Opinion (9/7/2020): And The Bell Tolls For Magu – Steve Nwosu

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I have always had huge reservations about Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), especially with regards to its crude and brash style of prosecuting the anti-graft war. Add that to the a barely disguised penchant to pander to the partisanship of the presidency and its officials, and what you get is an agency that repulses everything decent.
I am incensed by what we’ve come to know as the commission’s media trials, arresting and detaining suspects even when it was yet to commence any serious investigation of the cases against them. I’ve decried EFCC’s tendency to shop for courts and judges, obtain forfeiture order for assets that have yet to be proven to be proceeds of crime, as well as the sadistic wasting away confiscated assets. Assets that could have been productively deployed by government to continue to generate revenue and retain jobs, if not create more employment.

It is for these reasons, and many more, that I have never been an EFCC cheerleader, even though I subscribe to the concept of fighting all forms of corruption.

However, above the current cacophony of facts, fiction, faction and outright bedlam trailing Monday’s ‘invitational arrest’, detention, interrogation, suspension, and general travails of EFCC’s Ibrahim Magu, a handful of clichés continue to ring loud in my subconscious. If it is not about those who choose to ride on the back of the tiger ending up in the tiger’s belly, then it is about karma, nemesis, and all. In all the confusion, I think of what is, what was, and what could have been. With some mischievous nostalgia, I think of Malam Abba Kyari (God rest his soul), and remember the saying that whenever the cat is away, the rats rule the roost. I remember Dr. Bukola Saraki’s 8th Assembly and Dr. Ahmad Lawal’s 9th Assembly. I remember Lawal Daura’s DSS, the botched Senate confirmation, Babachir Lawal and the grass-cutting scandal, Abdulrasheed Maina and the pension tales, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita’s ‘effrontery’, Walter Onnoghen and the judges, Jonathan’s service chiefs, First Lady Aisha Buhari, the cabal, a divided presidency, the presidential advisory committee on corruption, Prof. Femi Odekunle, Prof, Itse Sagay, Justice Ayo Salami, the Tinubu connection, Orji Kalu, Deizani Allison, Joshua Dariye, Jolly Nyame, Olisa Metuh, Adoke, Etete, and all the other lesser mortals in the PDP. P&ID, the judgment debts, and Minister Malami’s memos. And, of course, I remember all the talk about corruption fighting back.
Of course, thinking of these many things at the same time makes one prone to confusion. And I’m genuinely confused. Confused about how a President Muhammadu Buhari, who was alleged to be determined to have Magu confirmed as substantive EFCC Chairman, could suddenly forget to re-present him to the Senate, after kicking out Saraki who had allegedly frustrated the confimation. How could PMB forget, after the new senate president told us the 9th senate would approve everything Buhari brings before it?
In my confusion, I have been tempted to conclude, therefore, that not much, of what is happening in, and around, the EFCC today, has anything to do with fighting corruption. Yes, the politics, to which the EFCC gleefully sold its soul since its inception, has again caught up with the commission.

That explains why not too many people, outside of Justice Salami and his team, are looking seriously at the allegations against Ibrahim Magu. For, not many are in doubt that Magu’s real ‘sins’ are captured in a different, unwritten ‘charge sheet’, which may not be before the investigating panel.

That has always been the case with successive EFCC heads. With or without a proper probe, it always ends the same way – from Nuhu Ribadu to Farida Waziri, Ibrahim Lamorde and now, Magu. After wielding so much power – akin to the power of life and death, Nigeria’s anti-graft czars always end in ignominy. The story is almost always the same thing: they allegedly got sucked into the sleaze they were supposed to be fighting – either for real or simply trumped-up charges.

I recall how, after being used to harass Obasanjo’s opponents, Ribadu was unceremoniously booted out to Kuru. He would eventually quit the police, and then turn round to run a presidential campaign that many still believe was reasonably funded by some of the very people he and Obasanjo were investigating, indicting (and even, arrested) for corruption.

One particular person of interest to the EFCC was said to have stuffed Ribadu with so much goodies – including cash and choice real estate, that he could not, in good conscience, continue any probe – either then or in the future. None of these has ever been proven in a court of law, but Ribadu continues to live with the tar.
Of course, there was always the accusation of poor accounting – especially, as regards grants and donations from foreign partners and the sale/disposal of recovered assets and cash.

