It is a taste of the bitter pill for the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, following his probe by a presidential panel over alleged misconduct, FELIX NWANERI reports
At last, President Muhammadu Buhari, on Tuesday bowed to pressure and suspended the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, over allegations of gross misconduct. The acting EFCC boss was reported to have spent a night in detention at the Force Criminal Investigation Department Headquarters after his arrest on Monday morning in Abuja. He was later quizzed for about six hours by a presidential panel, chaired by a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami.
The panel was constituted by President Buhari to probe various allegations levelled against Magu, following a petition by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, and the Department of State Service (DSS). Malami’s memo raised 22 allegations against the acting EFCC chairman. The most critical of the allegations is the claim that Magu diverted recovered loots.
Though unconfirmed reports had it that Magu’s suspension was recommended by the panel investigating him, a presidency source, however, said his investigation proves that no public servant, no matter how highly placed, is above scrutiny, especially when there are allegations as weighty as those leveled against Magu. The source added that the principle of fairness and justice demands that the Acting EFCC boss be given opportunity to respond to the allegations to reinforce transparency and accountability rather than to vitiate it. “In consonance with the principle of fairness and justice, it was needful that the acting chairman of the EFCC be given opportunity to respond to the allegations, which are weighty in nature.
“Under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, nobody is above scrutiny. Repeat: nobody. The investigation is to reinforce transparency and accountability, rather than to vitiate it. “Accountability for our actions or inactions is an inalienable part of democracy. In such elevated position as that of EFCC chairman, the holder of the position must be above suspicion. “There’s no prejudgement; absolutely none. The Buhari administration can be counted on to uphold fairness and justice at all times,” the source said. For the suspended Acting EFCC chairman, it has been endless controversies since he was appointed to head the anti-corruption agency in November 2015 by President Buhari.
Botched first attempt at confirmation
Magu, who took over the leadership of EFCC from Ibrahim Lamorde with a promise to “ginger up the anti-corruption campaign,” had the request for his confirmation by President Buhari turned down by the Eight Senate, no thanks to security reports against him by the Department of State Service (DSS), which is supposed to be a sister agency to the EFCC. The EFCC Establishment Act 2004 provides that the chairman of the commission has to be confirmed by the Senate.
Section 2 (3) of the Act states: “The Chairman and members of the Commission other than ex-officio members shall be appointed by the President and appointment shall be subject to the confirmation of the Senate. It also provides in Section 3 (1) that “the Chairman and members of the Commission other than ex-officio members shall hold office for a period of four years and may be re-appointed for a further term of four years and no more.” It was against this backdrop that the Presidency, in July 2016, requested the Senate to confirm Magu.
The request was made through a letter signed by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in his capacity as acting president when President Buhari travelled abroad for medical treatment. The then Senate President, Bukola Saraki, read the letter on July 14, but the Red Chamber failed to schedule a confirmation hearing, which fueled suspicions that some senators were out to stop Magu from being confirmed. The suspicion was somehow confirmed, when the lawmakers relied on a 14-paragraph security report by the DSS to turn down the confirmation request in December 2016.
The Senate said Magu failed an integrity test and that if confirmed, he could constitute a liability to the anti-corruption drive of the Buhari administration. Then chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Aliyu Abdullahi, who announced the decision after a closed door session, said: “The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria wishes to inform the general public that based on security reports available to the Senate; the Senate cannot proceed and confirm the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as Executive Chairman of EFCC. Accordingly, the Senate hereby rejects the said nomination and has returned the said nomination to Mr. President for further action.” The DSS report, dated October 3, 2016 and signed by Folashade Bello for the then Director-General of DSS, Lawal Daura, was addressed to the Acting Clerk of the Senate.
It was titled: “Re: Request for Security Vetting your letter NASS/CS/SA/01/16/08/1 dated September 21, 2016 requesting for the vetting of the Chairman and members of the EFCC.” It stated: “Investigating the Chairman nominee; Ibrahim Magu, revealed that in August 2008, following a search at his residence during the tenure of Farida Waziri, some sensitive EFCC documents which were not supposed to be at his disposal were with him. He was subsequently redeployed to the Police after days of detention and later suspended from the force.
“In December 2010, the Police Service Commission found Magu guilty of action prejudicial to state security, withholding of EFCC files, sabotage, unauthorized removal of EFCC files, and acts unbecoming of a Police officer and awarded him severe reprimand as punishment. “Notwithstanding, sequel to the appointment of Ibrahim Lamorde as Chairman of EFCC in 2011, he made the return of Magu to the EFCC a top priority. Both men had worked together at the Commission when Lamorde served as Head of Operations of the agency; Magu remained a top official of the Commission until he was appointed to succeed Lamorde.
