AKEEM NAFIU writes on the stormy era of Ibrahim Mustapha Magu as the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which may have ended following his suspension from office by President Muhammadu Buhari over alleged corruption
his is certainly not the best of times for Ibrahim Mustapha Magu whose tenure as the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had run into stormy waters following his suspension from office by President Muhammadu Buhari over an alleged corruption.
Magu had unprecedentedly remained in acting capacity since his appointment in November 2015 by President Buhari prior to his suspension from office. This was due to the non-confirmation of his appointment by the 8th National Assembly on two occasions, in line with the dictates of the law.
The lawmakers’ action was sequel to a report by the Department of State Services (DSS) which found Magu unworthy to lead the anti-graft agency.
In its report, the DSS said Magu was not a fit and proper person to be at the helm at EFCC because his lifestyle and track records are not devoid of corruption and compromise.
Notwithstanding NASS ‘rejection of Magu, the executive maintained a tough stance insisting it is either him or no one else. He has since then been carrying out his duties as EFCC’s chairman in acting capacity.
Sadly, after about five years in the saddle, Magu, like his predecessors, was accused of abuse of office with some doses of corrupt practices. He was subsequently suspended by the president.
Confirming Magu’s suspension, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN) said it was approved by the President to allow for unhindered inquiry by the Presidential Investigation Panel under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act and other relevant laws.
A statement signed by one of Malami’s aides, Umar Gwandu, indicated that President Buhari has also approved that the EFCC Director of Operations, Mohammed Umar, should take charge and oversee the activities of the Commission pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigation and further directives in that regard.
Beginning of Magu’s ordeal
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) was reported to have petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari, demanding the immediate removal of Magu as head of EFCC.
The AGF listed 22 ‘weighty allegations’ against Magu to justify his request for the removal of the EFCC boss. Among other allegations, the AGF accused Magu of insurbordination and discrepancies in the figures of funds reportedly recovered by the EFCC.
He was also accused of disposing of assets, especially buildings seized from corrupt politicians and others, without approval or knowledge of the AGF’s office, which is the supervisory ministry of the EFCC.
He was also accused of owning four posh houses in high-brow areas in Abuja and laundering money abroad through third parties. Magu was equally accused of living ostentatious lifestyle, one of which is living in a N40 million rented apartment paid for by a corrupt individual amongst others.
Presidential panel of enquiry
Sequel to Malami’s petition, President Buhari set up a probe panel that will look into the veracity of the allegations and make necessary recommendations.
The panel which had representatives from the Office of the National Security Adviser, the DSS and other related agencies, was headed by a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami (retd.), with about seven other members which included the Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Mike Ogbizi.
The panel reportedly grilled Magu for about six hours on the first day of its sitting Monday last week at the Presidential Villa in Abuja. He appeared before the panel after he was dramatically whisked to the venue by armed operatives of the Department of State Services.
Magu, who was in his own convoy, in front of the old EFCC headquarters on Fomella Street, Wuse 2, Abuja, was said to have been accosted by security operatives with a letter of invitation from the presidential panel requesting his presence.
It was reported that his plea to honor the invitation at a later date was turned down by the security operatives who insisted that he must follow them to the Villa.
He was subsequently whisked away and brought before the panel where he responded to several questions directed at him.
The panel is yet to complete its assignment and it is expected to continue its sitting this week.
In the course of the panel’s sitting last week, some policemen raided Magu’s Abuja residence where vital documents relevant to the probe were taken away for analysis. Some officials of the anti-graft agency including Directors and those loyal to the embattled EFCC boss, otherwise known as ‘Magu Boys’ were also questioned by the panel.
The embattled former EFCC’s Acting Chairman has been in police custody since Monday last week when he first appeared before the panel. Magu, who had been in protective custody at the Federal Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (FCIID), Abuja, was denied bail by the police authorities.
However, in his quest to regain his freedom, Magu, through one of his lawyers, Oluwatisin Ojaomo, petitioned the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, seeking his bail.
The lawyer said he petitioned the IGP because his client as a Nigerian citizen and a serving Commissioner of Police deserve to be granted bail, as the allegations against him are bailable.
Ojaomo’s letter dated 10th July, 2020, with the IGP office’s acknowledgment stamp bearing the same date, requested that Magu be granted bail “on self-recognisance.”
The lawyer added that if the application for bail on self-recognisance is not acceptable, he is ready to provide a credible surety that will ensure the availability of his client anytime he is needed for the purpose of the investigation.
Copies of the letter were sent to President Muhammadu Buhari, the Chairman of the Presidential Probe Panel, Justice Ayo Salami, Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption (PACAC), Prof Itsay Sagay (SAN) and DIG Ogbizi, who is in charge of Investigation at the Federal Criminal Investigation Department, Garki, Area 10, Abuja, where Magu is being detained.
Some senior lawyers have in the meantime been commenting on Magu’s suspension as EFCC’s Acting Chairman and its implications on the anti-graft war of Buhari’s government.
The lawyers while baring their minds on the issue at the weekend expressed divergent views on where the anti-graft war is heading after Magu’s exit.
Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, said what becomes of the anti-graft war will depend on the performance of the individual who replaced Magu.
