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LongRead – Magu: Used, dumped and forgotten? How not to bury an unfinished ‘criminal’ case

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The travails of former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, can be likened to that of a hapless cockroach playing the fields with a pack of chickens which will surely get it devoured.

Magu had played with the ‘cabals’ in the Presidency, and got not only his hands burnt but his reputation sullied, especially with the way he was disgraced out of office.

To many discerning Nigerians, the script was a master stroke in a long-drawn power play.

Evidently, Magu had not only been used to settle political scores but had become the score himself. He had served as a pawn in the game of power by those who knew how to manipulate the chess game. He had allowed himself to be used and ended up getting played out of position. The hunter had become the hunted, used, dumped, and about to be forgotten.

When President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2015 presidential election, he had sounded it loud and clear that his administration would take the fight against corruption heads on and that no one would be spared.

The Buhari government made so much noise on the famed fight against corruption, branding suspects as criminals and securing conviction in the media, all courtesy of Magu who became the judge and all things rolled into one.

Nigerians loved the sound bites and rallied behind him, hoping he would match actions with words. A no nonsense police officer appeared to have been born, and Nigerians waited with bated breath to see how the corruption war will manifest.

But as it turned out, Magu was used for five years, albeit in an acting capacity, by the Buhari administration to hound opposition voices and politicians who were seen as recalcitrant.

He did the job perfectly and went after anyone unleashed on him by the government, and sometimes those with obvious cases to answer who had either defected to the All Progressives Congress and became ‘saints’.

In some cases, petitions alleging corruption against members of the APC were either discarded, and or treated with kid gloves.

Magu looked to have done the biddings of the powers that be but found himself sucked dry like an orange and thrown into the dustbin of ignominy.

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The appointment of Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the EFCC was something that should not have happened in the first place, but for the insistence of President Buhari who defied the 8th Senate under Senator Bukola Saraki’s leadership to have him in that position.

When Buhari first sent Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation, the lawmakers, relying on an incriminating report by the Directorate of State Services (DSS), refused to confirm the nomination.

Undaunted, Buhari again sent Magu’s name to the Senate for the second time but yet again, the Senate refused to clear him and Buhari, trying every means to assert his authority, made Magu the acting Chairman of the anti-graft agency.

The President had been prodded by pro-government elements, mostly APC members, who argued that the opposition lawmakers were afraid of confirming Magu because he would come after them as they were all corrupt.

They had hopped on sections of the EFCC Act which gave the President the power to appoint a Chairman in an acting capacity for as long as he wanted, insisting there was no reason for Buhari to drop Magu.

Magu had come to stay and there was no stopping that; he was going to be a key figure in the fight against corruption, they reasoned.

He was let loose and he ran roughshod, harassing suspects, indicting and convicting them, some on the pages of newspapers to the delight of the Buhari-led administration.

Members of the PDP were harangued, judges humiliated and perceived enemies of the government became moving targets. Magu was, clearly, doing the biddings of his paymasters, the same that did him in when the chicken had come home to roost.

The sheer brazenness of Magu’s actions while he was busy tracking and hurling into detention many Nigerians suspected of financial crimes had become legendary.

But with Magu’s arrest, suspension and supposed indictment by an investigative panel the 8th Senate appears to have been vindicated over their refusal to confirm him for the office.

Road to humiliation

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Before the reign of Magu as the EFCC boss, there were four former chairpersons of the agency whose tenures were also full of controversies, but none could hold a light on the storms that trailed Magu’s checkered tenure.

Magu’s final fall from grace came on June 19, 2020, when operatives of the DSS stormed his office in commando style and practically abducted him. He was promptly clammed into detention where he spent over 10 days without any definitive charge.

The DSS operatives had invaded the Wuse II, Abuja, office of the EFCC and bundled Magu directly to the Presidential Villa where he was to appear before the presidential panel investigating his alleged corruption and insubordination.

He was reportedly arrested at the entrance of the EFCC office by security agents when the operatives cornered his convoy. After spending days in detention, Magu was invited by the Justice Salami panel to answer questions bordering on embezzlement and serial corruption, after which he was suspended.

A statement by Malami announcing Magu’s suspension read:
“President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the immediate suspension of Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman of the EFCC in order to allow for unhindered inquiry by the Presidential Investigation Panel under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act and other relevant laws.”

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But a security officer who was part of the arrest of Magu had said:
“Magu and his convoy were driving to the EFCC’s office in Wuse II. Unknown to Magu, the security agents had laid siege around the entrance of the commission’s office. As his convoy tried to gain entrance to the EFCC’s building, the security agents blocked him with one of their vehicles.

“With the type of vehicle that was used, it was clear that they were not criminals but security agents. Magu’s escorts then came out to challenge the security agents. That led to some shouting match for several minutes. Magu then agreed that he would go with them.

“The security agencies came with two official vehicles; they allowed Magu to stay in his own car on conditions that one of the security agents sits with him.”

Magu’s 24 sins

NFIU submits details of Magu's forex dealings to Salami probe panel

His trials began when, on July 6, 2020, he was dragged before a presidential investigative panel headed by former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Ayo Salami.

