Ibrahim Magu’s ordeal and clouds over war against corruption

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Ibrahim Magu
Ibrahim Magu

The ongoing investigation of Ibrahim Magu has no doubt vindicated the opposition, many Nigerian elites, including the Senators, who refused to clear him for appointment as Chairman of the EFCC for alleged grave malfeasance. This development has raised lots of questions on the sincerity of the campaign against corruption of the government

By Anayo Ezugwu

WHEN Ibrahim Magu, suspended acting chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, set out on Monday, July 6, for the week’s activities, little did he know that it will be the end of his leadership of the anti-graft agency. He is currently facing allegations of corruption, embezzlement, and mismanagement of public funds.

As a result of the allegations, President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, July 7, suspended Magu to allow the Presidential Investigation Committee, headed by Justice Ayo Salami, to fully investigate the corruption allegations levelled against him by Abubakar Malami, minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation conclude their investigation.  The AGF had asked the president to sack Magu as acting chairman of the EFCC over 22 weighty allegations, including the diversion of recovered loot.
Magu’s travails followed a memo by Malami to the president, in which the suspended anti-graft boss was accused of grave malfeasance. He was alleged to have mishandled the recovered loot and was selling seized assets to associates. He was also alleged to have refused to subject himself to the supervision of the office of the attorney-general.
His detention and suspension have been generating reactions across the country with many groups and individuals like Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, calling on the panel to give Magu fair hearing, while others have urged the federal government to charge him to a court or release him.

But the concern of many Nigerians are on the legitimacy of the allegations against Magu. Many believed that if he is involved in the alleged corrupt practices, the federal government should use him as an example for other corrupt public officials.

In the last five years, Magu has been enmeshed in corruption over his claims on the hundreds of billions of naira he recovered from ‘treasury looters and the auctioning of the recovered assets. Those, who accused him of malpractices, believe that due process was not followed in auctioning the recovered assets and that there were discrepancies in the figure he was quoting. They are of the opinion that the embattled acting chairman sold the recovered assets to his cronies.

Following these allegations, the president on November 22, 2017, inaugurated a three-member committee headed by Olufemi Lijadu, to audit all assets recovered by agencies of the federal government from May 29, 2015. “It has become obvious that fundamental gaps still exist in ensuring that the recovered assets are accounted for, and managed in an accurate, transparent, and logical manner,” the President told the committee.

The committee during its investigations found out that there were truly discrepancies from the figures EFCC claimed it recovered and what was remitted to the ministry of finance. The committee also discovered that many recovered fixed and movable assets were unaccounted for by the EFCC.

Likewise, in 2017 Bukola Saraki, former Senate President, publicly accused EFCC of looting the recovered proceeds. Saraki, while speaking at the opening session of a “Strategic Retreat on Tracking the Progress of Anti-Corruption Bills”, on why the National Assembly had become strident about the opacity shrouding the management of recovered funds, which in many cases get re-looted by the agencies that investigated and recovered them. An ad hoc committee of the Senate, according to Saraki, had discovered that many properties recovered from a fugitive from the law has not been accounted for by the EFCC.

Magu is also accused of leaking to the media vital information that compromises investigations of high profile individuals in the country, including members of the president’s immediate family. For instance, Magu was figured in blocking the accounts of Lt. General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd), former defense minister, preventing him from paying for an aircraft which he purchased. He was also responsible for the raiding of the Minna residence of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former Head of State by the EFCC operatives. This allegation has been dismissed by Abubakar who explained that the EFCC officials went to his guest house but they left after they were told that it belonged to him without carrying out any search.

Realnews recalled that in 2016, the Senate declined to confirm Magu as the chairman of the anti-graft agency, citing a report from the Department of State Service, DSS. The DSS report stated that Magu lives in a residence rented for N40 million at N20 million per annum, among others. However, despite the senate’s rejection of Magu’s appointment over the DSS report, President Buhari allowed him to continue in office.

