By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor & Henry Umoru
The whirlwind that has been rocking the inner political circles of President Muhammadu Buhari hit its crescendo on Thursday, December 15, 2016, with the rejection of the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu, an Assistant Police Commissioner, as the substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
That back stabbing by the Senate, automatically, set back the hands of Mr. President’s avowed determination to eliminate corruption before it kills Nigerians, and raises numerous questions about the calibre and character of persons he recruited to help him prosecute the corruption war.
Did Buhari make a mistake to surround himself with wolves in sheep’s robes? Or does it mean that personal aggrandizement has sharply divided his kitchen cabinet without his knowledge? The major question on the lips of those who watch the drama played out last Thursday is: Whose interest are those opposed to Magu’s confirmation as EFCC Chairman are they protecting, or to what extent will Magu’s rejection by the Senate advance the corruption fight in Nigeria?
These and many more questions are agitating the minds of Nigerians, who watched with awe and total disbelief as Nigeria’s higher legislative chambers threw out Magu’s nomination, with fanfare on one hand, grief, tears and anger on the other.
As far as the political class is concerned, the Senate’s torpedo of Magu’s confirmation is a major battle won by one group and lost by the other; but it does not end the political battle that has been raging in the land. It may remain yet a pyrrhic victory for the camp of the Senate President and his numerous supporters in the upper chamber of the National Assembly and at best, slow down Buhari’s anti-corruption train, but may not be able to break his adamant resolve to take on corruption headlong.
Like a woman pregnant with a turbulent child, it was all too clear that the clearance of Magu by the Senate would not be a smooth sail if at all the lawmakers would ever consider it necessary to put that assignment on their order paper for consideration. It was a calamity already foretold.
Buhari may actually be the architect of his own misfortune, stabbing himself on the foot through the nature of the people he entrusts with crucial assignments, that have turned out to be his albatross in the end.
He simply appears to be a lone ranger in the fight against corruption while those around him have by the shameful rejection of Magu by the Senate, brought to the fore their latent support for corruption.
How on earth will the Department of State Security Service, which Mr. President relies on for his daily movements and actions, kick against Magu, who was appointed by him directly, based on ‘security report’? Does it mean that Mr. President was hoodwinked into appointing Magu in the first place? If Magu is corrupt and presents a dual personality according to the ‘new security report’ used by the DSS to nail Magu, who recommended him or what informed his choice in the first instance and where was the DSS all this while?
As it stands, Mr. President may need to summon courage and lick the wounds of Magu’s rejection quietly or take the bull by the horn by embarking on a house cleansing exercise to save himself from further embarrassments.
The signs were too obvious that the President’s men did not want a fighter like Magu to head the EFCC. First, they worked very hard to prevent his name from being sent to the Senate for confirmation. It became an embarrassment to the extent that the country’s Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, had to sneak-in Magu’s name into the Senate only when Buhari had travelled out of town in July this year, nine months after Magu had been acting as chairman.
Also in the letter, President Buhari sought the Senate’s approval to confirm Nasule Moses; Lawan Maman; Garandaji Imam Naji and Adeleke Abebayo Rafiu as members of the board of the EFCC.
It was a major setback to the cabal when they came back with the President to realise that Magu’s name had been forwarded to the Senate by Osinbajo for confirmation and they immediately swung into action to ensure that the senators would never confirm Magu as the substantive Chairman of the anti-corruption agency. They had their way! Buhari, Magu and Nigerians may have lost the first battle.
The success of the cabal in the presidency could be seen from the stiff opposition and political rigmarole that attended the screening of Magu by the lawmakers since July. They simply would never put the screening of the EFCC board on the Order Paper, using various stories to justify their handicap, the last being the first week of December when they claimed that many of their members were out of town and pleaded to shift the confirmation hearing of Magu till last Thursday to enable them to be present.