He said: “With this suspension, Magu’s moral authority is going to be damaged. What becomes of President Buhari‘s anti- corruption war depends on getting a creditable replacement and the immediate performance of the new appointee. The Attorney General has to do much more than he is doing now to champion a more invigorated campaign.
On his part, Dr. Biodun Layonu (SAN), called for a thorough and fair investigation of Magu by the probe panel.
“For me, this is an affirmation that no one is above investigation. The important thing is for Magu to have a fair process of investigation and as expeditiously as possible and if cleared should be restored and if not, prosecution should follow. I repeat due process is the most important thing”, he said.
Another silk, Mr. Olukayode Enitan, expressed hope that Magu’s removal will not negatively affect the anti-graft war.
He said: “Mr. Ibrahim Magu’s suspension as EFCC’s acting chairman, if it is true, on account of the ongoing investigation into the Commission’s activities is a normal thing in the civil service.
“Whenever an individual is being investigated in respect of official activities, it is mandatory that the individual be suspended from office to ensure minimal interference from him.
“That a question could arise as to whether this would have impact on the anti-graft war is one of the problems we have as a people. It shouldn’t have any negative impact if the war is institutional and not personal. This is the reason why we should ensure that we build strong institutions and not strong men.
“With strong institutions, men go and come but the work continues unabated. However, with strong men, the work stops when the men are out. I am of the view that if the EFCC is a strong institution as I presume it’s meant to be, then, the anti-graft war will continue unhindered”.
A former Vice-president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Adekunle Ojo, noted that the weight of allegations demands that Magu be suspended.
“The suspension must have been made based on the weight of the allegations against him and in a bid to assert seriousness in the probe exercise. Like you and I know, the allegations are criminal in nature, hence, Magu is presumed innocent. At any rate, he has been suspended not removed, so the EFCC should have a structure that can accommodate a lack of chairman on a temporary basis”, he said.
Dr. Fassy Yusuf believed that Magu’s suspension is an indication that no one is above investigation in the country. He added that his suspension is a good omen for Buhari’s anti-graft war.
He said: “Magu has no immunity. Even those with immunity can be investigated and once investigation has been ordered, it is in the interest of justice and equity that the person being investigated is relieved of his appointment pending the outcome of the investigation. This will prevent probable interference and destruction of vital materials. There are plethora of cases on this view point. The onus is on Magu to prove his innocence.
“On the effect of this development cum his suspension on the anti-graft war, I am of the humble opinion that beyond sentiments and primordial sentiments, the decision to beam a searchlight on Magu should send a signal to all that we must like Caesar’s wife live beyond reproach.
“It is capable of giving credibility to President Buhari’s anti-graft war. Nobody should see himself as beyond interrogation, investigation and accountability”.
Mr. Kunle Adegoke also called for a thorough investigation of all allegations against Magu in order not to dampen the spirit of Nigerian over the anti-graft war of Buhari’s government.
“The suspension of the anti-graft chief only signifies that no one is above investigation. Where there are weighty allegations against an officer of his status, it is expected that thorough investigation should be carried out to clean the name of the man if he is innocent and preserve the integrity of the anti-corruption campaign.
“There has been a lot of dissatisfaction in the polity about the anti-corruption campaign and the bona fides of Mr. Magu which has been swept under the carpet with the cliche that corruption was merely fighting back.
“We need to be careful and let the system be thoroughly investigated. The only caveat is that this process should not be used to rubbish the man if he is found to be blameless otherwise the idea of being public-spirited would be completely destroyed. No man shall feel justified to sacrifice himself for the nation again.
“On the other hand, however, where the man is found to have soiled the anti-corruption campaign of the government, he should be brought to face the law as the law shouldn’t be a respecter of anyone. I’ll conclude by saying that the suspension of Mr. Magu should be seen from a patriotic angle at least for now”, he said.
A right activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, believed Magu’s suspension is a dent on Buhari’s anti-graft war.
He said: “Magu’s suspension is a big blow to President Buhari’s anti-corruption fight. This is because Magu is not likely to overcome the travails because he seems to have been consumed by the heat of his own indiscretions and know- it-all stance of little value.
“This is because, speaking for myself and any critical mind, I believe he did not achieve much in the agency and his reign was characterised by failure in majority of the cases the agency handled. He was running a one man show throughout the funny tenure. For several years, there was no Director of Operations and if he later appointed one which I doubt, he never gave them chance to operate.
“Now, it will be an aberration if he comes back because since he is seen as corrupt himself, he would have no moral justification or standing to start claiming to be an anti-corruption man. He is a disappointment to the government and Nigeria as a whole.
“He has now vindicated those who did not want him to be appointed in the first place. It is a shame and disgraceful thing to learn that the hunter has now become the hunted because of alleged greed and lust for material things. He was rumoured to be corrupt and in the habit of rendering conflicting figures in the amount of money recovered from looters.
“It will serve as deterrence to others like him if he is charged for these allegations for the purpose of proving that nobody is above the law. It will also be better to appoint the next chairman of the agency from another geo-political zone, but more importantly, not from any part of the north again because, of the four people who have headed the agency, three are from the north east; that is, two from Adamawa state, one from Borno and one from Benue. It is not a sectional or tribal title. This is a call that the president ought to heed.”