The Cost of Destroying Ibrahim Magu
By Muni Williams
On Monday, July 6, 2020, the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, a police commissioner, was finally arrested on the streets of Abuja, the Federal Capital of Nigeria. He was said to have been bundled unprepared to face an administrative panel of inquiry headed by a retired president of the Appeal Court, Justice Ayo Salami. Magu was subsequently detained at the facility of the Federal Criminal and Investigation Department (FCID) in Abuja. He is yet to be released a week after. While the humiliation of Mr. Magu, the face of President Buhari’s anti-corruption war persists and even gather greater momentum, the presidency maintained what the late mercurial Pius Adesanmi would refer to as a “hubristic silence”. For nearly a week, a very important agency as the EFCC operated without a legally recognized leadership. It was only rumored that somebody had taken over in acting capacity in Magu’s stead, of course, without any instrument of authority. And this is EFCC whose operations and activities are all based on the letters of the law. Finally and thankfully, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, perhaps more concerned with the plot to destroy Magu realized, albeit late, the legal implications of the leadership vacuum in EFCC and issued a statement conveying the President’s approval of the suspension of Mr. Magu from office and the appointment of Mr. Mohammed Umar as the acting chairman of EFCC. Those after Magu are not interested in any legal details or tidying up, for now, the emphasis is to get him destroyed by any means.
The eventual arrest of Mr. Magu the other week more than anything is the culmination of a five-year plot. When President Buhari decided to appoint Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of EFCC that did not go down well among influential members of his presidency who perhaps had their own choice for the strategic position. But President Buhari knew that more than any other issue, fighting corruption will define the success and failure of his government. He also knew that Ibrahim Magu was not the strongest in intellect and eloquence. He was aware that Magu could do with a little bit of dissimulation and diplomacy. But he saw the fire he was looking for in his eyes. With the way the economy had been plundered by corrupt politicians especially in the five years of President Jonathan’s reign, he needed a fearless anti-corruption czar at the EFCC to go after those who have helped themselves with the nation’s common patrimony and restore fear in public officers who would be tempted to steal. He saw that in Mr. Magu. The very day that President Buhari forwarded Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation as EFCC Chairman, was the day Magu’s travails began! Nigerians were therefore shocked that the same Directorate of State Services (DSS) featuring prominently in Magu’s present predicament wrote a damning report against him almost amounting to subverting and ridiculing the President. In fact, they wrote two reports the same day to the Senate on the same subject. Thus on the basis of the content of the version of the report the 8th Senate chose to adopt, Magu was never confirmed by a senate many of whose members were already being prosecuted by the EFCC.
The Senate did not stop at not confirming Magu, the body threatened to discountenance any other requests from the presidency – including not considering the budget proposals from the President if Magu was not removed from office. In other words, the Senate led by Dr. Bukola Saraki did not mind putting Nigeria on shutdown if Magu was not removed as an EFCC chair. You see the high cost put on Magu’s removal. It did not start today. When the court appeared to have settled the matter by declaring that the law has given President Buhari “both the knife and the yam” in deciding to keep Magu in an acting capacity at the EFCC, the forces plotting to ‘get Magu out by any means’ did not sheathe their sword. They have not rested a bit and seem to have been energized with a strong ally in the AGF, Magu’s supervisor.
Some time ago, The AGF, Abubakar Mallami, a senior advocate, ordered the EFCC Chairman to submit on his table all the case files of high profile suspects under investigation and prosecution. That instruction did not go down well with Mr. Magu and neither did it go down well with Nigerians especially civil society groups in the area of fighting corruption. What is not readily known is whether Magu complied with that tricky order. But what is known is that some politician whose case was nearing completion in the court was let off the hook by the AGF who entered a nolle prosequi and got the suspect discharged by the court. This was somebody alleged to have stolen tens of billions of naira belonging to the public. Meanwhile, the same Magu is now being held on the basis of allegations leveled against him by the same AGF. Sometime ago too, precisely in December 2017, it was all over the internet that President Buhari had decided to remove Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman and send him to the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies in Kuru, near Jos. Somebody was even touted as his replacement. This piece of information, an integral part of the ‘get Magu out by any means’, was to fall through at the end of the day because the President was convinced that in spite of some personal flaws, Magu was doing a great job, which even the international community is taking note of.
However, it looks like when that December plot failed, Magu’s traducers went for broke. They decided that all is fair in war and in love and therefore held nothing back. Blackmail, lies, intimidation, sabotage, and slander came handy. To be fair to Magu, an internationally respected detective, he possibly had a hint about what is being unleashed on him now. EFCC did alert the nation of a wicked plot by enemies to buy property abroad in Magu’s name just to portray him as corrupt. Without any prejudice to the findings of the Ayo Salami committee, is that not happening now? Perhaps Magu got carried away by his passion for his job, his unprecedented achievements in the area of recovery of stolen funds and property, his biased role in chasing the opposition about during the 2019 general election and not allowing them an opportunity to deploy their well-known stashed funds to prosecute the election. Today the same government has thrown him under the bus and attempting to use him as a validation for their ‘uncompromising’ anti-corruption stance.
The presidency after days of being tongue-tied over the Magu situation finally came out to support the humiliation of the man whose achievements are the only ones its government can present to Nigerians. The government is, as usual, telling itself lies that the mudslinging on Magu is at no costs to the government’s fight against corruption but strengthening the war if anything. In working so hard to destroy Magu, this government has incinerated whatever achievements it has made in the area of fighting corruption. First, the government allowed the face of its anti-corruption war to be accosted and arrested like a common criminal. He has been in detention for at least a week without bail. While in detention, the community of the corrupt in a well-coordinated strategy is unleashing a blitzkrieg of all manner of salacious, false, and smearing allegations of “stupendous” wealth he has amassed “corruptly” as EFCC chairman. Even respected columnists and editors who should know have been conscripted into this evil plot to destroy Magu and they are already dropping names of former heads of state and influential citizens in their tales by moonlight against Magu.
If these journalists being used to smear Magu and the EFCC open their minds, they would realize that most of the allegations against Magu are the same rehashed story found in the 2015 report of the DSS. The same man who has been in detention has been painted in the portrait of an Al Capone or Pablo Escobar of the Medellin Cartel, with the capacity of breaking into a supposedly fortified security institution as the NFIU and “carting away documents” unchallenged. Poor Magu, no one is speaking up for him as he is being lacerated in the media. Is it not asinine to tell the world that the nation’s NFIU office is so porous that it can be broken into at any time by anybody? Is it not scandalous for this government to allow the name of the Vice President to be mentioned in this whirlwind of false accusations just to destroy Magu? Already the backlashes from scandalizing the name of the head of the nation’s anti-corruption agency have started trickling in with three foreign anti-corruption groups saying that “what is going on in Nigeria is of concern to the international community” and that the exit of Magu as head of EFCC “may erode the recent gains in the fight against corruption”. And from within, accusations and counter-accusations of corruption are flying from public officials in NDDC and other government agencies as if EFCC is finally non-existent. This is also the cost of destroying Magu.
Of course, the AGF and those behind him know the implications of this kind of narrative on the image of the country and the fight against corruption. In the meantime, they choose to care less as long as Magu is taken out. That is part of the high cost of destroying Police Commissioner Ibrahim Magu! Let it be known that nobody is saying that Magu is above the law and cannot be called to account. Yet, that intent on destroying his name must consider the damage they are doing to the EFCC as an institution and the fight against corruption in general even if they don’t have any regard for President Buhari’s much-vaunted image as a man of integrity.