For many Nigerians, 2016 has been a particularly interesting, but tough year. Nigerians at home and even in the Diaspora have said, at different fora, that they have not, in many years, witnessed anything close to the economic hardship, which started slowly in the latter part of 2015, and snowballed into full blown recession by the third quarter of 2016. But one agency that has succeeded in diluting the pains of this recalcitrant recession with interesting exposés is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Though the Commission had, since the days of the pioneer chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, carved a conspicuous space for itself among other anti-graft agencies in the country, in terms of bold anti-corruption attacks, the last one year of EFCC under Ibrahim Magu has been particularly hot. For a government, which had, before taking over power, promised Nigerians to fight corruption to a standstill, all Magu, as acting Chairman, could do to make his job permanent, was to be fearless in dealing with perceived looters of collective wealth.
Knowing he had the full backing of Nigeria’s foremost Mr. Integrity, President Muhammadu Buhari, Magu waded through dangerous waters, dragged widely perceived ‘A’ Class citizens, across major sectors, down from their revered heights and forced them to cough up what they “ate”
From the unending sizzling reports of arrests, mind-boggling confessions and return of loots by many of Nigeria’s ‘recycled’ political leaders, courtesy the EFCC, it was clear, at least on the surface, that Magu got the tall brief by his employers right. Knowing he had the full backing of Nigeria’s foremost Mr. Integrity, President Muhammadu Buhari, Magu waded through dangerous waters, dragged widely perceived ‘A’ class citizens, across major sectors, down from their revered heights and forced them to cough up what they “ate”.Of course, this feat won for him, the admiration of many of us, who felt that there must be some kind of wealth redistribution for economic growth to be truly inclusive.
At the last count, as disclosed in a scorecard released in October, Magu revealed that he had secured 145 convictions and initiated the recovery of more looted funds in his first year in the saddle than in the preceding first 12 years of the EFCC’s existence. To be specific, the EFCC, according to the acting chair, recovered over $3.1 billion in six months.
This impressive performance, witnessed by many Nigerians, who became keen followers of the antigraft agency’s proceedings regarding the different looting cases under different big names, should ordinarily have secured a proper seat for Magu in the agency, at least for the first term.
Unfortunately, however, the hunter has become the hunted in a curious national drama that is threatening the only visible achievement that can be claimed, rightly or otherwise, by the Buhari administration. The Senate, after sitting on Magu’s nomination for about six months, finally rejected him as the right choice for the top job, citing security reports.
Ever since the spokesperson for the upper legislative chamber, Aliyu Abdullahi, dropped the shocker last Thursday, notable Nigerians and the masses at large have been divided on the acceptability of the Senate’s action. Unfortunately for the senators, the fact that about 10 of them, who are mainly former governors, are being investigated or tried for corrupt practices by the Magu-led EFCC, placed beside some past alleged legislooting activities of members of the National Assembly, make their rejection stance on Magu appear more egocentric than altruistic.
For instance, respected Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Prof. Itse Sagay, had accused the lawmakers of aiding corruption and promoting self-interest with their action. Many Nigerians have also called on the Buhari administration to ensure Magu is confirmed by all means, basing their position on the premise that the corruption, which Magu ostensibly fought for one year is the same menace asking for his head. While this may be the popular view, some other eminent professionals, including lawyers, have called for caution in judging the lawmakers’ action.
While it could be difficult to separate productive scrutiny from selfish interest in this case, however, it is important to pay more than a passing attention to the “security reports.”
Going by the alleged Department of State Services report, Magu, who is saddled with the responsibility to track and treat all public conduct anomalies that can be grouped under the phrase (financial) corruption, might have, himself, tripped on the age-long ‘banana peel’ on the corridors of power. But there may be more to the matter at hand than meets the eye. The scenario could also suggest that the country’s anticorrution crusade is in grave danger.
The former suggestion could be strengthened by the show of rivalry among the security agencies, which played out in the thick of the controversies around the raid and arrest of judges about a month ago. Magu had said that the DSS had no business raiding and arresting the judges, standing on the point that corruption “does not constitute a threat to national security,” and maintaining that the allegations against the judges amounted to financial crimes, which were under the purview of the EFCC as stipulated in its Act.
But the fact that the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, Ekpo Nta, had okayed the DSS raid, saying the agency could perform the duties of the Police, showed that there was a consensus against certain activities of the EFCC under Magu, which he alone was ignorant of.
This was indicated in the findings around the real reasons the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation shunned the EFCC for the DSS with regard to the case in question. While this conspiracy appears glaring, however, details of the DSS’ allegations, as reported, cannot be swept under the carpet.
If Magu has been accused of renting an apartment for N40 million at N20 million per annum and facilitating the award of a N43 million contract for the furnishing of the same apartment to his friend, who paid the rent, then he should come out to clear the air, with facts and figures. Nigerians would need his defence to be sure they would not be boarding a ‘one chance’ anti-corruption bus with his confirmation.
After all, in most parts of the world, anti-graft agencies have been accused of fuelling the same menace they were instituted to deal with. About two years ago, in Ghana, an open governance intitiative was launched when the security and government agencies came under scrutiny for allegedly fueling crime and corruption.
A May 21, 2014 report of the Africa Report had quoted renowned political scientist, Kwesi Jonah, as saying that “security and state agencies tasked to deal with crime were (themselves) weak and corrupt.”
We must, therefore, be clear that this is not the same case in Nigeria, particularly when one considers the recent hot exchange of words between two erstwhile chairs of the EFCC, Farida Waziri and Ribadu, which centred on integrity issues. The Senate, in the ongoing Magu rejection story, might have played on the strong shoulders of strategic cohorts to perfect a desired plan.
But they would not have appeared so stiff in their rejection of the EFCC boss, if there were no ‘dependable’ allies in sister security agencies and within President Buhari’s kitchen cabinet as findings have revealed. As stakeholders in the anti-corruption crusade, therefore, we must refrain from jumping into conclusion, but demand fair hearing on all sides, because in Nigeria’s political environment, the more you look, the less you see.