TUNDE OYESINA writes that the erstwhile chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, at the weekend battled to wriggle himself out of allegations of abuse of office initiated against him before Justice Ayo Salami Presidential Panel just as lawyers pushed for reforms in EFCC
As the presidential panel headed by a former President Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami continued at the weekend to unearth sundry allegations initiated against the suspended chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, prominent lawyers have insisted that Magu indeed abused office while at the helm while also pushed for reforms in EFCC which would further empower the anti-graft agency to fight graft to the minimal.
Specifically, two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome and Godwin Obla were at the presidential panel with catalogue of documents to prove why there was the need for reforms in EFCC in view of sundry allegations preferred against the commission’s suspended chairman.
Magu has been before the Justice Ayo Salami-led Presidential Panel to answer questions following 18-ground petition filed against him by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN). Already, the two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Ozekhome and Obla had separately appeared before the panel to give their sides of the story. However, a fresh petition had equally emanated from an Abuja-based lawyer and rights activist, Johnmary Jideobi against Magu last week.
In the fresh petition, Magu was alleged to have unlawfully frozen accounts of a company, Damjay Integrated Services Limited with Access bank in 2018 without any court order. The petition dated 28thJuly, 2020 was received in the AGF’s office on 29thJuly, 2020 and copied the Justice Ayo Salami- led presidential panel investigating the recovery of assets by EFCC under Magu and attached with a High Court judgment.
The petitioner, among others, claimed that following the refusal of the bank to unfreeze the account, Magu and EFCC were dragged before a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) where Justice O. C. Agbaza on 21st November, 2018 declared Magu’s action as unlawful, illegal and ordered him to immediately unfreeze the said bank account.
But Magu allegedly shunned the court’s order as he bluntly refused to comply with the order of the court despite not appealing against the judgment. Insisting that EFCC has no power under any Nigerian law to freeze any bank account without an order of court, Jideobi claimed that Magu as EFCC acting chairman, acted with impunity and trampled on the rule of law. At the peak of the alleged unlawful act, the lawyer claimed that a group of officers operating in the name-
“Magu boys” instead of obeying the court order acted as intermediaries to the company and allegedly demanded N75 million from the account as a condition for lifting the illegal restriction.
The petitioner further revealed that the said “Magu boys” allegedly sent three different bank accounts namely Cikin Gida Nigeria Limited with account number: 1771773211 at Polaris Bank; Black and Black Global Concept Limited with account number: 0259011841 with GTBank and Amina Kigbu with account number: 2176716071 with Zenith Bank for the payment of the alleged bribe.
Specifically, the petitioner claimed that the alleged Magu boys gave directives that the said N75 million bribe, be paid in three tranches of N25 million into the three accounts. However, following the refusal by the sponsor of the company to dance to the tune, an alleged trumped- criminal charge was on 19th June, 2020 filed against the company’s sponsor and pending in court.
“It is the aggregation of these ordeals consisting of abuse of investigative powers, extortion, unlawful seizure of a citizen’s property and flagrant disobedience to order of court that impelled our client to instruct that the instant petition be tabled before you now that Mr. President is desirous of sweeping the EFCC clean and restoring sanity,” the petition said.
Earlier, Ozekhome had appeared before the Justice Ayo Salami-led panel to testify against Magu, and submitted six exhibits, including two video clips and some documents. During the session, which lasted about two hours, Ozekhome spoke about the alleged leadership failures of Magu and the investigative deficiencies of the anti-graft agency.
The senior advocate also made recommendations to the panel on the need for the EFCC to be more professional and engage less in “media trial.”
Speaking on his testimonies before the panel, Ozekhome said his primary aim was not to settle scores with Magu, but to address the deficiencies in the EFCC with a view to helping it to actualise its core mandate. The senior advocate said he submitted six exhibits to the panel, including two videos as well as a letter he wrote to the then acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, on the urgent need for reforms and accountability as regards recovered loot.
