Against the background of what has been happening in recent weeks regarding the war against corruption, I am compelled to break my self-imposed censorship on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) under the chairmanship of Mr Ibrahim Magu.
People close to me, and those in a few groups with whom I share online discussions, know why I don’t write on EFCC or Magu but I want to make the reason public today before I delve into the beef of my intervention.
Sometimes in 2008, my late boss, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua invited me to his office and asked me to sit down.
Anytime such happened, it was always when he had something important to discuss but on that day, I could also sense some form of irritation. The moment I sat down, he handed me some papers which he asked me to go through.
They were opinion pieces written with different names all of which were against the government with some ridiculing the person of Yar’Adua. I can remember vividly that the title of the one on top was “How Turai is ruling Nigeria”.
I was still browsing through the materials when the president said, “those articles were found on the computer of one Ibrahim Magu, the henchman of your friend at EFCC” (referring to the then chairman, Mr Nuhu Ribadu).
At that point, I understood his anger because I never hid my support for Ribadu even though my main concern at the time was the damage the EFCC issue was doing to the image of the president and the administration, since my job had to do with perception management.
While I had no way of verifying that the materials, evidently handed to the late president by someone, were indeed from Magu’s computer, it fitted perfectly with the EFCC modus operandi at the time.
I also didn’t follow up to ascertain what happened to Magu thereafter. But the moment his name came up in 2015 as acting chairman of EFCC, I remembered that particular encounter.
And for that reason, I have cleverly avoided meeting Magu despite solicitations from his end while I resolved never to write about EFCC because of that bias.
However, given recent controversies, I owe Magu a word even when what I will say may have already been said by both Abimbola Adelakun, in her13th April piece, “EFCC can do with less noise” and Simon Kolawole, two days later, titled “Corruption not fighting back yet”.
But I will preface my advice with something I also know. When, following his rejection by the Senate, I told a friend that it served Magu right.
He asked whether the Directorate of State Security (DSS) report was true. “I think the DSS report is false” I replied so he asked, “Why then do you say it serves him right?”
I explained to my friend that what the DSS did to Magu was what EFCC has been doing to so many Nigerians whose reputations they have damaged in the media, sometimes without any basis.
Even common preliminary investigations that could have yielded basic information are never conducted before cameramen are deployed to cover what may turn out to be no crime after which EFCC would now be looking for evidence to justify such irresponsibility.
And the moment petitions, especially against opponents of the current administration, reach Magu, it won’t take more than a few minutes for it to be splashed in the media.
Given this position, my friend now asked, “But you said the DSS report on Magu is wrong” to which I also replied in the affirmative.
That was because, early in the life of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, I stumbled on a conversation in which some powerful people were discussing the issue of Magu’s accommodation.
Worried that somebody holding such a sensitive position as EFCC chairman was staying in Karu, a densely populated suburb at the outskirt of Abuja, a decision was taken that accommodation be found for Magu in town and the amount mentioned that day was N40 million as rent for two years.
Two things became clear from that encounter. One, the idea to move out of his Karu residence was not that of Magu, it was that of other people in government who felt the acting EFCC chairman should stay in a more secure environment.
Two, Magu was not the person who determined the location of the apartment or the rent.
Now, since the central plank of the DSS report was on the accommodation issue, I don’t see how that questions Magu’s integrity nor do I believe he should be adjudged guilty on the basis of his association with anybody. That will not be fair.
Therefore, I have long concluded that Magu’s integrity is unassailable on the basis of the DSS letter. But there are issues arising from his rejection by the Senate that have to be cleared.
One, it is obvious that Magu was/is a victim of the rivalry and power struggle within the Buhari administration that is now sharply divided into different camps.
While such may not be uncommon in any presidency, I have never seen a situation like this where heads of critical security agencies would be squabbling in the market square. President Buhari should put his house in order not only for his own sake but also in the national interest.
Two, a problem has been created with the manner Magu’s confirmation hearing played out at the Senate. The DSS is a department in the presidency and the Senate represents a critical arm of government.