President Muhammadu Buhari has suspended Ibrahim Magu from office as the Acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) following his arrest last week and appearance before the presidential probe panel set up to investigate allegations of impropriety levelled against him by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN). The allegations border on insubordination and sleaze, the exact societal challenge Magu was recruited to tackle in the first place. He was ambushed and arrested in the streets like a common felon running away from justice and railroaded into appearing before the probe panel and has since then been detained by the police while the inquiry is ongoing. His predecessors too were similarly booted out of office, with their integrity besmirched and their persons painted as lacking in moral rectitude. In all the cases, the hunters became the hunted. And the same fate promises to befall Magu.
Judging by the special, though patently illegal, presidential support that guaranteed his retention as acting chairman after his rejection twice by the Senate based on adverse reports on him by the Department of State services (DSS), many had thought that Magu would make a clean break from the inglorious departure that was the lot of his predecessors. However, he was unable to escape the typically sorry incident of the devaluation and demystification of the headship of the EFCC at the twilight of their tenure of office. To be sure, we are not suggesting that the head of the anti-graft agency cannot be tried or that he is above the law, but there was no need to diminish him or devalue his office and, by extension, the agency; a more decent approach could have been deployed to bring him to book, especially when all the charges levelled against him are still in the realm of allegations.
Certainly, combating sleaze in an inherently corrupt society can be daunting and perilous: the fighter becomes the foe of many as he steps on toes in the line of duty; the temptation to yield to being corrupted is ever present and, worse still, corruption itself tends to fight back in such a ferocious manner that only strong moral fibre and impeccable integrity can guarantee anyone’s survival. But even at that, the worst that can happen is for the hands of a supposed anti-graft czar to be caught in the cookies jar. We therefore support a thorough investigation by the probe panel of all the allegations, some of which are quite weighty. For instance, the alleged under-declaration/re-plundering of recovered loot to the tune of N37billion naira, the alleged insider dealings in the disposal of seized assets and unwarranted reticence to obey court orders to unfreeze suspects’ monies in their bank accounts are all egregious infractions that deserve painstaking inquiry. But it should be done within the ambit of the law and Magu should be sanctioned only if he is found guilty.
Truth be told, the ugly trend of the inglorious exit of the successive heads of EFCC symptomises an agency in dire need of urgent reforms. There is the need to reset the organisation, especially in the area of its leadership recruitment which is diametrically at the discretion of the president. For instance, some of them were not even commissioners of police when they were appointed, yet they wielded enormous powers that required a great deal of maturity to exercise without abuse. Again, it is apparent that little weight is assigned to the character and track record of potential chairmen of EFCC before their appointment. For example, by his own admission, Magu in his previous employment was on suspension without pay for 20 months; he was reprimanded, and then promoted. Why should he have been considered for the EFFC job?
Besides, the Senate refused to confirm his appointment twice sequel to two separate reports from the DSS, yet Magu was retained by the president for five years. How can someone be acting chairman for five years in an office where the tenure is four years in the first instance? Even if the law is somewhat ambiguous about the legality or otherwise of holding an office in acting capacity indefinitely, is it conventional? And is that not tantamount to corruption in itself? Would Mr. President not carry a grave moral burden if Magu is eventually indicted and punished, especially based on the alleged improprieties that actually caused the Eighth Senate to reject his appointment but which he glossed over? Also, is it fortuitous or calculated that only northerners have been found worthy of appointments as EFCC heads since the inception of the agency or is it indicative of nepotism in the leadership recruitment, which is also a variant of corruption?
Another aspect of the organisation that requires retooling is its typically tempestuous relationship with the office of AGF and Minister of Justice. Even though this has not been the country’s experience, it is imperative that the office of the AGF and EFCC are in sync in terms of their political will, dedication and commitment to fighting corruption. Indeed, all lapses in the enabling law that may not have adequately insulated EFCC from political interference and those that in contrast tend to transform EFCC heads into lords of the manor should be reviewed; otherwise, the recurring drama of the ignominious saga of EFCC chairmen will continue.