Ozekhome said: “I have not even said anything about the seizure of my funds by the EFCC and I am surprised that Ojaomo, a lawyer, can talk about something he didn’t witness. My N75m was seized by Magu and his goons despite the fact that it was my legal fees. I went to court and defeated them; so, I have nothing to prove.
“All I did at the panel was to tender some documents and some CDs, which contained videos. One of them is a video where I was given a standing ovation at an event where I advised Magu on how to fight corruption. It was about telling them not to do a one-sided antigraft war, where you arrest activists and leave those in government.”
“I also tendered a letter dated May 2017, which I wrote to the then acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. In the letter, I raised 12 questions as to where the recovered loot and property were and if the property had been sold, to who and for how much. Tell Ojaomo to relax and that I have not yet started.”
Obla, who was one of the private prosecutors engaged by the EFCC had equally testified before the panel on alleged reckless attitude of Magu.
The senior advocate testified before the panel in the presence of Magu at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, where he presented 12 questions to the panel which he said the suspended EFCC chairman must answer and made five recommendations Obla, who presented over 10 documents to the panel including his bill of charges, said he prosecuted 40 cases for the EFCC including those of former bank chiefs sacked by the Central Bank of Nigeria under the leadership of Lamido Sanusi and also helped the commission recover hundreds of billions of naira in cash and assets.
He said: “As of date, the EFCC owes me an outstanding balance of N685, 389, 928.10 and $202,460.47 (N78.5m) or its naira equivalent at the prevailing Central Bank of Nigeria exchange rate, together with interest at prime lending rate, being professional fees for the prosecution of over 40 high profile cases. See Statement of Claim in Suit No: FCT/CV/3220/17 BETWEEN Obla v. EFCC.”
The senior advocate said all subsequent letters sent to the EFCC were ignored but the fee was never contested.
He said rather than pay him his legal fees, Magu decided to level several allegations against him in order to discredit and deny him his due. “In effect, Ibrahim Magu deliberately and maliciously denied me the fruits of my services for EFCC whilst putting me to great expense to defend a worthless charge,” the lawyer said.
The senior advocate, who helped the EFCC to secure the conviction of a former Director-General of Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Temisan Omatseye in 2016, said in the course of the case which lasted six years, he travelled from his base in Abuja to Lagos several times and made 46 court appearances but was not paid a penny.
Obla said: “I have never made any payment of N5million or any other amount to Justice Ajumogobia. To the best of my recollection, the payment of N5million under reference was a payment I made on May 21, 2015 to a company named Nigel & Colive Nig. Ltd, for the purchase of building materials for my construction site in Abuja (now my present office building).
“At that material time of this commercial transaction and till date, I had no prior knowledge that Justice Ajumogobia had any interest whatsoever in the company.” The senior advocate said based on the allegations, he was informed by EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, that Magu, had personally directed that he be detained and he remained in custody for 21 days before he was subsequently arraigned alongside the judge.
The senior advocate called on the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to ensure that the frivolous criminal charges brought against him were withdrawn. Obla said after he received a letter of disengagement from the EFCC, he turned in all files and gave his professional opinion on how to ensure that the cases continue seamlessly.
He said unfortunately, the lackadaisical manner in which most of the matters had been handled either indicated that the cases had been compromised or constructively withdrawn or abandoned like the N18billion pension fraud case involving the Head of Service.
The senior advocate said Magu went ahead to unceremoniously redeploy the Head of Legal Department, Chile Okoroma, who was assigned those cases. Obla went on: “Secondly, material evidence, which we returned to EFCC custody, was seemingly withheld from him as he severally reached out to my office for help.
“Next, when it seemed that Mr. Chile was gaining some traction with the pension fraud cases, Ibrahim Magu conveniently despatched Mr. Chile off to National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, thus foisting a constructive abandonment of the pension fraud cases.
“In 2016, when Ibrahim Magu took over the files, those pension fraud cases were all part-heard in various courts of the Federal High Court, Abuja. Today, most of those cases are now in limbo and constructively abandoned.”