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Long way to cleaning Nigeria’s ‘augean stable’

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Nigeria’s Department of State Services are very essential state institutions.

While the EFCC is comparatively a recent creation charged with the prevention and investigation of economic and financial crimes, the DSS as the nation’s secret police sees to the protection of state’s assets and its officials.

Both agencies are currently in the news for very wrong reasons: inter-agency disputations. Although both are creations of the law, their attempt to become laws unto themselves got them working at cross-purposes. The jigsaw started with the life of the current administration, which outlined the fight against corruption and insurgency as its major planks. Every agency of the government, therefore, tried its best at inception to align with the body language of President Muhammadu Buhari.

In the executive versus federal legislature tangle that trailed the inauguration of the administration in 2015, both the EFCC and DSS overstepped the institutional insulation from partisanship and politics by tagging along with the presidency.

DSS whistle/Senate censure
BUHARI’s nomination of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as EFCC acting chairman met a brick wall in the Senate as the members of the upper legislative chamber failed to clear him for appointment as the substantive chairman. In December 2016 when the 8th Senate, under Dr. Bukola Saraki as President, first rejected the nomination, a report from the DSS was cited as the basis of the veto.

The then-Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, disclosed that for over an hour the senators sat behind closed doors scrutinizing every aspect of DDS’s security report before arriving at the decision to withhold clearance.

Abdulahi had stated: “The Senate wishes to inform the public that based on available security report, the Senate cannot proceed with the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The nomination of Ibrahim Magu is hereby rejected and has been returned to the president for further action.”

Yet again, in March 2017 after the presidency presented Magu’s name afresh to the Senate, it was rejected even as the Red Chamber stressed that the DSS stood by its report, which presented the nominee as incapable of holding the office of EFCC chairman. The second and final rejection of Magu’s nomination by the Senate stoked controversies, with some chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the presidency contending that the office of EFCC chairman does not require senate clearance.

Citing section 117 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and Prof. Itse Sagay maintained that President Buhari has the ultimate power to hire and fire heads of federal parastatals and agencies.

Prof. Osinbajo, who was Acting President in Buhari’s absence, declared that “President Buhari has resolved to work with Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman to stamp out corruption.”

Speaking through Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, during the inauguration of the state’s office of EFCC, Osinbajo noted: “Those who think they are winning in fighting back against the government’s war on corruption should wake up.

“Last night, I spoke with the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who reconfirmed the position of the president and told me that as long as he remained the Acting President or Vice President, Ibrahim Magu would remain the chairman of the EFCC.

“That is the only message from the president; so, those thinking that corruption is winning this war, Magu would remain their nightmare for the next two years or six years as the case may be.”

But in apparent response to the presidency’s stance, the then President of Senate, Saraki explained that although the presidency had the option of lobby to push through Magu’s nomination, the option was not taken, stressing that Senate’s clearance was required.

Saraki had argued: “The truth really is that the issue of confirmation, whether ministerial or other appointments, is done by the entire Senate. Generally, we have an unwritten practice that we would get the input of senators from the state where the appointee hails from before we start the screening process in the Senate. By the powers of the Senate, if such nominee is rejected, then it is upon the executive to find a new replacement. The issue really is that the Senate has the powers to reject ministerial nominees.

“In the case of the appointment of the chairman of the EFCC, the powers of the Senate are very clear in the constitution. For any nominee, we are guided by the constitution. It is an appointment made by Mr. President, subject to the confirmation of the Senate, which means the Senate has the powers to either say yes or no.

“In a situation where the Senate rejects, it is up to the executive at that time to send in a replacement or in some cases, when we have appointment rejected and the executive will re-present before the Senate. But if the senators again take a decision to reject the nominee, the appointment stands rejected.”

Senator Dino Melaye, who cited the DSS report at the Senate plenary during Magu’s confirmation hearing, stated, “Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption stand of the current government.”

While questioning the credibility of the DSS’s report, Magu told the Senators that the DSS dispatched two reports, which bore varying contents same day. Magu also pleaded lack of fairness on the part of the DSS, asserting that he was not invited by the secret police to defend himself on some of the conclusions they reached in their reports.

Magu’s litany of poor judgment
WERE you indicted by the DSS or not, was a question from Saraki, which he insisted that Magu must answer. Although Magu agreed that it was true he was reprimanded and detained after official documents were found on him outside the office, he told the Senators that after that trouble, he had been promoted twice.

Magu was accused of residing in an apartment rented by one retired Commodore Mohammed Umar, who was facing alleged corruption. He was also taken to task over the actual amount the EFCC recovered under his watch.

While the acting chairman disclosed that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) rented his residence, he said he could not give the amount recovered off-hand since he does not carry official documents about.

Despite his cocktail of denials, the fact of his alleged lack of integrity for the anti-corruption agency began to manifest when the EFCC started undertaking hatchet jobs against politically exposed persons perceived to be opposed to the presidency.

But, backed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Sagay, and the former Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, Magu spurned the various institutional checks that flagged his character and competence.

Such grand support could also have emboldened Magu to wave off allegations that he was buying a choice property in Dubai, United Arab Emirates through fronts and proxies.

Part of the transactions for which the suspended EFCC acting chairman is being investigated concerns the fugitive and former Pension Fund chairman, Abdulrasheed Maina, who was hibernating in Dubai before his mysterious return to Nigeria.

The last straw that broke the legendary Carmel’s back was the allegations contained in a memo by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, detailing discrepancies in the number of looted funds recovered and the amount remitted to government’s coffers.

The AGF was also said to have released to the presidency a list of properties, including vehicles which were recovered by EFCC, but which Magu did not report or include in official documentations. All these are apart from the allegation of shoddy accounting of financial recoveries, which indicated disparity between the N543 billion and N504 billion recovered and lodged in the Recovery Account in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Did Magu reloot the recovered looted funds? How far did the patronizing presidency help his confidence in trampling upon probity and transparency expected of the nation’s anti-corruption czar?

Coming at a time the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) displayed painstaking and meticulous probe and arrest of the Internet con artist, Hushpuppy, the unfolding mess around Magu has put Nigeria in a very bad light.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible that had the presidency allowed the Senate to have the last say in the performance of its constitutional responsibility of oversight and providing checks and balances, the national embarrassment would have been averted.

Clearly, those who call for the building of institutions rather than strong persons have been vindicated. But how far the country would go in washing itself clean of the global shame caused by the detention of Nigeria’s anti-corruption czar remains to be seen.

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