The presidency, yesterday, said despite the seeming embarrassment the ongoing probe of the suspended acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu had caused the government and the country, it was a strong message that no one in Nigeria was above the law or beyond investigation in the country’s anti-corruption war. It said by subjecting the head of one of its most critical agencies to an open probe, the administration had set a new record in the country’s history by the move and strengthened the mantra that there were no sacred cows in fight against corruption.
However, contrary to the claim of setting historical precedent by with probe, the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration had meted out an even tougher treatment to its Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, and some sitting ministers, like Adenike Grange and Fabian Osuji. Some members of the National Assembly at the time also had a taste of the government’s fierce anti-corruption stance under the then EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu.
The statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, stated that the current probe of Magu was an indication that the anti-corruption fight was real. Shehu said the probe, particularly, sent out a strong message that the survival of the agency was more important than any individual, because the EFCC was not built around anyone.
But the world’s foremost coalition against corruption, Transparency International (TI), differed, stating that the Magu case is the greatest damage to President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft fight. TI also believed the situation could make people begin to doubt the credibility of the fight against graft by the Buhari administration.
In the same vein, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Saturday, said the Buhari presidency must not cover up for Magu but ensure that he answered for the alleged corruption, violation of rules, victimisation of Nigerians, and stealing of recovered funds for which he was suspended.
On his part, vocal politician and former senator, Shehu Sani, threw his weight behind Buhari’s decision to suspend Magu. Sani said the move was a bold step, adding that the government should take further steps in the current investigation exercise.
Magu was arrested on Monday by a combined team of officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) and Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) after he allegedly disregarded invitations from a presidential probe panel headed by a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami. Magu’s interrogation alongside Secretary of EFCC, Mr. Olanipekun Olukoyede, and other directors, entered its fifth day Friday.
The panel began sitting three weeks ago, but it compelled Magu to appear before it on Monday. He has since been in detention while the Director of Operations, Mr. Muhammed Umar, has taken over the anti-graft agency in acting capacity.
Magu was ambushed on the road in Abuja on Monday and dragged before the presidential panel investigating a 21-point allegation of fraud levelled against him by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to defend himself. He was subsequently detained at the FCID while appearing before the panel during the week. His houses have been searched and some documents recovered.
But the embattled EFCC boss has asked his lawyer to file a bail application before the Nigeria Police, though Buhari formally approved his suspension on Friday.
In its first official reaction to the probe, the presidency said those who saw Magu’s probe as an antithesis underscoring the failure of the administration’s anti-graft fight were missing the point. Shehu said instead of looking at the probe from such perspective, it should be seen as a proof that the fight against corruption was real.
According to him, the development shows that there is no sacred cow under the Buhari administration and those who think they can engage in wrongdoings and get away with them are only deluding themselves.
Shehu stated, “Those who see Mr. Magu’s investigation as a signal that the fight against corruption is failing have, unfortunately, missed the boat.
“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.
“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.
“Magu was not immune, 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.”
The statement also explained the rationale behind the suspension of Magu by Buhari, saying it is a norm in the public service that when allegations are made against the head of a government institution, he has to step aside until the investigation is concluded.
Shehu said the situation was even more compelling in this circumstance, because the EFCC as an anti-corruption agency must be without blemish. He also stressed that the EFCC as an institution was not built around the personality of Magu, as there were other dedicated staff of the institution that could carry on with the agency’s responsibilities. He insisted that Magu’s suspension was necessary to give room for transparent investigation.
The presidential spokesman said, “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 ideal 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.”
Shehu also said the suspension of Magu and his appearances before the investigative panel showed that he was being accorded his right to fair hearing. He described the fight against corruption as dynamic and ever evolving, saying EFCC is just one of the actors in the fight, and every institution in Nigeria would continue to go through such evolution as the democratic process progresses.
The presidential aide said what was most important was that the principle of accountability and transparency was in place and people would always be held accountable for their actions, describing such trend as the bedrock of the anti-corruption fight.
“Meanwhile, Mr. Magu is being availed the opportunity to defend himself and answer the allegations against him,” he stated, adding, “This is how it should be, as is the fact that under the laws of Nigeria every citizen is presumed and remains innocent until proven guilty.
“We must realise that the fight against corruption is not a static event, but a dynamic and ever evolving process, in which the EFCC is just one actor; and as we continue to work towards improving our democratic process so shall every institution of ours also embark on that journey of evolution. What is, however, important is that there must be accountability and transparency and our people must realise that they would be held to account. This is the building block in the fight against corruption, the establishment of the concept of accountability and the recognition of the rule of law.”
