Buhari Weighs Options on Magu, Fowler’s Tenure

Muhammadu Buhari
  • President to decide whether to extend their tenures as done for military chiefs, or give them second terms

Yemi Ajayi, Chiemelie Ezeobi in Lagos and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

As the tenure of Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, and the Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler, come to an end, their fate hang in the balance with President Muhammadu Buhari weighing his options on the leadership of the two prime agencies.

Although there is lack of clarity on their effective dates of appointments, presidency sources told THISDAY wednesday that the president would definitely make a decision within weeks.

While Magu was appointed in acting capacity on November 9, 2015 and would clock four years on Saturday, Fowler was announced on an interim basis on August 18, 2015 but got Senate confirmation on December 9, 2015.

With Fowler, whose tenure terminal date ran into a web of controversy a few months ago, contending that his effective date of appointment was December 9, 2015, making next month his end of tenure, Magu’s case is more complex, having regard to his non- confirmation by the Senate.
THISDAY investigations revealed that the president has been under intense pressure by politicians, top government officials and others in the last few months to take a decision on Magu and Fowler.

While some of the lobbyists, especially influential politicians, were said to be mounting pressure on the president to drop them, both are said to enjoy the confidence of some government officials and some dignitaries who want their tenure extended.

The options, a presidential source said, were for the president to retain them by giving them a new term, extend their tenure or drop them.
The president, for instance, could either reappoint Magu for another term of four years, in line with Section 3(1) of the EFCC Act or to replace him.
Section 3(1) of the EFCC Act states: “The Chairman and members of the Commission other than ex-officio members, shall hold office for a period of four years and may be re-appointed for a further term of four years and no more.”

It was gathered there were so many forces arrayed against Magu and his chances of remaining in the EFCC beyond the expiration of his first term tenure would depend on which of the group of the lobbyists win with the president.

But some sources told THISDAY yesterday that the president might retain Magu by making him also a beneficiary of the tenure extension being enjoyed by the four services chiefs: the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin; the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai; the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar; and Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas.

It was learnt that Magu, enjoyed the confidence of the president, which was why he was retained despite his rejection by the Eighth Senate, which refused to confirm his nomination as substantive EFCC chairman.

Twice, Magu’s nomination was sent for ratification and on both occasions, he was rejected.

In explaining his rejection when he was first considered on December 15, 2016, the Senate had said it refused to confirm Magu based on security report, in an apparent reference to the mandatory report from the Department of State Services (DSS) on nominees for top public office appointments, available to the senators.

The then Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi, had said the Senate took the decision after a closed-door meeting, adding: “The Senate wishes to inform the public that based on available security report, the Senate cannot proceed with the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

“The nomination of Ibrahim Magu is hereby rejected and has been returned to the President for further action.”
The same fate befell Magu when he was re-presented for confirmation in March 2017.

The Senate had again rejected his nomination as the DSS upheld its earlier position that Magu was not fit for the position.
When Magu appeared in the Senate for confirmation on March 15, 2017, Senator Dino Melaye had read out a portion of the DSS report, which stated: “In the light of the foregoing, Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption stand of the current government.”

During the screening, Magu had satisfactorily answered the senators’ questions but he was confronted with the DSS verdict on him.
However, he had questioned the trustworthiness of the DSS report, adding that the security agency sent out two reports on him with different contents.

“What do you say about credibility of that agency?” he had asked rhetorically.

But despite his rejection, the president had rebuffed entreaties to replace him then; thereby leaving him to continue in office in acting capacity.
Under Magu’s watch, the EFCC has recovered about N939.51billion in four years and secured about 1,636 convictions, including those of two former governors: Senator Joshua Dariye (Plateau State) and Jolly Nyame (Taraba State)

Analysts asked yesterday whether given the controversy that heralded his confirmation hearing, the president would just reappoint him or return him to the Senate for confirmation for a second tenure given a new found friendly relations the executive has with the legislature.

When contacted on whether the president would retain Magu or replace him, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, told THISDAY to get back to him at a given period with the aim of obtaining information on Magu’s fate from higher authorities.
However, when he was reached again over the matter yesterday, he said he was unable to secure any response on Magu’s fate.
“I am unable to get the responses to your question,” he said.

The president had named Fowler as acting chairman of the agency on August 18, 2015 to replace its former Coordinating Director, Mr. Samuel Odugbesan, who was put in the position five months earlier.

The Senate on December 9, 2015, confirmed his appointment for four-year tenure.

However, the commencement of his tenure had sparked a legal battle following a suit filed by an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr. Stanley Okwara, seeking an order of the court to sack him on the grounds that his tenure lapsed on August 18, 2019.

Okwara, in the suit No FHC/KN/CS/141/2019, had asked the Federal High Court, sitting in Kano, to order Fowler to vacate his office.

But a lawyer with the FIRS, Mr. Barry Chukwu, in an affidavit dated September 30, had countered Okwara’s claim, saying Fowler’s tenure could only have been said to have started counting in the aftermath of the Senate’s ratification of his nomination.

Chukwu, in an affidavit, had said: “Following a meeting by the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the 9th December, 2015, Fowler was confirmed as the substantive Executive Chairman of the FIRS.

“The following day, 10th December 2015, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, informed President Muhammadu Buhari of Fowler’s suitability for confirmation as substantive Executive Chairman of the FIRS.

“Based on this, Fowler’s appointment as Executive Chairman did not take effect on 20 August, 2015 when he was appointed as the acting FIRS Chairman.”
He also quoted a letter from the then Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, to the president, informing him of Fowler’s confirmation as the FIRS chairman.

“Your Excellency may, therefore, wish to formally appoint the confirmed nominee as Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service,” Saraki’s letter, dated 15 December 2015, read in part.

The court, however, struck out Okwara’s suit, upholding the preliminary objection filed by Fowler’s counsel, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), that the plaintiff had no locus standi to file the suit.