The nomination of Abdulrasheed Bawa as the new Chairman of the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC) by President Muhammadu Buhari on February 16, 2021, has effectively put paid to any moves by the sacked acting Chairman of the anti-graft agency, Ibrahim Magu, to stage a comeback.
If there were any clandestine efforts or attempts by Magu and his supporters to lobby the President to reinstate him, the master stroke played by Buhari efficiently killed such determinations, lending credence to the mantra that once the light ceases to shine on you, you are left in the lurch.
However, Magu was an indirect architect of his own disgraceful ouster by picking fights bigger than him, although aided by President Buhari who, against every voice of dissent, insisted on having the man in charge of the EFCC, thereby giving him a false sense of superiority.
Despite clamours to remove him in the last five years, Buhari, typically tardy in his responses, took eternity before doing the needful by approving the arrest of the former EFCC Czar.
The chequered tenure of Magu can be chronicled as the proverbial sword of Damocle that was waiting to descend on his head and the turn of events have continued to generate controversies.
Buhari’s insistence on having Magu raised a lot of questions
In the whole, Magu’s long road to disgrace was effectually orchestrated by President Buhari when he insisted on having him as the head of the EFCC, and despite open squabbles with top government officials, the DSS who had kicked against his nomination and the refusal of the 8th Senate to confirm his appointment as the substantive chairman of the agency, the President remained obstinate.
The more Magu’s detractors opposed him, the more Buhari appeared to be certain he was the right man for the job. The president stuck to his guns.
The Presidency and some of Buhari’s advisers, like Itse Sagay, even told Nigerians that the President reserved the sole right to determine who becomes the EFCC Chairman and if he found Magu worthy, so it would be.
The deadlock continued for a while and according to the 1999 Constitution, a nominee cannot be presented three times but Buhari, in his wisdom, and for reasons known to him alone, insisted Magu was the right man for the job. He dug in his heels, even portraying the Senate as uncooperative in the fight against corruption.
That singular act created a gap in the President’s famed fight against corruption by having a man accused severally of being corrupt to be in charge of the agency mandated with the onerous task of fighting corruption.
Some other events that occurred during the tenure of Magu as head of the EFCC did much to place him in the eye of the storm, right from the start till he was fired. The controversies have refused to go away.
The damning DSS reports
When Buhari chose Magu to be the acting head of the agency, the DSS, in a letter to the President, had revealed some secrets about him that would nullify his nomination but he refused to hearken to the warning of the Secret Service.
Expectedly, Magu failed to scale Senate’s confirmation on December 15, 2016 when the Upper Chamber, which has the responsibility of confirming nominees by the President, rejected his confirmation. The reason for the rejection, according to some lawmakers, was the damning letter from the DSS.
The Secret Service, in its report signed by one Folashade Bello, on behalf of the Director-General, had reeled out several instances of Magu’s abuse of office and outright corruption.
Part of the report with relevant documents read:
“This is a copy of the confessional statement of Air Commodore Mohammed Umar (retd.), a suspect hitherto detained and currently being prosecuted by the service.
“The statement confirms his ownership of Valcour SA Nigeria Limited, a company awarded the contract of securing and furnishing an official residence for Ibrahim Magu by the FCTA.
“Investigations revealed that this was facilitated after Magu was earlier shown the residence by one Uche Aleka, a close business associate of Umar, who was introduced to Magu by the former.
“This is a copy of progress report with reference number SH/COS/24/A/7277 dated 25th May, 2016, on NNPC/NLG Brass Investments Accounts in Nigeria commercial banks from Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Abba Kyari, to the acting Chairman of the EFCC chairman.
“The letter is an official/classified document of the EFCC which was duly received by the commission as indicated by the stamp on the document. However, it was recovered at Umar’s residence.
“It has exposed Magu as a fraudulent officer and betrays the high confidence reposed in him by the President.”
Fighting on all fronts
However, in rejecting the initial DSS report on Magu, Buhari, had relied on the advice of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and told the Senate that Magu was “without any blemish that could stop him from carrying out his functions as the EFCC boss.”
Magu, on his part, had recruited the likes of Sen. Ali Ndume to help him lobby some lawmakers who may be able to sway the pendulum in his favour but in the end, the Senate stood its grounds.
There was even a much publicised shouting match between Ndume and the then Senator representing Kogi State, Dino Melaye, over the confirmation hearing of Magu.
At the end of the rowdy session, spokesman of the Senate, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, briefed National Assembly correspondents and said that the rejection of Magu was based on a bothersome security report sent to the lawmakers by the DSS.