It’s the Greatest Damage to Buhari’s Anti-graft Fight, Says TI
But Transparency International insisted that it was the federal government that created the lapses for the graft allegations against Magu by ignoring reports from the Department of State Security (DSS), which rejected his confirmation twice. Nigeria’s Head of Transparency International, Mr. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, who spoke exclusively to THISDAY, also sought a review of the EFCC Act with respect to its board constitution, while calling for an enactment of the proceeds from crime bill.
Rafsanjani urged the National Assembly to review the EFCC Act in order to make the anti-corruption agency effective and efficient. TI also recommended the inclusion of non-state actors on the board of the anti-graft agency.
Rafsanjani revealed that a former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had written a report against Magu before she resigned from Buhari’s cabinet, regretting the federal government did not take any concrete action.
Based on the DSS reports, Rafsanjani, who is also Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), observed that the National Assembly rejected Magu’s nomination twice, but the Buhari administration did not review it for necessary action or look for a credible replacement to head the anti-graft agency.
In spite of the reports, he said the federal government “did not take any action on it. In my opinion, it is not Magu’s fault that he did whatever he is doing now. The government gave him knife and meat without supervision. The EFCC is supposed to be under the supervision of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
“As far as I am concerned, allowing the whole issue to escalate shows the lackadaisical attitude of the federal government to the anticorruption war. If the security reports indicted Magu, why should the federal government not take proactive steps to replace him?”
Rafsanjani advocated the amendment of the EFCC Act to include non-state actors in the running of the commission and constituting of its board for efficient operation.
He explained that there was need “to amend the EFCC Act, because the federal government did not constitute the board. The board of EFCC has not been constituted and inaugurated. There is need to review the EFCC Act and bring non-state actors to the board of the commission.”
Rafsanjani lamented that contrary to the international best practice, only representatives of the government agencies “are recommended to be on the board of the anti-graft agency. The Act does not recommend non-state actors to be part of the board. That is the only way we can resolve all these issues.”
He reiterated that Magu’s investigation for corrupt practices “is the greatest damage to Buhari’s anti-graft fight. Now, the people will doubt credibility of anti-graft fight. The international community has already expressed doubt about the fight against corruption.”
Rafsanjani disclosed that Transparency International “has made many recommendations on the anticorruption war. But the federal government ignored us. This government does not understand the fight against corruption.”
According to him, fighting corruption “is about whether legal process, policy and practice have actually improved. In terms legal process, there are so many issues relating to asset recovery like the proceeds of crime bill. They have refused to pass a legal framework that will guarantee accountability and good utilisation of the recovered asset.”
Apart from asset recovery, Rafsanjani also observed that the procurement policy in this country “is a charade, indeed another nonsense. That is why corruption still thrives in this country. Besides, election malpractice, manipulation and rigging that are being perpetrated, are part of the corruption.
“The disobedience to rule of law and court order is part of the corruption. The emasculation of the civil society and the media is equally part of the corruption,” he said, lamenting that with Magu’s probe, Buhari’s anti-graft fight “has been discredited.”
Suspended EFCC Boss Must Answer for His Crimes, Says PDP
Meanwhile, the PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, described Magu as unfit to lead an agency like the EFCC. PDP said Magu had reduced the anti-corruption agency to a house of corruption and a partisan witch-hunt organisation that thrived on violation of rules, abuse of investigation processes, manipulation of court procedures, as well as harassment and extortion of money from innocent Nigerians.
The PDP stated that Magu should be made to provide answer to allegations in the public space that he was more interested in securing politically induced convictions than justice. The party alleged that Magu turned the EFCC into a terror house, where innocent Nigerians were harassed with trumped-up charges and convicted on media trial even before they were allowed to defend themselves in court.
According to the statement, “There are also allegations of violation of rights, including allegedly making his victims to make statements in custody without the services of their lawyers. This is in addition to insinuations in the public that the indicted EFCC boss was also harassing certain judges to get conviction on cases.
“Similarly, there are several cases of officers and ranks of the commission, whose employment in the service were unjustly suspended or terminated.”
PDP lamented that Magu had destroyed the integrity of the anti-corruption agency with a manifestly selective fight against graft in which members of the current administration, including those who had been openly indicted for corruption, were hardly prosecuted by the EFCC.
The party stated that Nigerians could recall that under Magu, former National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, declared that once a corrupt person joined the APC, all his sins would be forgiven.
PDP also said the memo by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice detailing charges of diversion of recovered funds, secret sale of seized property and insubordination, among others, validated the position of most Nigerians that Magu lacked the required discipline, exposure and experience to head an agency like the EFCC.
PDP called for an investigation into the alleged connection between the indicted EFCC boss and certain judges handling EFCC cases, while also calling on the judiciary to sanitise the courts in this direction.
