Magu: How not to wage an anti-corruption war


When news broke that acting EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu, was arrested, it got tongues wagging, however, as details of his activities came to light, it became obvious that he had crossed the line. BENJAMIN UMUTEME reports.

When in June, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari recommending the removal of Magu as acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for insubordination, misconduct and especially diversion of recovered funds. He was also accused of disposing assets, especially buildings seized from corrupt politicians and others, without approval, or knowledge of the AGF’s office, which is the supervisory ministry of the commission. Many were shocked by the AGF’s letter especially coming from a high ranking member of the same administration. However, to many more that have been privy to Magu’s dealings at the helm of affairs of the anti graft agency, the allegations were an open secret.

When on July 6, he was arrested and brought before the presidential panel investigating his activities, and subsequently suspended from office, political watchers knew the bubble had bust on Magu.

Genesis of his problem

Recall that the Senate in the 8th assembly had twice rejected Magu’s nomination as EFCC chairman. According to Bukola Saraki, President of the 8th Senate, Magu was rejected the basis of a security report compiled by the State Security Service (DSS). The DSS, another executive agency, in a report to the Senate said Magu was unfit to lead the commission because he had failed an integrity test.

The report detailed how Magu lives a “high-profile lifestyle”. According to the report, Magu lives in a house rented for N40 million at N20 million a year which was paid for by one retired Air Commodore, Umar Mohammed.

Magu was accused of using private jets belonging to Mohammed and going on trips with bank executives being investigated by the EFCC.

According to the report, in the classified and official documents: “To cover his tracks, Magu uses solely his police cronies to execute operations. This, coupled with discoveries that such police cronies have acquired a lot of landed property lends credence to the questions about his integrity.”

The report also revealed that Magu was guilty of withholding EFCC files, obstruction of justice and sabotage by the Nigerian Police Commission in 2010.

In its submission, the DSS said, “in the light of the foregoing, Magu has failed the integrity test and would eventually constitute a liability to the anti- corruption drive of the present administration.”

Warning signal

While Magu’s ouster from heading the anti graft agency may be seen as a power play between him and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, it is however, instructive to say with the benefit of hindsight that Magu started exhibiting some of the actions contained in the DSS report, after settling down into his new position.

The Saraki led Senate had come under severe public attack for twice rejecting Magu’s  nomination saying he was fighting a political war with the executive.

Some even accused the Saraki of withholding confirmation because he wanted to protect his corrupt friends that were being investigated by the anti-corruption czar.

The EFCC was established in 2003 in part as response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering after the group named Nigeria as one of the 23 countries that were uncooperative in the global fight against money laundering. Inspire of its presence, analysts say corruption in Nigeria continues to be emboldened with case running into billion of naira and dollars been mentioned almost on a weekly basis.

About a year after the DSS report in 2016, Mike Ozekhomm (SAN) had in letter to vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, warned of Magu’s insincerity in the fight against corruption, and how he was looting the treasury.

“They looted our treasury in collaboration with their cronies, friends and acolytes. Magu was the new sheriff in town. I got no reply to my letter to Osinbajo. I wrote a reminder. No dice.

“I later challenged Magu publicly, face-to-face, on at least three occasions, one of which was at a ceremony at the federal high court in Abuja.

“He refused to change his ugly ways. It was clear to me and discerning Nigerians that power had gotten into his bald head. Power is an aphrodisiac, an intoxicating liquor. It bemuses. It gives delusional ‘Dutch courage.’ It forces reason to vacate its seat.”

Ozekhome is just a number in the long list of those who suffered from Magu’s reckless abuse of power.

Also, former prosecutor with the EFCC, Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), said Magu ordered his detention and subsequent prosecution on trumped up charges of bridging a judge after he demanded for the payment of his legai fees totaling N763.9 million.

Obla revealed this while reading out an 18-page letter to the Justice Ayo Salami-led Presidential panel titled, ‘Presentation In Respect of Malicious and Reckless Abuse of State Power of Investigation and Prosecution Resulting in Mismanagement of Forfeited Assets by Deliberate and Contrived Incompetence and Suspicious Dealing of Forfeited Assets’.

