By Ochereome Nnanna
ONE of the great disappointments of the All Progressives Congress APC, Federal Government is the serial displays of crass incompetence and impunity on matters whose procedures have long been established. President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, for some unexplained reasons, appears to find it difficult to make otherwise simple political appointments. He wasted the first six months of his tenure before he appointed ministers.
Sixteen months after his Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. James Ocholi, died in a car crash the regime has not managed to replace him because of the Presidency’s inexplicable incapacity to swear-in his replacement cleared by the Senate months ago! Because of this, Kogi State has remained without ministerial representation as the constitution demands. When the tenure of the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, Prof Attahiru Jega’s tenure ended on June 30th 2015, he duly handed over to the most senior member of the Board, Ambassador Ahmed Wali.
A couple of hours later, President Buhari shocked the nation to its marrows by sending Hajiya Amina Zakari, an INEC National Commissioner, to take over from Wali as Acting INEC Chairman, only to bring in Prof. Mahmood Yakubu about four months later as the substantive Chairman. These moves ruffled political feathers and gave the impression that the President was pocketing the INEC whose perceived impartiality made the change of government (which he benefited from) possible. It took more than two years for him to fill the Board of INEC with the seven vacant memberships. And even now, with about eighteen months to the next general elections, 19 states still do not have State Electoral Commissioners.
The most untidy of all the appointments that this regime has made is that of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. Before Buhari came to power, the appointment of an EFCC Chair was a non-event. The procedure always followed the provisions of the EFCC Act of 2004. Section 3 of the Act provides: “The Chairman and members of the Commission other than Ex-Officio members shall be appointed by the President and the appointment shall be subject to the confirmation of the Senate”.
At first Buhari, whose regime has a strong anti-graft agenda followed this law. On 9th November 2015, he named Mr. Ibrahim Mustafa Magu as the Acting Chairman. In his usual display of tardiness, Buhari did not send Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation for nine months. It was only when he proceeded on his first 10-day medical vacation in July 2016 that Acting President Yemi Osinbajo sent Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation.
The ill-advised delay contributed in working against Magu. How can any sensible government keep an anti-graft Czar in office in acting capacity for nine whole months, thus exposing him to new on-the-job adversaries before sending him to a place like the Senate where some of such people could be waiting to stop him? The smart thing to have done (which Buhari’s predecessors did) was to quickly send the name for confirmation before he begins to make enemies as his job necessitates, especially if he appears to be doing well.
However, in Magu’s case, it was not the real or perceived enemies he might have in the Senate that worked against him. The truth is that many Senators like to be in the good books of an anti-graft Czar, minister or head of a powerful government agency, for selfish reasons. They jump to be seen to be in the forefront of supporting their confirmation, which is why we have this dubious “bow-and-go” routine.
Magu’s real “enemies” were more in Buhari’s kitchen cabinet. Some of their names were already in the media over various alleged acts of corruption. The Department of State Services DSS, submitted a report to the Senate accusing Magu of carrying unwholesome personal baggage that disqualified him to lead Buhari’s anti-corruption effort. Secondly, Magu proved less than adequate during the screening exercise. He did not seem to have a firm grasp of happenings in his Commission. He did not appear prepared to tackle the most predictable of questions for a person facing a confirmation hearing. Having failed on both grounds, the senators refused to confirm him. Twice he was presented, and twice did the DSS intervene with damaging reports against Magu.
The Presidency was expected to look for another crack candidate for the job. But politics, ego and personal interests came into the matter. Some pro-government lawyers with obvious stakes in the Magu candidacy, sensing that he would never get confirmed no matter how many times he was represented, advised the Presidency that the EFCC Chairman did not need Senate confirmation. They pointed to Section 171 (C) of the Constitution which holds that the “Head of any Extra-Ministerial Department of the Government of the Federation howsoever designated” does not need Senate confirmation to operate. They held that the EFCC, being linked to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, is an extra-ministerial department.
The Federal Government (particularly Acting President Osinbajo, who along with the wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, has been the main supporter of Magu) bought into this line of argument. He has vowed that Magu will remain in office as Acting Chairman until he and Buhari cease to be in office.
This is obviously a barefaced act of executive impunity. Is it the place of the Presidency or its lawyer hirelings to interpret the law? Is that not the constitutional preserve of the Judiciary? After failing twice to get their choice candidate confirmed, the Presidency resorted to self-help by riding rough-shod over an extant law without first getting it nullified by the Supreme Court. It has never happened before in our democracy, and if it is allowed to stand no one knows what act of impunity the Executive, now or in the future, might decide to dabble into!
Already, apart from Magu, the Buhari Federal Government had in April 2017, appointed Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila as the Director General of the National Lottery Commission. He was allowed to start work without first being presented to the Senate for confirmation. The Acting President was also overheard making a statement that seemed to question the Senate’s power of confirmation. Faced with the looming threat to a major plank of its constitutional powers, the Senate decided to suspend all confirmatory functions until the Presidency respects its resolution and remove Magu.
Unless sanity prevails, if the two sides stick to their guns, we may one day experience a total government shutdown or open show of force between the two sides which could threaten our democracy. As far as I am concerned, the Senate is on solid grounds to hold unto its right to confirm the EFCC Chair until the Supreme Court decides otherwise. The Presidency has no right or power to annul the EFCC Act of 2004 or any of its provisions whatsoever. It is only the Supreme Court which has the power to decide if a law we have been operating for 13 years was wrongly made.
I stand firmly behind the Senators on Magu, and I encourage them never to budge. A government that invaded the homes of judges in the night and yet could not procure enough credible evidence to prosecute them is now interpreting the law by itself! What will they do next?
We are being dragged back to Egypt where Pharaoh is waiting to arrest us! We must say no to impunity!