MAGUTROVERSY: End of the road for anti-graft czar?

Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA and DARE ADEKANMBI, who monitored the screening of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu at the Senate, present the key highlights of the intrigues that informed Magu’s second rejection in the red chamber.

HAD Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) been gifted in astrology, he would have sensed a foreboding about his second visit to the Senate to receive confirmation that will end the prefixing of his title with ‘acting.’ Perhaps some marabout did not see a bad outing coming and told Magu all would be well at the screening.

While introducing himself to the Senate on Wednesday March 15, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu said he read Accountancy and also had some certificates in corruption studies.

That introduction apparently informed the early warning signals thrown at him by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Local and Foreign debts, Senator Shehu Sani on the day.

The Kaduna Senator told the anti-graft crusader that the day he was appearing before the Senate was unique; the ides of March. And knowing that Magu might not have studied Literature, he broke it down further.

He said: “Mr Magu, let me remind of the significance of today. Today is March 15, the ides of March, the day Caesar visited the Senate and he was stabbed. May God help you.”

That message resonated among the Senators who had during their informal talk at the Senate Tea Room concluded Magu’s fate.  The clincher for them was the security report sent to the chamber by the Department of State Services (DSS) less than 24 hours before the screening.

Just as it turned out for Julius Caesar in the famous Shakespearean drama, Magu got a huge stab on the chest after the March 15 screening.

Like a star violently plucked from its sphere, Magu’s confirmation was shot down by a majority of the Senators principally on account of his failing what was called “integrity test” administered on him by the Department of State Services (DSS).

During his first visit, Magu literally waited upon the senators who were meeting closed-doors to discuss the security report received from the Director-General of the DSS on him. The senators rose from the meeting to shock Magu that his screening would not go ahead as scheduled because of an unfavourable security report from the DSS. It is the tradition of the Senate to ask for security report of certain nominees to key positions to ensure that misfits and immoral people don’t get such jobs.

When the heat was turned on the Senate, specifically that the refusal to confirm Magu was because of ongoing EFCC investigations into the perceived misdeeds some of its members, the Red Chamber quickly responded by releasing the DSS report to the public with a litany of allegations impeaching Magu’s integrity and casting a shadow of doubt on propriety of having him to head the EFCC.

The Senate was roundly criticised for not giving the anti-corruption czar a fair hearing in December last year when he went to be screened for confirmation.

Mindful of its vow to Nigerians as a government that is ready and willing to give corruption “a bloody nose,” President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) to investigate Magu, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and any other top shot in the administration linked with corruption. A Senate committee had indicted the SGF for sharp practices in the handling of contracts under the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE).

The submission of AGF’s probe report to President Buhari in January was dogged by a controversy. While some reports claimed Malami was prevented from having audience with the president three times by entrenched vested interests in the Villa, others said the AGF recommended the removal of Magu. But the Justice Minister and the Presidency denied both accounts.

So, when President Buhari re-submitted the name of Magu to the Senate for confirmation, not many were shocked. In the letter sent to the Senate, the president gave Magu a clean bill of health and reiterated its confidence in his capability to lead the agency. The Presidency also informed the Senate that it would not relieve SGF of his job as requested by it, absolving Babachir of corruption charges.

As soon as his name got to the Senate, it was said that he was actually not President Muhammadu Buhari’s first choice. It was also said that the president apparently left his name on the table while the file was presented to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo when he was acting president in June 2016 for presentation to the Senate.

Whatever it was, the Senate was not in a hurry to conduct the screening. Sources in the polity told the Sunday Tribune that the Presidency became divided as soon as Magu’s name surfaced in the Senate.

It was learnt that a section of the Villa wanted Magu screened and confirmed while another was opposed to his confirmation.  Senate President Bukola Saraki was then said to have sought audience with President Buhari on the Magu matter and was told to do his job as required by the law.


Magu’s second coming

Again, on Tuesday, January 24, Saraki read a letter re-nominating Magu as chairman of EFCC. The letter, signed by President Buhari, was a lengthy one. It contained explanations why the president re-nominated the police officer as EFCC boss. The president stated in the letter that he had cross checked the issues raised  But Though he did not avail the Senate of Magus’s response to the allegations.

