By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please, allow me to make some quick clarifications as a preamble to my epistle to you this week. I do not know Ibrahim Magu personally. What I know of him comes mainly from what I have read on the pages of newspapers and saw on television and social media platforms. On a few occasions, I have been privy to and been regaled with stories about some of his exploits and that of his agency, the much dreaded, all-consuming Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)
From a distance, I have always been bemused by Magu’s swashbuckling gait and palpable arrogance, bathed in what I could only perceive as his unfortunate ignorance of his ephemeral position and circumstances. He appeared rude and crude, an all-conquering Emperor in front of whom trembled and quaked his pitiless, pitiable and pitiful victims. God forgive my perception. He probably is not totally like that. He might actually be a nice man, although simple, you cannot definitely classify him as! Indeed, to a lot of his fans and admirers he was Nemesis come to render judgement and punishment upon his hapless quarry, who were considered worthy of his iron fist approach because of their looting and brigandage.
I have often wondered how Nigeria handed the power of life and death to such a man. He is of course not the first. His predecessors have, save for maybe one of them, been exactly the same. The trappings, appurtenances and incidents of power seems to not only becloud their judgement, it turns them into monsters who have no sense of fairness, equilibrium or justice, and certainly little or no respect for the laws of the land especially the constitution. It is an understatement to conclude that Nigeria has been an extremely backward country in our choice of leaders. No private company in its right senses would hand over the position of Chief Executive to a man who has never managed One Million Naira in a Trillion Naira conglomerate, particularly when that man had previously been indicted.
But what have we not seen in Nigeria in the name of ethnicity, religion, quota system, zoning, Federal character, gender balancing, godfatherism, nepotism and all such nonsense? A nation that derides and sometimes even hates talent, diligence, intelligence and merit in all their ramifications and instead rewards mediocrity, failure, fraud and also felons would always find it hard to make any progress. We all know this fact but are irredeemably jinxed and foolishly and carelessly we are reluctant and refuse to change our perfidious ways and habits, or at least our leaders are.
I will waste no tears and lay no wreaths at the political burial of Ibrahim Magu. What goes around comes around. He is about to have a sad taste of the poison he forced others to swallow. But I will never join those who would bury him without an inquest. I have no doubt that his end has come at the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). As they say in America, he is a gonna, as dead as a dodo. Even if he survives the probe, that usually leads nowhere, and bears no fruits, he has already been stripped naked in the marketplace. There is no longer any hiding place for him. He has definitely fallen in the public esteem. He cannot live the allegations against him down. No amount of denials and protestations of innocence can cure the ills visited upon him or clean the mud which has enveloped him like a miasma of cow dung or horse shit. He’s been used and dumped, like others before him. I’m surprised that as a marksman himself, he did not see the bullets coming and could not escape being hit by dodging the fusillade and barrage of shots. Now, this is the crux of the matter.
I will not rejoice over the fall of a man who was easily one of the most powerful souls in our country. Magu should have memorised Isaac Newton’s Law of Motion and Gravity. You don’t have to be a student of Physics to understand the simple principle of the law of gravity, that whatever goes up must come down ultimately unless you enter another orbit. Magu forgot that he was merely a tin god with feet of clay. He was a mere mortal after-all. Those before him did their own gra-gra before being booted out, sometimes, unceremoniously. In his own case, he fought on too many fronts. He had enemies within and enemies without. He was a master at viciousness and vindictiveness. Some even wonder if he has any milk of human kindness inside him. He fought like he had personal scores to settle in a position where equity and justice should be the watchword. He jettisoned the famous legal principle that a man is innocent until proven guilty. His tenure witnessed the worst examples of media trial. He spent more time feeding the media with junk stories than supplying the courts with copious and valid evidence. He murdered the rule of Law and the few of us who pleaded against kangarooism were called unprintable names. Now that the chickens have come home to roost, we shall still plead that Magu and his collaborators be given fair hearing. I won’t jump to hurried conclusions like all those spreading lurid rumours that he has stolen billions of Naira, that he bought many expensive houses by proxy, and so on, but it is good for him to now know how it feels when EFCC regales the public with the stuff of which successful thriller novels are made when he was dealing with people who were merely suspects.
Please, let me now break it down gently. Those who decided to set up EFCC and ICPC without giving them total autonomy and absolute authority knew what they were doing. They were aware that otherwise people at the helm of affairs would have to live in perpetual fear and trepidation of not stepping on too many powerful toes. They would have to permanently study and gauge the body language of their avuncular benefactors. How would a junior Police officer control more power than the Inspector General of Police. Is that not the height of foolhardiness? However, by creating those agencies, the Federal Government, under the President Olusegun Obasanjo Administration, had wittingly or unwittingly whittled down the power of the Police to investigate crime, prosecute criminals and maintain Law and Order. They had created an alternative law enforcement agency, which under the control of unprincipled men could wield unbridled power and inflict incalculable terror on those that came within their purview.