Obla, who presented over 10 documents to the panel including his bill of charges, said he prosecuted 40 cases for the EFCC including those of former bank chiefs sacked by the Central Bank of Nigeria under the leadership of Lamido Sanusi and also helped the commission recover hundreds of billions of naira in cash and assets.

The senior advocate said all letters sent to the EFCC were ignored but the fee was never contested. He said rather than pay him his legal fees, Magu decided to level several allegations against him in order to discredit and deny him his due.

A former executive director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc, Mr Dauda Lawal, in a letter addressed to the presidential probe panel said Magu’s statement was “laced with barefaced distortion of relevant facts”, and an attempt to mislead the Justice Ayo Salami led panel.

Mr. Lawal in his letter explained that in trying to rope him in, the anti graft agency under Magu did not properly investigate the allegations against him prior to the forfeiture proceedings. According to Lawal, EFCC left out very important aspects of the matter and neglected to conduct a diligent, reasonable and unbiased forensic examination of the relevant facts.

He also added in his letter to the panel that EFCC’s decision to “drop all charges against the rest of the defendants in Charge No. FHC/419C/2019 and to prosecute me alone, is most unjustified, unwarranted and unsupportable.”

He further stated that “EFCC’s continued indifference, neglect and refusal to charge (and or re-institute) a criminal allegation against the real persons who received and had possession of the alleged monies “moved from NNPC” shows the mischief of the EFCC; and further attests to Mr. Magu’s unprofessional and deliberate vindictiveness against persons like me who refuse to “co-operate” with him and his fronts.”

Action speak louder than voice

In his time as head of EFCC, Magu continued to reiterate government’s resolve to stamp out corruption from the polity. Till he was arrested the former anti corruption czar mouthed how the agency was winning the anti corruption fight through various conviction of corrupt persons.

He insisted that in spite of obstacles placed on the part of the commission, he would not be deterred as he is focused and determined to make a success of his job.

However, reports from the panel’s sitting revealed that the suspended chairman of EFCC Mr Magu, failed to submit the audited accounts of the agency taking advantage of the non-confirmation of his appointment by the Senate to avoid accountability leading to his current woes.

By Section 37 of the establishment act, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment, ETC) Act 2004, the commission is required to submit its report, including its audited account to the National Assembly every year. This Magu failed to do in the past four years.

Even all of his predecessors who served as substantive chairmen submitted their yearly audited account.

A major allegation against Magu which just refused to go away over time was the issue of ‘Magu boys’

Former Sen Shehu Sani, who is now having a running battle with the agency, had alleged that Magu actually made use of some officers to carry out wicked operations and report solely to him.

In a Facebook post last month (July), the former senator stated that, “Contrary to the facade you see from the outside, the EFCC has been run by an inside cult called ‘the Magu Boys’ or ‘Chairman Squad’.

“They are a select cream of vicious and cruel officers who operate exclusively and with impunity and only report directly to their boss.”

Thought Sani’s post cannot be verified, the recent redeployment of officials considered to be too loyal and committed to the embattled officer attest to the fact.

The 20 officials the government has identified as ‘Magu boys’ comprise zonal and sectional heads that were arrowheads of the EFCC’s investigations, arrest and prosecution over the years.

These officials, according to a close source, are believed to be handling ‘very sensitive corruption cases’ some of which involve very senior government officials and politicians as well as top businessmen and allies of politicians across the country.

It was rumoured that aggrieved staff helped to nail their former acting head as they leaked sensitive information to the AGF.

Magu who consistently railed our figures of recovered funds and properties, unfortunately, could not tidy his books as there were noticeable discrepancies which he failed to give proper account of.

It was alleged that some of his boys either sold off some of the recovered properties to their cronies or outrightly bought them for themselves. It was obvious that while Magu was saying one thing, he was indeed doing the opposite. He failed to adhere the simple maxim of “he that must come to equity must come with a clean hand.”

The former acting head of the anti graft agency allowed himself to be sucked in, and that is not the way to wage an anti corruption war.

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