Just a reminder, Mr President

Magu

Let us begin by stating the obvious, the very obvious. Presidents are busy, very busy people. They have to think and plan for the lives of millions of their people and, of course, the next level in the social, economic and political development of their countries. In addition, they are bombarded with requests from contractors and others who rely on their say-so to change their economic fortunes by the time you say contractors. Sometimes the thought occurs to me that it would be nice to restructure the ears of presidents with additional ears to help them take in all the views and the voices of the people. Four ears must be better than two.

It seems to me, and it is inevitable, really, that sometimes a president is quite often diverted from a particular course of action or the full implementation of a critical decision by the many pressures piled upon him daily and nightly, even. Thus, a road on the drawing board finds itself stuck there; thus, reports of panels, commissions and sundry agencies intended to address certain problems, find themselves in a lonely existence on government shelves.

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This situation and its deleterious effect on a country is such that it reduces movement to motion. It is the duty of all citizens, old codgers like young sincerely not excepted, to occasionally remind our president of decisions waiting to be taken and policy decisions crying to be implemented to aid, if not accelerate, the forward movement. I wish to remind President Muhammadu Buhari that because the heavy pressures of the affairs of state had forced him not to do what he intended to do when he initiated the action on Ibrahim Magu, his final decision on his fate has left him in limbo and baffled the rest of us.

On July 10, 2020, the president shocked the nation when he suddenly suspended his anti-corruption tsar, the acting chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu. In a cruel turn of events, the chief hunter of the alleged corrupt found himself in the same cage with those he hunted and caged. Rotten eggs promptly landed on Buhari’s face; guilty as he is of poor judgement and the autocratic wisdom that have time and again done no justice to his statesmanship.

When he sought to appoint Magu in 2015, the senate, relying on a damaging report on him by the DSS, rejected him as unfit to head the commission. Buhari chafed. He did not believe the senate had any right to question his right to choose who heads the commission. He dared the senate and re-submitted Magu’s name to it for confirmation. The senate dared him and still turned him down.

Still, the president insisted that Magu, and no other, was fit enough for the office; the senate and the DSS be damned. A faux pas. In doing so, he undermined the enabling law of the commission. Section 3 of the act setting up the commission stipulates that the chairman and the members of the commission “shall be appointed by the president and the appointment shall be subject to confirmation by the senate.” The law does not provide for an acting chairman and no president before Buhari had an acting chairman of the commission.

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Anyway, Magu supported by the illegal act, began his long reign as acting chairman of the commission. In late June or early July 2020, his reign expectedly ended when he found himself on the other side of the anti-graft war. He was arrested and detained. His nemesis was the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, who wrote a letter to the president in which he levelled 12 allegations bordering on corruption and corrupt practices against Magu. Some of the allegations were quite serious, to wit, “alleged discrepancies in the reconciliation records of the EFCC and the federal ministry of finance on recovered funds; the declaration of N539 billion as recovered funds instead of N504 billion earlier claimed.”

Some of the allegations were frivolous and amounted to silly complaints or incompetence rather than criminal offences against Magu by Malami. They smacked of a power tussle between them. Magu, of course, denied the allegations and sought to portray them as acts of vindictiveness on the part of the attorney-general.

To suggest that Buhari’s blue-eyed boy in whom he was so well-pleased allegedly allowed palm oil to drip from all his fingers must have been difficult for the president to process. He rightly decided not to act on Malami’s say-so. He needed hard evidence established by an impartial team of investigators. On July 3, 2020, he appointed a 7-man presidential investigation panel headed by Justice Ayo Salami to do just that. The panel was given 45 days for its assignment. Salami, known to be a serious-minded jurist, took on the presidential assignment seriously with, according to several media reports, Malami breathing down his neck.

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On November 20, 2020, the panel submitted its report to the president. Salami noted that the panel “embarked on a nationwide physical verification of recovered forfeited assets, comprising real estates, automobiles, vessels and non-cash assets.” We, the people, perked up our ears, hungry for the full facts established by the panel. Instead, there then began this long reign of silence with Buhari keeping sealed lips over the report. The president neither released the report to the public nor did he, as is the tradition, appoint a committee to produce a government white paper on it.

The last time I checked Magu was still in suspended in limbo. He had neither been interdicted, let alone arraigned before a court of law to fully answer for his alleged cases of corruption. But Buhari has since appointed a new EFCC, chairman AbdulRasheed Bawa, thus foreclosing any hopes that Magu, even if cleared by the Salami panel could get his job back.

The question the public wants answered is: did the panel find the allegations against Magu to be true? The whole purpose of the Salami panel was for it to answer that question. If the panel cleared Magu, Buhari should say so and let him return to his job in the Nigeria Police. If the panel found him guilty as alleged, he should be charged before a court of law and let him defend himself. These are the two options open to Buhari; unless, of course, he set up the panel to deceive the public and never intended to do anything about its report.

Two points need to be made here as important reminders to the president on why he should release the report to the public. One, the anti-graft war does not admit of secrecy for the sake of secrecy. The public has the right to know what is happening and why. Buhari’s silence would only fuel speculations that Magu was a victim of a power tussle between him and Malami and that the former lost because the latter had the upper hand, thanks to his closeness to the president. The public is aware of the role Malami has played in the Magu saga and it is in some respects unsavoury.

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Even before the ink dried on the panel recommendation that most of the assets were dilapidated and should be sold, Malami appointed a 22-man committee to sell them off when the president had not even received the report. Was Magu sacrificed to satisfy Malami’s greed and his insatiable power grab and interference in the commission’s work resented by Magu? His hands are in all the pies. Magu may have become history in the commission but he casts a long shadow on it so long as people see him as a victim of a cabal whose bidding he refused to do. In other words, he might not have been the victim of the anti-graft war but a victim all the same.

Two, from the bits and pieces filtering out from the report, the Salami panel is said to have made some important recommendations on rejigging the commission to strengthen it and re-position it to wage the war to regain public confidence in it. You are not hearing it from me that despite the long running war, corruption shows no signs of retreating. Our country is still in the same global corruption league with Bangladesh and other countries. Something must be wrong. Perhaps, it is time to do things differently such as prosecuting alleged offenders on the basis of evidence, not on the basis of incomplete investigation.

Release the report, Mr President. Magu deserves to know his fate. The public deserves to know the facts about his alleged offences. If he was wrong, do not protect him. If his hands are clean, say so and let him go home with some personal respect and dignity.

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