President Muhammadu Buhari was voted into office on March 28, 2015 because he promised ‘Change from the norm’. The President promised among other things to fight corruption to a standstill, wage war against insecurity, revive the economy and make life better for the citizens. In truth, the anti-corruption war is on course. The administration set up a presidential advisory committee on anti-corruption under the leadership of Prof. Itse Sagay; its implementation of the Treasury Single Account initiated by its immediate predecessor had yielded trillions of naira in savings; the sustained use of the Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System has assisted the government to weed out huge number of “ghost workers” as well as save billions of naira hitherto being diverted to personal pockets. Through the Bank Verification Number introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria, many corrupt persons have been exposed while the newly launched Whistle-blower policy wherein anyone with genuine information leading to the exposure of corrupt person earns five per cent of the recovered loot as well as protection has been commended.
In order to rejig the anti-corruption war, on November 9, 2015, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ibrahim Magu, was appointed as acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. On June 6, 2016, the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo forwarded Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation. The Senate was not in a hurry to screen the nominee. It was not until October 2016 that he was invited to the Senate for the exercise. Then, the bubble burst. Two Department of State Services reports on the nominee surfaced. Both letters were dated October 3, 2016 and were written and signed by the same DSS official. One of the letters addressed to the Clerk of the Senate levelled myriads of allegations against Magu and claimed that he failed an integrity test. The other letter exonerated him of any wrongdoing and asked the Senate to confirm him. The second letter was addressed to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang. How can the same source blow hot and cold, approbate and reprobate, commend and condemn? Does this not smack of mischief?
The Senate acted on the DSS communication to the Clerk, the one which says Magu failed an integrity test and therefore not appointable. His nomination was rejected even without hearing from the gentleman. Shortly after, President Buhari asked the Attorney General and Minster of Justice to investigate the allegations against Magu. In a letter dated December 19, 2016, Magu was asked to state his side of the story within 48 hours. In a detailed response dated December 21, 2016, Magu offered a robust response to all the DSS allegations against him. The Attorney General seemed satisfied with Magu’s response and must have so communicated to the President. Consequently, Magu’s name was re-forwarded the second time to the Senate for confirmation. Unfortunately, last Wednesday, March 15, 2017, the candidate was screened and rejected by the Senate. His rejection was based on the two DSS vet reports on him (another was requested and submitted on March 14, 2017) as well as allegation of human rights abuse, disobedience to court orders and unsatisfactory response to many probing questions asked him. Many of those who watched the Senate screening of Magu live on television testified that he was probably jittery and somewhat uncoordinated in his response.
Hours after his rejection, I was a guest of Silverbird Television on the station’s News at 7pm programme to offer insights into the import of the Senate rejection of Magu as the EFCC chairman. The day after, on “Good Morning Nigeria”, a discussion programme of the Nigerian Television Authority, I was also a privileged discussant on the same issue alongside the Chairman Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, and Alhaji Ibrahim Moddibo, a public affairs analyst. I have read the DSS allegations against Magu as well as his response to the query from the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation. I have also read a number of interviews on the subject matter. My conclusion is that there is more to this issue than meets the eye. There was obviously no sufficient housekeeping by the Presidency on this issue. How do I mean?
According to Utazi, the nomination of Magu was not accompanied with a security report on him when it was sent last June. This was said to be against the customary practice and was the reason why the Senate had to ask its Clerk to officially write to the DSS for the missing vital document. Could the Vice President who is a Professor of Law and a former Attorney General of Lagos State not have known that such nomination is accompanied with a security report on the nominated candidate? Could he not have been properly advised or briefed? Two, why did President Buhari not ask the DSS to substantiate its allegations against Magu and rather chose to write to the AGF to investigate the matter? I think it is a trite law that he who alleges must prove. The onus is on the DSS to prove its allegations against Magu and not for the AGF to be asked to investigate allegations against Magu. I do not think that the Office of the Attorney General, with due respect, has the capacity to investigate such a sensitive matter which borders on criminal allegations and abuse of office. If at all the AGF intended to do that, it should have asked the DSS to substantiate its claims against Magu and cross-check that with the defendant’s response.
Third, why did the President not accompany the re-nomination letter of Magu as the EFCC chairman to the Senate with his response to the query on the matter by the AGF? Why did Magu himself not come to his Senate screening with a copy of his response to the AGF and other documentary evidence that would have helped his case? Did anyone promise him that he’s coming to “bow and go” as is done by the Senate for some privileged individuals? On what basis and in whose authority did Senator Ita Enang write to the DSS for security vetting on Magu? Is that the norm? Why did the DSS write conflicting security reports on the same individual, on the same issue and on the same day?
There is no gainsaying that the Senate might have acted mala fide (in bad faith) by rejecting the nomination of Magu as the EFCC chairman as a vendetta against him for prosecuting some of its members for corruption. However, as the African adage goes, “If you must blame the hawk for wickedness, first blame the mother hen for exposing her children to danger”. It is obvious from the many lapses and lacunae in the handling of Magu’s nomination that the Presidency did not do the needful to help its nominee. Opinions are divided about whether Magu can stay in office perpetually in acting capacity and if he could still be re-nominated. Well, the court may have to be involved in the interpretation of the EFCC Act and Public Service rule on this matter. But I do know that under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu was nominated four times before his nomination was confirmed by the Senate as the NDDC chairman while Prof. Babalola Borisade, a former Aviation Minister, was nominated thrice by the same president before his confirmation as minister. One thing boggles me, though. Why is it that all the EFCC chairmen end their tenures in controversial circumstances? From Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, to Ms. Farida Waziri, to Mallam Ibrahim Lamorde and now Magu. Is it corruption fighting back or that the system hasn’t been able to identify the best person for the job?