Three foreign anti-corruption groups say the exit of Ibrahim Magu as acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) “may erode the recent gains in the fight against corruption”.
They said what is going on in Nigeria “is of concern to the international community”.
Magu was arrested last Monday and is currently being probed over allegations of gross misconduct.
He was later suspended by the president and has since been replaced by Umar Mohammed, director of operations at the agency.
According to the groups — Re: Common, Global Witness and The Corner House based in Europe — Nigeria has made huge strides in the fight against corruption under Magu’s leadership.
The groups’ position was contained in an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, signed by Lucas Manes of Re: Common, Nicholas Hildyard of Corner House and Simon Taylor of Global Witness.
Olanrewaju Suraju signed on behalf of Human and Environmental Development Agenda, the Nigerian member of the coalition.
They said the recent travails of the suspended EFCC boss may be the ploy of desperate, corrupt politicians.
“What is going on in Nigeria is of concern to the international community. Mr Magu has proved himself to be up to the task,” they said.
“His determination to fight corruption is evident by the recovery of stolen funds and properties plus his own high moral ground earned at the cost of diligence and hard work never before seen.
“His political removal questions the will of Nigeria to deal with a major cause of the country’s underdevelopment which is corruption.”
The groups have been assisting Nigeria in the monitoring of ongoing litigation processes on the corruption in the OPL 245/Malabu deal linked to top oil companies and officials.
They claimed that Magu has also diligently followed up on the case, making proper recommendations and ensuring that those involved are duly prosecuted.
According to the groups, they are not opposed to Magu being investigated as all allegations must be probed, but they want due process to be followed.
“The procedures are clearly being hijacked by detractors of Magu in the political space and this is eroding the potential credibility of the outcome of the panel constituted to probe these allegations.
“The hounding of Magu through seemingly politically connected sponsored media harassment only makes matters worse.”
The groups referred the president to a recent report by the University of Edinburgh-led Global Integrity Anti-Corruption Evidence programme which records that “Nigeria’s anti-corruption law enforcement efforts are gradually growing more effective as practitioners adapt and innovate in response to many persistent challenges.”
It noted that “the respect Nigeria has gained is exemplified by the recognition accorded to Magu, not least by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which recently honoured him with an award of excellence”.
“We have been hugely impressed by the dedication of its investigators and by the disciplined leadership shown by Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu,” the coalition stated further.
“The agency is completely different from the sclerotic, timid, politically captured bureaucracy that it was in the previous period. The credit for this is due in large part to you for appointing Magu and sticking with him despite efforts to unseat him.
“Indeed, in meetings we have had with this, and other agencies, conversations have often referred to the impressive current leadership of the EFCC.”
The groups added that Magu has previously been exonerated from all the allegations pointed out by Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of the federation (AGF), in 2017 and that the only fresh allegation is that relating to insubordination.
They accused the AGF of bypassing “the usual administrative procedures of issuing a query to an accused officer under his ministry in favour of a political approach.”
“We are concerned that accusations of ‘insubordination’ risk crossing the line that ensures the independence of prosecutors from political interference,” they said, adding that despite bearing false witness being illegal, no one has been investigated or charged in relation to bringing the false allegations against Magu in 2017.
“We realize that you have been placed in an invidious position by the attorney-general. However, we very much hope that you will find a way forward that protects the huge strides made by the EFCC under Magu’s acting chairmanship.
“We very much doubt if the Italian case would have reached the stage that it has without his committed and diligent response to mutual legal assistance requests.
“At this critical stage in the trial, his replacement for political reasons would be wholly regrettable and would only give succour to those being prosecuted.”