By Joel Popoola
Seeing the face of the fight against corruption suspended and replaced amid allegations of corruption is not a good look for Nigerian governance.
But in the suspension of Ibrahim Magu as acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, there is perhaps hope that the days when officials were above the law and beyond accountability may finally be coming to an end.
The old saying about there being no smoke without fire is sadly far from true, and even the best and most honest of men can fall foul of politically or personally-motivated slander.
But too often in our history powerful individuals have felt free to act with brazen impunity, even when they were practically blazon enough to pose for pictures in front of a blazing inferno holding matches and a can of petrol.
I am sure I am not alone in being appalled at the vulgar displays of wealth by accused Nigerian cyber-scammers extradited from the UAE to America to face charges of money-laundering and fraud.
But in our history, some of our politicians have been a little better.
In this week’s events, we may see the emergence of a Nigeria in which any hint of impropriety is thoroughly investigated – even if the allegations in question turn out to be completely untrue. This would be radical progress in Nigeria but commonplace in almost every other country on earth.
None of us know if there is any truth in the allegations facing Ibrahim Magu and we all hope the truth will come out. But we can all take heart from the fact that the allegations are being investigated at all. As such the following statement from a government spokesperson is very welcome.
“Under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, nobody is above scrutiny. I repeat nobody.
“The investigation is to reinforce transparency and accountability, rather than to vitiate it. Accountability for our actions or inactions is an inalienable part of democracy. In such an elevated position as that of EFCC chairman, the holder of the position must be above suspicion.”
This is music to my ears – a Nigeria we all want to see. It is unfortunate that the statement comes from a nameless source after days of confusion about what exactly is going on.
If you read some newspapers, Magu was practically grabbed off the street, bundled into a car and thrown into a prison cell – where he remains. In others, he received a chauffeur-driven ride to the presidential palace as part of an ongoing investigation, during which he left for prayers and dinner and after which he went home as normal.
Official confirmation that he had been suspended from his job came well over a day after the suspension was first reported in the press.
For an investigation apparently designed to “reinforce transparency and accountability” none of this is very transparent or accountable.
And for an investigation of allegations this sensitive, that isn’t good enough.
These are allegations that the man in charge of fighting corruption in Nigeria could himself be corrupt. Details cannot be allowed to leak into the public domain one drop at a time. This is a situation that requires full transparency and total disclosure from our leaders.
We need to know what the allegations are, what legal process is being followed, what the possible outcomes are, and how long the process will take. As citizens, we need to know this if we are to have confidence in the system.
Nigeria is taking important strides toward accountability and trust. Indeed, international observers recently described the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission itself as “a robust and effective agency”.
Much of this has been enabled by digital technology which allows for better records keeping, closer financial auditing, and greater accessibility of information.
But the fact remains that almost half of Nigerians believe that corruption cannot be defeated.
My Digital Democracy project was created to reconnect electors and the elected, connecting people with their elected officials via their phones using our free Rate Your Leader app.
The technology encourages leaders to explain the decisions they have made and the reasons for making them directly to the people they affect. If the voters don’t like the answer they get, they can rate their politicians appropriately.
Transparency and accountability and your fingertips.
Direct communication from politician to person, peer to peer.
Whatever the outcome of this affair, we all dearly hope that the fact that it is happening at all is a signpost towards a more transparent and accountable Nigeria.
But if we are to make the journey, we are going to need much more direct communication from our leaders, and digital technology can facilitate that.
Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and creator of the Rate Your Leader app. You can reach him on Twitter @JOpopoola or firstname.lastname@example.org