In line with what is permitted by procedure, the Senate again wrote the DSS for its input. This time, it looked as if the DSS was going to sidestep its duty and that would have further delayed the process. At 5.02 pm on Tuesday March 14, however, the DSS landed with its report to the Senate. The report affirmed the earlier one which indicated that Magu failed integrity test.

This time, however, the lawmakers exhausted all the processes. They allowed Magu stepped into the Chamber to at least defend himself against the variety of issues

raised in the DSS report apparently to satisfy the criticisms of their earlier process where they only sealed his fate after a closed session.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Dino Melaye raised the issue of the second Security Report. Melaye told the acting EFCC boss that he had another report from the DSS which affirmed an earlier indictment of Magu.

The chamber went silent as Melaye made his point. This time, the ominous signals were unmistakable, since most watchers of the chamber know that the Kogi Senator is one of the key movers in the chamber. Danger loomed and Magu was highly unsettled.

A rattled Magu became uncoordinated at this point. He told the Senators to discountenance the DSS report and alleged that the integrity of DSS was rather at stake for allegedly issuing two varying reports in him.

Magu said: “This paper is the same paper, the document that was here before this time. It is verbatim.  I have read it. Two different reports submitted the same day about the same person that goes to tell you the credibility of such an institution.

What follows were mere additions. Senator Melaye had thrown the last straw to break the camel’s back.

Former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndumeh, however, accused the Senate of double standards and alleged that while it received a letter from the DSS which was signed by a junior officer.

Senate President Bukola Saraki ruled him out of order and declared that the issue had been concluded since the senate had voted on the matter.

But unlike his first visit, Magu was given a fair hearing by the Senate when he went for screening on Wednesday. The screening was televised by some television stations for all Nigerians to follow the proceedings.

Most of the questions directed at Magu came from the fresh security report from the DSS on Magu. The Senate might have contemplated that the DSS and the president might have reconciled their positions on Magu and that this perhaps informed the re-presentation of Magu’s name.

But the Senate was wrong, as the DSS reaffirmed its earlier position that Magu is not suitable for the job because of moral baggage on his neck. Highlight of the allegations is given thus: that Magu uses fronts who corruptly enrich themselves under the guise of prosecuting the anti-graft war; that a corrupt person got a mansion as residence for Magu and another questionable person furnished same for N43 million; that Magu flies first class during overseas travels as against the economy class directed by the president; and so on.

Observers noted that Magu’s performance at the Wednesday screening left much to be desired. His responses to some of the questions were deemed shallow, just as he did not sound convincing to both the senators who put him under the spotlight as well as Nigerians who followed the event from their homes.

Asked about a CofO recovered from a property raided by the EFCC and later sold by operatives of the anti-graft agency, Magu said: “It is not everything that is going on in the EFCC that I have knowledge of. The EFCC is too big. Believe you me, if not now, I did know that there was a case against an EFCC staff in police station. If I had heard about it, I would make sure I deal with the person. I will now go back and investigate and give you a feedback.”

On his relationship with Umar Mohammed, who was alleged to be one of his fronts, he replied: “I didn’t know him from Adam until he happened to be a member of the arms procurement investigation panel.”

Responding to the allegation of his palatial residence, he said: “The house I am staying actually belongs to the late [Professor] Dora Akuyili whose son was staying in the house. After his mother’s burial, he was looking for money to go back to the United States. That was how the house was got. They call it ‘safe house.’ Every government official stays in such house. It was furnished by government.”

The reply of Magu, whose first training was in Accountancy, to the question about how much had been recovered so far from looters, went thus: “I won’t be able to give you a specific figure. We have made recoveries. One of the strategies we have in place is tracing the identity of recovered loot. We are going all over the country and we are also going outside the country. Recently, we were in Dubai and we have been to the US, the UK. Our men are still in the UK primarily to recover stolen assets.”


Did Magu provide the rope to hang himself?

Senate spokesman, Senator Sabi Abdullahi was emphatic when he addressed Senate correspondent shortly after the confirmation hearing for Magu. He said that the nominee’s lackluster performance was largely responsible for the fate that befell him.

“He is not the only one who can do the job. The anti-graft war is about an institution not an individual, after all, when Nuhu Ribadu left, people thought that is the end of the EFCC. But today, it is still there,” the senator further said.

Diverse reactions have followed the development. While some have pilloried the Senate for nursing a hidden agenda against Magu, there are others who have stood in defence of the Senate.

Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Council on Anti-corruption Campaign, Professor Itsey Sagay (SAN), while reacting, asked President Buhari to retain Magu, despite Senate’s second refusal to confirm him, saying he is the best man for the job.

“We consider the rejection as extremely perverse, negative, not based on merit and a sort of vendetta. So we agreed he should continue to serve in that position as acting chairman if he is not confirmed by the Senate.”

“At his own time, at the President’s convenience, he should be re-nominated. But until that is done, Magu should continue to be there as acting chairman to continue the excellent job he has been doing. He is the best candidate for the job.

“Regardless of whatever report anybody writes, Magu is by far the best candidate and we should stick by him,” the Professor of Law said promising to forward the council’s position to the president on the matter.

Also reacting, human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, who described Magu’s rejection as “the height of official ridicule of the office of the President,” said it was time the president restrained the DSS from sabotaging his anti-corruption war.

Falana noted that the participation of some Senators, who are under EFCC investigation or are being prosecuted for alleged graft offences in the screening procedure, was illegal and a contravention of the Rules of the Senate.

Like Sagay, the Ekiti-born fiery lawyer posited that Magu’s name could be re-presented for the third time by President Buhari who is at liberty to renew his acting role.

“Magu’s nomination may be re-presented to the Senate if and when the Federal Government decides to put its house in order. Alternatively, the president may allow Magu to remain the acting chairman of the EFCC since he was appointed in thst capacity pursuant to Section 171 of the Constitution.

“But if the president is not satisfied with Magu’s performance, he is at liberty to appoint another person whose nomination will be forwarded to the Senate in accordance with Section 2(3) of the EFCC Act, 2004,” he said.

A pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, tasked those going for the jugular of the senators to allow them do their job and respect the position of the federal lawmakers, adding that the rejection of Magu showed the Senate had done its homework.

“The Senate is doing its job and the onus now rests with the Presidency to prove to the Senate beyond reasonable doubt that it had no skeleton in its cupboard by insisting on Magu as the chairman of the anti-corruption agency,” Secretary General of the group, Chief Seinde Arogbofa said in a statement.

Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) spoke on a different angle to the controversy. “When the Senate confirms or rejects, it must be based on some reasons. I want to plead with the Senate that if any name is forwarded for confirmation by the Presidency for ministerial, EFCC or any other positions, the confirmation exercise which it carries out, by virtue of the provision of the constitution, should be in utmost altruistic and patriotic manner, not out of vendetta.

“Then we want to plead with the Presidency, comprising the DSS, the police and others, that they should not commit class suicide. What I mean is that the DSS, EFCC and others are departments under Presidency. This is a house divided against itself,” Olanipekun said.


Unanswered questions

As noted by some of the commentators, the rejection of Magu based on a fresh damning security report on Magu has brought to the fore the lack of cohesion among agencies under the coordination of the Presidency.

When the first security report indicted from the DSS indicted Magu, tongues were set wagging that it was a vendetta for the sting operation spearheaded by Magu against some officials in the DSS.

If the first DSS report was self-serving, could the secret police chief dare President Buhari the second time by reaffirming his earlier position, even after a probe had returned a verdict of not guilty on Magu?

To some observers, the time is up for Magu and the hawks who wanted him booted out may have had their way this time round. One pointer to this claim is the fact that President Buhari would have softened the ground for Magu before his appearance before the Senate, when he met with the leaders of the National Assembly days before the screening. Does the boldness of the DSS to reiterate its earlier stance indicate that the Presidency has left Magu in the cold?

If Nigerians keep records of sins of members of the political class, who, among those in the political theatre at the moment, can pass integrity test and come out with flying colours?

Although no law restricts the number of times President Buhari can renew his role as acting chairman of the EFCC, should Magu’s name be forwarded again? Analysts posit that it is only when the “civil war” in Buhari’s administration has been resolved that any further nomination of Magu can work. The atmosphere, they submit, is still very toxic for Magu and will remain so until Buhari detoxifies it if he wants to.

Whatever decision taken by the Presidency on Magu has grave implications for the anti-corruption campaign of the administration. If Magu is retained, then it will add to the growing list of men alleged stinking with corruption but “sprayed with deodorant” to clean the stench. If he is replaced, the shadow of doubt created will be hard to remove.