It was an agenda well set and executed by the leadership, which almost resulted in a brawl. Many Senators, who knew what was in the kitty were happy while others who wanted to back Magu, were upset by the fact that the Senate deliberately declined to subject Magu’s nomination to screening to enable each member to vote on the matter as it is always the case. That sharp division led to a shouting match between Senators Dino Maleye and Aliyu Ndume, who is from the same state of Borno as Magu.
The Senators simply took advantage of the sharp division among the President’s men in the major security agencies and buried Magu alive, smiling away as heroes from a battlefield. Tongues are wagging that there is no love lost between Magu and the DSS Director, Lawal Daura, Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari and the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.
The story is that Magu does not take instructions from these three powerful men before moving against financial crimes suspects. The National Security Adviser, NSA, Major- General Babagana Monguno, who appears to be the only one in support of Magu, has also not been taken seriously by those opposed to Magu and the yawning gap of enmity, suspicion and hatred continues to widen at the Presidency, while they keep smiling at each other for the cameras and vowing to be waging a consolidated war against corruption.
There is political backstabbing between the Department of State Service, DSS, and the EFCC who have, sometimes, been working at cross purposes as well as key officers in the office of the President, with a Cold War between the NSA and the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, though from the same state and that of the Director-General of DSS who hails from President Buhari’s village and State.
If the Senate had not turned the job on its head, one would have expected that soon after Magu’s name and the other EFCC board nominees were sent to the Senate, their names would have been dispatched to the Senator Chukwuka Utazi-led Senate Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes.
That was not the case. The list was never sent and the Senate never met as a body to debate on the issues concerning Magu, as is the usual parliamentary custom. Instead, the Senate decided to screen Magu at the Committee of the whole rather the Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes which has nine members.
On Thursday, expectations were very high that the assignment, which the Senate had been dodging since July, would finally be taken to its logical conclusion. But it turned out to be a disaster for the EFCC and those who believe(d) in the leadership of Ibrahim Magu.
Magu actually walked into a trap without knowing that landmines had been laid on his path. That morning, he walked majestically into the Chambers with some of his trusted allies and was full of hope that they would confirm him.
He did not suspect any foul play.
While his men filled the lobby of the National Assembly close to the Senate Chambers, Magu stayed in the office of the Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (Senate) Senator Ita Enang.
Surprisingly, rather than hold a plenary as expected on such an occasion to debate and decide Magu’s fate, the Senate decided to hold what it calls “A closed door session”, which means that what was discussed can only be disclosed later by the Senate leadership. The media is not allowed to be part of closed sessions of the senate.
As it were, there was no debate as to whether there were people who supported or opposed Magu’s nomination because the Senate President hinted his members that he had a damning ‘security report on Magu’ and would therefore not waste the time of the Senate to debate his situation.
The Security Report, allegedly prepared by the DSS, was however not read on the floor of the Senate to members but was rather leaked to the press later. It has since gone viral but the DSS, has kept sealed lips on the matter.
It is yet to admit or deny authorship of the report. Senate’s Spokesman, Senator Sabi Abdullahi briefed the media before the curtain was drawn that day.
Abdullahi said, “This is an official statement from the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is the statement on confirmation of the nomination of Chairman and members of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
“The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria wishes to inform the general public that based on security reports available to the Senate, the Senate cannot proceed and confirm the nomination of Ibrahim Magu Mustapha as the Executive Chairman of EFCC.
“Accordingly, the Senate hereby rejects the said nomination and has returned the said nomination to Mr. President for further action. When asked questions to explain what really happened, the spokesperson said, “There’s no confusion here, we have said it’s based on security reports. Please, all of us public officers go for security screening. Everybody. And we are saying based on security reports, we cannot proceed and confirm and we are rejecting it and returning it back to Mr. President for further actions, that’s just the statement. It’s as simple as that. That’s exactly what the Senate has said and I don’t have any other explanation more than this”.
It was gathered that during the closed door session, the Senate was said to be sharply divided at the commencement of the meeting on Magu. It was learnt that while some senators wanted Magu cleared, others opposed it, forcing Saraki to plead with them to remain calm, as he was armed with a DSS report against Magu. He read the DSS report to the whole members and silence came upon them like chilled water.
