“Money! Money is the curse of man, none greater.
That’s what wrecks cities, banishes men from homes,
Tempts and deludes the most well-meaning soul,
Pointing out the way to infamy and shame.”
– Creon, a character in Sophocles’s play, ‘Antigone’.
Nicoletta Battini, an IMF expert on economic matters took another critical look at the facts and figures on Nigeria’s socio-economic milieu, in the papers before him and shook his head in utter disbelief. He had never been confronted with such a graphic contrast of wanton wealth and grinding poverty for any country in all his years of research. That the world’s 6th largest crude oil-producing nation was ranked as one of the poorest and the 9th most illiterate, while still faced with an alarming inflation rate of 17%, which by his projection could escalate to 22% in a few years and stewing in staggering foreign debts simply confounded his intellectual acumen.
What Battini must have heard but could not bring himself to comprehend, was and still remains the treacherous menace of crass corruption in high places, especially here in Nigeria. Elsewhere, when some stench oozes out of a rotten carcass or a decrepit gutter and permeates the air, passersby twinge their nostrils, increase their paces and cover their faces, lest they should throw up. But not with corruption in Nigeria, where it has been crowned as king for the untouchables, treated with kid gloves by the accomplices in government and worshipped with abiding passion by the poor and the illiterate citizens.
My dear reader, what you have just read was written by yours truly and published by ‘The Integrity Magazine’ of London in 2005. That is some 15 years ago! A year before then, one had raised an instant alarm with an opinion essay titled: “Ha! Nigerians stash $107 billion abroad?” in the ‘Daily Times’ edition of July 30, 2004. That came after a United Nations (UN) Report on the subject matter of corruption further confirmed the scandalous situation of increasing sleaze in the corridors of power.
Back then, the list of those alleged to have stolen Nigeria’s common wealth to feather their pockets and enrich foreign banks included retired top military brass and old politicians. Some of them still walk our streets as free men till this day! Talk about unpardonable impunity!
The recent steamy allegations of monumental financial crime against Ibrahim Magu, the erstwhile Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) boss, who was expected to be the number one czar in the frontal battle against financial crimes only comes as a paradox of the gate-keeper and the mansion. He is being accused of stealing from the very house he was supposed to be protecting!
After Magu’s detention by the DSS and the government’s statement that he has appeared before a presidential probe panel headed by retired Justice Ayo Salami, the public has got to know about some of the allegations leveled against him. They borders on acts of misconduct and financial irregularities.
For instance, he is alleged of ‘relooting’ part of recovered loots’ and sale of seized assets to cronies, associates and friends. There are also that of favouritism towards selected EFCC investigators called the ‘Magu Boys’ for ‘juicy’ assignments and insubordination to the Office of the AGF. More allegations are on the discrepancies in the reconciliation of records of the EFCC and the Federal Ministry of Finance on recovered funds.
In addition, he is alleged to have hand in the leakages of investigative reports that were prejudicial to some cases to selected media. Apart from reporting some judges to their presiding officers without deferring to the AGF, he is also accused of declaration of N539b as recovered funds instead of N504b earlier claimed.
Other allegations include not respecting court order to unfreeze a N7b judgment in favour of a former executive director of a bank, the late action on the investigation of P&ID leading to legal disputes and not providing enough concrete evidence against some suspects including Diezani Alison-Madueke for her extradition.
Obviously, Magu’s alleged misdeeds run against the tents of the anti-graft body established in 2003 to fight corruption and financial crimes which include embezzlement, money laundering and fraud (419).
Although a government statement insists that Magu has been given ample opportunity to defend himself and that his probe is “in consonance with the principle of fairness and justice” there are some burning questions all these have ignited in the public sphere.
For instance, is the government just waking up to these alleged malfeasances, years down the line? Have they anything to do with the current intra-party squabbles already snowballing into the formation of splinter groups within the ruling APC–led government, ahead of 2023 general elections? Has Magu stepped on some big toes to have enraged the powers that be? Or are these acts of witch -hunting? Time will certainly tell.
But let it be known that he who comes to equity must do so with clean hands. If the allegation come true, it would further create a deepening dent on the fight against corruption, a mantra on which the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration came to power in 2015.
In fact, it has been severally questioned that over those years, and even from inception the EFCC has been used as a tool of political treachery against the opposition and perceived political foes. After all didn’t Oshiomhole, the former APC National Chairman once claim that those alleged corrupt politicians who decamped to the APC would have their sins forgiven? That of a former governor who cross carpeted from PDP to APC and the other who recently came back from prison cell to occupy his senatorial seat continue to elicit questions on the sincerity of this administration to fight corruption, without providing a level playing field.
Besides all these unanswered questions, one cannot but wonder why virtually all the former EFFC bosses ended in controversial circumstances. From Nuhu Ribadu (2003-2007 ), the first EFCC chairman, through Ibrahim Lamorde, (2008), Farida Waziri, (2008-2011), Ibrahim Lamorde,( 2011-2015) to Ibrahim Magu (2015 to 2020), the tales of financial scandals seem to have worsened by the years.Again, concerned Nigerian continue to ask why all of them came from the northern stock and all with background in the police force?
To achieve any meaningful success in the war against corruption, the battle must be seen as part and parcel of our culture. The tenets should be imbibed right across the social gamut from the family unit, through the institutions of religion, education, business environment to the leadership landscape.
Furthermore, strict penalties including life imprisonment should be considered for the unpatriotic perpetrators. No one should be above the law. It should not be used as a political tool against anybody. All loopholes identified for criminal financial transactions should be plugged. There should also be public shaming for offenders and public awards for those who distinguish themselves as outstanding civil servants and professionals, in all fields of human endeavor. This would serve as motivation for fellow Nigerians.
As late Tai Solarin, a social critic extraordinary once noted, questions must be asked about the sudden source of the wealth of some citizens, including top civil servants who own mansions that far exceed their salaries.
Indeed, the maggots of corruption live within the fertile forests of Nigeria’s economy which they have ravaged with impunity. We therefore, need those with the will to identify and kill them without attraction to their beautiful flowers and succulent fruits. The search continues!
– Baje is a public commentator and analyst