There were 24 allegations against Magu emanating from a report by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, and the same DSS report which was submitted to the Senate in 2016 and 2017.

In the report, Magu was accused, among other things, of living above his means, consorting with corrupt persons, diversion and relooting of recovered funds, as well as insubordination to the office of the AGF which is the supervisory ministry of the EFCC.

Malami had also alleged that there were serious “discrepancies in the figures of funds recovered by the EFCC, disposing of assets, especially buildings seized from corrupt politicians and others, without approval, or knowledge of the AGF’s office.”

The AGF claimed that Magu was not acting in the overall best interest of the country and the policies of the Buhari administration due to the mismanagement and lack of transparency in managing recovered assets, diversion of recovered assets for personal enrichment, neglecting to investigate the P&ID case as directed by the President and flagrant disobedience to directives and to court orders.

Part of the Malami report had read:
“The final report of PCARA that covered the period of 29 May 2015 – 22 November, 2018, has confirmed the concerns of your Excellency about contradictory recovery figures emanating from the Acting Chairman. It is quite disturbing that conflicting figures are being circulated in the public space by EFCC as the amount of recovered funds.
“For foreign currency recoveries, EFCC reported a total naira equivalent of N46, 038,882,509.87 while the naira equivalent of the foreign currency lodgments were N37, 533,764,195.66, representing a shortfall of N8, 505,118,314.21.

“These inconsistencies cast a serious doubt on the accuracy of figures submitted by the EFCC. It is the committee’s view that the EFCC cannot be said to have fully accounted for cash recoveries made by it.

“While EFCC reported total Naira recoveries of N504, 154,184,744.04, the actual bank lodgments were N543, 511,792,863.47. These discrepancies mean that EFCC’s actual lodgment exceeded its reported recoveries by N39, 357,608,119.43.

“This is an apparent case of manipulation of data in a very brazen and unprofessional manner and this has greatly eroded the public confidence in the anti-corruption efforts.”

The report also accused Magu of resorting to threatening judicial officers whenever he felt the outcome of a case will show the “high level of negligence he portrayed in the discharge of his duties. For example, the Acting Chairman threatened Justice Binta Nyako in the case of Wale Balogun v. Acting Chairman of EFCC.

“The Chairman had often threatened judges and insisted that matters before them should be transferred out because of his personal interest in the matter.”

Another allegation against Magu was that he had rented a house worth N20 million annually and paid N40 million upfront. The said amount was allegedly paid for by one retired Commodore Mohammed Umar, who was said to be under investigation by the EFCC for fraudulent deals.

Magu was also accused of living a lavish lifestyle and had hired a private jet with which he traveled to Dubai during the lockdown in clear violation of the rules.

Though Magu denied all the allegations leveled against him, claiming they were meant to tarnish his image, he had become a marked man, a dangerous specie that had to be done away with.

In his response, Magu had said:
“I unequivocally deny this allegation as same is untrue and merely calculated to tarnish my name, that of the Commission, and the giant strides this administration has recorded in the fight against corruption and recovery of the proceeds of corruption.

“Not a dime of the recovered funds was converted to my personal use. I challenge my accusers to produce evidence of such fraudulent conversion.

“The existing structure in the EFCC on the recovery of assets and the management of same will not allow any form of mismanagement of recovered assets to be perpetrated.

“In the Commission under my watch, funds are recovered vide bank drafts issued in favour of the Commission and lodged in the recovery accounts domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).”

Despite the denials, the stage had been set for the final onslaught on Magu by the powerful forces that were bent on humiliating and removing him from office.

Sacked, abandoned!

No doubt, the arrest and subsequent removal of Magu from office is a well written script, authored by a power bloc led by Malami and others who were no longer comfortable with the former’s growing influence.

His trial at the Salami judicial panel of enquiry had been totally hidden from the public and it was glaring that despite any position taken by the investigative panel, a decision had already been reached that Magu must be nailed at all cost, whether he was found guilty or not.

Malami had clearly exploited his closeness to the President and used same against Magu in the final onslaught.

Unfinished business

Security operatives comb Magu’s Abuja homes

The dust of Magu arrest, detention and subsequent sack from the exalted position of the Chairman of the EFCC has refused to settle as everything still seems shrouded in secrecy.

What became of the allegations leveled against Magu? Why did the government insist on a secret trial? And, why has the full weight of the law not been applied on him if he was as guilty as Malami made Nigerians to believe?

Indeed, was his removal another grandstanding event meant to hoodwink Nigerians in the face of a fading war against corruption?

If Magu stepped on toes, as has been speculated, who were these untouchable Nigerians?

Magu may be strolling around as a free man but it is clear that his humiliation out of office was premeditated. He is, perhaps, as guilty as his ‘oppressors’ which explains why Nigerians have been fed a half meal in the Salami badly acted trials.

It would seem that Magu had outlived his usefulness but this is one case that the Nigerian public demands full disclosure and accountability.

To act otherwise is to leave an impression that the orchestrated anti-corruption wars were a sham after all.

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