According to the Senate, there was no way Magu would have been confirmed given the damning security report by the DSS, which was unpalatable. As a result, the Senators asked Buhari to forward another name in place of Magu to them for confirmation.
In the DSS report which was read during the closed door session and which Sunday Vanguard sighted, the Acting Chairman of EFCC was accused of renting a house for N40 million with N20 million paid annually, just as the report said that the money for the rent was not settled by the commission, but by a retired Air Commodore in the Air force, Umar Mohammed, now a businessman who was recently arrested by the DSS for alleged questionable transactions.
According to the report dated 3rd October, addressed to the Acting Clerk of the Senate and titled, “Re: Request for Security Vetting. Your letter NASS/CS/SA/01/16/08/1 dated 21st September, 2016 requesting for the vetting of the Chairman and members of the EFCC refers”, Magu was alleged to have furnished a house at the cost of N43 million.
He was also accused of violating the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari by travelling with first class ticket to Saudi Arabia for Lesser Hajj and paying the sum of N2,990,196. In the report, it was indicated that following the discovery of some sensitive documents with Magu during Farida Waziri, he was suspended from the Police force, just as the police Service Commission in December 2010 found him guilty.
The report said, “however, investigating the Chairman nominee, Ibrahim Magu revealed that in August 2008 following a search at his residence during the tenure of Farida Waziri, AIG rtd as a Commissioner, some sensitive EFCC documents which were not supposed to be at his disposal were with him. He was subsequently redeployed to the police after days of detention and later suspended from the force.
“In December 2010, the Police Service Commission found Magu guilty of action prejudicial to State Security, withholding of EFCC files, sabotage unauthorised removal of EFCC files and acts unbecoming of a police officer and awarded him severe reprimand as punishment.
“Notwithstanding, sequel to the appointment of Lamorde as Chairman of EFCC in 2011, he made the return of Magu to the EFCC a top priority. Both men had worked together at the Commission when Lamorde served as head of operations of the agency, Magu remained a top official of the Commission until he was appointed to succeed Lamorde.”
It added that the circumstances surrounding Magu’s return to the EFCC at the instance of his predecessor, Ibrahim Lamorde, and their close working relationship ever since, was a clear indication of his culpability in the allegations of corrupt tendencies of the Lamorde-led EFCC.
“Magu is currently occupying a residence rented for N40 million at N20 million per annum. This accommodation was not paid for from the Commission finances, but by one Umar Mohammed, Air Commodore rtd.
“In the report signed by Folashade Bello for the Director-General of DSS, the service also accused Magu of regularly embarking on official and private trips through a private carrier Easy Jet, owned by Mohammed.”
In its submission, the DSS said, “in the light of the foregoing, Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption drive of the present administration.”
In spite of the spirited attempt by the Senate and the DSS to nail Magu, many issues are now begging for answers.
First, many familiar with Senate’s rules, are asking: Why was Magu not referred to the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes in the first place and when the DSS report dated October 3 was received by the Acting Clerk of the Senate and Senate President Bukola Saraki, why was the screening not done by the Senate Joint Committee on Anti- Corruption and Financial Crimes, Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters as well Senator Samuel Anyanwu-led Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, before the committee of the whole or the Executive session to discuss the report of the these committees?
As the President’s men fight dirty and in the open and nailing one of their own in the process, the real loser are neither Buhari and his men but ordinary Nigerians who have not even seen the crumbs of either good governance or corrupt enrichment, which most of the top politicians now struggling for recognition, have stashed away in foreign land.
Head or tail, the Nigerian masses lose and the gladiators fight dirty on the political tuff.
When the dust settles, can Buhari still hold his head high and shout that he is fighting corruption? With who is he doing the onslaught, and how, when arrows from his kitchen cabinet have nailed one of the anti-corruption czars?