AS the Justice Ayo Salami-led panel probing allegations against the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial times Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, commenced its second day of sitting inside the State House Conference entre, Abuja, on Tuesday, there appeared to be uncertainty over the leadership of the commission.
The absence of Magu for the second day at the anti-graft headquarters is said to have created a leadership vacuum as he has not authorised anyone to act on his behalf.
It was learnt that members of staff of the commission were at a loss as to what to do with matters requiring the acting chairman’s attention who, despite his probe, has not been suspended from office. A source close to the commission said: “If he had been officially suspended over the allegations, the officer in charge of operations at the commission would have acted in his place. As it is now, that cannot happen and everyone appears to be playing safe.”
Magu, on Tuesday, however, moved some of his belongings out of the headquarters of the commission, Nigerian Tribune learnt. According to impeccable security sources, the EFCC boss instructed his aides to move his belongings from the office on Tuesday morning while he was on his way to the Presidency for the second day of his grilling.
The source disclosed that the aides came to the EFCC headquarters in two vehicles to pack some of the belongings while it was gathered that the aides may come again today to pack what remains in the office. There were unconfirmed reports on Tuesday that President Buhari may have suspended Magu.
A source privy to the investigation confirmed his suspension on Tuesday, adding that it was a “normal thing to happen when somebody is being investigated.” There was no formal statement on the issue as of the time of filing this report. Magu was moved back to the Force Criminal Investigation Bureau (FCID) after his grilling which ended at about 8.30 p.m., on Tuesday.
The anti-graft boss was said to have been taken back to the bureau, in the same manner, he was driven there on Monday night. Security operatives on Tuesday evening searched the Karo, Abuja house of Magu. The search, a source told the Nigerian Tribune, was part of an investigation into the activities of the anti-corruption commission under Magu.
A source informed that the security operative went to the house with a search warrant and moved in to carry out the search. Spokesman of the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, could not be reached on his phone to comment on the latest development, while Magu’s personal assistant on media, Tony Amokeodo, neither picked nor responded to a text message sent to his telephone line as of the time of filing this report.
The Presidency, however, said on Tuesday that the ongoing grilling of Magu is an affirmation that nobody under the present administration is above scrutiny. According to facts made available to State House correspondents by a Presidency source, the interrogation of the anti-graft boss is to give him the opportunity to clear himself of some weighty allegations.
The source maintained that the investigation of the EFCC boss was to reinforce the Buhari administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability. The presidency source affirmed that the holder of an elevated office such as the chairman of the EFCC must be above suspicion as he assured that the administration will not prejudge anyone as it could be counted on to uphold justice and fairness.
The source stated: “The panel investigating allegations against the acting EFCC chairman has been sitting for some weeks now. In consonance with the principle of fairness and justice, it was needful that the acting chairman is given opportunity to respond to the allegations which are weighty in nature.
“Under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, nobody is above scrutiny. The investigation is to reinforce transparency and accountability rather than to vitiate it.” The anti-graft boss is facing allegations of corruption levelled against him by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
The panel was said to have started sitting about three weeks ago soon after Malami wrote his petition to President Muhammadu Buhari outlining Magu’s alleged infractions.
However, Monday was the first day the anti-graft czar appeared before it, after he was apprehended on the street in Wuse II, Abuja, by security officials. It was also gathered that Monday’s incident that led to the “arrest” of the ommission’s acting chairman was warranted by Magu’s reluctance to answer several summonses by the panel.
Despite that, the panel was said to have accorded him his due respect by letting him retain his phones, allowing him to go for prayers by himself and served dinner while still being quizzed.
It was also learnt that while Magu resisted attempts to get him into a car at the end of Monday’s panel’s sitting, rather than the back of a pickup truck, which he preferred, he warned his handlers to remember that he remained a commissioner of police and must be treated as such.
On Tuesday, members of the panel were noticed at the venue of the interrogation by noon while a convoy of three cars, which appeared to be carrying an important guest, drove into the premises at 12.37 p.m. It was not certain if Magu was he principal official in the convoy.
It, however, had a Peugeot sedan sandwiched by two Toyota Hilux vans occupied by several security personnel who provided cover for the car. After a brief screening by personnel of the Department of State Security (DSS) at the gate, the convoy was waved on to join the panel.
Access was again denied to unauthorised persons, including journalists, by security details at the centre. When the Nigerian Tribune approached the gate, a security official queried: “There’s is restriction. Where exactly are you going?” Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has expressed “concerns about reports that the apparently arbitrary arrest of Magu may be ‘the outcome of power-play’ at the highest levels of government.” A member of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC) has reportedly stated that Magu’s arrest may be due to “an outcome of power-play by power blocs in the corridors of power that is not really interested in, or in support of, President Buhari’s anti-corruption fight.”
In a statement by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “The reported statement by a member of PACAC seems to suggest that Magu’s arrest may be politically motivated and aim to undermine the independence and freedom of action of the EFCC. If true, this would make a mockery of Buhari’s oft-repeated commitment to fight grand corruption and the impunity of perpetrators, which is fuelling widespread and systemic corruption in the country.
“SERAP urges the authorities to afford Magu his constitutionally and internationally guaranteed fair trial rights. Magu must either be charged with a recognisable criminal offence or released immediately and allowed to do his job without fear of reprisals.
“Nigerian authorities cannot continue to keep Magu in detention under suspicious circumstances without bringing legitimate charges against him in violation of national and international law. “Nigerian authorities must support the independence and freedom of action of anti-corruption agencies and institutions if they are to be able to genuinely fight grand corruption, which has for many years turned public service for many into a kind of criminal enterprise.”
However, a group of human rights lawyers, Coalition of Public Interests Lawyers and Advocates (COPA), urged resident Buhari to relieve Magu of his duty. The group made the call in a statement issued in Abuja by its convener, Mr Pelumi Olajengbesi. It said Magu’s continued stay in office when he had corruption allegations levelled against him made a mockery of President Buhari’s fight against corruption.
The statement read: “Magu’s continuance in office might mean that the president is concerned about raising strong men than strong institutions, and might also mean that he is ready to sacrifice the integrity of a critical institution to reward loyalty to him.
“Also, any further or delayed action as per the removal of Magu as acting chairman of EFCC will be lending legitimacy to his position as acting chairman about five years and on.
This is a procedural abnormality in civil service not contemplated by our laws or public service culture.” Olajengbesi advised the president to ensure that the EFCC is protected at all cost from rot and disrepute, considering its importance to the economy as the cornerstone agency in the country’s fight against corruption.
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