By Fidelis Mac-Leva, Ismail Mudashir, Isiaka Wakili & Ronald Mutum
The fate of the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu seems to hang in the balance following the delay in his confirmation by the Senate.
Magu is one of the pioneer officers drafted into the EFCC by its first chairman, Nuhu Ribadu. He is reputed to be incorruptible. But in spite of his professed successes at the anti-graft agency in the last one year, a dark cloud of uncertainty still hangs over his fate. There seems to be no silver lining in the cloud that his appointment would be ratified any time soon.
At a one-day symposium on money laundering, organised by the Faculty of Management Sciences, Lagos State University (LASU), last week, the acting EFCC boss appeared to have drawn attention to his successes when he disclosed that the anti-graft agency under his leadership had secured a total of 187 convictions in the last one year.
On assumption of office, President Buhari fired the erstwhile chairman of the commission, Ibrahim Lamorde, who had held sway since 2011, and approved the appointment of Magu as the acting chairman. Having served as head of the Economic Governance Unit (EGU) of the commission during the tenure of Nuhu Ribadu, it was believed that President Buhari opted for Magu because of his “record-breaking performance, transparency, integrity and exceptional courage.”
Indeed, several examples have been cited to demonstrate his courage in the fight against corruption. A trained financial crimes investigator with background in forensic accounting, Magu gained public attention when he led many high profile investigations against former governors, including James Ibori of Delta State and Bukola Saraki of Kwara State.
He is also said to have been in charge of investigation into the role of former Kwara State governor and now Senate President Bukola Saraki, in the collapse of Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria.
An assistant commissioner of police, Magu is the fourth chairman of the anti-graft agency. Others before him are Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, Mrs. Farida Waziri and Mallam Ibrahim Lamorde, all of whose appointments were confirmed in record time. Prior to his posting, he had also served in Bosnia under the United Nations peacekeeping police operation.
Given what is considered to be his track record of successes, many have wondered why the appointment of the EFCC boss is yet to be confirmed, especially given the strategic role of the anti-graft agency in the current administration’s fight against corruption.
Apart from the power tussle between the Presidency and the Senate, Magu’s ‘high-handed’ leadership style at the EFCC is also said to be among the factors militating against his confirmation. This is even as a cabal within the Presidency has allegedly entered into a deal with the Senate President Bukola Saraki to halt his ongoing trial if he could agree to block Maku’s confirmation.
While the Presidency told Daily Trust on Sunday that President Buhari would not lobby the Senate for the confirmation of the acting chairman of the EFCC, the Senate said Saraki had discharged his responsibility on the matter.
Recently, a coalition of civil society groups urged the Senate to confirm Magu’s appointment. They made the demand in a press release signed by Debo Adeniran, for Coalition Againts Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Lanre Suraju , Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC) and Adetokunbo Mumuni, Social-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), among others.
They drew attention to the fact that the Senate had screened and confirmed justices of the Supreme Court and Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), whose names were forwarded to it long after Magu’s name was sent for confirmation.
The anti-corruption groups called on the leadership of the Senate to expedite the immediate confirmation of the acting chairman of EFCC so as to give the ongoing anti-corruption fight the impetus it desperately needs, and help sustain the Buhari administration in curtailing impunity in governance.
Earlier in January, a group of northern youths, under the aegis of North-East Youth Peace Development and Empowerment Initiative (NEYPDEI), had urged President Buhari and the National Assembly to urgently confirm Magu’s appointment. In a statement signed by its national president, Alhaji Kyari Abubakar, the group had argued that the confirmation of Magu would impact positively on the ongoing war against corruption by the present administration.
Hitches have been trailing the confirmation of Magu since the letter was transmitted by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the Senate. Osinbajo signed the letter on June 17, 2016; it was received in the Senate on June 22 but was not read on the floor of the Senate until July 14. The vice president had forwarded the request in his capacity as acting president when President Buhari was in the United Kingdom on a 10-day medical vacation.
