By Douglas Anele
In my view, the arrogant anti-democratic conduct of President Buhari’s subordinates are largely rooted in his obsession with loyalty and penchant for disrespecting both the legislative and judicial arms of government because they are confident that the President will stand by them no matter what.
Consider the on-going push-me-I-push-you between the Senate, on one hand, and Ibrahim Magu, Babachir Lawal and Hameed Ali, Chairman of the EFCC, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Comptroller-General Nigeria Customs Service (CGNCS) respectively, on the other.
Several buharimaniacs, based on their hyperbolic admiration for the President and the putrid reputation of some senators, seem unaware of the dangers posed to our nascent democracy by the arrogance of power and I-don’t-a-damn attitude to the Senate by Ali and others in the inner concentric circles of power in this government.
On the issue of fighting corruption, which is the biggest selling point of Muhammadu Buhari during the 2105 presidential election campaigns, Nigerians expected that if he wins he would select a creative and intelligent Nigerian with impeccable moral record to head the EFFC.
From what we know now, it appears that Ibrahim Magu, the person he chose for the job in an acting capacity pending Senate’s confirmation, might be “a liability to the war against corruption.” Magu was appointed acting chairman in November 9, 2015 to replace Ibrahim Lamorde who was sacked by Buhari because of corruption and incompetence.
Unfortunately, the President wasted too much time before forwarding Magu’s name to the “red chamber” for confirmation in July the following year. After a closed door meeting with Magu on December 15, 2016, the Senate rejected his nomination and cited as the main reason for its decision an unfavourable report against him from the Department of State Services (DSS).
Expectedly, President Buhari stuck to his loyalist Magu, cleared him of all the damaging allegations by the DSS and re-submitted his name for confirmation. Interestingly, Magu appeared before the Senate again on the Ides of March, that is, March 15, 2017, a date that is historically significant for the execution of Julius Caesar by Roman senators.
As it happened, our senators destroyed Magu’s hope of becoming substantive chairman of the EFCC because they were not impressed by his lacklustre answers to some radioactive questions put to him during the confirmation hearing. Indeed, an objective assessment of what transpired that day indicates that Magu did not handle appropriately three fundamental issues.
One, he failed to address adequately allegations of corruption and questionable integrity levelled against him in the DSS report; two, his responses to accusations of highhandedness and illegal detention and sometimes death of suspects in EFCC’s custody were woolly and incoherent; finally, he was unable to tell senators precisely or even approximately how much had been recovered from corrupt public officials since he started acting as EFCC chairman. Buharimaniacs are naïve in thinking that Magu’s poor oratorical skills caused his rejection; others blamed conspiracy by senators under investigation by the anti-corruption agency.
Now, it is possible that an EFCC chairman with the rhetorical skills of late K.O. Mbadiwe could have mesmerised senators with highfalutin eloquence. However, the issue of eloquence is irrelevant to Magu’s failure to state precisely how much had been recovered up to the time he was interviewed by senators and justify the heavy-handedness of EFCC operatives in carrying out their functions.
In my opinion, Magu was not well prepared for the hearing, which is somewhat odd knowing that he was visiting hostile territory where he ought to be at his best. More significantly, he displayed appalling insensitivity in his failure to give a reasonable explanation why anyone held by the EFCC should die in detention – nothing prevented him from expressing genuine regret that such a thing happened and back it up with sincere promises that it will not happen again under his watch.
So, he missed a rare opportunity to showcase the humane side of his personality. I suspect that Magu thought his loyalty to President Buhari and the latter’s implicit confidence in him were enough to guarantee his confirmation. He was mistaken: the harsh words with which the Senate declined his confirmation and recommendation that the President should nominate someone else is an object lesson to Buhari’s appointees that Nigeria is not a totalitarian society where any decision taken by the President must be implemented “with immediate effect.”
Notwithstanding decades of militarisation of governance by incompetent military dictators and their civilian collaborators, we are now operating a democratic system in which the legislative arm of government is constitutionally mandated to guard against abuses of power by the executive.
Meanwhile, I disagree with those Buharimaniacs who (a) exaggerate the achievements of the EFCC under Magu while ignoring or downplaying its glaring failures (b) allege that the Senate do not want Magu because several senators are currently in the crosshairs of EFCC’s anti-corruption investigations and, (c) on the strength of a and b above, recommend that President Buhari should disregard the Senate and allow Magu to continue in acting capacity.
Frankly speaking, in spite of valid accusation of bias in the prosecution of Buhari’s war against corruption, the EFCC did the right thing by exposing – and sometimes confiscating – the enormous funds and assets stolen by some top officials of the immediate past administration. Nevertheless, that is not a good reason for it to usurp powers of the courts, engage in unlawful detention of suspects or employ strong arm tactics to extract purported confessional statements from suspects and witnesses. It is very unlikely that senators currently being investigated by the EFCC would want Magu confirmed.
Yet, unless there is evidence that all the senators who voted against Magu’s confirmation are in EFCC’s anti-corruption periscope, it would be invalid to conclude self-righteously that the Senate acted solely to protect its corrupt members. There are bad eggs in the Senate, as in every other institution, but it is definitely wrong to assume that all senators are corrupt and that none of the relatively clean ones among them opposed Magu based on serious allegations against him in the DSS report.
That said, why is Buhari insisting on having Magu as EFCC chairman, as if there is no one else that can do the job even better? Is the President unaware that no human being is indispensable, that the cemeteries are filled with indispensable people?
What is so special about Magu that President Buhari is willing to damage further the already bumpy relationship between the executive and the Senate? It would be imprudent for the President to stick with Magu: he should look for a supremely creative, intelligent and competent Nigerian anywhere in the world with the requisite experience and good moral standing to head the EFCC. If he does this successfully, he might eventually realise that Senate’s rejection of Magu is a blessing in disguise.
The case of Babachir Lawal (SGF) is interesting because he was one of the appointees President Buhari believed “would make things work normal.” Unfortunately for him, Lawal was asked to quit by the Senate for alleged misappropriation of funds set aside for alleviating the sufferings of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the north east devastated by Boko Haram.
In presenting the report indicting Lawal, chairman of the senate’s ad-hoc committee on humanitarian crisis in the north east, Ahmed Sani, claimed that several contracts were awarded to firms belonging to family members and cronies of top government officials. With specific reference to the SGF, the committee discovered that he was a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited, which won a contract on March 8, 2016, to remove invasive plants in the IDP camp in Yobe state. It also found out that although Babachir Lawal resigned as a director of Rholavision in September 2016, more than six months after the company won the contract, he is a signatory to the company’s account, thereby raising issues of conflict of interests.
Thus, the SGF, according to senator Sani and his colleagues, violated provisions of the public procurement Act and the federal government financial rules and regulations guiding award of contracts. Based on the interim report, the Senate requested the President to sack and prosecute Lawal. In response, the SGF declared that the Senate’s decision was an instance of corruption fighting back, which was meant to tarnish his image.
President Buhari, as usual, sided with his appointee. He claimed that the senators contravened the principle of rule of law and fair hearing in its investigations by not inviting the SGF and Rholavision to hear their own side of the story. In addition, the Senate’s decision was based on an interim report, which, according to the President, is improper, and he reasoned that for such weighty allegations against Lawal, senators should have waited for the final report before reaching a definitive conclusion.
But while defending the Senate’s resolution on the matter in a plenary session, Sani accused President Buhari of fighting corruption in other arms of government with insecticide whereas he uses air freshener or deodorant to fight it in the executive. He then brandished a letter of invitation to the SGF which the latter ignored. To be concluded.