A Mangled Integrity?
By Alex Enemanna
The scenario playing out between the erstwhile acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Ibrahim Magu and the presidential investigative panel headed by one of Nigeria’s finest members of the bench and former President of the Appeal Court, Justice Ayo Salami (rtd) probing the former corruption fighter is one many Nigerians is waiting with a bated breath to see to its end. Expectedly, the unfolding drama has created three major groups with variegated opinions on. The first cycle is peopled by those who believe that travails of brother Magu is akin to the persecution Christ Jesus faced during his earthly mission when he came to pave the way of salvation for mankind. To them, Magu is above reproach and scarlet clean, therefore may not have like the proverbial dog, helped himself with the bone hung around his neck.
Another set of people the Magu hullabaloo has created is those who are already calling for head while the investigation is still ongoing. To them, citizen Magu ought not to be heard out for using public office to advance personal gains even when that has not been fully established and proven. They are not interested in what the outcome and eventual prosecution would likely be. They only want to see Magu punished. This group is largely influenced by emotion and interest. The last sect is the one that is totally less concerned. Whether the grave allegations being churned out daily against the Borno born police officer is true or not, they do not see it directly impactful with their livelihood. One can safely call them the ‘I don’t care clique’. They have an eroded confidence in the system. Even if Magu is guilty, so? Would the ‘yam’ be deployed to enhancing our living? These are the kind of questions that sarcastically rattle their minds. Sadly, they are the majority.
Irrespective of where you belong, one thing we have all admitted however is that corruption is a hydra headed albatross that has for decades held us by the jugular and stunted our growth to nationhood. It has dealt us a bloody nose and exposed us to global ridicule. Even among the seemingly younger sister countries, Nigeria does not command the respect it ought to, largely because of how much its integrity has been battered in the altar of corruption. Some schools of thought have gone as far as alluding that corruption is the country’s 37th state. Concerned by this man-made disaster, former President Olusegun Obasanjo in the early days of his administration created the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to serve as machinery to checkmate the scourge. While the virility or otherwise of the anti-corruption body under Obasanjo will be a topic for discussion next day, suffice to say that EFCC under its pioneer chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu sooner became a tool for political witch-hunt. Like other institutions of government, the EFCC blossomed into an attack dog permanently on the run after those who have a dissenting political view from the owner. It metamorphosed into a political estate of those in authority with the sole objective of vilifying and criminalising any ‘rebellion’ against Emperor Obasanjo whose democratic record is stained with military jackboot.
Other helmsmen have done their feat and left. Irrespective of the prism from which you see Magu, one thing you cannot however take away from him is the fact that he has made remarkable progress in the country’s quest to reduce to the barest minimum the festival of corruption that has hit the rooftop in virtually all areas of our national life. The 5 years headship of Magu at the EFCC witnessed a harvest of convictions running into thousands. Between 2015 and 2020, the Commission secured about 2,240 convictions, says the former acting chairman in a media briefing June this year. This figure does not only represent people you may call plebians but politically exposed individuals including two former state governors, Jolly Nyame of Taraba and Joshua Dariye of Plateau state as well as a Joseph Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“We have recovered assets in excess of N980 billion and quite a large array of non-monetary assets like properties, estates, private jets, oil vessels, filling stations, schools, hotels, trucks and other automobiles, pieces of jewellery, plazas, shopping malls, electronics among others” the former acting EFCC chairman further said.
Under Magu, we have seen a highly reinvigorated EFCC that launched an aggressive onslaught against cybercrime and internet fraud that has further fractured our image in the comity of nations. The arrest and prosecution of a social media celebrity and internet fraud kingpin, Ismaila Mustapha, popularly known as Mompha and his Lebanese accomplice, Hamza Koudeih is one of the biggest breakthroughs this onslaught has yielded. Also, Mr. Ramoni Abbas, better known as Hushpuppi who is popular for flaunting questionable affluence on social media is today standing trial in the US on the account of strong, co-ordinated network between the EFCC and INTERPOL. Assets worth billions of Naira, including cash in various currencies have been recovered under Magu.
Instructively, behind the Magu whose laudable achievements in EFCC favourably stand tall among that of his predecessors, is a man whose integrity in relations to properly accounting for assets the Commission under him recovered has heavily come under questioning. This is coming from no lesser a person than the respected office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, a fellow appointee of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Among other accusations levelled against the (former) anti-corruption czar by Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami is the alleged relooting of recovered loots and sale of seized assets to cronies, associates and friends, alleged favouritism towards selected EFCC investigators called ‘Magu Boys’ for certain category of assignments, insubordination to the office of the AGF in whose purview it is to oversee the activities of EFCC including prosecution of corruption cases, alleged discrepancies in the reconciliation records of the EFCC and Federal Ministry of Finance on recovered funds, alleged declaration of N539bn as recovered funds instead of N504bn earlier claimed and litany of others.
The likes of Sen. Dr. Bukola Saraki, under whose watch the National Assembly in 2016 twice rejected the confirmation of Magu as the substantive EFCC chairman must be having a good laughter at a time like this. They cited Magu’s failure of integrity test at that period on the account of weighty allegations brought before the hallowed chamber by another agency of the government, the Department of State Service (DSS) alleging Magu’s unholy romance with individuals having questions of corruption dangling around their neck. Apparently playing the now obsolete gimmick of ‘corruption is fighting back’ the Buhari administration decided to adamantly ignore the DSS report and retained Magu in acting capacity since his appointment in 2015 till the chicken finally came home to roost.
Under Magu, we also saw an EFCC that regaled in impunity and lawlessness, acting as if it was not a creation of the law. Nigerians saw an EFCC that was mischievously selective in the prosecution of the anti-graft war. It went about arbitrarily freezing accounts of governors it deemed to have opposing political views with the federal government. Former governor Ayodele Fayose under Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution had immunity, same way the president and other governors had when in 2016 his personal account domiciled at Zenith Bank was illegally frozen.
While this writer does not wish to hold brief for anyone alleged to have feasted on our common patrimony illegally, the anti-graft campaign has targeted largely those in the opposition parties as well as individuals whose relationship with powers that be in the APC has gone frosty. Former governor Akinwumi Ambode of Lagos may not have been under probe today if his relationship with his political godfather, Bola Tinubu did not suffer a fatal injury that later denied him second term in office. How the Lagos strongman allegedly used the EFCC under Magu to clampdown on those that may pose threat to his 2023 ambition will soon become a public knowledge. The two former governors convicted in the Northern region for which the APC thumbs its chest around as fighting a holistic corruption war belong to a particular faith, a development that further cast aspersions on Magu’s EFCC.
As I bring this piece to a conclusion, it hasty to take a position on the matter at hand till the Justice Ayo Salami-led presidential committee completes its assignment which will pave way for Magu’s possible prosecution in the court of law. One thing however is sure; the integrity of the crime fighter may not be as iron cast as it was when he first took up the headship of the Commission.
Enemanna is an Abuja-based journalist.