As the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, answers the charges against him before the Directorate of Security Services (DSS) and an administrative panel headed by former President of Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, Deputy Editor, EMMANUEL OLADESU, reports that another chapter is about to close in the annals of EFCC.
Another chapter is about to close in the annals of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Its Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, is in the eye of the storm. Like his predecessors – Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Mrs. Farida Waziri and Ibrahim Lamorde – his fate hangs in the balance as he answers charges before the Directorate of Security Services (DSS) and an administrative panel headed by former President of Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami.
Magu, a police officer and pioneer staff of the anti-graft body, occupies an important position as anti-financial crime czar because the war against corruption is a major pillar of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The president has approved his suspension. Is the end of an era not imminent?
Opinion is divided on his current ordeals, which were a culmination of his nasty experiences since his appointment.
The hunter has become the hunted. Some observers contend that Magu is about to be consumed by political intrigues in the high corridor of power, ahead of 2023. Will he be sacrificed on the alter of real politik?
Although Justice Salami, head of the fact-finding committee, promised a fair hearing, the manner of his invitation without a letter, according to sources, conveyed the impression that he was hijacked on the road and taken to custody.
To the critics, the approach was less than honourable under an administration that pontificates on the rule of law and due process.
But, some commentators also argue that the allegations levelled against him are weighty, stressing that nobody is above investigation.
Therefore, he should not be insulated from trial and punishment for indulgence in infractions, if found culpable. To the latter group, Magu may be the architect of his own predicament.
The allegations against the embattled acting chairman include:
- Alleged discrepancies in the reconciliation records of the EFCC and the Federal Ministry of Finance on recovered funds;
- Declaration of N539billion as recovered funds instead of N504b earlier claimed;
- Insubordination to the Office of the AGF by not seeking his approval on some decisions;
- Not providing enough evidence for the extradition of ex-Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke;
- Alleged late action on the investigation of Process and Industrial Development (P&ID) leading to legal dispute;
- Not respecting court order to unfreeze a N7billion judgment in favour of a former executive director of First Bank;
- Alleged delay in acting on two vessels seized by Nigerian Navy leading to the loss of crude;
- Alleged favouring of some investigators called Magu’s Boys;
- Reporting some judges to their presiding officers without deferring to the AGF;
- Alleged sales of seized assets to cronies, associates and friends, and
- Alleged issuance of investigative activities to some media prejudicial to some cases.
GENESIS OF EFCC
A wild applause greeted the establishment of the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, 17 years ago.
That followed serious warnings by development experts who had established a link between graft in high places and the failure of governance.
They pointed out that the country may continue to wallow in poverty, squalor and underdevelopment, unless the bad eggs are edged out and brought to book to serve as deterrents.
Before the commission was conceived by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the country’s reputation had been smeared by graft. Efforts by successive administrations to curb it were abortive.
When Gen. Muhammadu Buhari toppled the civilian authorities in 1983, he cited corruption to justify his action. Therefore, when Obasanjo took over in 1999, stemming the drift became a priority.
In particular, the agency was set up as a response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), which named Nigeria as one of 23 countries that had refused to cooperate with the international community in its avowed commitment to eradicate money laundering and advance fee fraud.
According to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2003, the agency is designated as the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in Nigeria, with the responsibility of co-coordinating the various institutions fighting money laundering and the enforcement of all laws dealing with economic and financial sabotage; counterfeiting, illegal charge transfers, market fraud, fraudulent encashment of negotiable instruments, credit card fraud, and contract scam.
Its powers also include the adoption of measures to identify, freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from terrorist activities, economic and financial crime-related offences.
In consonance with the EFCC Act, the search light has been beamed on suspected individuals, corporate bodies or groups.
At its inception, tracked down corrupt politicians and public officials, particularly serving governors, ministers, National Assembly members and members of boards and parastatals, who looted the treasury and enriched themselves to the detriment of other citizens. The fear of EFCC became the beginning of wisdom.
Prominent politicians who have been tried and convicted include former Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and his Taraba counterpart, Pastor Jolly Nyame. Many have been on trial for more than 12 years and there is no end in sight.
However, living to its billings has been very challenging in a country where corruption has been fighting back and legal frameworks have often been subverted or undermined to derail the anti-corruption crusade.
The agency has faced two challenges that had thwarted its efforts. These are the lengthy or prolonged prosecution time frame, absence of a separate anti-financial crime tribunal or court to speed up trials, and political pressures.
