On Thursday last week, for the second time in a row, the Senate rejected the nomination of Ibrahim Mustapha Magu as substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Magu, who was appointed EFCC’s Acting Chairman in November 2015, was nominated as substantive chairman and then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo sent his name to Senate in July last year. Without so much as screening him, Senate turned down the nomination on December 15 on the grounds that it received a letter from the Department of State Services [DSS] which said Magu was unfit for the job due to some ethical issues. DSS listed them to include his alleged close relationship with one Air Commodore Umar Mohammed, who it said paid the rent for Magu’s residence and also gave him lifts in a private plane. The retired Air Commodore, a member of the presidential panel that probed Dasukigate weapons purchases, later ran into trouble with the security agencies.
After the first rejection, President Buhari asked Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami to probe the high officials in his regime who were accused of wrong doing. At the time these were Magu [based on the DSS report] and Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF] Babachir David Lawal. Neither the Presidency nor the Justice Ministry ever published the result of this probe. Instead, President Muhammadu Buhari resubmitted Magu’s name to Senate on January 15, just before he left for his medical vacation abroad. The president’s letter said the issues raised in the DSS report had been cleared.
For the entire period in which Buhari was away in the UK, Senate did not act on Magu’s nomination. It only took it up last week when it invited him to appear before it’s plenary for screening. Magu did so and did not perform particularly well. For example, when he was asked to supply figures for total monies so far recovered from various alleged looters, he asked for time to do so. No one however believes that this inarticulate performance was the reason for Magu’s rejection because by all accounts, he has discharged his duties creditably and vigorously as Acting EFCC Chairman and has stepped on not a few toes, including a dozen Senate toes.
Senator Dino Melaye [APC, Kogi], spearhead of the anti-Magu forces, then tabled a letter from DSS which in effect stood by its report of last year saying Magu was unfit for the office. This DSS letter directly contradicted the Presidency’s claim that Magu had been cleared of the charges it made. The senators pounced on this letter and they overwhelmingly voted not to confirm Magu. They also asked the president to nominate another person for the post. Senate President Bukola Saraki happily suggested that Magu should no longer be acting chairman of EFCC.
In the wake of last week’s second rejection, there was a storm of protest from political activists, lawyers and civil society groups which believe that Magu deserved to be confirmed based on his track record. We strongly agree with that feeling. Yet, we believe also that either the Presidency or some of its top officials played games with Nigerians on this matter. How could the President possibly nominate someone twice to such a sensitive post, only to have the government’s top security agency shoot down the nomination with a behind the counter letter to the Senate? The usual procedure is that all nominees for any post must undergo security screening and no further action is taken on their nomination until they pass that step. This is the only known case since this Republic began in 1999 that such a thing will happen, for the president to make a nomination only for DSS to shoot it down. All Nigerians suspect that senators wanted an excuse to reject Magu. In the event, they got a very good one.
The country must now move forward from this debacle. The Presidency has not said what it will now do, saying it was waiting to receive official communication from Senate. Different observers and commentators have made different suggestions as to the way forward. While some suggest that Buhari should nominate Magu again, others think it is time to nominate someone else. Others have also suggested that Magu should be retained as EFCC’s acting head despite the lack of confirmation. This will amount to a circumvention of the law, which clearly expects the holder of this sensitive post to be confirmed by Senate. There is also the possibility of further confrontation down the road if Senate, for example, refuses to appropriate funds for an EFCC headed by Magu, as the last Senate once did to the Securities and Exchange Commission [SEC] over Ms. Orunma Oteh.
We believe that a major mistake was made by the Presidency when it made Magu acting EFCC Chairman for a year before it sought his confirmation. Such a mistake should not be made again. If the President nominates a new EFCC Chairman, he or she should not assume the position until he or she is confirmed by Senate. This is the procedure with most other appointments. On the other hand, if President Buhari still wishes for Magu to remain as EFCC’s head, he must summon all his political and moral capital and get Senate to confirm him. We do not encourage a situation in which the legal requirement for confirmation is circumvented. No matter how popular such a move is now, it will set a bad precedent for the future.