The gathering responded with a subdued and nervous laughter. The occasion was the silver jubilee anniversary of THISDAY Newspapers at the Eko Hotel. In view of his current status, it was an irony that the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu was been decorated with the gold medal for ranking number one in the effort to rid Nigeria of corruption. The honour of decorating him with the medal went to the former Governor of Cross River State, Mr Donald Duke. Before investing Magu with the medal, the Governor made the mistake of congratulating himself for the feat of not featuring on the EFCC book of wanted present and past public officials. To be thus absolved would amount to quite a feat and golden exception to the rule of exchanging the opulence of the governor’s lodge with interrogations and possible tenancy at the EFCC headquarters in Abuja.
When it was his turn to show his appreciation for being deemed worthy of the honour, Magu prefaced his response with an impolitic deflation of Duke by repudiating his claim of having no issues with EFCC. He said the latter’s self-exoneration is not borne out by the records at his disposal. This drew a dry and awkward laughter from the social gathering, many of whom are past, present or potential clients of the agency.
My attitude is whether I’m innocent or guilty, I would rather have nothing to do with EFCC. In the event that you are exonerated, you would have gone through a shakedown inclusive of significant media takedown. It is the wisdom of the ancients-à ti èbi, à ti àre, olúwa má jé kí ñ rí ogun ejó (right or wrong, may God spare me of any happenstance of penal adjudication).
Unfortunately, I have been close friends with Nuhu Ribadu before he became the founding chairman of the commission and through him I made the acquaintance of Magu. Ribadu sent a complimentary copy of their maiden quarterly magazine to me when I was at the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). My secretary buzzed me that I had a mail from the EFCC. A mail from EFCC?, I was taken aback. When I knew what it was all about, I had to call and requested Nuhu not to send any publications to me again especially if it is under the auspices of his agency. In any case, as the number one news dispenser in the country, I should be the one sending magazines not him. I don’t want to have anything to do with the EFCC period.
Unfortunately, Magu repeated the same mistake when he became the top man at the commission. Like Ribadu, Magu has succeeded in creating the necessary disincentive of the fear element in the Nigerian public space regarding EFCC and it was in this perspective that I judged the severe blow he dealt Duke, the other day, and by proxy, all the public and private big wigs in the audience. The collateral damage would be the unfairness to the innocent and violation of the legal canon that it is better for 99 per cent of the guilty to go free than for one innocent person to suffer. Hence the caveat that an accused is deemed innocent until proven otherwise by the law.
The only categorical case that has been established against Magu in the prevailing dispensation is his rejection by the Senate as not fit and proper to hold public office. And this is what complicates his present predicament. Within a fractious presidential cabal, there is a sufficiently strong faction capable of stonewalling the nomination of Magu at the Senate confirmation hearings. The flipside to this observation is that there is equally another contending force within the same presidency who rendered the ultimate objective of ending Magu’s career futile. Regardless of the acting chairman nomenclature, Magu has been EFCC chairman de jure and de facto. Now that the objective of the former has been realised, the question is what has changed? The only consequential rearrangement within the presidency that has taken place in the interim is the exit of Abba Kyari as chief of staff and his replacement with Professor Ibrahim Gambari. The inference here, which is commensurate with the power he wielded, is that Kyari had been the bulwark and rampart that sustained Magu. The second possibility is that the new sheriff in town (Gambari) is a stickler for propriety and has the clout to get things moving in the direction he wants. The third is that Gambari is irrelevant to the power game and might have heard of Magu’s ordeal the same way and the same time you and l became wiser for the news. The fourth is the possibility that the international community might have compelled the Buhari government to take action, barring which they would go to town to besmirch his administration (assuming Magu is guilty as charged). The likelihood of the fourth perspective is predicated on the reality that there is no basis for attributing sincerity and altruism to this government, certainly not on the platform of fighting corruption. It is not for nothing that the Transparency International (TI) and about all credible monitoring international organisations have commonly adjudged this government as participant and enabler of corruption in proportions Nigeria may not have witnessed before.