After the initial rejection of Magu’s nomination by the Senate in December 2016, President Buhari. yet again, re-presented him to the lawmakers for confirmation in March 2017. His nomination was once again rejected on March 15, 2017.
That was the second time the Senate was rejecting Magu as the substantive Chairman of the EFCC since the President appointed him in 2015 as the acting head of the economic crime busting agency.
At the second confirmation hearing, Magu was grilled on issues of human rights abuses, abuse of court processes and judgments, as well as loss of human lives in EFCC cells, corruptly enriching himself since he joined the service in 2004, which were said to be the points raised in the first DSS letter.
The second rejection of Magu was based on another report from the DSS which maintained the same position that he would constitute a problem to the anti-corruption fight of the Buhari-led administration.
Sealing Magu’s fate
The second letter by the DSS stated that the only difference between the old and the new report was the cover note as it still stood by its earlier claims.
“We want to reiterate our earlier position that we stand by our report, dated 3rd of October, 2016. Everything in the earlier document stands apart of the cover note of the new report,” the DSS had stated.
After the second rejection of Magu by the Senate, its spokesman, Sen. Abdullahi released a statement saying the action of the Upper Chamber was justified due to another leaked report by the DSS to Malami which found its way to the lawmakers.
Those privy to the leaked report had revealed that what it contained was even more damning than the letter the DSS had earlier sent to the Senate which was toned down.
Abdullahi added that the Senate’s position was taken because Magu, going by the report on his integrity, was not fit to be the Chairman of the EFCC.
“Following several calls made to me today by journalists seeking my comments on the leaked report on Mr. Ibrahim Magu which was more damning than the one submitted to us, I can only say that myself and my colleagues have been vindicated.
“We therefore call on all Nigerians to continue to have full confidence and trust on the Nigerian Senate as it discharges its responsibilities according to the letter and spirit of the Nigerian constitution,” Abdullahi had stated.
Enter AGF Malami
Magu’s blind charges over the years took a different dimension when the AGF Malami accused him of playing a dirty role that had the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) suspended from the Egmont Group.
The Egmont group had based its suspension of the NFIU on its lack of independence due to the constant interference in its affairs by the EFCC even after the Senate had passed the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency Bill meant to separate it from the EFCC and grant it full autonomy.
Magu had opposed the move by the Senate, saying it was a calculated attempt at whittling down the powers of the EFCC. The office of the Attorney General rejected the criticism and hailed the passage of the bill.
On August 24, 2017, Malami alleged that Magu had frustrated efforts geared towards making the NFIU independent of the EFCC as required by the global body of financial intelligence units.
The AGF narrated different instances where Magu had frustrated bills sent by his office aimed at enhancing the anti-corruption fight and making the NFIU independent.
A statement from the Office of the AGF titled ‘EFCC’s ignoble role that led to Nigeria’s Egmont suspension’, read:
“It is a sad tale to tell how the Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu-led EFCC has frustrated these efforts and even had to resort to blackmail in some instances, oftentimes, alleging that the AGF and the ministry were all out to impede the government’s anti-corruption drive.
“Magu and other EFCC officials, atimes, through online publications, had at one time or the other, accused the minister of trying to compromise the war.
“They have always perceived the Office of the AGF as a threat instead of addressing the issues related to the best strategy to fight corruption advocated by the AGF.
“For instance, during the House of Representatives Committee review session on 18th April, 2017, Magu vehemently rejected the new Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Bill 2016 submitted by the President, which, according to him, as reported by some national dailies, might prejudice President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda.
“He even went on his whimsical best by surmising that passing the bill into law now will affect Nigeria’s application for the membership of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). What parody!
“In likewise, the EFCC is now in a state of paranoia, as it dreads the effort of the government to have an independent NFIU which it has stood against stoically since 2006.
“As it presently stands, the NFIU members of staff are all deployed by the EFCC to serve in the interest of whoever is its current chairman.
“This has to stop if it must conform to the new thinking and global best practices. Nigeria cannot be an island of its own.
“The threat of expulsion from the Egmont Group that might follow the suspension, calls for a thorough review of the NFIU.
“The manner in which the EFCC leadership has manipulated and misused intelligence to the detriment of the fight against corruption and financial crimes in Nigeria.”
Another subject of conflict between the two stemmed from a disagreement over the non-release of requested corruption case files from the EFCC coffers. Magu had, despite repeated requests by the AGF, declined to send over case files resulting in heated public exchanges.
