When news of the Panama Papers first broke, it was an embarrassment to the Nigerian government because it made the anti-graft war look like a joke. The third highest ranking official of the government was alleged to have hidden assets in tax havens. Senator Bukola Saraki was already facing charges of falsely declaring his assets at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. He ended up winning that case, even at the Supreme Court. Now, the charges against him are centered on how he acquired some of those assets.
The country’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), claims to have discovered more assets and properties in Lagos. The commission is also investigating his stewardship as governor of Kwara state between 2003 and 2011, and also his leadership of the Senate between 2015 and 2019. But from all indications, the court cases and processes are taking a toll on Saraki and as a defense, he is claiming attempts to prosecute him are really a result of a personal feud between him and EFCC boss Ibrahim Magu.
In the course of doing their duty, the most dogged and determined prosecutors and law enforcement agents often face harassment, threats, allegations of bias and even accusations of acting on personal vendetta. So it was with Nuhu Ribadu, and now with Magu. If the politician in question is powerful enough, he will go over the head of the prosecutors and appeal to higher authorities to shut down the investigation. And if that’s not possible, then the entire government is labeled vindictive and going only after its enemies.
The latest tug of war between the EFCC chairman and the former senate president is apparently over an ex parte order from Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court restraining the EFCC and five other agencies from investigating and prosecuting Saraki. Both the EFCC and Saraki have written to the president of the Federal High Court, Abdu Kafarati, over the curious order from Judge Taiwo. The EFCC has accused the judge of bias, and wants the case transferred to another judge and his order subsequently vacated. Saraki, on the other hand, wants the ex parte order to remain in place and EFCC’s request to have the case transferred ignored by Justice Kafarati. If there is an inconsistency on the part of Magu, it is because the political system demands that it is so, since he needs confirmation from senators, who are susceptible to corrupt practices, to be chairman.
The inconsistency from Saraki on the other hand has been the reasons the former Kwara governor has given for rejecting Magu. In his letter to Kafarati, Saraki said, “My Lord, Mr. Magu is after me because he feels that as the President of the 8th Senate, I was responsible for the non-confirmation of his appointment, whereas the reasons his appointment was not confirmed is all too familiar: an agency of the executive, which nominated him, the DSS sent two reports to the Senate in which it categorically stated that Magu failed the integrity test, that his confirmation would shackle the EFCC from effectively tackling corruption in the country and hampering the anti-corruption drive of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.”
But more than a month earlier, speaking at an orientation programme for senators-elect, the then senate president gave an entirely different reason why the upper legislative body, under his leadership, refused to confirm Magu.
In essence, Saraki was admitting that the report by the DSS was really just an excuse not to confirm Magu. The senate could very easily have overlooked it. A second point, by his own admission is that Magu lobbied and pleaded with him. And what did Saraki do? First he made sure the acting chairman wasn’t confirmed, then he came out and used Magu’s pleas against him in a conveniently leaked letter to the President of the Federal High Court.
For a politician like Saraki, who never fails to use his position as leverage and knowing that he held the powers to either confirm or reject the acting EFCC chairman; can he honestly tell Nigerians he sought no assurances from Magu that he wouldn’t be prosecuted and all cases against him would be dropped?
It is alright to question an appearance of bias or a conflict of interest when a judge is involved, which is what has brought about the two contending letters to Kafarati.
However, no such standards exist for a prosecutor. It doesn’t matter how personal things get between a prosecutor and a suspect. There could even be personal animosity or a family feud between them going back decades. Like Saraki himself said about relying on the constitution to either confirm or reject an appointment, so too does Magu only rely on the constitution in prosecuting him regardless of the EFCC chairman feelings.
Ibrahim Magu still has to prove it in court that Saraki has committed crimes of a financial nature on several fronts. No one questioned the senate’s motives because the senate didn’t really need one and the law allowed them to reject Magu. Here too, as long as EFCC thinks a crime has been committed, the law permits it to prosecute Saraki even if there truly are ulterior motives. And that Magu begged to be confirmed yet was rejected is no proof of a personal vendetta, neither does it absolve Saraki of any wrongdoing. That has to be done in court.
Shuaib, a former editor of Leadership newspaper, writes from Abuja