Despite the public embarrassment the ongoing probe of Ibrahim Magu, suspended acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has caused the government and the nation, the presidency yesterday engaged the global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International (TI) in a shouting match after TI berated President Muhammadu Buhari for keeping Magu in office for over five years even after the Senate twice rejected his confirmation and declared him unfit to hold public office because of corruption allegations against Magu from the Department of State Security (DSS).
This apparent hypocrisy, TI said, was the greatest damage to Buhari’s anti-graft fight and raised fundamental questions about the president’s sincerity. TI also believed Magu’s situation casts doubts on the credibility of Buhari’s war on corruption. But in its first official reaction to the probe, the presidency chided those who saw Magu’s probe as an anti-climax underscoring the failure of the administration’s anti-graft fight were missing the point. Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu in a statement yesterday said the current probe of Magu was an indication that the anti-corruption fight was real. Shehu said the probe, particularly, sent out a strong message that no one in Nigeria was above the law or beyond investigation in the country’s anti-corruption war. Shehu said by subjecting the head of one of its most critical agencies to an open probe, the administration had set a new record in the country’s history that strengthened the mantra that there were no sacred cows in fight against corruption.
According to Shehu: “Those who see Mr. Magu’s investigation as a signal that the fight against corruption is failing have, unfortunately, missed the boat. There is no better indication that the fight is real and active than the will to investigate allegations in an open and transparent manner against those who have been charged to be custodians of this very system. Under this president and government, this is our mantra and guiding principle. There are no sacred cows, and for those who think they have a halo over their heads, their days are also numbered. Magu was not immune, regardless of the obvious embarrassment that potential acts of wrongdoing by him, given the office he held, may appear for the government. No other administration in the history of Nigeria would have moved to bring into the light and public domain such an allegation.”
Magu was arrested on Monday by a combined team of officials of the Department of State Services (DSS) and Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) after he allegedly disregarded invitations from a presidential probe panel headed by a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami. Magu’s interrogation alongside Secretary of EFCC, Olanipekun Olukoyede, and other directors, enters its sixth day today, Monday. Magu was ambushed on the road in Abuja on Monday and dragged before the presidential panel investigating a 21-point allegation of fraud against him by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, to defend himself. He was subsequently detained at the FCID while the Director of Operations, Muhammed Umar, has taken over the anti-graft agency in acting capacity. But the embattled EFCC boss has asked his lawyer to file a bail application before the Nigeria Police, though Buhari formally approved his suspension on Friday.
The statement also explained the rationale behind the suspension of Magu by Buhari, saying it is a norm in the public service that when allegations are made against the head of a government institution, he has to step aside until the investigation is concluded. Shehu said the situation was even more compelling in this circumstance, because the EFCC as an anti-corruption agency must be without blemish. He also stressed that the EFCC as an institution was not built around the personality of Magu, as there were other dedicated staff of the institution that could carry on with the agency’s responsibilities. He insisted that Magu’s suspension was necessary to give room for transparent investigation.
But Transparency International insisted that responsibility for Magu lies with President Buhari who ignored reports from DSS on corruption allegations against Magu. Nigeria’s Head of Transparency International, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, told Arise TV that Magu’s investigation for corrupt practices “is the greatest damage to Buhari’s anti-graft fight. Now, the people will doubt credibility of anti-graft fight. The international community has already expressed doubt about the fight against corruption.” Rafsanjani disclosed that former Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, had written a report against Magu before resigning from the cabinet. Based on the DSS reports, Rafsanjani, who is also Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), observed that the National Assembly rejected Magu’s nomination twice, but the Buhari administration insisted on keeping Magu in the job..
“In my opinion, it is not Magu’s fault that he did whatever he is doing now. The government gave him knife and meat without supervision. The EFCC is supposed to be under the supervision of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF). As far as I am concerned, allowing the whole issue to escalate shows the lackadaisical attitude of the federal government to the anticorruption war. If the security reports indicted Magu, why should the federal government not take proactive steps to replace him?”
In another development, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the presidency must not cover up for Magu but ensure that he answers for his alleged transgressions. The PDP in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, described Magu as unfit to lead saying Magu had transformed the EFCC into a house of corruption and a partisan witch-hunting organization that thrived on violation of rules, abuse of investigation processes, manipulation of court procedures, as well as harassment and extortion of innocent Nigerians. The PDP stated that Magu was more interested in securing politically induced convictions than justice. The party alleged that Magu turned the EFCC into a terror house, where innocent Nigerians were harassed with trumped-up charges and convicted in the media before they were allowed to defend themselves in court.