I will continue to say that the overlapping duplication of functions within the different arms and tiers of government have been a major factor in the total confusion that continues to put many things in disarray in our country. The motive behind setting up EFCC was always suspect and suspicious when we already had other Police agencies like the Criminal Investigation Department, Special Fraud Unit, and also headed still by Police officers. Why do we like frittering away our very scarce resources on needless white elephant institutions?
I have been writing about the excesses of EFCC since the time of Nuhu Ribadu who, I believe, later saw the sense in my admonitions. On one occasion in 2007, I virtually exchanged verbal fisticuffs with Nuhu Ribadu’s aides on the pages of Thisday. They came after me and I went after them. Men with absolute power hate to be told the truth. And it was a simple and straightforward advice I gave that became a problem. I told them to follow and obey the rule of Law. Under Obasanjo, like they did against Judges not too long ago, they broke into people’s homes in the dead of the night, tore down window units, of reputable businessman in the bad books of government, when there were better and decorous ways of doing things. They were fond of going after Chairmen of limited liability companies instead of going after the supposedly erring companies and chose to destroy everything and everyone in sight! They crippled many businesses and many families on the assumption that allegation meant conviction. In the end, they usually had little or compelling evidence to secure conviction in a court of law. Sometimes it was so ludicrous because their evidence was not just based on salacious hearsay, but on scurrilous tales found in shady and oftentimes shadowy media platforms. A really sad state of affairs.
I warned Ribadu that his day would come when he himself would be a victim of a witch-hunt. And it didn’t take forever before he fell from the pinnacle of the temple and landed with a thunderous fall. He had to flee and as soon as humanly possible he ran out of the country and sought refuge and solace abroad. I expected others who took over his post, from time to time, to learn useful lessons for history, but hell no.
Madam Farida Mzamber Waziri came with her own dark goggles and became as menacing as they come. The fear of Farida was the beginning of wisdom. But at least she was knowledgeable, charming and smart. She was later sacked by President Goodluck Jonathan. Ironically, a rival agency, the Independent and Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) was asked to probe her. I wonder what became of the investigation. I guess that like all such nebulous enquiries, its report is gathering dust in somebody, cobweb covered cabinet.
Ibrahim Lamorde soon took over. He was younger and more urbane and seemed to have learnt didactic lessons that nothing lasts forever. He had served briefly in 2008 after Ribadu was sacked and Madam Waziri came in as substantive Chairman. He later took over from the same Waziri. He at least was not as abrasive as his predecessors and was more civilised and less prone to sensationalism. He was sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari in November 2015 and was succeeded by Ibrahim Magu. Interestingly, Magu was never confirmed by the Senate as a substantive Chairman because of allegations of impropriety levelled against him by the Department of State Security (DSS) another powerful security agency. One would have thought that this experience would have chastened Magu and made him act with great circumspection and integrity. Instead, it seemed to give him the hump. It was like he had a chip on his shoulders and was determined to force himself upon those he considered as his traducers and trample on those he felt had persecuted him unjustly.
My take is simple, despite the important roles assigned to EFCC, it is impossible for the agency to do its job efficiently and efficaciously. How would an agency go after those who funded the Presidential campaign of the man who nominated their head and signed his appointment letter? Is it possible for any President to pretend that the funders brought the money from heaven or any legitimate business? This is the real dilemma of fighting corruption in a country where it is absolutely impossible for supposed saints to win elections without sinners. In my view, the head of such an agency can only be truly independent if he is appointed by an independent body like the Senate, possibly from a short list of 3 to 5 candidates nominated by the Police Commission and not the Executive. After all, the head of the EFCC is still a police officer and a Commissioner of Police, not even an Assistant Inspector – General of Police. This police officer should spend only one term in the agency and must be absorbed back into the force upon the completion of his tenure.
My advice to the EFCC itself remains constant. Formulate a standardised approach to fighting crime. Stop going after alleged criminals as if it is a personal vendetta. Investigate the alleged crimes critically and diligently before approaching the courts. Rely on evidence properly obtained and not clutched from the air. Stop destroying alleged offenders and their businesses by shutting them down, defaming their promoters and the like unless absolutely necessary and must seek court orders on sound and truthful grounds. Stop being the accuser, prosecutor and Judge rolled into one. Avoid media trial as much as possible. It is often counter-productive because it sends negative signals globally that we are a country of criminals. Again, note that not all cases prosecuted by you are won by you. How would you compensate those who win their cases in court? You would have damaged them beyond redemption. Finally, try to prioritise your cases and accept plea bargaining as well as urgent refunds in order to save time and litigation courts, as well as manage the expectations of the public.
I also hope and pray that successive Federal Governments will stop using the EFCC as a tool of oppression and victimisation, and that the new Chairman would understand how transient his power is and show fairness to all, regardless of ethno-religious affiliations and political associations.
Ibrahim Magu did his best, despite his glaring shortcomings, and should be given a fair hearing and a free trial which he denied his luckless casualties.
One Emperor has fallen and is now writhing in a macabre dance of death. We await the new Emperor, benevolent or malevolent, we shall see!