Ibrahim Magu, a police officer, has fallen. And great’s his fall. He was the former acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. He was the one who was to be above board. He was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari to catch thieves; tame the incubus of corruption and rein in fiscal renegades and crooks in both public and private sector. He came, as we were told, highly recommended.
Magu just like Buhari presents an ascetic mien. Not given to benign smile. Austere with laughter and makes you believe he’s the one fit for the job. Again, like Buhari, frugal with speech. He rarely smiles, seldom talks. When he manages a wry smile, it looked forced on him. To smile was like a punishment. So, here comes the tough cop for a tough job. Catching thieves in Nigeria is a real tough job. You’re like the taxman. Unloved, unwanted, unheralded. Magu was unloved. He was the most unwanted company to keep. Loathed by the mob of looters, hated by heisters and excoriated by embezzlers of the public patrimony.
This should be expected. No thief wants a thief-catcher as associate. And for all his outward presentation, nobody knew the inner workings in Magu’s busy mind. Not even Buhari could tell the other side of a man he allowed to stay on the job even when the Senate rejected him. Buhari had implicit confidence in Magu. This was to be a plus for the anti-corruption Czar. Buhari is largely perceived to be among the least corrupt public office holders in Nigeria. That’s the perception that won him many hearts and millions of majority votes. That was what shooed him into Aso Rock. Therefore, if a Buhari shows confidence in you as the best man to help him catch the legion of looters, it follows that you really must be above board. This presidential endorsement, perhaps, got into Magu’s head. He was contemptuous, almost giddy with pride. He forgot an important rule of life: No one man is loved by all. Magu may have been loved by Buhari and a few members of his cabal in the Presidency. But there were some who could not stand his pompous presence. This little clan of presidential courtiers had their reservations about the capacity and character of Magu to deliver. Perhaps, they were right.
There were other signals that Buhari could not read. Even the backers of Magu within the cabal feigned ignorance of this trait. The only agency that scratched at it was the Department of State Services, DSS. In the build up to Magu’s confirmation by the Senate in March, 2017, the DSS had forwarded to the Senate its findings on Magu. The summary of the DSS security report on Magu was that he was fatuously unfit for the job; that he was no better than the thieves he was appointed to catch. The DSS chronicled several unwholesome escapades of Magu including how he was travelling First Class against the President’s directive to public servants; how he frolicked in private jets with persons under investigation by his agency.
There were many more dirt affixed to the persona of Magu by the DSS reports. Then followed this recommendation from the DSS: “In the light of the foregoing, Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption drive of the present administration.” In any sane society where integrity is a measurable index and not a loose word bandied by one and all, Magu ought to have been dropped by the President and his minders. It was based on this damning report by the DSS that the Senate refused to confirm his appointment. On the day he appeared before the Senate, he could not as much as defend himself or repudiate the DSS report. Instead, he chose to scoff at the senators. He was thoroughly oafish and unintelligent in the manner he answered questions. He demonstrated copious incapacity for the job. The Magu that appeared before the Senate on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 was intellectually inane. He was logically daft. He showed no reasonable Know-how of anti-crime management in the 21st century. He stuttered in his presentation and was largely illogical in his answers to questions. For instance, he could not tell how much was recovered from looters. He was a man of zero strategy. And the senators saw through his hollow hubris.
With all that the senate and DSS said of Magu, you wonder why Buhari did not apply the brakes. Instead, the president shoved Magu down our throat, willy-nilly. Now, Magu is not what Buhari thought he was. He’s not what the cabal made him to become in the eyes of Nigerians.
There’s a damage here. The fall of Magu desecrates the character of Buhari. It casts doubt on the president’s claim to integrity. How can a president that trots out integrity as his creed jettison the report of its government’s elite security agency like the DSS? How can a government that bandies integrity as its culture ignore the decision of its senate? You scorn the DSS and the senate because of one man only to turn round to disgrace the same man as a morally-challenged scum unfit to lead and unworthy of his badge. Now, the same government is casting the thief-catcher in the mould of the thieves. Something smears us here.
The Magu saga short-sells the Buhari government and portrays it as a crumbling empire. It mocks the government’s barometer for measuring integrity. For the government to have tolerated a man rejected by two institutions for this long shows that the Buhari government lacks an efficient peer review culture and is shorn of an internal mechanism for self-evaluation and cleansing.
It took Buhari government over three years to unearth the pretences of a man exposed by the DSS in 2017. In the fall of Magu, the nation walks a familiar path; the path of shaming those we once canonized and packaged as the ideal. Nuhu Ribadu and Farida Waziri, both former heads of the EFCC were disgraced out of office. Waziri was sacked via the media. Ibrahim Lamorde was a little luckier. But all of them including Magu engaged more in media trial of suspects than in catching the actual thieves. They contrived and sustained a culture that shames suspects before they were ever convicted. Now, it’s the turn of Magu to taste the bitter pill of media and mob trial. I guess he would love it. I wager he’s lapping up the bliss and gloss that media trial showers on a suspect like confetti.
But no matter the prognosis of his ordeal, Magu will never be the same again. He has been de-robed of the cassock of integrity. He has been docked in the court of public opinion. He has fallen from his high horse. It’s a sad denouement for a man sold to Nigerians as a man of high moral rectitude by a government that has its peculiar definition of integrity. Magu has joined the maggots in a maggoty mug. And I feel sad about it because it indexes our inability to wean ourselves of graft and greed.
– Ugbechie is a top journalist