The intervention by a ranking member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption (PACAC), Professor Femi Odekunle has established a rough and tumble turf war leitmotif as the prevailing attitude to fighting corruption in this dispensation. According to Odekunle, the current fate of Magu ‘seems an outcome of power-play by power blocs in the corridors of power in which Malami appears to be an arrow-head or major agent’. What Odekunle’s protestation boils down to is that there should be honour among complicits and that this cosa nostra omerta code has been breached by Malami and the Mafia family of which he is consiglori.
From what we know and what we don’t know of the Buhari government including the recent gun attack on the dollar laden Tunde Sabiu by the army of the first lady (right within the precincts of the forbidden territory of the Presidential Villa), Odekunle’s position is most credible. The credibility is further enhanced by the alacrity with which he was disowned by the chairman of his committee, the redoubtable Professor Itse Sagay. It is ironic that Odekunle himself quickly became a victim of power play while protesting the web of the power play that snared Magu.
According to the chairman of PACAC, fellow Professor Itse Sagay “The attention of the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption has been drawn to a statement circulating in the media space credited to one of its members, Prof Femi Odekunle. The press release is the personal opinion of the member under whose name it was released and not that of the committee”. Were all this not tragic for Nigeria, the comedy of errors entertainment value of this cast of characters is unmatched.
Recall the oft tortuous rationalisation of scandals by Sagay in language and logic that make mockery of his prior reputation as a meritorious Professor and his ostensible pedestal of the number one Presidential counsellor on anti-corruption. This character trait and the delegitimisation of his anti-corruption office was on full display on the corruption enabling commentary he ran on the certificate scandal of the former Minister of Finance. “This woman is a brilliant and extremely valuable member of this government. “A lot of the good things happening now – the welfare that Nigerians are enjoying and are going to enjoy, because it takes time, and the way our economy is booming, how we got out of recession – are due to her expertise, her commitment, her sacrifice. I’m telling you now. If you ask me – If I were President Buhari, I would never, ever touch that woman because she’s damn good. The enemies of this government want to reduce his capacity to provide good governance by engaging in social media attacks and trying to get rid of her. It will not work.”
When the notorious Governor Ganduje of Kano State was caught on camera stuffing millions of dollars into the expansive folds of his babanriga, he ran a similar corruption enabling commentary, essentially providing talking points for Ganduje’s defence counsel. Asked the following question-”You reportedly said the Kano House of Assembly cannot investigate Governor Ganduje. Why can’t they?”
Sagay responded: “They cannot because by the provision of the Constitution, their powers of investigation are limited. They can only investigate funds that have been disbursed by any administrative or other body which was appropriated by the House. In other words, it must be funds which were appropriated under the budget of the House, which are now being operated by other functionaries. In those circumstances they can probe such functionaries for their administration of those funds. Outside that, they cannot. So, the case at hand for example, I hear is that of a private contractor who supposedly bribed the governor. In that situation, the Kano State House has no jurisdiction at all”.
Beyond the sympathetic language, note the Professor was silent on the probability that a case can be established by the state House of Assembly if it was proven that Ganduje was being given the bribe in exchange for awarding government contract-in which case it becomes a gross abuse of office deserving of impeachment proceedings.
At the end of the day, the individual who really matters in this grave Nigerian pastime is President Buhari. The tragedy of his guilty by association and wilful dereliction, if not tacit complicity, is the indication of a leader who can no longer be attributed with belief in the durability of Nigeria. There is a correlation between the behaviour of a leader and his vision for the nation over which he presides. In the light of his stewardship, what can we extrapolate as Buhari’s vision for Nigeria? By commission or omission, on top of explicit governance failure is his instrumentality to the reiteration that Nigeria has not been this divided and precarious since the end of the civil war. Beyond the factor of individual incompetence, Nigeria will keep going round in circles until the fundamental problem of the constitutional and political structure is rectified. If Nigeria survives the present depredations, it most certainly cannot survive the replication of the precedent set by this government.