Fayose, former governor of Ekiti state, aptly puts it: “This investigation must not end up as their usual paddy-paddy arrangement. It should not end up as a tool just to remove Magu because removing him will not be enough, the loots already ‘relooted’ must be ‘re-recovered’ and those who ‘relooted’ the loots brought to book.”