Some pundits have blamed Senate President Bukola Saraki for the delay in the confirmation of the acting EFCC chairman. Sources within and outside the National Assembly told Daily Trust on Sunday that Saraki was using the confirmation of Magu as a ‘bargaining chip.’
Unlike Magu, the confirmation of Ibrahim Lamorde, the immediate past chairman of the commission, was done within 34 days. Having been nominated by former President Jonathan on January 12, 2012, Lamurde got the nod of the lawmakers on February 15, same year.
Impeccable sources at the Senate said the letter for Magu’s confirmation had not been released by Saraki since July 14 when he read it on the floor of the Upper Chamber. One of the sources said that unless the request is committed to the Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes Committee of the Senate, chaired by Senator Chukuwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North), Magu cannot be screened.
“There is nothing we can do unless the letter is released, listed on the Order Paper (daily list of events) and committed to the committee before he can be screened alongside other nominees,” the source said.
The delay in Magu’s confirmation has also affected the screening of four members of the commission, namely Moses Ndasule, Mamman Lawan, Imam Najib Galadanci and Adebayo Rafiu Adeleke.
Magu lobbies Senate leaders
Frustrated by the delay, it was gathered that the acting chairman of the EFCC had lobbied Saraki, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Senate Leader Ali Ndume and other key senators. The source said: “When Magu went to lobby one of the senators, he was asked to mount pressure on Saraki to allow the president’s request to be listed on the Order Paper so that it can be committed to the committee.”
Our correspondent could not establish whether the confirmation had been discussed or not during the weekly meeting of the principal officers of the Senate. Every Monday, the principal officers of the Senate meet at the residence of Saraki, where issues to be discussed on the floor of the Senate are selected.
But another source exonerated Saraki from the confirmation quagmire, saying the delay was not his. “Take it or leave it, it is not the fault of Saraki at all. Saraki is very much committed to the fight against corruption, thus he would not delay it. I think it is the opinion of the generality of the senators that is delaying it, “he said on condition of anonymity.
But another source averred that the transmission of the request when Buhari was away showed that it has issue even at the Presidency. “Why was the letter transmitted when Buhari was away? If you find the real answer to this, you will know the main reason why his confirmation is being delayed, “the source said.
A security source said the delay was as a result of intelligence at the disposal of the Senate leadership, that Magu would arrest some senators after his confirmation. Various corruption cases are said to be dangling over about 10 per cent of the senators.
“They have intelligence at their disposal that Magu would arrest some of them as soon as he is confirmed. They are of the view that he was delaying the arrest of some senators because of his confirmation, “he said.
It was gathered that Magu, apparently angered by the delay in his confirmation, refused to honour the request of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes on the annual report of the EFCC.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the committee, in late October, requested for the annual report of the EFCC and the details of the stolen funds recovered by the commission. A source said Magu had not provided the information as requested.
Section 37 of the EFCC Establishment Act, 2004, states: “The commission shall, not later than September 30 each year, submit to the National Assembly, a report of its activities during the preceding year, and shall include in such report, its audited account.”
When contacted, the special adviser on media and publicity to Saraki, Yusuph Olaniyonu said the Senate President had discharged his responsibility on Magu’s confirmation. “The Senate President has fulfilled his responsibility by reading the request on Magu’s confirmation on the floor, “he said.
Magu’s ‘dictatorial’ style at EFCC
Apart from external factors, Magu’s high-handed leadership style is also said to be affecting his confirmation, checks by Daily Trust on Sunday have shown.
Inside sources told our reporter that Magu does not trust anybody in the commission, a development that has not only led to low morale but mass resignation of staff members in the last one year.
It was gathered that one Hafsat Bakare, who heads the Human Resources Unit, actually applied to resign over an alleged interference by Magu, alleging that he wanted to dictate recruitment process in the commission. She was, however, prevailed upon to withdraw her resignation letter after intervention by influential people in government.
Apart from Hafsat, about seven senior members of staff are also said to be frustrated and want to leave. Another inside source who wishes to remain unnamed for fear of victimisation, accused the acting chairman of violating civil service rules relating to secondment, transfer of service and annual leave.
