The appointment of Abdulrasheed Bawa as substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), last February, had long foreclosed the return of Mr. Ibrahim Magu to his seat, which he was forced to vacate in July last year, and it followed the normal trend of other EFCC heads before him. Virtually all the heads of the Nigerian anti-graft agency had left office in controversial circumstances.

Ibrahim Magu was appointed Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on November 9, 2015, but was suspended from office by President Muhammadu Buhari on July 7, 2020, and replaced by Muhammad Umar, then EFCC head of operations, over allegations of fraud, including diversion of funds and EFCC seized assets.

President Buhari later convened an investigative panel headed by a retired Appeal Court Judge, Justice Ayo Salami, to look into these allegations. The Salami panel, in November, last year, confidentially, presented its report to President Buhari, and two weeks later, the President released the report, which cleared Ibrahim Magu of the charges. But he was not returned to his seat.

Observers believe that the Magu case followed an all too familiar trend of top bosses of the Nigerian anti- corruption agency facing the axe in very questionable ways for alleged questionable behaviour.

Prior to joining the EFCC as top boss of the agency, Ibrahim Magu was embroiled in a separate scandal. Under former EFCC boss, Farida Waziri, he was arrested at his Lagos home with EFCC case files and computers.

The next day, Magu, who had served as the Head of the EFCC Economic Governance Unit, had his Abuja home raided by EFCC officials looking for files and a computer containing classified documents.It was claimed, at that time, that Magu’s problems came from some politicians friendly with Farida Waziri.

Later, Farida Waziri herself, would be removed from her position as EFCC chairperson, by former President Goodluck Jonathan on accusations that the EFCC had been selective in its investigations.

Since it was established in 2003, the EFCC has been accused of being a political tool used to target enemies of the ruling politicians in the country. As it is, the agency is carefully tucked within the Presidency with the head of the organization reporting directly to the President. This reporting system had almost always caused friction with the office of the Inspector General of Police or the Attorney General of the Federation.

In the case of Ibrahim Magu, two times was his nomination sent to Senate for confirmation, and on those two times it was rejected. But the President insisted that the man must remain on the seat, though in acting capacity, which was one of the challenges and controversies of the Buhari administration on appointments, nominations, and confirmations.

The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had at the time, claimed that “the National Assembly does not need to agree with the Presidency on the appointment of Magu as head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission”.

“Section 1(71) of the Nigerian Constitution could be cited as evidence that the government need not even have produced Mr. Magu to be cleared by the Senate at all,” the Vice President deposed.

Magu had been one of the earliest recruits into the EFCC by Nuhu Ribadu, who was appointed first chairman of the anti-graft agency, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo..

After heading the investigation of Bukola Saraki following the collapse of Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, and James Ibori, former Governor of Delta State, who was convicted for money laundering in the United Kingdom, Ribadu gained a reputation among his peers as an incorruptible and courageous officer. He was however not reappointed for second term by Umaru Yar’Adua, when he became President in 2007.

Magu’s predecessor, Ibrahim Lamorde, who was appointed by Goodluck Jonathan, was removed by Muhammadu Buhari in November 2015. But according to the Presidency, Mr. Lamorde “was not sacked”, but “only proceeding on terminal leave ahead of the expiration of his tenure in February 2016.” The terminal leave meant that President Buhari had refused Lamorde a second allowable term at the commission, while dismissing him earlier than scheduled.

Before Lamorde, was Farida Waziri. Waziri’s time as EFCC Chairperson was tumultuous, and policy experts said a former ambassador walked out of a meeting, because Farida Waziri walked into the same meeting.

In the infamous Wikileaks cables, it was shown that EFCC’s foreign partners rejected and humiliated Waziri on account of their perception that she was sponsored into the leadership of the anti-corruption agency by politicians under investigation at the time.

Before her appointment, Waziri was well-known in law enforcement circles and generally highly respected, particularly as the highest ranking woman in the Nigerian Police Force. She was Director of the Police Special Fraud Unit and trained both Ribadu and Lamorde in the 1990’s.

A series of arrests, redeployments of officers, and officers demoted by Waziri, led critics to question the Yar’Adua administration’s commitment to fighting corruption.

It was suggested that Magu’s travails, stemmed from his not too friendly relationship with the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, who reportedly had accused Magu of insubordination and re-looting of recovered funds.

Malami had on June 5, 2020, written a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, entitled: “Fragrant abuse of public office and other infractions committed by Mr. Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission”.

The disagreement between Abubakar Malami and Ibrahim Magu was said to have arisen over prosecution of cases brought before the court.

It was also claimed that Ibrahim Magu was a notable ally of Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, and with the Vice President being frozen out of Aso Rock, the removal of Magu from the EFCC, would help to reduce Osinbajo’s political capital ahead of 2023.

With the appointment of Abdulrasheed Bawa as new head of EFCC, we hope that at the end of the day, he will not end his tenure like others before him.

Dr. Dons Eze, KSJI

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