By Thomas Agboola
Barely a week ago, Justice Salami-led presidential panel investigating allegations against the suspended Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Ibrahim Magu, submitted its report to President Muhammadu Buhari without making its findings public.
Since then, there has been uneasy silence in the country on the issue – no one is saying anything or asking the panel to disclose if indeed Magu was found wanting, in any way, concerning all the allegations stacked against him. Is this a conspiracy of silence or brick wall mounted by a biting conscience?
Borrowing the word of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “It’s every man’s business to see justice done.” All of us cannot be silenced on a matter of perceived injustice. The Justice Salami-led presidential panel seemed to have generated so much mudraking and a dash of politics. It has proven to be the agent that will nail the coffin on the anti-corruption war in the country with the panel’s recommendations on the EFCC which is Nigeria’s leading anti-corruption agency with unbeatable track-record.
The seven-man panel, inaugurated on July 3, 2020, with a 45-day mandate to conclude its findings and submit a report on the alleged infractions by Magu from 2015 to May 2020, took over three months to conclude its findings with lots of drama that followed the leaking of its activities to some online medium despite being done in secrecy.
For more than 90 days, the panel could not have a clear-cut direction or convinced observers that it was not established to persecute individuals regarded as enemies by some top government officials.
Now the panel had submitted its report in which it said it received 46 petitions and had 113 witnesses. But it failed to tell the Nigerian people and the global community the full outcome of its findings, if indeed Magu abused his office as alleged.
One cannot be condemned or declared guilty on a number of petitions and witnesses without proper investigation with proven evidence.
All that Salami said while presenting the report to President Buhari was that ”the Commission embarked on a nationwide physical verification of recovered forfeited assets, comprising real estates, automobiles, vessels and non-cash assets, ” which are part of the outstanding achievements of Magu. But Justice Ayo Salami in his panel report didn’t say what happened to the assets, if indeed Magu sold them to his cronies as alleged.
It is instructive to note that Justice Salami commended the President for the initiative to dispose of all forfeited assets “because of the poor condition of the assets we saw during our physical verification nationwide.”
Perhaps, it’s important to note that the said assets Salami commended President Buhari for approving their disposal, was the same the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, constituted a 22-man committee to dispose, without waiting for the Salami-led panel to conclude its findings.
In the recommendations of the report, the retired Justice of the Court of Appeal noted that the four chairmen of EFCC since inception were from the police.
The former PCA also recommended that ”in appointing a new chairman, consideration should be given to candidates from other law enforcement or security agencies and a core staff of the EFCC as provided in the EFCC establishment Act of 2004.”
The EFCC, by its establishment, is a law enforcement agency, therefore, cannot operate without the involvement of police or security agencies.
Salami expressed profound gratitude to the President for giving members of his panel, a wonderful opportunity to serve the nation.
At least Salami should have told the President, Nigerians and the international community what they discovered in the EFCC from 2015 to May 2020 under Magu’s stewardship based on the allegations.
The panel had three areas of focus: mismanagement of confiscated assets, abuse of office and insubordination. But the Salami report did not mention anything on these areas or Magu, instead it went ahead outside its jurisdiction to recommend for the appointment of a new chairman, withdrawal of police and selling of the assets.
The Salami panel, which was set up by President Buhari to probe allegations of impropriety in the commission, recommended the appointment of new EFCC boss from outside the police and the disengagement of police officers from the agency within two years.
“It is also important to point out that at the moment, 970 policemen (114 drivers, 641 mobile policemen and 215 operators), are on secondment in the EFCC. Therefore, an exit plan for the disengagement of the police and other personnel within two years from now should be considered. This will address the issue of no promotion of core staff for over nine years,” Salami told the president while submitting the report last Friday.
The irony of this whole drama is that while the panel was yet to submit its report, the AGF Malami constituted a 22-man committee for the sale of the seized assets.
Again, few days before the Salami-led panel submitted its report to the President, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) invited the suspended Chairman of the EFCC to appear before it for questioning over alleged secret account which he allegedly failed to declare.
Magu was invited via a letter with reference number CCB/HQ/II&M/007/2093 dated November 2, 2020. He was asked to come along with acknowledgement copies of all asset declaration forms since joining the public service as well as his payslips and land documents.
Does it mean that the Salami panel which sat for over 90 days could not extend its investigation to assets declaration or what kind of probe did the panel do to have arrived at its recommendations?
Magu was also addressed as ‘former chairman’ of the EFCC in the CCB’s letter even though he had not yet been officially sacked.” Nigerians and the international community are watching and following keenly the unfolding drama in this case.
It is time for the federal government to disclose to the public the findings of the Salami-led panel on the allegations against the suspended acting chairman of the EFCC.
The presidency should adhere to international standards by constituting a committee to look into the report and produce a White Paper before President Buhari could make a pronouncement on Magu or is the federal government that prides itself as one that adheres to rule of law trying to jump the gun?
In all of these, so much depends on Buhari himself. He needs to live and be seen to live above board. As long as the core leadership is clean, any backsliding can be brought under control.
A damp muddle is hanging precariously over the President’s fight against corruption. Apart from the nasty allegations and counter-allegations emerging from the Ayo Salami presidential panel, which probed Magu, inter-agency rivalry in the fight against corruption has returned to the fore.
Discomfiting as the allegations are, they are generating more confusion because of the secrecy surrounding the probe of Magu and the top hierarchy of the EFCC.
This atmosphere of hypothesising creates distrust among the public on the true intentions of the regime’s anti-graft war, but openness can extensively repair the damage.
In the words of a public analyst: “Magu’s ill-treatment has shown that no one will be willing to sacrifice himself and his life to the fight against corruption in the future for fear of offending the political class…
“To understand the nature of the suspended chairman regarding corruption, only recently the National Assembly, during the Commission’s budget defence, discovered that a whopping N6 billion was left in the coffers of the Commission because of prudent management.”
According to Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.”
The President appears to be missing his tracks and also not providing that ethical leadership either, which is critically needed for his change agenda.
In order for President Buhari to bequeath a legacy of cleanliness, the anti-graft fight needs to be deeper and better coordinated. One thing will make the anti-graft crusade work: ethical and incorruptible leadership from him.
This compels a strategic initiative and a new beginning while Mr President should ensure that all those accused reasonably of corruption stepped aside for prosecution, exploiting the Administration of Criminal Justice Act to fast track their trials.
Everyone is keenly watching and waiting to see how President Buhari will act on the report of the Justice Ayo Salami report.
- Agboola is a Lagos-based public analyst