As the debate over the legality of Magu’s detention rages, lawyers, who have visited the EFCC on behalf of their clients, have always narrated the same experience, which is typical of a Nigerian police station. Those who have dealt with Magu say he could just, by the wave of a hand, keep somebody in detention until he gets tired of that person.

They also say that he shows no professional courtesy to lawyers and has no regard for court orders. He is a man overtaken by the power of his office. “When I went into EFCC cell, I saw how he kept people there for months without letting them see their lawyers,” a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights campaigner, Monday Onyeakachi Ubani, said.

Ubani was himself a victim of Magu’s self-styled anti-corruption war. In March 2019, he had convinced a client to return to Nigeria to face her trial. She returned to serial intimidation by operatives of the EFCC. The EFCC would also not accept anybody as surety in order to grant her administrative bail except Ubani.

While on bail, the EFCC under Magu tried to arrest her again, this time, on a matter that was civil in nature. The woman simply jumped bail to avoid the harassment. As a dutiful lawyer and citizen, Ubani notified Interpol and triggered a red alert on her. Thinking he had done his duty, he notified the EFCC of the situation. But Magu, in a power intoxicating mood, put Ubani in detention even against a court order.

Ubani also said that even Magu’s lawyers would admit that he has no regard for court orders. Many have argued that Magu’s anti-corruption effort plays more to the gallery than in the substance of the fight.

Apart from Ubani, Senator Shehu Sani, a former senator representing Kaduna Central, would attest to this claim after an experience he had with the anti-corruption agency. The agency herded him into a cell before conducting an investigation to determine whether he offered to stand as a conduit for the transmission of an alleged bribe between a Kaduna businessman, Sani Dauda and some judges.

Sani asserted his innocence, challenging the EFCC to prove by means of video, audio, or bank documents that he was involved in that allegation. Although the case is now in court, it took until four weeks before the EFCC could release him.

On his part, Mike Ozekhome, a constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has described the travails of Magu as an ‘iroko tree that suddenly diminished to a shrub or an anthill.’ He said Magu was the architect of his travails because aside from his corrupt practices, he was selective in discharging his duties, arresting and detaining opponents of the ruling party, and any decent voice to the government.

The human rights lawyer said, in a statement, that he fought, criticised and challenged Magu in court for his impunity and won and yet he, Magu, did not retrace his steps. “I called for a change of the way and manner the ‘anti-corruption war’ was being selectively and opaquely fought. I wrote a public letter in 2017, to the then Acting President, Prof Yemi Osibanjo, SAN, at a time his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, was sick on London hospital bed.

“They looted our treasury in collaboration with their cronies, friends, and acolytes. Magu was the new Sheriff in town. I got no reply to my letter to Osinbajo. I wrote a reminder. No dice,” Ozekhome disclosed.

 Likewise, Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the arrest and suspension of Magu was a moral disaster for the anti-corruption drive of Buhari. Falana, while speaking on ‘Your View,’ a programme on TVC, on Wednesday, July 8, said it was expected that the person prosecuting others for corruption should not be enmeshed in the same crime.

He said the president has the right to order the investigation in the wake of a petition against the anti-graft boss alleging corrupt infractions. “There is no doubt that this is a moral disaster for the anti-corruption crusade of the regime, but we also have to appreciate the fact that the head of the EFCC must be free from corruption. And I believe that Mr. Magu will be given the opportunity to address the allegations. If he is found culpable, the law will take its course, if it is the other way, the law will take its turn,” he said.

Be that as it may, Magu has now been suspended for the same reasons the Senate refused to confirm him five years ago. Nigerians are now asking, is President Buhari just realising that the Senate allegations could be true? Or is it, like some people have alleged that Magu’s singular offence was that he allegedly looted alone? Or was it also Ibrahim Gambari, chief-of-staff to the president, who is throwing his weight in ensuring that he gives the government a better reputation? There are more questions begging for answers.

– Jul. 10, 2020 @ 19:05 GMT |

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