•Panel recommends his suspension
•Security agents search residence, detain him at FCID
•Presidency says EFCC boss not above probe
Iyobosa Uwugiaren and Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The travail of Acting Executive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, persisted yesterday as the presidential investigation of his alleged wrongdoing entered the fourth week with widespread speculation that he might have been suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Although there was no official confirmation of the speculated suspension, a reliable presidency source told THISDAY last night that the presidential panel has recommended that the anti-graft boss stands down pending the outcome of the investigation.
That Magu is on his way out was given credence by an off-the-record briefing yesterday by a top presidential official who said the ongoing investigation of Magu was a bold statement that nobody under the Buhari administration is above the law.
Magu, who was flagged down on Monday in traffic by senior security agents and whisked to the Villa to appear before the presidential panel investigating allegations of corrupt practices levelled against him by the Attorney-General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami SAN, was brought before the panel led by Justice Ayo Salami again on Tuesday.
However, the panel was said to have recommended the suspension of the EFCC chairman to pave the way for his unhindered investigation.
THISDAY had reported exclusively in its June 19 edition of the newspaper that Malami had in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari detailed alleged cases of malfeasance against Magu, and sought his removal for alleged corruption and insubordination.
Malami anchored his recommendation on several grounds “raging from diversion of recovered loot to insubordination and misconduct” by Magu; while including a shortlist of three candidates for consideration to replace the anti-corruption agency’s boss.
The president subsequently constituted the Justice Salami panel to investigate the allegations with a clear mandate to ensure fairness for Magu.
THISDAY learnt that the panel went to work four weeks ago taking evidence on the allegations, and in keeping with the presidential mandate on fairness invited Magu on Monday to confront the weight of evidence against him.
A senior EFCC operative told THISDAY in Abuja that the suspension of Magu had been communicated to the anti-corruption agency’s headquarters.
However, the source stated that the next most senior EFCC official next to Magu had been asked to take charge.
But another source said the ongoing investigation of Magu had created a lull in the activities of the agency as no one is currently in charge.
He explained that the seeming leadership vacuum triggered speculations yesterday that Buhari had suspended Magu.
THISDAY learnt that the story might have been conceived by some staff of the commission who thought that its publication would force the hand of the president to do so.
It was also learnt yesterday that the staff of the commission were at a loss on what to do about matters which can only be handled by the acting chairman.
“If he has been officially suspended over the allegations, the officer in charge of operations at the commission would have acted in his place.
“As it is now, that cannot happen and everyone appears to be playing safe,” a source close to the EFCC said.
The norm in public service is to suspend an officer that is being investigated and appoint the next most senior officer to act, but THISDAY learnt yesterday that the president is awaiting the report of the probe panel before making his next move on Magu.
However, a top presidential source told State House reporters that the interrogation of the embattled anti-graft boss was meant to accord him a fair hearing by presenting him the platform to defend himself against allegations levelled against him.
According to him, the probe is an expression of the administration’s commitment to the principle of transparency and accountability, adding that anyone who occupies an office of that magnitude must live above suspicion.
He said the Buhari administration would continue to operate in the spirit of justice and fairness.
He said: “The panel investigating allegations against acting EFCC chairman had been sitting for some weeks now. In consonance with the principle of fairness and justice, it was needful that the acting chairman be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations, which are weighty in nature.
“Under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, nobody is above scrutiny. Repeat: nobody. The investigation is to reinforce transparency and accountability, rather than to vitiate it.
“Accountability for our actions or inactions is an inalienable part of democracy. In such an elevated position as that of EFCC chairman, the holder of the position must be above suspicion.
“There’s no prejudgment; absolutely none. The Buhari administration can be counted on to uphold fairness and justice at all times.”
Magu, who has been in police custody since Monday, returned to the Presidential Villa, Abuja to continue his defence yesterday.
The panel had quizzed Magu for six hours on Monday after he was accosted by security agents while driving out of the EFCC annex headquarters in Abuja and made to appear before the presidential panel.
At noon yesterday, members of the panel were noticed at the old banquet hall of the Presidential Villa venue of the investigation after which a convoy of three cars that was obviously conveying some notable personalities drove into the premises at 12.37 pm.
THISDAY could not ascertain if Magu, who was reportedly detained throughout the night, was in the convoy which consisted of two Toyota Hilux vans conveying some security personnel who provided cover for the car.
Some personnel of the DSS at the gate gave the convoy free access to the venue but denied “unauthorised” persons, including journalists, from gaining entry into the venue.
They turned back journalists, who tried to access the venue, saying: “There’s is restriction. Where exactly are you going?”
Reliable security sources told THISDAY that Magu’s Karu house was searched last night by security agents and was returned to the Federal Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) in Abuja where he had been detained since Monday.