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Magu and the waiting game

Magu and the waiting game
February 23
06:42 2020

Is it a sign of the times that Nigerians have, generally, appeared not bothered any longer by certain anomalies in the polity, such as President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to fill vacancies in several agencies? As I write this, many agencies have been in the hands of acting chief executive for years without any sign that Buhari is interested in taking a definite action to put things right. Of all the grave problems facing Nigeria — namely insecurity, poverty, low revenue, smuggling, and unemployment, among the legion — making appointments should be one of the easiest boxes to tick. Or are we saying there are no Nigerians qualified or good enough to hold these positions?

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Recently, Daily Trust reported that the Federal Character Commission (FCC) has been operating with only one commissioner out of the 37 stipulated by the constitution. The other 36 commissioners have served out their tenures. Mysteriously, Buhari has not replaced them. Only one commissioner is left. Ambassador Abdullahi Halidu Shinkafi, the commissioner from Zamfara who is the acting executive chairman of the commission, is due to retire in April 2020, after which the FCC would have no commissioners again. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) operated for years without a commissioner. A general manager was running the affairs!

In the history of Nigeria (or, specifically, to the best of my knowledge), no head of a critical government agency has been left hanging like Mr Ibrahim Mustapha Magu. Since November 9, 2015, Magu has been acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). In fairness, there were two attempts to get him confirmed in 2017 but the 8th senate rejected him, apparently because of the infighting in Buhari’s government — although many would argue that the senators themselves were not in a hurry to confirm a man who was giving a bloody nose to hitherto untouchable elements in the society. His rejection by the senate was a relief to many.

Surprisingly, support for Magu’s confirmation came from unusual quarters on Friday. In an interview, Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke, former attorney-general of the federation, asked Buhari to send Magu’s name to the 9th senate for confirmation because chances are high now that he would not be turned down again. This is interesting because Adoke has been at the receiving end of Magu’s fire power in the last four years. He was recently arrested and detained by the EFCC for 55 days and charged to court over the Malabu affair. Adoke openly alleged political persecution in court. Even his bail application was opposed by EFCC. If anything, he should be asking for Magu’s removal!

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Adoke said: “I am not saying this because I need any favour from Magu. Yes, I have been unfairly detained for 55 days and charged to court. The rest is now with the judiciary. I stand to gain nothing from saying Magu should be confirmed. If anything, I should be campaigning against him given what I have seen in the hands of the agency in the last four years. God knows I am not bitter towards him. However, President Muhammadu Buhari is highly celebrated for fighting corruption and the poster boy of this celebrated achievement is clearly Magu. It is, therefore, only fair for President Buhari to resend Magu’s name to the senate for confirmation.”

No doubt, many people have misgivings about Magu. For a start, there are those who think he has been one-sided — in the sense that those thought not to be in Buhari’s camp are seen as the target of the anti-graft war. Magu has argued that APC members, such as Rev Jolly Nyame (former governor of Taraba state), Chief Joshua Dariye (Plateau) and Chief Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), have been prosecuted to the point of conviction by the EFCC. Nevertheless, the impression out there is that those ones are expendable. It should be noted, though, that no EFCC chairman has escaped the accusation of being a tool in the hands of the ruling government, so Magu is not the first.

My own criticism of Magu centres on the things he says publicly which would be considered as media trial. I believe that when matters are under investigation, he should be circumspect in the things he says in the open. I understand that for a policeman — a commissioner of police for that matter — his job is to level accusations: the accused would have their day in court. But the evidence against them must be solid. Media statements and leaks cannot substitute for evidence before a court of law. If you ask me, I would say he should cut off a lot of those public engagements and avoid media interviews as much as possible. He cannot go wrong doing this.

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Magu also has to clean up the EFCC itself. There are many bad eggs in the institution turning the agency into a glorified police station where all sorts of unholy transactions take place. With the premium Buhari has placed on the fight against corruption, EFCC has become an all-powerful institution through which people are intimidated and allegedly extorted, sometimes with the use of Magu’s name. Many EFCC officials have been sanctioned over this. Magu’s impersonators have also been arrested and charged to court. When an organisation wields so much power as the EFCC, abuse and impunity are inevitable. Magu has to contain the excesses of EFCC.

Despite all the criticisms of Magu, he possesses four qualities that those who are close to him will always highlight. One, he is good with forensics, and this must have been helped by the fact that he studied accounting (at the Ahmadu Bello University). Two, he is a damn good interrogator. When he was head of the economic governance section of the EFCC — dealing with general investigations, financial crimes and money laundering in public and private sectors — he was one police officer former governors would rather not sit with in a room for interrogation. They used to plead that they should not be sent to Magu. He can interrogate a subject for one week non-stop!

