Ibrahim Magu: Lest we forget, by Prince Nwaeze Onu

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In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari campaigned on a tripod of promises to diversify and improve the economy, to fight insurgency and improve the security of lives and properties throughout the federation and, to fight corruption at all levels.

On victory and assumption of office, the president appointed cabinet ministers and others he deemed necessary for the fulfillment of his campaign promises. Ibrahim Magu was, on November 9, 2015 appointed to lead the war on corruption as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) albeit in an acting capacity.

Sometimes in June 2016, the president wrote to the Senate of the National Assembly requesting that Magu be confirmed as the substantive executive chairman of the EFCC. In making Magu the arrow head of the fight against corruption, President Buhari was staking the success of this all essential purpose of his government on Magu. He was by this singular act demonstrating implicit confidence and trust in the integrity and competence of Ibrahim Magu.

Ibrahim-Magu
Ibrahim-Magu

In the letter to the senate, the president declared his satisfaction with Magu’s “record breaking performance, transparency, integrity and exceptional courage” since his appointment as acting chairman. Since the transmission of the said letter from the president to the National Assembly, Ibrahim Magu has been engaged in a running battle with the Senate who have now failed and/or refused to confirm his appointment on two occasions.

On December 16, 2016, the senate, at an executive session, decided against holding a confirmation hearing for Magu. They relied on a security report from the Department of State Services (DSS) which cast doubt on the integrity of Magu and saw him as a potential drawback on the war against corruption. The president in return, tasked the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF to thoroughly investigate the allegations as contained in the DSS report with a view to determining the validity of same.

Following the conclusion of the AGF’s investigation, the president re-nominated Magu and again requested the senate to confirm him as the EFCC boss. On Wednesday, December 15, the senate again, refused to confirm Magu after a hearing at a plenary session relying once more, on a report allegedly emanating from the office of the DSS. The report, like the one before it, impugned the character and integrity of Magu.

Without doubt, the Senate is within its constitutional rights to reject or confirm a nominee of the president. In exercising this power however, the Senate is expected to act reasonably and in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. The senators must discharge this function judiciously and in an altruistic manner.

If we take into consideration the pivotal role that has been played by Ibrahim Magu in the fight against corruption now and in the past, and the many toes that he has stepped on in the process, it is hard to see how the senators, (eleven of whom are currently answering to corruption charges in various courts and many others under investigation) could have acted devoid of self-interest. Incidentally, the constitution does not specify for how long a nominee in Magu’s position can function in an acting capacity nor does it place a limitation on the number of times such nominee can be re-nominated in the event of Senate rejection.

As supporters and opponents continue to bicker over the propriety or otherwise of President Muhammadu Buhari re-nominating Ibrahim Magu and the Senate arguing that Magu is not the only Nigerian qualified for that position, it is imperative that stakeholders take a holistic appraisal of the quagmire and take only decisions that will advance the war on graft and benefit the development of Nigeria.

In doing this, it is important not to forget that Magu has had an unblemished career as a crime fighter. A certified accountant with background in forensic accounting, a trained financial crimes investigator, the Assistant Commissioner of Police was trained at both the FBI Institute in the USA and the Metropolitan Police Institute in the United Kingdom.

As head of EFCC’s Economic Governance Unit (EGU) in the regime of Nuhu Ribadu, Ibrahim Magu led many high profile investigations against politically exposed persons including Bukola Saraki, James Ibori, Shettima Bulama and many former state governors most of who are sitting senators today.

A pioneer staff of the EFCC, Magu is a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption and was also a member of the investigative committee set up by the National Security Adviser to probe the procurement of arms in the Armed Forces from 2007 till 2015. He is described by colleagues as an “incorruptible and fearless investigator who can stand up to any duty”. It is these qualities that endeared him to the president in the first place.

It is also important that we do not forget how much he has, in so short a time, re-awakened and reinvigorated an EFCC that went to sleep under Farida Waziri and Ibrahim Lamorde.

Under his leadership, the anti-corruption commission has found its teeth once again and can bark and bite at the same time. The amount of stolen money and properties recovered by the Commission since Magu assumed office is unprecedented in the history of the EFCC.

For the first time also, a former state governor has been convicted for corruption and sent to prison. This is in addition to so many other convictions and ongoing investigations of hitherto “untouchables”. It is important also that we do not forget the unfair manner in which both the DSS and the Senate have handled Magu’s nomination and confirmation. Magu has alleged and the DSS has not denied that he was never invited by the DSS before it wrote its report to the senate. Nor did the Senate do any better.

Till date, there is no criminal indictment or charge against Ibrahim Magu. Mere allegation and nothing more, is not enough to deny confirmation to a nominee. If it is otherwise, Bukola Saraki will not be a senator not to talk of becoming the senate president nor would so many of the former governors now sitting in the red chambers. If the president and his attorney general and the larger public are satisfied with Magu’s replies to the allegations contained in the DSS report, why are the senators holding out?

The Senate has confirmed more than ninety percent of president Buhari’s nominees so far. The president’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) controls a healthy majority in the Senate and would ordinarily have no difficulty pushing through a nominee of the president especially one that, not just the president but a vast majority of Nigerians, trust to wage a successful war on corruption. That this has not happened for Magu is very instructive. It is either Magu is so patently unfit to be an antigraft czar or that those whose hands are soiled by graft are so scared of his zeal and determination to clean the system that they have sworn to stop him.

The former scenario is evidently untrue as Ibrahim Magu is lauded both at home and abroad for the sterling work he has done so far at the helm of the EFCC.

Days after the senate rejected his nomination for the second time, Magu was invited by two leading anti-corruption organizations, Transparency International and Global Witness to speak at an international conference on money laundering and assets recovery on March 21, 2017 in London.

Magu enjoys the confidence and support of crime fighting agencies of most developed countries of the world and is a respected voice in transnational law enforcement circles. Could Magu therefore be a victim of his own success? Is he a victim of the conspiracy of the corrupt? Is it a case of corruption fighting back? If this be the case, sacrificing Magu will mean yielding to corruption. It will be a disincentive to patriotism and zeal in public service. This we must not allow to happen.

As a country, we must not politicize the fight against corruption. Corruption is not partisan and we all feel the effects of corruption irrespective of our political leanings. Corruption is a monster that must be defeated before it destroys us all.

The president must be supported in his determination to purge the nation of graft. What better way to do this than to confirm the nomination of that person whom he believes can lead the battle? The success or failure of the president’s signature programme will depend on who oversees the programme.

Ibrahim Mustafa Magu may not be flawless (who is?) but he is the choice of president Buhari who, friends and foes admit, is integrity personified.

Prince Onu can be reached thru: [email protected]

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