“Magu is currently occupying a residence rented for N40 million at N20 million per annum. This accommodation was not paid for from the Commission’s finances but by one Umar Mohammed, a retired Air Commodore and ally of the subject who has subsequently been arrested by this service. “For the furnishing of the residence, Mohammed enlisted the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to award a contract to Africa Energy, a company owned by him, to lavishly furnish the residence at the cost of N43 million.
“Investigations show that Magu regularly embarks on official and private trips through a private carrier, EasyJet. In one of such trips, Magu flew to Maiduguri alongside the Managing Director of a bank, who was being investigated by the Commission over complicity in funds allegedly stolen by the immediate past Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
“The EFCC boss so far maintained a hog pigs profile lifestyle. This is exemplified by his preference for first class air travel. On June 24, 2916, he flew Emirates Airlines first class to Saudi Arabia to perform the less Hajj at the cost of N2,990,196.00. This is in spite of Mr. President’s directives to all public servants to fly economic class.
“Investigation also revealed that Magu parades a twin personality. At one level, he is the Czar who has no friends, no favourites and is ready to fight corruption to a standstill. However, with a key friend in the person of Mohammed, he had betrayed the confidence reposed in him by the present administration. “Whereas Magu portrays himself as very secretive, he has fostered a mutually beneficial relationship with Mohammed who by his confession approaches clients for possible exploitation, favours and associated returns. “This was facilitated with official secrets divulged by Magu and from which dealings he is believed to have been drawing considerable benefits.
This was evidenced by the number of official and classified documents he made available to his associates. “To cover his tracks, Magu uses solely his Police cronies to execute operations. This, coupled with discoveries that such Police cronies have acquired a lot of landed property lends credence to the questions about his integrity.
“In the light of the foregoing, Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti- corruption drive of the present administration.”
Second time unlucky
While anti-graft czar denied all the allegations leveled against him by the DSS report, President Buhari re-nominated him in January. A letter to that effect was read by Saraki on January 24. The President had stated in his letter that he had gone through the DSS security report, received clarifications from Magu and therefore, persuaded the lawmakers to confirm him. Buhari also said that he was conscious of the fight of his administration against corruption and the need not to do anything that would question the credibility of the process.
But, it was rejection for the second time, when Magu appeared before the Senate on March 15, 2017 for screening, following the presentation of the DSS report by the then senator representing Kogi West, Dino Melaye. Although Magu had earlier during his screening said he would not want to comment on the report to avoid friction between the EFCC and a sister agency, he was pressed by the senators to comment on the allegation that he was staying in a N40 million mansion paid for by a corrupt businessman. Responding, he said a house was provided for him by a senior official in the presidency because he stayed in a suburb of Abuja and worked late.
He also refuted claims that the EFCC violated the human rights of those it arrested as well as defended the seizure of property, adding that the commission disposes them in accordance to the law. On monies recovered from treasury looters, he said: “There are various accounts in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for monies recovered. Sometimes some people disown the properties. In situation like this they are abandoned and we get forfeiture order from the court and they are sold. The court gives directives on this.”
At the end of the screening, Magu was asked to take a bow and go, while the Senate resolved to plenary to report progress and vote on the screening. When the matter was put to voice vote, he was rejected. Then Senate president, Saraki, consequently advised President Buhari to immediately send another nominee for confirmation and remove the embattled Magu from the exalted office. His words: “What we have taken by this decision goes to show that the President has to re-nominate another candidate and in the interim, somebody else would have to carry out that exercise. I believe we have played our part; we have followed the constitution and due process. We hope that the executive will quickly act and bring in another name as soon as possible so that the activities of the agency will not be crippled.”
Yet another letter
While the dust over the Senate’s rejection of Magu for the second time was yet to settle, the DSS wrote another letter to further justify why it advised the presidency that Magu should not be confirmed as the EFCC chairman. The DSS in the letter addressed to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, stated that Magu’s poor sense of judgment and willingness to compromise official documents for personal interest, betrayed the high level of integrity demanded of someone who should occupy such a sensitive position.
The seven-page letter marked “Classified,” but not dated had documents attached as appendixes. Though the documents were not released alongside the cover letter discreetly circulated, their contents were summarized in the letter. It read in part: “An officer appointed as Acting Chairman of EFCC should by all means be one of impeccable credentials, with proven integrity and capacity to lead the nation’s fight against graft in high and low places. Thus far, it is evident from Magu’s antecedents that he is by no means that kind of officer.
