The last 48 hours have been rather exciting in the newsroom. The irony of the Economic and Financial Crime boss, Ibrahim Magu’s travail has a rather tragi-comic element to it.
Nigeria’s anti-corruption alpha dog allegedly caught with his snout in the soup pot is the stuff playwrights dream of.
The import of this unfolding event has far greater ramifications than most realise. It is not the fact that President Muhammadu’s Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign is working, as some people might want to spin it, it is that it has fallen flat on its face, like most other presidential promises, after throwing five years of a country’s hopes down the drain.
Tragic as it is, it Magu’s fall also has 2023 written all over it. What makes this scenario even more tragic is that Magu was not just anyone’s anti-corruption alpha dog, he was president Muhammadu’s Buhari’s anti-corruption alpha dog.
The Buhari whose 12-year-long campaign to be president was premised on the vow to fight corruption, whose election victory in 2015 was delivered by Nigerians who believed he, thought to have zero tolerance for corruption, was going to correct the rampant venality of the Jonathan years.
The irony is also in the fact that this Buhari chose this Magu to spearhead this important compact he had with Nigerians and insisted on this same person when the Senate rejected, repeatedly, his nomination as EFCC chair. The Senate’s rejection of Magu’s nomination was based on a couple of issues.
One was a report by the Department of State Services (DSS) alleging that Magu had failed its integrity test, and claims also by then-Senate President Bukola Saraki, who would later be hounded by Magu, that Buhari did not lobby, (read in Nigerian English: do the right thing) to get Magu’s confirmation.
The senate even protested Buhari’s refusal to sack Magu by suspending its screening of other presidential nominees.
Whatever the case, Buhari stuck to his guns. Twice he nominated Magu and twice the senate turned him down. So Buhari kept him in acting capacity as his anti-corruption czar for five long years. No one has been served longer in an acting capacity.
That faith the president had in Magu, his unshakeable belief in him made many people with little information about Magu wonder what could be so special about this man?
Many fantasized about him being some incorruptible warrior and put the senate’s refusal to confirm his appointment down to the senators’ fear of his honesty and desire to rid the country of corrupt officials.
Considering a good number of people in the senate have corruption cases to answer to, it all made sense. Until it didn’t.
The curiosity died rather too quickly and within months, Magu’s smash and grab approach to fighting corruption murdered, quietly, any expectations Nigerians had.
His primordial method of arresting suspects and hoping to get a confession out of them before striking a deal with them did not inspire confidence.
The incompetent handling of corruption investigations meant that most cases the EFCC took to court were dismissed on the bases of incompetent investigation, or prosecution, seeing suspected corrupt officials walking away with their looted assets and laughing at Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign.
There was, in all honesty, nothing calculated about Magu’s approach and it became clear, even to all the people who, before May 29, 2015, fled in dread of the anticipated anti-corruption gale, that Buhari’s principal campaign pledge was nothing but a vuvuzela—noisy, ear-grating, delivering neither melody nor results.
It took years for Magu’s EFCC to deliver a conviction and even that was for a case his predecessor under Jonathan had initiated.
By that time, rumours of Magu’s questionable integrity were rife, of EFCC officials striking deals with suspects, collecting a cut from the loot in exchange for freedom for the suspects and safety from further investigations.
Many observers had predicted Magu’s ignominy, not many expected it to happen soon, especially under Buhari, who seems averse to investigating his officials indicted for corruption.
Both Buhari and his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo vouched for him and as acting president during one of Buhari’s travels stuck his neck out for him because he knew him personally. “The president said he believed in what he was doing and had his support.
I want to also affirm here that Magu has my support. As far as I remain the acting president, Magu remains,” Osinbajo said. And perhaps if things hadn’t changed in the villa in the last few months, Magu might still have been sitting pretty.
The fact that he was hounded and ushered to a panel of investigation by DSS operatives was perhaps possible because of the power tussle in Aso Rock.
One of Magu’s staunchest supporters, Abba Kyari is no longer in the picture, the others, Tinubu and Osinbanjo, who once told journalists that “Magu is going nowhere” have fallen out of favour and the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, who has strong ties with the DSS is consolidating his hold.
Magu may just be a pawn in this tussle but that is not to say he did not lay his own bed. The wider implication of Magu’s fall from grace, and such a dramatic fall it was, is what it means for Buhari’s anti-corruption vuvuzela.
It means that the person the president, against the wisdom of the DSS report, the rejection and protest of the senate and the whispers of Nigerians, and his vice president, have personally vouched for, defended and assured was faultless, and above all entrusted with driving their key campaign promise has been a shimmering shadow.
That it took them five years to see this is baffling. This whole episode has been nothing but a solid facepalm in the face of any pretensions this administration had about fighting corruption.
What remains to be seen though is would this be the death knell of these pretensions, the silencing of Buhari’s anti-corruption vuvuzela or would it be salvation for it. If the presidency now replaces Magu’s wild smash and grab approach that failed to deliver any tangible results in five years with someone with a more systematic approach to fighting corruption and a whole lot more integrity, perhaps it would reboot this aspect Buhari has been promising Nigerians for the past 18 years.
The reality is with all the politicking around this, and the position for 2023, this is hard to see. But wouldn’t it be just fantastic if the president disappointed us and made the right appointment? Whatever integrity his anti-corruption claims have left, and I don’t imagine there is much of it left, is dependent on this.