A legal luminary, Yusuf Ali (SAN), who in the past had dissected the problems confronting the agency, said public apprehension over the fate of the corrupt cases filed by the EFCC was not misplaced. He observed that the time frame for disposing the cases had often been too long.
Ali identified major reasons for the protracted litigations. He doubted if the EFFC had qualified people to handle its investigation.
He said, if investigations were not thoroughly done, the case would suffer series of adjournment. “The question one could ask here should be whether the EFCC has done its assignment properly before heading to court,” he stressed.
Second, the defendants often fight back through their lawyers, who capitalise on the loopholes in the charges preferred against them and apply for frequent adjournment.
Third, the EFCC prosecution needs specialised training so that they could file the charges properly and appear at every hearing without encumbrance.
Fourth, Nigerians attitude to cases of corruption is not helpful. “There is no pressure on anybody to do the right thing,” the lawyer added.
Also, he said the judiciary must be well equipped to perform. “Our judges still record court proceeding in long hand, which prolongs trial of cases”, he fumed.
Lawyer and human rights activist, Chidi Ewulum, blamed the slow dispensation of justice on the EFCC’s shady investigation and the penchant for filing amendment charges against accused persons after their arraignment.
He said the defendants’ counsel always seize that opportunity to ask for adjournments to enable them study and respond to the new charges.
Ewulum observed that the lawyers hired by the EFCC for the prosecution have con tributed to the setbacks. He suspected that many of them may connive with the defence team to elongate the suits, especially, those involving highly placed persons for their mutual benefit.
He also observed that former governors on trial followed a familiar pattern of challenging the jurisdiction of the courts.
In his view, the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice may be a clog in the wheel of EFCC because the minister may dictate to the commission on the case to prosecute or not. He called for full autonomy for the EFCC, if corruption must be reduced in the civil and public service.
However, the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, claimed that those accusing the commission of abandoning the case files of corrupt politicians and governors do so out of ignorance. He said the anti-graft agency has done so much and had taken high profile cases to court to determine.
He lamented that, in spite of the commission’s efforts to change the mindset of Nigeria that culprits are facing the law, corruption seems to pervade all the facets of the economy.
EFCC CHAIRMEN’S TURBULENT TENURE
From 2003 to date, EFCC has been led by four chairmen. They are Ribadu, Waziri, Lamorde and Magu. The first three bowed out in controversial circumstances. It is doubtful if the acting chairman can escape the same fate.
The pioneer chairman, Ribadu, police officer and lawyer, wanted to set a high standard in the commission. The career law enforcement officer fought the war with vigour.
Yet, his tenure was full of tension as the formidable forces he was combating were not willing to surrender. Obasanjo, who appointed him, was impressed by his performance. He said he would re-appoint him, if he had the opportunity to do so.
Ribadu has no precedence to lean on as a crime fighter. Although he was well prepared for the job as an expert, EFCC was a different terrain, unlike the police.
Reflecting on his appointment, the Adamawa-born anti-graft executive said: “My appointment as the Chairman of the EFCC was a call to take up a turbulent task.
I had to follow the statements of my previously written will to serve in a country where there is lack of functional institutions to check the mismanagement of public funds and related criminal misconduct.
Trust in public institutions had been demolished and perpetrators went about wearing their crimes like badges of honour.
He added: “I was given an appointment to stand in the way of these celebrated fraudsters, without an office and funds to launch my operations.
But, we went on to form what became a prime anti-corruption body in the country. Our activities are left for history and honest critics of political evolution to gauge and tell of our impact.”
Under Ribadu, the commission tackled financial corruption by prosecuting and convicting a number of high-profile corrupt individuals, ranging from Nigeria’s former chief law enforcement officer to many bank chief executives.
In 2005, the EFCC arrested government officials, including former Bayelsa State Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
In September 2006, the agency had concluded investigations on 31 of 36 governors for corruption. In April 2008, it investigated Obasanjo’s daughter, Senator Iyabo Bello, for allegedly receiving N10 million ($100,000) from the Ministry of Health.
The former Health Minister, Prof. Nike Grange, and her deputy, Chief Gabriel Duku, were tried over N30,000,000 ($300,000) unspent funds from the ministry. The court later exonerated them.
Towards the end of his tenure, things went awry for the charismatic chairman. A series of events almost made his tenure to end in anti-climax.
It was alleged that the former President was using the commission to witch-hunt perceived political foes. Ribadu was criticised for selective anti-corruption war.
Also, he claimed that the bar and the bench threw obstacles on his path by unduly prolonging litigations in courts.