“What Nigerians expect at this time is for the federal government to ensure Magu’s prosecution in court as well as take necessary and decisive steps to restore the integrity of the EFCC by ensuring that Magu’s replacement as EFCC Chairman is thoroughly screened to avoid the ills and violations experienced under the suspended acting chairman,” the statement said.
Shehu Sani: Buhari’s Action a Bold Step, Wants Commission of Inquiry to Probe Magu
Sani urged the federal government to go a step further by setting up an inquest on the Magu issue.
He said, “I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for the bold action he has taken on Magu. But in order to correct the rot in the last five years, there must be a re-examination of the EFCC law that will make it possible for the Ministry of Justice to oversee the commission’s activities.
“EFCC cannot prosecute any case without the approval of the minister of justice. They should only investigate and present evidence to the Ministry of Justice, headed by the minister and Attorney General of the Federation,” he told THISDAY by telephone.
Sani stated that Buhari should do more than just suspending Magu by setting up a commission of inquiry to probe the activities of the suspended EFCC boss, insisting that other top and influential officers of the anticorruption agency should be investigated.
Regarding the setting up of a commission of inquiry to look into Magu’s five-year reign at the EFCC as advocated by some, the former legislator said, “It is important.
“It is very important that a commission of inquiry should be set up, because Magu must be comprehensively investigated and those who are working with him. They should be arraigned in a court of law. Also, you cannot prosecute Magu without prosecuting the boys whom he has operated with.”
According to the vocal politician, Magu’s predicament is a sign that the anticorruption crusade is questionable. He said EFCC was the centrepiece of corruption.
Sani said, “What has happened to Magu is a vindication of what many of us have been saying and it is also a testimony to the rot and the decay in the anticorruption agency. The EFCC is the centrepiece of Nigerian corruption.
“They protect those they want to protect and witch-hunt those they want to witch-hunt; frame up those they want to frame up.”
He alleged that the EFCC had become a behemoth, out-of-control and unaccountable.
Sani said, “They have become a behemoth; an unaccountable body. They arrest, they detain, they prosecute, they confiscate, and they sell properties. Things will continue to go wrong if the EFCC Act is not properly amended to make it accountable.
“It is simply going to be a waste of time, because as it is now, it is not accountable to the police and it is not accountable to the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.”
Accusing Magu and other EFCC officials of underhand dealings, Sani explained, “Magu’s case is a testimony to the fact that the anticorruption crusade led by the EFCC is simply a fraud. It was a fraud and EFCC is at the centre of extortion, of blackmailing people to part with their possessions.
“The officers help themselves. A proposed Proceeds of Crime Commission was frustrated from taking off. It was meant to be in charge, to have the custody of whatever EFCC has seized and auctioned to the public. Unfortunately, EFCC wanted to be in control of everything.
“They, thus, began selling properties – seized properties – to their friends. You can see that the present headquarters of Voice of Nigeria was once the property belonging to the late Chief of Air Staff, Alex Badeh. The EFCC wanted to sell that property but the president intervened and it was given to Voice of Nigeria.”
Sani also called on the Buhari administration to demand a publication of the names of individuals’ properties that were seized or auctioned and to whom.
“The federal government should tell the EFCC to publish names of those, who benefitted from the properties – movable and immovable properties – sold by EFCC. The government should demand the publication of such a list.”
Sani, who is currently being prosecuted by the EFCC and once bore the brunt of the commission’s alleged high-handedness, said more about Magu and the agency.
He said, “The EFCC’s chairman is a law unto himself. He has been given everything so he doesn’t need to report to anybody. So, this man capitalised on that, deceiving the nation that he was fighting corruption while he was simply amassing wealth, extorting people; and deceiving Nigerians that he was fighting corruption.
“Let me tell you EFCC’s process regarding bail. When they arrest a person, they will keep you in detention for 24 hours. Then, they will go to a magistrate’s court and get a detention order for 14 days. In addition, they will go to another magistrate’s court and get another 14-day detention order. If you filed a case challenging your detention, they will release you and arrest you outside the premises of the court.”
On the increasing spate of arrests of Nigerian students, Sani stated, ” They have destroyed the lives of young people in the South-east and South-west in the name of cybercrime. Young people who could have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.
“They raid universities, arrest people, arrest young boys, put them in detention, force them to make confessions, enter a plea bargain with them and charge them to court to get them convicted for a case of $100, $200, and so on.”
He accused the Nigerian media of being complicit in the alleged infractions of the anticorruption agency saying, “It’s sad to note that there are journalists who are complicit to the evils of the EFCC in Abuja. They have been used to launder the image of EFCC and destroy the image of other people.”