“His relationship with Umar Mohammed which involved disclosure of very sensitive and classified official documents in his possession shows lack of professionalism and assails his integrity. Moreso, for an officer who was indicted and nearly dismissed six years ago, to again be involved in similar circumstances, it is clear that Magu is a perennial offender and cannot change. Also worthy of note is the fact that Magu exhibited a total lack of judgment where it matters most. He accepted to move into a tastily furnished accommodation without any scrutiny of how it was furnished. This is curious and speaks volumes of his personality.
“The recovery of sensitive and classified documents from the residence of Umar further underlays his close affinity to Magu and an apparent penchant for sabotaging official processes and administrative protocols, just to further the latter’s personal material and pecuniary agenda. Such mutually beneficial relationships as with Umar, who by his confession, approaches ‘clients’ for possible exploitation, favours and associated returns is unprecedented and very damning for an anti-graft top official.
It has exposed Magu as a fraudulent officer and betrays the high confidence reposed in him by Mr. President. “A further demonstration of Magu’s questionable credibility as an untainted anti-corruption official is his failed bid to settle personal scores with one Stanley Inye Lawson by placing him on Security Watch Action.
It was however discovered that Lawson was actually working in the interest of the Federal Government and the action was subsequently expunged. “This reinforces the view that Magu may continue to exploit his official position, if confirmed as EFCC Chairman and indulge in other unprofessional and criminal conducts for personal aggrandizement contrary to his oath of office.”
Concern over chess game
But damning as the allegations against Magu were, some analysts expressed concern then over DSS insistence that Magu is unfit for the EFCC job even when the President believes in him. Questions raised against this backdrop were: Is the presidency and its various agencies working at cross-purposes and has Magu been used by the powers that be and the drama over his confirmation was just a ploy to have him out of the system? While those at the centre of the action at the time refused to explain the political chess game, there was no doubt that of a power play among members of President’s Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, which Magu and the then Director General of the DSS, Daura, belonged to. The president’s men during his first term (2015-2019) were then said to have been torn apart on the propriety or otherwise of having Magu confirmed. There was also a clear evident of interagency rivalry between the EFCC and DSS and it did not end with Buhari’s first term. It continued after his reelection in 2019. Is
Magu a victim of circumstance?
Magu, who has a degree in Accounting Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and later trained in Financial Crimes Investigation at the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and London Metropolitan Police Institute, is a pioneer staff of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under the headship of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, He had previously served as head of agency’s Economic Governance Unit (EGU) responsible for investigating senior public officials. After Ribadu’s exit as EFCC chairman in 2007, Magu was accused of keeping case files of top politicians under investigation. Consequently, his Abuja residence was searched by the Department of State Services (DSS) and some belongings carted away by operatives of the agency.
After some days in detention, he was redeployed to the Police. He, however, made a return to the EFCC in 2011, following the appointment of Ibrahim Lamorde as the commission’s chairman. They had worked together when the latter was the head of the agency’s Operations Unit. Perhaps Magu’s involvement in investigations of politically exposed persons in the past, explained why some analysts insist that he is a victim of circumstance.
They recalled that he has contended with some powerful forces since he took over the leadership of the anti-graft agency and “reinvigorated” the anti-corruption war. One of such contestations, at a time triggered a row between him and the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA).
The then president of the association, Abubakar Mahmoud, had in his inaugural speech recommended that the EFCC be limited to investigation, while prosecution should be handled by an independent resource prosecution agency. But Magu, in his reaction, said “Mahmoud’s suggestions appear perfectly in sync with a cleverly disguised campaign by powerful forces that are uncomfortable with the reinvigorated anti-graft campaign of the EFCC and are hell-bent on emasculating the agency by stripping it of powers to prosecute with the lame excuse that an agency that investigates cannot also prosecute.”
The embattled EFCC acting chairman did not stop at that. He went as far as ridiculing members of the legal profession by labelling some of them as rogues. “A Bar populated or directed by people perceived to be rogues and vultures cannot play the role of priests in the temple of justice,” he said. Despite the belief that some forces were out to stop Magu and consequently frustrate the anti-graft war, some members of a political school reasoned that the EFCC has not demonstrated fairness since the inception of the present administration and Magu’s appointment to lead the anti-corruption war.
Those who hold this view have persistently accused the commission of focusing more on members of the opposition political parties, particularly, officials of the immediate past Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government, while ignoring allegations of corruption against some officials of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The conviction of members of this political school is that Magu has persistently played the same script of the Ribadu era, when the EFCC was accused of harassing opponents of then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Magu was, therefore, advised to restrict himself to the responsibilities of the commission as spelt out in its establishment act as well as distance the agency from the politics of members of the party in government. However, whether the suspended EFCC chairman heeded to the advice or not would be determined by the outcome investigation on his activities.