By Chris Onuoha
Mr. Ivie Richard, an activist, is Executive Director of Corruption Observatory. Richard, in this interview, analyses the Ibrahim Magu probe. Excerpts:
Some people have described what happened as power play. What do you make out of it?
I have no doubt that a lot of Nigerians may have been jolted by the seeming arrest of Magu. But so many other Nigerians would not be that surprised, judging from what has been going on for a while now. Magu as the Chairman of EFCC has done quite some good work while in office by convicting some high profile politicians, and he is also an ardent expert in anti-fraud and anti-money laundering issues.
Magu was the team leader of the Special Finance Unit of the Nigeria Police. He was promoted as Chief Superintendent of Police in 2003 and appointed the Chairman of EFCC in 2015.
In 2010, Magu had an altercation with the Police Service Commission. He was warned because he was withholding some EFCC files. Curiously, the 8th Senate refused to confirm the appointment of Magu based on intelligence report from the DSS. Part of the intelligence report from the DSS said Magu was occupying a residence rented for N20million per annum, and paid for by one Retired Air Commodore Umar Mohammed and not the EFCC as would be expected.
And this same residence was furnished at the cost of N43million by the FCTA through a contract awarded to Messrs Africa Energy allegedly owned by the same Umar Muhammed. Magu is also said to have travelled for official duties in a private jet owned by this same retired Air Commodore.
And that in one of those trips to Maiduguri, both of them were in the company of the MD of a bank allegedly complicit in the case of the money allegedly traced to Diezani Alison Madueke. And the icing on the cake of the saga is that the AGF had also come out to say that Magu diverted part of the recovered loot which Nigerians have been questioning for a long time about what is happening to the loot.
Another story is that he has recklessly and fraudulently engaged the sale of the seized assets. Now, the case of Magu has to be approached with a lot of caution because of all these allegations are at the realm of speculation. Yes, a lot of people say it is power play. But for me, Magu is a close friend of the Presidency and so is Malami. I think it is a good that a high profile panel is finally put in place to unravel all of these allegations and see if there is any iota of truth.
When you say finally, were you expecting something like this before now?
That is what I am telling you. Imagine that Magu was appointed in 2015, and he has not been confirmed. At that time, it was speculated that then-Senate President did not have good rapport with the Presidency. But now, we have a Senate that has good rapport with the Presidency, and his name has not been submitted for confirmation even though several high profile appointees have been confirmed since the 9th Senate came into office.
What does this mean for the fight against corruption?
The anti-corruption commission head has to have an impeccable character and should undergo a lot of sting operations before being appointed and confirmed. And if you confirm an appointee that has not passed those stings operations, it means that you are putting the country at risk. That is not in any way to say that Magu is guilty.
But I know that when you go against people, people will certainly come after you. But my point is that this issue must be scrutinized and the truth unraveled, so that Nigerians would know exactly what is at play if it is just power play or if there is truth that Magu is corrupt. Larmode (a former EFCC Chairman) had similar experience, so also was Waziri (another EFCC Chairman). In far away America, the head of FBI had similar experience. So, in all of these things, it is always proper to investigate if there was truth or it was just power play or somebody was just trying to be mischievous somewhere.
At this point, if Magu comes out of this episode unscathed, could it still be business as usual thereafter?
It will be an embarrassment to the country if any of the allegations, no matter how small, is proven to be correct. The truth of the matter is that a commission like EFCC needs a character that has impeccable integrity. But my major worry is not this investigation that is at play, it is the fact that the foundation of our anti-corruption drive, the system is weak.
Now, imagine that Waziri also had this problem, Larmode had it too, and a myriad of Nigerians in public service have the same problem; it all tells us that the systems are not strong. I have been close to a committee of this government and have opened up to them that this government is not fighting corruption the way it should be fought. There is no harm in pursuing people who steal money and making them to return the money and you jail them, but if that’s what the government is going to do, they have to jail about the three quarter of Nigerians.
I understand that the EFCC does not need petitions to swing into action. Regarding that angle, is that an issue of shortcomings on the part of the EFCC?
I think it is a part of the national problem. By the law setting up of the EFCC, if you have linkage to the tune of about N3million, EFCC is supposed to investigate it. But today, if you take the case of N30million to the EFCC, you will be wasting your time because there are cases running into billions of naira to investigate. And that is because the primary agencies that ought to fight corruption are not doing their job; anti-corruption is a pro-active activity.
It is not reactive. EFCC is a reactive agency and so also are the police and the DSS. The real anti-corruption agencies are the SON, the procurement body, the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Public Complaint Commission, they ought to be at the front burner. But all of these are like they are comatose. So, the EFCC is overwhelmed; when every day, people come up with this case, that case, they only look at the cases that bother the country most to investigate. That’s not a pass mark on part of the EFCC. I think the administration and especially the committee advising the President should do a lot more work on how countries now battle corruption. Corruption is not fought reactively. Anti-corruption is proactive; for instance, there are some frameworks that should be but we don’t have here. Number one is the framework that would make Nigerians to be able to speak out and be protected: The Whistleblowers Act. We don’t have the Act, we only have a policy. Number 2 is the service provider and receiver framework – Servicom, we don’t have. We only have a policy. We can go on and on. The most important one that most countries don’t joke with at all is the standard that the ordinary and corporate citizens willingly abide by.
Talking about this investigation, perhaps something that is important is transparency. Just like the Minister of State for Labour asked ‘how can you expose corruption without cameras?’ How can we ensure transparency in this case?
This is just the beginning. If you bar pressmen from the primary hearing I am sure it will not end without what happened there coming out one way or the other. But ensuring transparency would have meant that at least one or two media agencies should have been allowed into the place. But in the wisdom of government, I don’t think it is all that bad; we have to watch and see what comes out of it.