Apart from running the commission without the director of operations, Magu is said to have, instead, appointed two deputy directors to head the unit. The source also accused Magu of dominating the EFCC workforce with police personnel, thereby hindering the career progress of regular members of staff.
The spokesman of the EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, however, denied the allegations, saying the acting chairman was only insisting that the right thing should be done at the anti-graft agency.
“I do not understand what you mean by “dictatorial.” The EFCC is a law enforcement agency with a set of established code of conduct. If insisting on discipline, professionalism, courage and integrity among staff is what makes Magu dictatorial, he has no apologies,” Uwujaren said.
He said that Hafsat Bakare remained the head of Human Resources Department of the commission, adding that tales about her resignation and influential people begging her to stay were strange.
“No one begs anybody to stay on the job in the commission. As for the purported interference, the head of Human Resources reports to the chairman through the director, Organisational Support and the secretary to the commission. For an officer that does not report directly to the chairman, it is a misnomer to talk about interference. In any case, the chairman is the chief executive and accounting officer of the EFCC,” he said.
According to the EFCC spokesman, no allowance of any staff member was reduced and no staff of the EFCC is owed any allowance.
“Indeed before the appointment of Magu as chairman, some members of staff were in the habit of complaining that their allowances were withheld by the management. To put a stop to such complaints, Magu directed that all allowances due to staff be consolidated and paid to them on a monthly basis,” he said, adding that no staff wishing to leave the commission through transfer of service has been stopped.
On populating the EFCC with police personnel, Uwujaren said police presence in the commission is not the creation of Magu as seconded staff members have been part of the commission since inception 13 years ago, and the number has not increased under Magu.
He said the absence of a substantive director of operations has not affected the operation of the commission adversely. “At the moment, there are two deputy directors of operations, who are assisting the chairman in directing the core activities of the commission. The dramatic improvement in the operations of the commission in the last one year is evident that the status quo is working. Nevertheless, the chairman has the prerogative to appoint his director of operations. He shouldn’t be stampeded by extraneous forces,” Uwujaren said.
‘Magu undeterred by non-confirmation’
In spite of his non confirmation, however, a top EFCC official who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday on condition of anonymity, noted that the delayed confirmation of the acting chairman does not deter operatives from doing their jobs.
This, he said, was evident in the fact that the investigation of alleged financial crimes during the 2016 budget appropriation process, termed budget padding, were still ongoing by operatives.
“As a person he will be disturbed. However, it does not stop us from doing our job, including cases involving the National Assembly like budget padding. All he knows is that confirmation comes from God,” he added.
‘Buhari won’t lobby for Magu’s confirmation’
A Presidency source told Daily Trust on Sunday that President Buhari would not lobby the Senate for the confirmation of the acting chairman of the EFCC.
The president, according to the highly placed source, who asked not to be named, would rather allow the Senate to determine the merit of Magu’s nomination
The source told our correspondent that President Buhari strongly believed that he had done his part by forwarding Magu’s nomination to the Senate, saying the president remained firm in his decision not to push for Magu’s confirmation as he believed in the independence of each of the three arms of government.
According to the source, the Presidency, however, hopes that the executive and the legislature would not engage in any showdown over Magu’s confirmation.
“Here is a president who believes in and respects the independence of the legislature and that of every other arm of government. People should understand that Mr. President has done his part by nominating Ibrahim Magu for the EFCC’s job. It is now left for the Senate to look at the merit of his nomination and confirm him. The president will not meddle in the affairs of the Senate,” the source said.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enag, had expressed a similar view in a chat with our correspondent. Enang stated: “The letter has been sent to the Senate. It is pending in the Senate, and when it is there, there is nothing we (the Presidency) can say or do about it.”
Senate President Saraki is currently facing a 13-count charge at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over an alleged corruption and false declaration of assets when he held sway as governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011. The Senate president had once faulted the EFCC for exonerating the chairman of the CCT, Danladi Umar, regarding his (Umar’s) alleged complicity in a N10 million bribe made by one Abdulrashid Taiwo.