We were told repeatedly during and after the 2015 general elections in Nigeria that Nigeria will have to kill corruption or corruption will kill Nigeria. Another thing we were told is that when you fight corruption, corruption will fight back. What nobody told us however is how ferocious and audacious the fightback would be. And we were, to a large extent, mistaken as to the quarters the fight back would come from.
President Muhammadu Buhari was elected by Nigerians principally because of his anti- corruption stance. He had campaigned on a promise to rid Nigeria of insecurity and corruption and revamp the economy. Nigerians believed him on account of his track record of integrity. Since assumption of office, president Buhari has largely remained true to his promises regarding the war on corruption. Replacing an inept Ibrahim Larmode with a battle-tested and no- nonsense gentleman in the person of Ibrahim Magu as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was a pointer to the president’s resolve to revive the fortunes of the then comatose EFCC and give more bite to the anti- corruption fight.
Ibrahim Magu, a seasoned police officer, had previously served as the head of the EFCC ‘s Economic Governance Unit during the chairmanship of Nuhu Ribadu. A trained financial crimes investigator with a background in forensic accounting, Magu led many high profile investigations against former governors including James Ibori of Delta state, Sam Egwu of Ebonyi state, and Bukola Saraki of Kwara state who is currently the Senate president. It is no surprise then that Ibrahim Magu had stepped on many toes and comes with a high reputation. He is fearless and , like the man who appointed him, incorruptible.
As expected (and feared), Ibrahim Magu has gone about his duties with aplomb and gusto. He has hauled many, hitherto considered untouchables, before courts of justice, recovered from them monies and properties suspected to have been stolen from government coffers and, sent many to jails all across the country. In fact, Magu has since become the face and symbol of the anti- corruption war as envisioned by the president. And this is not without some personal perils. Corruption has indeed waged an unrelenting fightback that almost swept Magu out of office but for the president’s belief and trust in the man’s abilities and integrity.
Spurious allegations of flawed integrity said to have emanated from the Directorate of State Service, DSS, were used to deny him Senate confirmation twice. EFCC’s efforts at demanding accountability from past office holders have been written off as one sided and lopsided against the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. There have also been rumours of EFCC staff acquiring and owning vast array of properties all over the country that is way beyond their legitimate earnings. All these just to discredit the man Magu and the agency he heads and by extension, the very war he is waging against corruption.
The most audacious counter punch of corruption has, unfortunately, come from the most unlikely of places, the National Assembly. The Nigerian Senate, the highest law making organ in the country, which should have been the bedrock of support for the anti-corruption fight, has wittingly become a barrier to the anti- corruption campaign. This is surprising yet not completely unexpected considering that the upper chamber of the national assembly is home to a sizeable number of former state governors presently being investigated or prosecuted by the EFCC for fraud and money laundering.
Bukola Saraki, the Senate president and chairman of the National Assembly seems, unfortunately, to be spearheading the onslaught against the anti- graft agency and its chairman. Bukola Saraki, it may be recalled, is facing multiple charges of false assets declaration and fraud before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT instituted by the EFCC. He and the Senate that he leads have, on two occasions, refused to confirm Ibrahim Magu as the substantive chairman of the EFCC and have called on the president to name another nominee in his place. The Senate president has cast his trial at the tribunal as a witch-hunt by his enemies within the APC, the ruling party at the centre.
He sees Magu as a willing instrument being used against him as a backlash for being elected as Senate president against the wishes of the party apparatchiks. As hollow as that claim may be, Saraki has, on account of that, waged a relentless war against the EFCC and its leadership. And he has had the support of his former governor colleagues who feel threatened by the relentless and fearless Ibrahim Magu. Senators Sam Egwu, Theodore Orji, Godswill Akpabio, Joshua Dariye and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, all former governors under EFCC investigation, would rather that the anti- graft agency does not exist.
As a result, the EFCC is systematically being starved of funds through the mechanism of annual budgetary allocations.
In furtherance of their seeming determination to cripple and frustrate the fight against corruption or, have the war waged on their own terms, most of the bills emanating from the presidency aimed at fast tracking prosecution of suspects, are being deliberately delayed at the National Assembly. Such bills have remained largely unattended to at both chambers of the National Assembly. Leaders of the National Assembly have been quick to rush to the defence of suspects being investigated or prosecuted by the anti-corruption agency.
Certainly, this is not what you would expect from an Assembly dominated by members of the ruling party which has made the fight against corruption its signature programme. Bukola Saraki is only the leader of an elite group dedicated to the demonization of Magu and the stultification of the work of the EFCC. In his company are characters like Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti state, Femi Fani-Kayode, Mike Ozekwome and Nyesom Wike of Rivers state. It is no surprise that all of these men are either under investigation or being prosecuted by the EFCC.
Senator Dino Melaye, a Saraki acolyte, and a one time anti-corruption crusader, is up there among those who have sworn to scuttle president Buhari’s war against corruption. Having metamorphosed from a ‘comrade’ into a clownish parliamentarian and lover and collector of exotic cars, it is hard to determine whose music he is dancing to. His recent public offering in the form of a book, (Antidotes For Corruption) is not only ironic but clearly an audacious fight back on the part of corruption.
The bonds of corruption are truly ill to loose. The judiciary, however, must contribute more in this regard or itself be forcibly prised from the seeming grip of corruption.