Magu: When the hunter becomes the hunted!

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Acting EFCC chairman Ibrahim Magu ozigi
Suspended EFCC chairman Ibrahim Magu
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The Insight by Lateef Adewole

“Those who live in glass house should not throw stones”. – African Proverb.

The hottest news in the past week in Nigeria has been Magu! It is not unexpected, given his personality and the sensitive position he held in this administration. His gestapo-like arrest or “coerced invitation” or whatever his colleagues at the EFCC may want us to call it, in the middle of the road, publicly, has been sensational. If there is anyone envisioned to suffer such dramatis, definitely it won’t be Mr. Ibrahim Magu.

While no one is above the law or cannot be invited for questioning whenever need be, such may not be in contemplation where Magu was concerned. In the same administration, under the same President Buhari, who staunchly refused to relieve him of his duties as the acting Chairman of the EFCC for five years, despite non-confirmation by the senate twice by the 8th assembly.

Deal of the day

It would not be strange had it been that it is a new administration. Such has been the fate that usually befell his predecessors. This made Magu’s case a big shock!

Moreover, he seemed to have been the “poster boy” of the administration, representing the face of the anti-corruption war. Something this government touted itself about and consistently gave themselves pass marks, though, contrary to global rating of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International (TI), which saw Nigeria drop 12 places from 136 in 2015 to 144 in 2019.

President Muhammadu Buhari approved the suspension of Magu
President Muhammadu Buhari approved the suspension of Magu

Magu means different things to different people, depending on the side of the divide that they belong. Since his appointment in November 9, 2015, he has brought back fire into the agency from its lacklustre posture and almost “toothless bulldog” position under Ibrahim Lamorde in the last administration of former President Jonathan. He brought back the fear factor to the fight against corruption.

As reported, on Monday, while he was on his way to the Force headquarters, Mr. Magu was cornered by security agents who “made” him to answer to a purported invitation by a Presidential Investigation Panel said to be looking into a series of allegations against him. He was said to have been given the invitation earlier. But, may be the panel was wary of waiting for Magu to “voluntarily” show up. He might see no urgency in attending or might have felt “slighted” by it, considering the new height he had attained, which has almost made him to be “a law unto himself”, if the ways he operated in the past years were anything to go by.

Whether it was a mere invitation or arrest, Magu has spent five good (or is it bad) days in custody. And typical of this administration, the taciturn nature of the leadership, deliberately hoarding information, or covering up issues, rather than properly informing the citizens of developments. They often leave the information gap for rumour mongers to fill it up with speculations, half-truths or lies, only to turn around and cry foul about fake news.

Justice Ayo Salami is leading the Presidential Panel investigating Magu
Justice Ayo Salami is leading the Presidential Panel investigating Magu

Like I earlier mentioned, many people who have fallen under the axe of Magu will never see any good in him. They will do everything humanly possible to bring him down. This is because he dealt with so many people who were accused of corruption, especially many who were previously “untouchable”. He has been vociferous and doggedly in his assignment. He was bold, courageous and forceful. This was to the admiration of many friends of the administration. The fear of Magu was becoming the beginning of wisdom for corrupt people.

Although, in all of the fights too, political witch-hunt, vendetta, unequal treatments and double standards were said to be the bane. Majority of the people who Magu saw to their corruption cases with microscopic intensity and handled with iron fists, were people in the opposition or perceived not to be supporters of President Buhari and his government. They were hunted down wherever they may be or hide. Many escaped abroad and became fugitives there. Htreated most of the friends, families, associates and supporters of Mr. President with kids gloves because he always had excuses not to investigate them.

Senator Bukola Saraki, Dino Melaye, Olisa Metuh, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd.), and many other PDP chieftains know better. This could have informed the perception that the 8th senate under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki deliberately refused to confirm his appointment twice, because he was “showing them pepper”.

Senate President Bukola Saraki
Former Senate President Bukola Saraki refused to approve Magu’s appointment

Some of the high profile convictions obtained were cases that preceded this government like Joshua Dariye, Jolly Iyame, Orji Uzor Kalu, and so on. They started long before the coming of this administration. However, the half-hearted way by which the cases were handled then, led to non-diligent prosecutions. The Honourable Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, was a leading lawyer in EFCC in those years. They never got convictions as it was under Magu.

The 8th Senate’s rejection of Magu was premised on weighty allegations from DSS, which recommended that Magu was not suitable for that position. They wrote not once but twice! “Obun r’iku oko t’iranmo”. Though, the National assembly and its leadership might already have their axe to grind with Magu, the DSS reports gave them needed tools to “nail his coffin”. And he too was not ready to “play ball”. The battleline was drawn.

All through the life of that assembly, there was no love-lost between them. Magu was a thorn in their flesh, whether genuinely or simply “pay back”. However, most Nigerians heaped all the blames on the senate, especially Saraki, who was already condemned to be hanged in the court of public opinion, no thanks to Magu’s style of fighting corruption. He usually helped himself with media trial. This was the practice for long.

At a stage, it looked like he was enjoying the euphoria that comes with his hugging the limelight. Oftentimes, suspected prominent people will be arrested in a commando-style, bungled their homes at odd hours, invade people’s privacy without warrants or court orders, waylaid people in the manners that was Nollywood-like than any serious investigative procedure.

Subsequently, they were paraded in the media, even when same people were yet to be convicted or charged to court or even interrogated. Some people’s reputations, personalities and businesses were unnecessarily ruined in the process. Many times, we saw how the EFCC eventually failed to prove their cases beyond reasonable doubt in the court of law. It was like all those dramas usually come first before the EFCC began to look for evidences with which to nail such suspects. These saw EFCC lost so many cases in the courts.