For example, a former governor succeeded in obtaining a perpetual injunction restraining EFCC from probing his activities as governor.
Following the peaceful change of government in 2007, Ribadu was at crossroads under the Yar’Adua administration. Some ex-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors turned the heat on him.
On August 6, 2008, the poster boy met a brick wall. Ribadu saw the handwriting on the wall. But, he could not avert his fall.
He was demoted from Assistant-Inspector General (AIG) to Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP). He was sent to the Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, for a course.
He reacted to the humiliation by refusing the service transfer. Ribadu disappeared into the air, only to reappear later as a politician.
On June 6, 2008, Waziri, police officer and lawyer, was sworn in as the chairperson of the EFCC. Her tenure was short-lived and turbulent.
She spent only three years in office. She operated under certain constraints. Yet, critics always used the Ribadu era as a yardstick for judging her performance.
One of the criticisms that trailed her appointment and tumultuous reign was that she was sponsored by former PDP governors, who were close to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua.
In September 14, 2010, the Head of the Forensic Unit of the EFCC, Abdullahi Muazu, was assassinated in Kaduna. He had been actively involved in the trials of several heads of banks.
Many critics complained that the war had slowed down, pointing out that fewer convictions were secured.
Waziri was alarmed at the behaviour of suspects who stormed the courts during their trials with drums and supporters who cheered them.
The suspects would wave at the rented crowd, thereby conveying the impression that they were being victimised by the government.
The former chairperson was dismissed by President Goodluck Jonathan on November 23, 2011. She claimed in her memoir, ‘One Step Ahead,’ that she was shoved aside because EFCC under her leadership was pursuing oil thieves who were behind the oil subsidy scam. But, the former president maintained that he sacked her in national interest.
Lamorde, who replaced Waziri as Acting Chairman, was confirmed as the chairman on February 15, 2012 by the Senate.
He was a pioneer staff of EFCC, often described as the “valiant heart” of the commission and the rallying point in the partnership between the EFCC and its strategic allies. He served twice as the Director of Operations and Acting Chairman.
Lamorde is a professional with vast experience in fraud investigation spanning more than two decades. He was a silent operator; hardworking and diligent.
While he was with the SFU, he served with the United Nations Civilian Police in East Timor from March 2000 to March 2001. He was the Chief Investigation Officer of Ermera District of East Timor.
In September 2002, he was transferred to Oyo State, where he served as Divisional Police Officer, until April 2003. Following the birth of EFCC, he was seconded to serve as the Director of Operations from April 2003 to December, 2007.
He was appointed the Ag. Chairman of the EFCC in January, 2008 to May, 2008. He was recalled back to the Nigeria Police and posted to the Area Command in Ningi, Bauchi State as the Area Commander from June, 2008 to November 2008.
He was later redeployed to the Bauchi State Police Command, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) as the Officer -in -Charge.
In December 2010, he was recalled to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as Director of Operations. He held that position until his appointment as the Ag. Chairman of the EFCC on Wednesday, November 23, 2011.
He supervised the prosecution of 522 ‘Advance Fee Fraud’ cases at various High Courts between April 2003 and June 2008. The efforts led to the extradition of three fugitives to the United States.
However, his tenure ended on a sore note. He was accused of fraternising with key politicians and public figures. He was also floated for the curious slowness in the investigation and prosecution of some ex-governors.
The Senate alleged that $5billion was missing in the EFCC, adding that the money was illegally diverted. Later, George Uboh sent a petition to the government, alleging serious infractions by the agency.
The image of the commission was dented by these controversies. The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions was set up to investigate Lamorde.
In 2016, the Senate resolved that a warrant of arrest should be issued on him for allegedly misappropriating N1 trillion.
Irked by the public outcry, Lamorde was removed by President Buhari on November 9, 2015.
Magu, Assistant Commissioner of Police, came on board on November 11, 2015. It was at a historic moment when President Buhari believed that if Nigeria refused to kill corruption, the menace will kill the country.
Immediately, the acting chairman swung into action. He became a terror to corrupt public officials, earning respect as a tough and thorough investigator, whose experience, skill and style could make the bravest fret and tremble. He was on the firing line against the symbols of sleaze.
Never in the history of the anti-corruption battle in Nigeria has the war been taken more seriously. He took the battle to the doorsteps of the elite who were responsible for the national economic adversity. In the last four years, the country has been hot for the looters of the national treasury.
However, despite his indomitable passion, patriotism, courage and self-confidence, a dark cloud hovered over his illustrious career at the point of securing the position of acting chairman. .
