By Dare Babarinsa
Ibrahim Magu was a powerful man. If you look at the list of his clients you will surmise too that he must have powerful enemies. But Muhammadu Buhari, the President of the Republic was once with him. That has changed now and that means all the difference for Magu. How the current drama would play out finally is not clear yet, but as of now it seems safe to conclude that the once powerful boss of the all-powerful Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, is now past tense.
In the corridors of power that is. Whether he would eventually be punished for his alleged crimes is another kettle of fish.
When Jesus Christ said it would be impossible for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle, he was not thinking of the Nigerian big man. Magu is a big man.
Magu has faced trial by the mob since his travail began without the opportunity to defend himself publicly yet. One would have expected that once the President decide to move against him, he would have been issued a query and then allowed to respond extensively. Instead, the once powerful man was invited into the lair of Aso Rock Presidential Villa where he ran into an ambuscade. For him, such tactics must look familiar. He may not have thought he would one day be at the receiving end of such tactics.
Every single person who has held fort at the EFCC has departed in controversial circumstances. The EFCC was established by President Olusegun Obasanjo to show the world that we are serious in our fight against corruption. Its first chairman, the gangling Nuhu Ribadu, became the rod of chastisement against the corrupt Nigerian political elites. He was lionized and glamourized as the golden-boy of a corruption-free future. He made it known that he had dossiers on 34 of the then 36 state governors. He said his boys were waiting for them once they are divested of their constitutional immunity. He did not comprehend fully that they too were waiting for him.
When it was near for Obasanjo to retire to his farm in 2007, he gave Ribadu a second-term in office as the EFCC chairman. The politicians, who financed the expensive 2007 presidential campaign for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar’Adua, were to be Ribadu’s principal targets. Yar’Adua when he settled safely on the saddle, thought otherwise. One of the financiers of his campaign had allegedly advised him on the choice of his Attorney-General, an eminent lawyer with vast experience. Ribadu’s head was placed on the chopping block.
Farida Waziri, who succeeded Ribadu, was a tough cop who knew her onion. She also knew her politics but not enough of it. Waziri was an Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, but was now asked to take the job of a man who had been demoted by the police establishment from AIG to Deputy Commissioner of Police. She struggled with the system, but in the end the Establishment got tired of her. She knew too much and treated members of the political establishment with scant respect. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan fired Waziri in 2011. He was promptly replaced by Ibrahim Lamorde.
Lamorde tenure ended when President Muhammadu Buhari replaced Jonathan as the new tenant of Aso Rock Presidential Villa in 2015. Enter Ibrahim Magu. Magu was a veteran of the EFCC operations and had served since the time of Ribadu. The EFCC clients, made up of mostly of former governors, senators, ministers and those irreplaceable godfathers, know Magu. They did not want him. The Nigerian Senate, now the cornucopia of retired governors and sundry merchants, rejected his nomination. Though in such matters, the Senate sometimes act as a trade union, but in this case, it may have had some solid grounds.
The Directorate of State Services, DSS, sent a critical report about Magu to the Senate. It concluded that he was unfit to hold such a high and sensitive office as the chairman of the EFCC. The Senate, under the leadership of the insufferable Dr Bukola Saraki, refused to confirm Magu. Buhari nonetheless insisted that he would continue in office. He was then one of the postal boys of the regime.
But troubles were brewing from other quarters. Many months ago, a lawyer had petitioned the President alleging that Magu was at the centre of a syndicate which specialised in kidnapping lands and houses belonging to those facing charges preferred against them by the EFCC. It was not clear whether the Attorney General or the Presidency queried Magu of this matter. However, the issue would not go away despite Magu’s insistence of his innocence.
By last week, the allegation list was getting longer and longer. He was accused of kidnapping houses in Abuja and other parts of the country. It was said that in 2018, he could not account for 332 houses. I am especially interested in the case of Bayelsa State where Chief Diespreye Alamieyeseigha was the first elected governor and where more were involved than disappearing houses. Alamieyeseigha case with the EFCC was during the time of Ribadu. He was said to have forfeited four houses in the United Kingdom to the Nigerian government. He also forfeited One Million British pounds cash that was found in his London apartment. The EFCC also forfeited monies found in his bank accounts in Scotland, Cyprus, Denmark, the Bahamas, England and the United States.
The Bayelsa State Government later protested that it was the rightful owner of the money recovered from Alamieyeseigha. When the EFCC would not budge, the state hired a lawyer who presented a comprehensive petition to Magu which he copied to the President. By 2014, the EFCC promised to pay Bayelsa State and then reneged. The lawyer allegedly wrote to Governor Seriake Dickson asking for permission to sue the EFCC. The governor knew that the EFCC is one customer no governor in retirement would want to have. He preferred to dilly dally. The lawyer persisted and pestered the governor. Dickson, tired of this unrelenting termagant, fired him.
However the Magu saga is not necessarily good news for Bayelsa and other states. The amount of money being bandied about in this saga is already mind-boggling. It shows that even under the present change-regime, the old game is still on while the President remains embedded in Aso Rock. It is a commendable thing however that President Buhari could move against one of his precious boys who in the past was believed to be incapable of doing any wrong. The President, despite his occasional weariness, still have enough teeth to bite. This time around he is biting a mouthful.
The government has since announced that Mohammed Umar Abba, the EFCC Director of Operation, would step into the Chairman’s office in acting capacity. He would be the fifth Moslem and Northerner to head the EFCC. No one from the southern part of the country has ever being considered good enough to head the organisation. This is a sore record. It is this tendency to surround himself with mainly people from his side of the country that made many people conclude that Buhari is running a Fulani-centric regime. That he allows for this baleful thought to persist at all diminishes Buhari and tarnishes his service to our great country.