Face-off with Adeosun
Apart from Malami, Magu also had a running battle with former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, who had queried Magu on the figures the EFCC had been churning out in the media as monies recovered by it from corrupt politicians.
On February 9, 2018, Adeosun had written to Magu to explain how the figures were recovered and where they were kept.
“This is to notify you of the records of cash asset recoveries in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from May 2015 till date, based on information available to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation.
“It has, however, come to the notice of the Ministry of Finance, the use of recovery figures in media reports by the EFCC that do not reconcile with the records of the ministry.
“You are, therefore, kindly requested to clarify where these cash recoveries have been deposited and provide accompanying evidence,” the letter had read.
This matter was not fully dispensed with as Adeosun herself fell into a certificate scandal.
Fall from grace
On June 19, 2020, the whirl storm that was to swallow Magu and sweep him into ignominy was set in motion when AGF Malami sent an incriminatory report to President Buhari where he stated different infractions allegedly carried out by Magu, while also recommending that Buhari fires Magu.
The AGF had specifically listed 22 violations against the acting EFCC Chairman and precisely requested Buhari to relieve him of the position.
Among the breaches leveled against Magu by the AGF were acts of insubordination, discrepancies in the figures of funds reportedly recovered by the EFCC, alleged disposition of assets and properties seized from ‘corrupt’ politicians and treasury looters without approval, or knowledge of the AGF’s office, the supervisory ministry of the EFCC, and re-looting of recovered funds.
The acting EFCC boss was also accused of violating the code of conduct law by failing to declare all his assets when he assumed office in 2015.
On July 6, 2020, Buhari pulled the rug from under Magu’s feet by ordering his immediate suspension and subsequent detention. A few days after he was invited by a special investigative panel set up by the President.
A statement by the AGF to that effect 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.”
After spending a few days in detention, Magu was invited yet again by the panel headed by former Court of Appeal judge, Justice Ayo Salami, to answer questions bordering on embezzlement and serial corruption.
He was alleged to have mismanaged the recovered loot and sold seized assets to his associates, allegations he had severally denied, making the famous statement:
“What I am going through is a case of dog eats dog.”
July 6, 2020 , Magu’s arrest by operatives of the DSS was carried out in a commando style when the operatives stormed the Wuse II office of the EFCC and bundled him directly to the Presidential Villa, Abuja, 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 reportedly cornered his convoy.
A security officer who was privy to 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.”
The set up
In July 2020, President Buhari set up a Presidential Judicial Panel headed by retired Court of Appeal Judge, Justice Ayo Salami, to probe Magu in his years as the acting Chairman of the EFCC, with a 45-day mandate to submit its report.
The 7-man panel which was aptly tagged the Judicial Commission of Enquiry to investigate the alleged financial impropriety and mismanagement of recovered assets leveled against the suspended Magu, had members drawn from different geographical regions of the country namely:
Justice Isa Ayo Salami (retd) – North Central (Kwara), Chairman; DIG Anthony Ogbizi Michael – South-South, Deputy Chairman; Muhammad Abubakar Babadoko (FMOJ) – North-Central, Member; Hassan Yahaya Abdullahi (DSS) – North-Central, Member; Muhammad Shamsuddeen (OAGF) – North-West, Member; Douglas Egweme (NFIU) – South-East, Member; and Barr Kazeem Attitebi – South-West, as the Secretary.
Before Justice Salami voluntarily withdrew from the panel, it had recommended the sacking and prosecution of Magu and the appointment of a new chairman for the anti-graft agency without further delay, a clear indication that Magu was not going back to his exalted position.
In the final analysis
The humiliating circumstances surrounding Magu’s arrest, suspension and detention and sack only point to a power play which overall political maneuvering is yet to be fully comprehended.
Was Magu caught in the middle of a fight by contending forces whose ultimate goal is to seize political structures and place themselves in pole position for access to the presidency in 2023?
Why was his trial not open to the public? And, why has the full weight of the law not been applied on him, if, indeed, he was guilty as charged?
No doubt, Magu’s sack came at a time the Buhari-led administration’s corruption fight rating had gotten to an all-time low. Could he have been a scapegoat to shore up once again the country’s rating.
Given Salami’s report, the plot to kick out Magu appears to have come full circle. With the Presidential Panel recommending that he should be tried for corruption and embezzlement, Buhari may be forced to play the trump card that will complete the jigsaw in the puzzle.
All told, the travails of Magu is a big victory for the DSS, Malami, and all the Senators who refused to ratify his nomination in the first place, and, indeed, a minus for the Buhari-led administration for creating a gap for the integrity of the process to be queried.
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