The mud splattered on him by the rejection of his nomination by the Senate provoked a perception burden that boxed him and the agency he heads into a sort of dilemma.
The impression was also created in the international community that the anti-graft battle had suffered a setback. Magu was under scrutiny from day one. Some commentators said he was a victim of high level conspiracy.
On his first day in office, he promised to “ginger up” the anti-corruption campaign. “There is the need to make sure that whatever is gotten for common use does not end up in private pockets,” he said, charging the EFCC operatives to be up and doing.
The acting chairman expressed bitterness over the penchant for fraud by some unscrupulous leaders. He said he often shed tears over billions of naira looted by past leaders.
If the money had been channeled properly to the country’s development, Nigeria would have become an Eldorado, he added.
In five years, Magu’s achievements almost dwarfed those of his predecessors, whose tenures ended controversially.
Many believed that he was fully prepared for the arduous task. Apart from having a degree in Accounting, he was trained in financial crimes investigation at the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and London Metropolitan Police Institute.
He was a pioneer staff of the EFCC under Ribadu. His assignment was very tedious. He was Head of the Economic Governance Unit (EGU), which is responsible for investigating powerful and influential senior government officials.
His colleagues at work described him as a competent and diligent investigator, who pursued his official duties with a missionary zeal. The EGU is a sensitive unit. As the head of the unit, Magu spearheaded some important investigations.
They include the role of former Kwara State Governor and Senate President Bukola Saraki in the collapse of Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria.
He also probed former Delta State Governor James Ibori, who was convicted for money laundering in the United Kingdom.
Magu was part of the team that investigated the Halliburton bribery scandal. The investigators submitted a report which indicted top government functionaries. But, it was thrown into the dustbin.
Besides, Magu has been involved in unravelling the arms scandal which had ensnared leading members of the Jonathan administration.
He was a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption and the investigative committee set up by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, on the orders of President Buhari to probe the procurement of arms in the armed forces from 2007 to 2015.
His career at EFCC has not been a bed of Rose’s. It has been full of ups and downs. In August 2008, he was accused of illegally keeping the case files of top politicians being investigated by the commission.
His house in Abuja was searched on the orders of Mrs. Waziri. Some of his property were carted away by the EFCC operatives.
After days in detention, nothing incriminating was found against him. He was subsequently redeployed to the police and posted to Delta State.
His saving grace was Lamorde, who bounced back as EFCC chairman in 2011. Having worked with him when he was the Head of the Operations Unit, he could vouch for him.
His return to the commission was initially blocked. But, Lamorde prevailed on former President Jonathan to approve the redeployment.
Not even in his wildest imagination would it have occurred to him that he would eventually succeed Lamorde.
Under Magu, the agency investigated more suspects and secured convictions. More looted funds were also recovered. Like his predecessors, he complained that the corruption cases were “slower” because of the intricacies and judicial processes involved.
But, many stakeholders, particularly lawyers, lauded the increasingly-used plea bargaining process, which has raised the speed of litigation and made culprits to return some of the looted funds.
EFCC was no respecter of persons under Magu. Prominent Nigerians captured by the EFCC radar include Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of the former president, Senator Saraki, Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose, former NSA Col. Ibrahim Dasuki (rtd), former Minister of Aviation Femi Fani-Kayode, former Minister of State for Defense Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, former Oyo State Governor Rashidi Ladoja, his Abia State counterpart, Orji Kalu, and former Petroleum Ministers Diezani Alison-Madueke and Dan Etete, and former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Mohammed Adoke.
Apart from politicians, many senior lawyers, judges, other judicial officers, businessmen, National Pension Commission (PenCom) officials, and private citizens are in the EFCC net over allegations of corruption. Schools, hospitals, companies, clubs and societies were also investigated over fraud.
Also, EFCC officials were not shielded from probe and prosecution. In fact, in recent times, Magu has placed the operatives under surveillance, following complaints by members of the public about the handling of corruption cases.
To Magu, EFCC deserves a pass mark for “conviction, commitment and professionalism.” However, the assertion is disputed by his critics.
The opposition PDP has flayed the agency for what it described as its discriminatory approach, alleging that it has become a tool for witch-hunting its members.
Also, lawyers have pointed out that the commission has often violated the rule of law and breached human rights of suspects in the prosecution of its anti-corruption war.
In fact, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) had decried the EFCC’s activities, urging the Federal Government to reduce its powers and sphere of operations.