Many of Ribadu’s friends, including prominent lawyers, businessmen, traditional rulers and other establishment persons (including certain key persons in the Villa), were alleged to have regularly picked up some of such assets for practically nothing. I still remember how the shares of a certain first generation bank, confiscated from a certain fraudster, were simply signed over to a big man in the presidency. I remember how one twin-towered structure confiscated from another fraudster, who died mysteriously, was resold to an oil magnate for less than a quarter of the market value. I remember how a massive hotel in Abuja – with a filling station attached to it, was sold to another oil magnate for peanuts. I remember the ridiculous rock-bottom price tag the EFCC once put on the massive Ikoyi home of the embattled former Managing Director of the now-defunct Intercontinental Bank, Erastus Akingbola. I also remember how arrested suspects were threatened into implicating some political opponents of those in power. Opponents who ordinarily had no involvement in the said fraud were suddenly roped in, and prosecuted/persecuted on the strength of such false accusations. I particularly remember the case of the then Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun. His transducers, using the EFCC, prepared a confessional statement falsely accusing him of extorting tens of millions of Naira from a convicted fraudster. They then gave the statement to the said convict, ordering him to rewrite it in his own handwriting and sign it. It was to be used against Tafa. Fortunately for the then IGP, the convict bluntly refused, insisting that, apart from the fact that no such extortion ever happened, the IGP had genuinely helped him in his travails – insisting that due process must be followed in his arrest, detention and arraignment. However, the system eventually found other ways to disgrace Tafa and, ultimately, sack him.

Similarly, the desperation to tie everything an accused person ever owned (even those acquired long before the fraud being investigated), to the trial, and confiscate all, runs through all the administrations in the EFCC. The same is also true of the allegation of shoddy handling of certain cases, the refusal to take on certain glaring cases, and the creation of a clique of few favoured officers, usually regarded as Chairman’s boys. In fact, it was this seeming favouritism that allegedly shot Lamorde into prominence in the days when Ribadu held sway. It is also said to have been partly responsible for why Magu spent a lot of time in detention during the Farida Waziri years. So, I guess the embattled EFCC chairman is already used to staying behind bars without trial.

As for the issue of self-enrichment, I have no idea of how rich (or poor) Magu is, but, I dare say, there is not one EFCC personnel – serving or retired, who has not been ‘accused’ of suddenly coming into wealth. It is across many of them would have to carry to their graves – rightly or wrongly.
My submission, therefore, is that there is absolutely nothing new in the many sins listed against Magu. It appears we already have a template of allegations against EFCC helmsmen. Every time we want to kick out another chairman, we dust it up, change the names, alter a few addresses, and run with it. The result is: if we take the long list of allegations against Magu, replace the name ‘Ibrahim Magu’ with ‘Ibrahim Lamorde’, ‘Farida Waziri’ or ‘Nuhu Ribadu’, every other claim can still subsist. The similarities are that close – even to the minutest detail of deliberately leaking information to select media houses. Ribadu had his favoured media houses and friends, Lamorde (in spite of his short stint) had his. So did Waziri and, of course, Magu. We have definitely travelled this road before.

It is either that successive EFCC chairmen are so blinded by the impunity of the power associated with their office and police background (that they daftly operate the same looting manual), or those who regularly hound them out of office are not creative enough to find new ways of doing the same old thing. I seriously suspect the latter. Everything seems cast in stone, even to as far as the choice of the chairmen’s replacements. You would almost think there was always a constitutional provision reserving the position of EFCC chairman for only senior police officers – who must also come from the North-East geopolitical zone. The only slight deviation from that mold was Farida Waziri, who is originally from North Central. But then, she was married to a North Easterner.

It is for these reasons that I won’t gloat over Magu’s fate – and I wouldn’t advise anybody to so do. Having met the Borno State-born officer at close quarters on two occasions, I came away with the impression that he is not only committed to his job, but blindly loyal to President Buhari. With clearly no gift of the garb, Magu simply buried himself in his work. He was determined to give the PMB government a trophy it can boldly hoist. What did not go down too well with me, and I think many other Nigerians, was the modus operandi for securing that trophy.

Curiously, it is the same people who always flaunted the administration’s achievement on the anti-graft war front in our faces that are today hanging out Magu to dry.

My biggest befuddlement in all this, however, is the deafening din of our president’s silence. Unfortunately, I don’t have the President’s telephone number. I would have dialed him up, and in the tone of OBJ (in that celebrated phone call to Umaru Yar’ Adua), I would have asked him: “Muhammadu, are you dead?”.
Since I can’t make that phonecall, however, I’ll continue to trash about in my confuse ignorance. In fact, I’m so tired and confused that if I were to be alive, I would since have died. Walahi!

– Nwosu is a respected journalist

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