Says prison congestion national scandal From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday met with a delegation of the justices of the Supreme Court, where he made case that a new approach be applied to hasten the decongestion of prisons in Nigeria. The justices were led into the meeting by the Chief Justice…
Those who are struggling to have Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), retain his job in spite of the damning report against him by the Department of State Service (DSS), have a huge task in their hands. They may not be seeing clearly. The huge burden is that they may not succeed in having the rest of us fall prey to the disease of myopia.
Magu had recently appeared before the Senate for confirmation as EFCC chairman, having been operating in that office in acting capacity. But, unknown to Magu, the DSS report on him was unfavorable. The Senate acted on the strength of the report and rejected him as the substantive chairman of the anti-graft agency. That was Magu’s baggage. He had something akin to the sword of Damocles hanging over his head. It was an issue of great discomfort to a high-ranking public office holder, especially one whose job is to hold others accountable. The issue, therefore, ought to be thoroughly dealt with.
But some elements within Nigeria’s polluted system, for strange reasons, do not want us to talk about the matter. They want it to be treated as if it never took place. They want Magu to carry on. They see the DSS and members of the Senate as mere irritants. They have an ulterior motive. The DSS, they will have us believe, is on a revenge mission. Its recent battle of supremacy with the EFCC has come into play. The DSS, they say, wants to cut Magu to size.
Those who want to exonerate the EFCC boss by fiat also have very unkind words for the Senate. They say that the upper chamber of the National Assembly is peopled by rogues, some of whom have pending cases with the EFCC. The reasoning here is that the exit of Magu would give them some respite. It would also send a strong signal to whoever is be nominated to take over from him that the Senate is an active player in the country’s power configuration. It could become a spoke in the wheel of those who are not wise enough to know that they should play along and eschew all forms of tough posturing. The impression being sold to the public by critics of the Senate’s action is that the upper chamber is out to install a puppet who would neither bark nor bite as EFCC chairman.
However, those who are fanatical about Magu seem to be making an illicit jump. They seem to be carrying on with a not-well considered viewpoint. That is why they are conveniently ignoring the fact that Magu is involved in the business of equity. An elementary legal axiom tells us that those who go to equity must do so with clean hands. Regrettably, Magu’s hands appear to be soiled. As the head of an anti-corruption agency, it would be clearly scandalous for Magu to have any overt or covert romance with corruption. To associate him with corruption or corrupt practices is to say that he has failed the test of equity. That is not to say that Magu is necessarily guilty for the simple fact that he has been accused by the DSS. But the fact that we cannot ignore is that a man who is prosecuting his fellow citizens on charges of corruption must be beyond reproach. He must, like Caesar’s wife, live above board. Magu, by the sheer fact of his indictment by the DSS for corruption and extortion, has failed in this regard.
When, therefore, the likes of Itse Sagay, a respected legal mind, brush aside the vital issue at stake and choose to throw brickbats at Magu’s accusers, we begin to wonder what has become of restraint and circumspection. Why did Sagay throw his hat in the ring without due consideration? Why is he acting blindly and irreverently? Indeed, why has Sagay lately become uncritical, if not patronising, in his views and submissions on national issues? The man who was once respected for telling truth to power appears to have derailed. He now sounds like someone that has been compromised. He is hardly guided by sound judgement anymore. Were it not so, Sagay and his Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) would not have taken upon themselves the role of the courts whose responsibility it is to look into the merits or lack of it of the DSS report and make a reasoned pronouncement on it. Rather than allow the appropriate authorities to take the necessary steps that will tell us whether Magu is guilty as charged or not, Sagay and his PACAC chose to colour our judgement by hurriedly dismissing the DSS report on Magu as “very weak and very spurious.” By so doing, Sagay has, wittingly or unwittingly, made himself Magu’s super salesman.
Sagay must obviously be misreading his mandate as the chairman of PACAC. The committee is supposed to advise the President on how best to go about the battle against corruption. It is supposed to be an unbiased body whose concern about corruption in Nigeria must transcend parochial lenses and considerations. But it would appear that the committee has persuaded itself to believe that anybody who the EFCC, government’s official anti-corruption agency, has charged with corruption must be necessarily corrupt and cannot be defended or protected. In the same vein, the committee seems to be saying, through its reckless defence of Magu, that those who have been selected or nominated to wage the war against corruption cannot be questioned. That is a childish and imbecilic way of looking at the situation.
Sagay and his PACAC are not alone in this jejune display over Magu. The motley crowd of human rights crusaders are equally howling. Some of them are up in arms against the Senate and the DSS. They take Magu’s travail to mean that corruption is fighting back. That is the message from our band of sanctimonious apostles. They sound as if they are the only group in Nigeria that is concerned about the cankerworm of corruption in the country. But the issue at stake transcends populist sentiments. No Nigerian or group of Nigerians will harass the rest of us into toeing an unreasonable line of action. We cannot treat Magu like a sacred cow just because some people are suspicious of the Senate or the DSS.
Before Magu, we had some EFCC chairmen that were not qualified, on moral grounds, to occupy that office. Such heads of the agency were mere instruments of revenge and vendetta in the hands of the president. That is why they hardly walk tall after their tour of duty at the commission. In fact, the received impression among Nigerians is that the EFCC is more of a paper tiger than anything else. The reason for this has largely been traced to the fact that the agency only pretends to be fighting corruption when the wrong people are involved.
But this story of duplicity must change. Since the present administration is placing emphasis on its determination to give corruption a bloody nose, the battle cannot be led by someone with a running nose. Magu’s nose has been bloodied. Nobody can give what he does not have.
Since Magu’s reputation has been tainted by a report from the government he serves, the path of honour is for him to step aside. His job should be taken over by someone who is not burdened by the baggage of corruption.