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Ibrahim Magu, the EFCC and the Rule of Law

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It appears that the present head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC], Mr. Ibrahim Magu, is worse than the former helmsman, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, when it comes to following due process of law. Mr. Magu acts as if the letters of the Constitution is more of an irritation.

I had written in the days of Mr. Ribadu that the EFCC was the most lawless organisation in Nigeria at the time. They paid no heed to due process, disobeyed court orders with impunity, and detained suspects endlessly without charge amongst several other infractions.

At some point they held Gen. Buba Marwa for 12 days or so without any charge. I argued that if an authentic Nigerian “big man” like Gen. Marwa’s fundamental rights could be so easily trampled on, then many other citizens could be kept endlessly in EFCC’s detention.

As they say, what goes around comes around. Mr. Ribadu eventually became a victim of the same high handedness and lawlessness which he perpetuated with impunity.

Now, since President Buhari took over power with his sole agenda of anti-corruption crusade, Mr. Ibrahim Magu and his EFCC have been carrying on as if they are law unto themselves. I actually wonder at the level of education and exposure Mr. Magu has. 

He has such disdain for due process and the rights of individuals guaranteed under the Constitution. He has indeed surpassed Mr. Ribadu in paying little or no heed to the rule of law.

Mr. Magu was once quoted as saying that Mr. Olisa Metuh was being kept in detention because he refused to refund the sum of N400 million he allegedly diverted from the funds meant for arms purchase. And that he will only release him if he returned his “loot”. 

Mr. Magu gave the example of some other person who was given bail because he returned some money he was accused of stealing and promised to bring the balance later. As far as the EFCC is concerned, there is nothing like presumption of innocence. The EFCC wants to be the complainant, prosecutor and judge at the same time.

The Constitution is very clear about the liberty of citizens of Nigeria. Generally, you cannot detain anyone for more than forty eight hours (twenty four hours in most instances) without charging the person to court. It is also crude and lazy to just arrest people and clamp them in detention and then begin to fish for evidence to prosecute them. 

The better way will be to investigate, when you have sufficient evidence, arrest the person and arraign the person in court within twenty four hours. But no, all the people arrested by EFCC are already guilty and must be treated as criminals even before they get the benefit of a trial.

I get very discombobulated each time I hear Mr. Magu. He is the typical sanctimonious Nigerian public officer. The EFCC Chief has actually accused lawyers of aiding and abetting corruption by taking up cases of those accused of corruption by EFCC. As far as Mr. Magu is concerned, once the EFCC labels you a criminal, you should just be thrown into jail. 

So why bother with keeping and paying lawyers, including external lawyers, who are paid huge sums of money to prosecute matters for EFCC?

In any sane clime, a man like Mr. Magu would have been forced to resign his position, going by his utterances and actions. 

He has by his actions demonized lawyers who carry out their legitimate duties and obligations to clients and he is being hailed by a largely uninformed and ignorant public who forget that they may one day find themselves or someone they know on the receiving end of EFCC lawlessness and impunity and would need someone to plead their case.

I have said it and will say it again, the EFCC like the Nigerian Police are lazy and are not ready to be painstaking in their work. They are more interested in intimidation and harassment. No one remembers now that the immediate past Governor of Abia State, Mr. Theodore Orji, got sworn in as Governor upon being given bail whilst he was in the EFCC custody. 

Mr. Ribadu and the late Gani Fawehinmi criticized the judge for giving Mr. Orji bail. I made an intervention disagreeing and arguing that the offences for which he was being held were bailable. 

And that since time does not run against criminal offences, nothing stops the EFCC from prosecuting him after leaving office as Governor. Now Mr. Orji has since left office as Governor but nothing has been heard of his case.

The EFCC, being a creation of statute, should do well to respect the Constitution and other laws which prescribe a presumption of innocence and guarantees every person a fair trial and the right to be represented by a lawyer of his/her own choice. 

With proper and painstaking investigations and competent prosecutors, EFCC should be able to put away those who have stolen our common wealth without insulting our sensibilities.

Ikenna Okoli, FCIArb. LLM (London)


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