Three, Magu is fearless. I understand very well that in an underdeveloped democracy such as ours, there is a limit to which any government appointee can claim independence. We may choose to deceive ourselves but no anti-graft agency is going to arrest the wife or children of a sitting president over charges of corruption in the kind of system we run. However, even within these limitations, Magu has touched certain elements that the system usually protects. Evidently, he has had to step back at times, but you cannot accuse him of not trying at all. I know many government officials he would have put on trial but for the political limitations.

Four, Magu has passion. Love him, hate him — but you cannot deny that he is someone who has a strong appetite for the fight against corruption. It is this passion, I believe, that has driven him into saying certain things that are off the mark — such as suggesting that corruption is the cause of cancer and coronavirus. That is why I have always advocated that he should tame his tongue. Passion works better when it is built on knowledge. For sure, you cannot be an anti-corruption crusader if you do not have the passion. You must be passionate about your country, passionate about the consequences of graft on the society and passionate about the future.

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In the final analysis, it is the prerogative of the president to decide whether to re-present Magu, keep him hanging, or bring in a new person. Given the job Magu has done so far (let us remember there was a time the EFCC had lost its fear factor) and the need to sustain the momentum and ensure certainty, a good case can surely be made for the president to re-present him. He’s been a pair of steady and sturdy hands in an area that is the most important thrust of the administration’s promises and policies. Why would Buhari want to keep him hanging, sitting with half his bum on the chairman’s seat and thinking he may be asked to quit by the evening?

I do not think any EFCC chairman has recorded as much progress as Magu has done since the commission was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003. The number of convictions, particularly in high-profile cases, is unmatched. Even some cases that had been on for over 10 years have been brought to a logical conclusion. In the past, judges used to dismiss EFCC’s cases on the ground of “lack of diligent prosecution”. That has become history. The agency is also daily securing convictions in cases of advance fee fraud, aka 419, and petty corruption both in public and private sectors. All these things should count for something, as far as I’m concerned.

Definitely, the job of moving Nigeria to the “next level” is not a tea party because of the severe political, social and economic challenges, but some things are not that difficult. We do not need any revelations from heaven to fill vacancies in agencies. We do not need people holding acting positions forever and ever. It seems Buhari is comfortable with keeping things hanging for as long as possible, but there may be legal implications that will cost us dear in the future. Many agencies have been operating without substantive chief executives. I have a very long list in front of me. Buhari needs to end this waiting game. It is not as complicated as nuclear physics or neurological surgery.

AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

BLUE MURDER

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Ms Laetitia Dagan, an assistant director of administration at the State House, was gruesomely murdered a week ago. The assailants were not satisfied with just killing her but they set her on fire with her mattress. Initial reports suggested that she was living in the same compound with some yahoo boys whom she allegedly reported, in confidence, to the police. The confidence was said to have been broken and the boys turned on her. I am eager to see the end of this matter. It will indicate how far the force is determined to flush out the bad eggs in the system. Nigerians never feel comfortable tipping off the police and this is such a tragic consequence, if true. Devastating.

MONGUNO VS KYARI

Nigerians have been treated to the salacious details of the memos written by Major Gen Babagana Monguno, the national security adviser, on the “meddlesomeness” of Mallam Abba Kyari, the chief of staff to the president, on “matters of national security”. At the heart of the matter is that after President Muhammadu Buhari had verbally approved certain transactions, Kyari overruled him, according to Monguno. The core of those letters, in my view, is that Monguno is indirectly accusing the president of not having balls. Kyari is just a fodder. Monguno is experienced enough in the game of power to know that the chief of staff cannot overrule even the weakest president. Fact.

ACTIVIST EMIR

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Alhaji Muhammad Sanusi II, the emir of Kano, has embarked on a one-man campaign to change certain practices and customs in the north which have been perpetuated for ages under the misconception that they are Islamic. Why marry four wives and have a battalion of children and turn them to almajiri? Why deny your girls good education under the pretext of religion? His opponents cannot understand the core message: that these beliefs and practices are the major reason the north is behind the south is many indices of human development. Changing the mindset is going to take ages. One emir cannot do it alone. More northern leaders must come on board. Imperative!

GENDER CHAMPION

If, like me, you have a daughter, you would appreciate societies where women are not treated as part of the furniture. Mr Tony Elumelu, himself a father of five girls, last week made five major appointments at the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc (Transcorp) — and four of them are women. Ms Owen Omogiafo is now president of Transcorp, Ms Dupe Olusola the new MD/CEO, Ms Helen Iwuchukwu company’s chief operating officer and Ms Okaima Ohizua the executive director/chief operating officer of Transcorp Power Ltd. Every credible study has established a positive link between gender and development. Those who have ears let them hear. Productive.

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