NBA proposed that the commission be limited to investigation while prosecution should be handled by an independent prosecution agency. The suggestion sparked a row between the NBA and the commission.
At a lecture in Lagos, Magu also took on some “dark forces” and “a gang of rogue elements,” who he accused of plotting to hijack the powers of the EFCC to battle economic and financial crimes.
He was silent on who the dark forces were. But, he said categorically that the forces fighting for the soul of the agency and seeking to appropriate its functions and powers were after its derailment.
Magu pointed out that, since the judiciary is critical to the success of the anti-corruption war, judges should be above board. He doubted if the third arm of government has been repositioned to play the role effectively. Some lawyers and judges, he said, have given the bar and the bench a bad name.
“The biggest form of corruption is not the ones you find in government offices or banks; it is not the ones plaguing the oil industry or pension administration.
The biggest, most virulent form of corruption that ever existed is the one that has eaten deep into the fabric of the temple of justice,” he added.
Indeed, Magu had stepped on some toes. Thus, ahead of the Senate confirmation in 2015, aggrieved stakeholders had clearly been sharpening their arrows and knives to take a pound of flesh from him. The Presidency and the Senate were polarised over Magu and his future.
The security report submitted by the Department of State Services (DSS) ultimately became the weapon exploited to nail the anti-corruption fighter. The crux of the problem was that the DSS claimed Magu has failed the “integrity test.”
Although there was another security report which made a case for Magu’s confirmation, the clarification did not halt the damage done by the first report. Interestingly, the injurious DSS report was a wide departure from the report of other security agencies, including the police and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which cleared him.
According to the controversial report, Magu’s confirmation would create a liability for the anti-corruption drive. The report reminded the Senate that the acting chairman was indicted by the Police Service Commission (PSC) over an alleged misdemeanour.
Also, the report pointed out that his house was searched and sensitive materials which were not supposed to be with him were found there.
Magu was also accused of ostentatious lifestyle; he lived in an apartment with an annual rent of N20 million and the money is not paid by the EFCC.
He was also alleged to have flown first class to Saudi Arabia for the lesser hajj, contrary to a presidential directive.
The allegation that sensitive documents were found in Magu’s house haunted him during the tenure of Mrs. Waziri. Magu was queried by the former Inspector-General of Police, Mike Okiro, for withholding EFCC files.
His defence should have elicited a clean bill of health. On August 25, 2008, he replied the query, stating that no unauthorized official document or any incriminating material was found in his house. He said he only took some files home to work on them.
Magu stated as follows: “I wish to state that the nature of my assignment at the EFCC is such that I worked round the clock and it is impossible for me to do my work effectively without working on some documents at home.
This is the reason I maintain an office bag where documents relating to investigations were kept. The document listed were found in my office bag, which I was in the process of handing over and were not found hidden anywhere in my house.
“It is therefore, not correct that I bluntly refused to hand over the EFCC’s property and documents. I had just concluded handing over the Abuja office and I was in Lagos to conclude handing over the Lagos office when the search was conducted.
At the time of the search, I had not reported to my new command. It could therefore, not be my intention to keep government documents in my house.”
Magu complained to Okiro that he had been maltreated for serving the EFCC and the country diligently. He said the allegations against him were false.
He said: “I have suffered untold humiliation within the past one month. My home was ransacked, vandalized and my properties destroyed by men of the EFCC. I was detained for three weeks in a cell meant for hardened criminals.”
Instructively, after the investigation, Magu was exonerated by Okiro. He was later posted to the Special Fraud Unit of the police and promoted to the rank of an Assistant Commissioner of Police.
Questions have also been raised over the second allegation that Magu lived in a house rented for N20 million annually and that the bill was offset by Umar, and not the EFCC.
It was gathered that the property was paid for by the Federal Capital Development Administration (FCDA). The house is located at Maitama District.
Magu, who was living in Karu, an Abuja suburb, before he became the acting chairman, moved into the official residence.
Since the inception of the EFCC, only Magu was not confirmed by the Senate, following his nomination by the president. The acting chairman never triumphed over the confirmation hurdles. Also, past allegations have continued to hunt him.
The current charges were built on those past allegations to make him a moral liability unfit for the office of a czar. Will he survive? The chances, said sources, are slim.
But, what also becomes of the agency after his predictable exit?
There are other puzzles: Who succeeds him? Will his successor be above politicking? Will previous accusation of manipulation and witch hunting of perceived political enemies also hunt the commission in the future?
Will the new helmsman in post-Magu era reposition the commission and rekindle public confidence?
Time will tell.