EFCC

Although, the place of crooked lawyers and judges who did everything to thwart the course of justice for self agrandissement, cannot be overlooked. But a serious agency like EFCC that deals in serious and sensitive business of fighting corruption in a very corrupt system, full of corrupt people, should always ensure they have water-tight cases before proceeding to court. They should do thorough investigation of any suspect before moving against such.

To be fair to EFCC under Magu, they have done more than EFCC at any other time in the past. They reported to have secured over 1200 convictions since Magu took over. They were able to also conclude few big cases, like the cases of the former governors who eventually ended up in jail. Though, one of them has just got a reprieve from the supreme court again after six months in Kuje correctional home. The judges hinged their decision to free him on technicalities, another lexicon that has begun to seriously impact our judicial system more negatively. They are the loopholes that lawyers exploit to make people escape punishment. With such situation, one begins to wonder if the laws are made for the people or people made for the laws.

Such unnecessary intricacies do frustrate the EFCC prosecution lawyers too. And sometimes, no matter how much efforts the EFCC has put in their investigations to gather evidences, the corruption in the Judiciary often frustrates them. The stolen-money-bags know they can buy their ways out of the system and evade punishment.

When Magu was not confirmed by the 8th senate, the scapegoat was Senator Bukola Saraki. Many people did not pay attention to what DSS wrote. Given the grandstanding of the current administration about fighting corruption, no one wanted to hear what the senate had to say.

Once the 9th assembly came in, with NASS leadership firmly in the grip of the APC and Buhari’s loyalists, what many expected was immediate representation of Magu’s name to the senate for confirmation but that did not happen in over 14 months. The reasons were unclear to many. Unknown to us that another thing was being cooked.

Not until some weeks ago, when the bombshell was released from the unexpected quarters. The Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), wrote a damning report about Magu to President Buhari. It bothered on serious corruption allegations, mismanagement of recovered loots (fixed and movable assets), discrepancies in remittances from cash recovered, auction of siezed properties shrouded in secrecy, insubordination, flouting of laid down procedures, and so on. There are 22 of them!

This must have prompted the president to set up the Retired Justice Salami-led panel to look into these allegations. Similar panels were set up in the past after similar allegations were raised against Magu, coupled with the DSS report to the senate which truncated his confirmation. We did not hear anything about their outcomes. The president gave Magu clean bill of health. But, it seems there is difference this time around, given the personality and position of the man who alleged. Magu was said to have been grilled for several hours for many days. And he has not been allowed to leave for his home. It was also reported that his residence was ransacked and vital documents carted away from there. He seems to be on a “long thing” this time around.

Interestingly, the way Magu is being treated is a replica of his own style. When people were suspected, they were arrested or “invited” as the case may be, for interrogation, only for such persons to be detained extra-judicially, without any court order. Such a person, if unfortunate, could spend weeks or months in their detention before being charged to court, if at all. All that period was when EFCC will start to gather evidences against such person. What impunity!

That style remained a source of criticism and condemnation of Magu and EFCC under him. I am sure there are many who might still be in such situation as I write. Magu is being made to taste the bitter taste of his own medicine now.

While no one should convict Magu before trial, the same thing we all condemned him for, he should be given fair hearing, that should be the reason why he was invited by the panel. A proper forensic investigation should be carried out about the matter as it has become recurrent. That will put it to rest once and for all. He can then be freed and allowed to continue his sterling job as the EFCC henchman, and freed from the distractions and blackmails that such accusations have caused him for many years.

And if he is found culpable, he should have his days in court. Either way, Nigerians are tired of this drama. Many saw it as more political than altruistic. Several events in the government and the ruling party APC, in past weeks and months are always considered to be pregnant with political undertones, power struggles and contestestation for control, towards 2023.

It is unfortunate that people who are yet to chew what they bite and swallow it, are already scampering to grab more morsels. Like “The Godfather” said, only power is sweeter than sex! The desperation to grab power and sieze control of the government and party, has been tearing the system apart.

Sadly, “ti elese ba n jiya, olododo a maa pin nibe” (when the guilty is being punished, the innocent may be a victim). All these shenanigans are affecting governance. They constitute serious distractions to the government which is supposed to focus on serving all Nigerian citizens, many of whom may not be interested in the APC partisan politicking. But, they are suffering the consequences of the actions of the gladiators.

Going forward, there is need to strengthen the the anti-corruption agencies by amending the laws that established them. One, There is need to insulate them from external influence (political or otherwise). Two. The pool from which the chair of EFCC can be recruited should be expanded to accommodate competent people who might not have been a police officer or judge. Three. The autocratic power of the president on the EFCC chairman should be diluted to provide for checks and balances. This is very crucial to change the perception of them as being simply “attack dogs” of any sitting president, which he unleashed to hound opposition or people with different opinions.

Four. The judicial arm doing arms to the fight need to be re-examined. Establishing special courts to fast track corruption trials have become expedient, given how corrupt people have gamed the existing system. Judges with no-nonsense reputation should be deployed to those courts to handle such cases. Afterall, corruption is a big business in Nigeria now. Why not give it the required attention. If we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill us.

Although, many who professed this have been found wanting one way or another, overtly or covertly. Condoning, indulging, romancing and associating with known corrupt people without repudiating them is another form of corruption. Didn’t the Yorubas say that you should show me your friends so I can understand the kind of person you are? “Aguntan t’oba aja rin, yio jegbe” (bad company corrupts good manners).

In days to come, all these issues around Magu will become clearer since the government has refused to inform its citizens.

May God continue to protect and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter