The Magu Ambush, By Dele Agekameh

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Now, it is apparent that there exist some fifth columnists in Aso Rock. It is also clear that some highly-placed officials of the administration are not interested in the president’s anti-corruption drive.

It has the trappings of a soap opera. First, the president sent a letter to the Senate seeking confirmation for Ibrahim Magu as substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). But rather than do the needful, the senators allowed the letter to gather dust for five months before they decided to hold a screening session with the nominee.

In what looked like a premeditated action, on the day he first appeared at the Red Chamber, the senators merely relied on a report submitted to it by the Department of State Services (DSS) and pronounced that Magu was not fit for the office of chairman of the EFCC based on the security report against him. He was neither given an opportunity to defend himself nor was he ever questioned before the DSS wrote the report.

Expectedly, the matter generated intense discourse as concerned citizens cried foul. After an initial lull, the president finally referred the matter to the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), for investigation. The AGF’s office absolved Magu from all the allegations leveled against him by the DSS. Shortly after this, the president went on a prolonged medical vacation and nothing was heard about the matter for some time.

Then suddenly, on Tuesday, March 14, 2017, the Senate fixed the following day, Wednesday, March 15, 2017 for the much-awaited screening session at the Red Chamber. People had thought that with the clean bill of health earlier given to Magu after the AGF’s investigation, it would be a mere walkover for the anti-corruption czar. But they were dead wrong.

On the appointed day, Wednesday, March 15, 2017, Magu casually and unknowingly walked into a carefully planned ambush engineered by the Senators and the DSS. Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy Senate president, who fired the first salvo, knew exactly where the day’s screening session was headed when he pointedly asked Magu to explain to the Senate how he responded to the corruption allegations earlier levelled against him. He did not stop there. He said the president’s re-nomination letter to the Senate did not clearly state how Magu responded to the issues that convinced the president to re-nominate him.

Thinking that it was child’s play, Magu said he responded in a written statement and that if he knew that it would come up again, he would have come along with the document. Still oblivious of what was to come, Magu said talking about it would fuel acrimony between the two sister government agencies, that is, the EFCC and the DSS. At that point, Bukola Saraki, the Senate president, interjected and made it clear to him that he should answer the questions put to him to the best of his ability. Magu became dazed.

If Magu eventually leaves, it may sound the death knell for President Buhari’s anti-corruption war, which is the fulcrum of his administration. Obviously, the next man will have to think twice and tread softly to win the “affection” of our corruption-riddled politicians and dubious businessmen.

Shortly after this, the chief executioner, Dino Melaye, rose to his feet and let the cat out of the bag. He referred to another letter received from the DSS the previous day affirming their earlier report on Magu. He took time to read out parts of the letter. Dino raised his voice to deliver the killer-punch in paragraph 14 of the report where the DSS concluded that: “Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption drive of the present administration.”

Pronto, in a voice vote that ensued, the senators chorused “nay” and that, for the second time, ended Magu’s quest to be confirmed as the substantive chairman of the EFCC.

Like the previous rejection, many Nigerians have condemned the action of the senators. Already, in the public domain, a number of factors have been raised as likely responsible for the rejection of Magu by the Senate. None of them, however, has anything to do with his competence or his passion to prosecute the anti-corruption war. Almost everything pointed to his uncompromising stance on issues of corruption and the fact that he does not appear as a man who can be easily swayed.

It has also been exposed that several times some senators approached him to see if he could play ball in the event of his confirmation, but Magu had clearly told them that the law will always take its course. Since many of the senators, especially those of them who had been governors and other political office holders in the past, are currently being confronted with various corruption allegations, it would appear that many of them went to the Senate to seek sanctuary from prosecution. Therefore, with the way Magu is going about his anti-corruption crusade, it is becoming increasingly clear to them that there may be no place to hide after all, which is why, many of them are desperate to extract “relief” from Magu before agreeing to his confirmation. With the fast approaching 2019 general elections, the senators know that his confirmation may mean tougher times for them.

It appears Magu too has been a bit careless and largely undiplomatic. What stops him from going to the Red Chamber last Wednesday, with a copy of his response to the allegations raised against him by the DSS? Recall that even with his confirmation still hanging in the balance, Magu also recently opened another Pandora’s box with state governors and the National Assembly members over allegations of embezzlement of the money refunded by the Paris club.

…the main issue in this trajectory is that Magu has not been ‘flexible’ enough to overlook the corrupt tendencies of many of our politicians and highly placed Nigerians… the country may have inevitably been exposed to international ridicule and odium.

In the first instance, the money was given to the state governors without appropriation and the NASS had pretended that it did not notice this constitutional flaw. Perhaps, as they say, ‘a lot of water had passed underneath the bridge.’ So, naturally, the two groups — the governors and National Assembly members — will join hands to frustrate Magu. And the only way that can happen is to block his confirmation.

It is apparent that Magu did not see early warning signals or he chose to ignore them. While he is said to be close to the National Security Adviser (NSA) who, ordinarily, should have been consulted by the DSS, it is also said that the NSA and DSS boss have no cordial working relationship. Even Magu is said not to be in the good books of the AGF for one reason or another. From what was gathered, the AGF may have absolved Magu of blame just to satisfy the vice president. He could have also surreptitiously worked against Magu as well.

By and large, the Magu episode does not give the impression that the president is in charge. It is a pity that he has become hostage to the vested interests in the Villa. Now, it is apparent that there exists some fifth columnists in Aso Rock. It is also clear that some highly-placed officials of the administration are not interested in the president’s anti-corruption drive. This is because they are intensely corrupt and their loyalty to the president is just on the face and not in the mind. Therefore, they see a person like Magu, with his uncompromising stance as a threat to their existence in the corridors of power. It is corruption ferociously fighting back and winning. The earlier the president becomes more assertive, the better for him, his party – the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) – and the country at large.

Above all, the main issue in this trajectory is that Magu has not been ‘flexible’ enough to overlook the corrupt tendencies of many of our politicians and highly placed Nigerians. That is why they are working against him and want him out at all costs. As two sister agencies under the executive arm of government, lock horns on this issue, the country may have inevitably been exposed to international ridicule and odium.

If Magu eventually leaves, it may sound the death knell for President Buhari’s anti-corruption war, which is the fulcrum of his administration. Obviously, the next man will have to think twice and tread softly to win the “affection” of our corruption-riddled politicians and dubious businessmen. And then, it will be business as usual! God save Nigeria!

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