By Adewale Sanyaolu Despite being a country with the second largest deposit of bitumen in the world, Nigeria, according to Foraminifera, a marketing and research firm, spends about N2 billion yearly on importation of asphalt, a derivative of bitumen. The occurrence of bitumen deposits in Nigeria is twice the amount of existing reserves of crude…
I am compelled to start this week’s essay with a minor request. Shall we all rise to observe a one-minute silence in honour of Ibrahim Magu, the embattled Acting Chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), who was knocked down twice by senators who refused to confirm him as the substantive head of the anti-corruption agency.
Magu’s friends say he is a strong-minded man and a fighter. You do not hit a man below the belt, knock him down twice, and yell on President Muhammadu Buhari to find another chairperson for the EFCC. Understandably, Magu is not the kind of man who would fall down, dust his clothes, prostrate before senators and return home to rue his bad luck. He must put up a fight and that’s what he has been warming up to do. The main question is: Would Magu get a nod from Buhari for a third attempt to clear his name before senators?
The idea of a third chance is offensive to some people because, they argue, Magu is not the only one most qualified to lead the fight against corruption in Nigeria. Magu feels the decision by senators to deny him his right to head the EFCC is the hallmark of injustice. He feels there is a conspiracy between senators and the Department of State Services (DSS) to prevent him from leading the EFCC in a substantive capacity.
Magu’s beliefs and public statements since senators delivered the bad news to him should not surprise anyone. Conspiracy is what people fall back on when they don’t get what they want. Magu says he has tabled before the Presidency his comprehensive reply to the damning allegations made against him by the DSS. We don’t know whether the Presidency believes him.
A bigger problem for Magu is that senators don’t believe him. If the senators believed his narrative, they would have confirmed him. But the senators have not confirmed him because they fear the allegations are deeply concerning, too weighty, and they have, therefore, chosen to stay on the side of the DSS because the DSS, an agency of the government, has the financial and human resources to dig deep, investigate officials of state and produce unassailable evidence that would allow the agency to clear or indict an accused person. This is precisely the predicament in which Magu has found himself.
This is an extraordinary situation for everyone. The idea that a man who is heading an anti-corruption agency is also fighting to clear his name against allegations of corruption and professional misconduct is not something that Nigerians have witnessed recently. It is a very messy situation. It is not just Magu’s name that is on trial but also the entire edifice known as the EFCC. If Magu’s name and integrity are stained and he loses the fight, so too would the image of the EFCC be blemished.
I sympathise with Magu but with some trepidation about how he would emerge at the end of this long trial. He is occupying a sensitive seat that is widely regarded as a channel for amassing enemies. In fact, there are two positions in Nigeria whose occupants are seen to be holding a poisoned chalice. One is the head of the EFCC. The second is the chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The two are very important but difficult and delicate positions. When you look at the history of the two agencies, you will find previous chairpersons with a record of controversies. You will find chairpersons who spent valuable time fighting off charges of misconduct or financial impropriety.
Magu is facing a battle on two fronts. There is the war against the DSS that wrote two adverse character reports against him. There is also the war against the senators who screened the man twice and twice found him ineligible based on the report by the DSS that shredded Magu’s moral character.
Despite his rejection by senators, Magu has not given up. He believes his screening has been unfair, prejudiced and skewed. He says he wants the law of natural justice to prevail over the law made by human beings. That, in my judgment, is a flawed argument. It is a paradox. Here is why. It is the same law made by human beings that Magu used to convict some people of corrupt practices. It is like senators have given Magu his own bitter medicine to savour.
Soon after senators tossed his case out the window, Magu cried foul, arguing he was not given a fair hearing. I am not persuaded that Magu presented strong arguments to convince the Nigerian public that senators dealt with him unfairly. What do you regard as a fair hearing when you appeared before senators twice and on those two occasions you failed to convince your interrogators? What do you regard as unfair hearing when you did not produce unimpeachable evidence to crush allegations made against you by the DSS?
In fact, Magu may have destroyed his case when he declared in an outburst of anger, after the second screening, that the DSS lacked credibility and that senators should not have relied on the DSS report to judge his character. That was an unnecessary comment. You don’t say such a thing in the public sphere, particularly when you are still fighting to be confirmed as the boss of the anti-corruption agency. By describing the DSS in the manner and language he did, Magu showed unbridled anger and an inability to control his emotion. That outburst may, in fact, cost him sympathisers across the country. Yes, he is human but there is a limit to which he must allow anger to get the better half of his senses.
Magu’s fate now lies in the hands of President Muhammadu Buhari who appointed him in 2015 to serve as the Acting Chairperson of the EFCC. But even Buhari must be careful how he intervenes, if at all he would. If he decides to re-submit Magu’s name for a third round of screening, he must do so on a sound and logical ground. The fact that Buhari has not said anything publicly since the drama of Magu’s failed attempts at confirmation suggests two possibilities. The first likelihood is that Buhari, on wise counsel, may have decided to stay out of the drama, allowing the process to determine Magu’s fate.
The second scenario is that Buhari may have decided to allow damaged nerves to repair and tempers to cool before re-submitting Magu’s name for confirmation. Buying time would also allow Buhari to make direct contacts with the senate leadership and the hierarchy of the DSS to lobby for a change of heart. While this might appear to be a wise step to follow, it is undoubtedly a dangerous thing to do. Right from or even before he stepped into the presidential throne, Buhari had presented himself as an anti-corruption Czar who would go to any length to apprehend and put on trial people accused of corruption.
Any attempt by Buhari to rubbish the DSS report on Magu and to re-submit Magu’s name for a third screening would raise serious questions about the sincerity of the president’s anti-corruption mantra and dogma.
Magu might be a dogged fighter but it seems to me that having failed twice to convince senators and the DSS about his immaculate character trait, it might be wise for him to drop out of the race. There are times when it is more honourable to quit a race with your reputation intact than to damn all consequences, and remain in the race with a tarnished reputation. I believe Magu knows the option that is best for him.
This is one fight Magu may not win. Buhari may not intervene to save Magu because of the way the public would perceive any presidential intervention. The odds are stacked against Magu, even if he believes he is as innocent and spotless as a maiden’s bed linen.
Whatever happens, there are valuable lessons for Magu in all of these. The first lesson is that all forms of power are temporary. In other words, ‘no condition is permanent’. The second lesson is embedded in the saying that we must be nice to people we meet on our way up the ladder of life because we might need them during our free fall to the ground. The third lesson tells us something about the futility of a senior government official fighting a law-and-order agency, such as the DSS. Most importantly, you do not say that the DSS lacks credibility simply because you have not overturned an unfavourable report written against you by the DSS. It is quite extraordinary and unwise for Magu, the acting head of the EFCC, to declare publicly that another government agency, the DSS, lacks credibility. That is an inappropriate comment that may, in the end, cost Magu the job he is fighting to keep.
We must keep in mind that Magu is not the first boss of the EFCC to face serious allegations against his moral character. Consider Mrs. Farida Waziri, the former head of the EFCC. She had a running battle against Olusegun Obasanjo who made awful allegations against the woman’s academic qualifications and suggested she lacked the moral uprightness and experience to hold that position. Obasanjo suggested Mrs. Waziri was a wrong choice to replace the first EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu, in 2008.
Magu’s maturity and temperament have been tested by the DSS adverse character report. I am not sure he handled the scrutiny very well. But, as the saying goes, the hallmark of maturity is the ability to remain calm in the face of all provocations.