PROFILE: Who is afraid of Ibrahim Magu?

by Wilfred Okiche

“In the light of the foregoing, Magu has failed the integrity test and will eventually constitute a liability to the anti-corruption stand of the current government.”

Thus ended the official security report from the Department of State Services on the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr Ibrahim Mustafa Magu. In the process of preparing for the confirmation hearing, the second in three months,- that would make Magu substantive head of one of the country’s most influential agencies, the DSS, – as it does with all other nominees it is required to screen,- presented a security dossier on Mr Magu.

As with the report originally submitted to the Senate in December, later fact checked as a cocktail of falsehoods and half-truths by online newspaper, Premium Times, the outlook was grim and the verdict, damning. Dino Melaye (Kogi West), presently embroiled in a fake certificate scandal with the Ahmadu Bello University, jumped on his high horse, righteous indignation oozing from his every pore and demanded that any person aspiring to head the EFCC should be above board, stainless and without blemish.

Unable to conceal his irritation with the nominee before him, Melaye then threw in a cheap shot, telegraphing the Senate’s ultimate decision to be rid of Magu, perhaps for the last time. “Do you still see yourself qualified as the Chairman of the EFCC or we’ve paid you to Golgotha?” the Senator fired, not without a tinge of malice.

Magu under fire

The distinguished Senators may have had their preconceived reasons for rejecting Magu but truth be told, the former cop did not exactly make their job any harder. On the basis of his performance alone, any serious fellow would not be faulted for failing to be impressed by Magu’s lack of charisma and confidence in his capabilities.

While the matter of charisma can easily be forgiven, it was quite dispiriting to watch a man who had spent many years in technical and leadership positions within the EFCC, the last one year spent in the Acting Chairmanship capacity flounder on such basic expectations.

Like many a smug professional, Magu approached the hearing like a gnat on his skin and the combination of his naivety and careless misreading of political processes helped ensure that he had less than a stellar outing.

After having been turned down by the Senate in December, thanks to a problematic report from the DSS, now available in the public domain, one would have expected Magu to go back to that document and defend himself of every single allegation, providing empirical evidence where necessary.

When the matter of the report came up the second time around, as was to be expected by every Nigerian except Magu, the former cop offered a lame excuse, claiming he did not expect that the report would factor in the latest confirmation hearing and as such did not bother to bring his written responses to the issues raised. No serious organization would have genuinely gone on to hire Magu as chief executive after that howler.

But the 7th Senate is not exactly known to be a bastion of integrity, neither is it a nest of excellence and Magu could probably have gotten away with unpreparedness alone were the odds genuinely in his favor. The All Progressive Congress (APC) after all controls the majority in the executive and legislative branches of government. But Magu proceeded to provide generic answers to the questions that were thrown his way and failed to clearly communicate his advantage for the job.

Magu was more fizzle than sizzle as he let the Senators seize advantage of the proceedings and never really for once during the entire two hours, impressed anyone with the urgency of his confirmation. And it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for him to achieve this. It is the Senate after all.

Making matters worse was the feeling that the executive branch had failed to do the groundwork and smart lobbying before hand that would have ensured Magu enjoyed at least a soft landing. At the end of the hearing, the Senate voted in the majority to reject Magu’s confirmation, leaving the Presidency with egg in the face and Magu’s future on the line.

 

Political Magu

From the moment Muhammadu Buhari assumed office, it was pretty obvious that the leadership of some key institutions would have to change considering the President’s focus on anti-corruption and security. In November 2015, Buhari approved the appointment of Ibrahim Magu, at the time an Assistant Commissioner of Police, to take over the Chairmanship of the EFCC as the former boss, Ibrahim Lamorde was asked to proceed on terminal leave as his tenure wound to a halt.

For a spell, during the golden years of Nuhu Ribadu, the EFCC was the most powerful government body in the land, able to strike fear into the hearts of thieving politicians and government officials who lived in terror of the dreaded summons, perhaps the only thing that was sacred to them

Even though the EFCC under Ribadu ultimately failed to shake off accusations of selective persecution as dictated by President Obasanjo, and actual conviction rate remained low, the commission managed to prosecute and secure convictions against former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun who pleaded guilty to eight counts of money laundering charges to the tune of N16 billion in 2005, and the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, nailed for money laundering but eventually released on plea bargain.

Political shenanigans got in the way and Ribadu was soon hounded out of office, giving way for Farida Waziri. If the EFCC under Ribadu was all bark and little bite, Ms Waziri’s three year tenure boasted neither bark nor bite, setting the stage for the commission’s years of redundancy. When she was relieved of her appointment in 2011 by Goodluck Jonathan, perhaps only crooked politicians were sad to see her go.

A policeman by training, Ibrahim Magu was one of the early recruits of Nuhu Ribadu. With regards to their strong anti-corruption inclinations and courageous antecedents, both were kindred spirits. Magu became pioneer head of the powerful Economic Governance Unit, the department responsible for investigating senior government officials and provided bolster for the EFCC’s biggest success stories at the time. He quickly earned a reputation as one of the toughest interrogators to work with the EFCC.

In this capacity, some of the high profile cases Magu commissioned include the role of Senate President, Bukola Saraki in the mismanagement and eventual collapse of the family bank, Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, as well as the case that would eventually do him in, that of financial impropriety by godfather of Delta politics, James Ibori. Naturally, Magu earned for himself many enemies, some of whom are sitting today in the hallowed chambers of the national assembly.

The James Ibori case became the downfall of both Magu and his principal, Nuhu Ribadu. The Yar’adua presidency was in bed with the former Delta state governor and Ribadu’s position as chairman became untenable. He fled the country while Magu was arrested in 2008 for allegedly keeping EFCC files and a computer containing classified documents at his Abuja residence.

Recalling the incident while addressing the Senate, Magu insisted that he was unfairly treated and detained, but was released when no evidence to nail him was found. He defended taking work files home as overzealousness to meet deadlines on his part and added that he had been promoted twice since that incidence.

Unbeatable Magu

Magu was redeployed to the police where he had previously served in Bosnia under the United Nations peacekeeping police operation. He was dispatched to Delta state in a posting that was widely considered punishment for his audaciousness. EFCC lore has it that on receiving news of his new posting, Magu blurted out, ‘’Why don’t you just tie me up and shoot me rather than post me to Ibori’s domain?’’

The posting lasted only weeks and Magu was considered neutralized as he went about routine police duties. Respite came his way again when the new EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde, a former colleague from the Ribadu era, with whom Magu had shared an excellent working relationship made Magu’s return to the anti-corruption agency a top priority.

Magu was appointed deputy director in the newly created Department of Internal Affairs, and tasked with the responsibility of enforcing discipline among staff of the commission. In 2015, he was named member of the investigative committee convened by National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno, to probe Armed Forces arms procurement from 2007.

At the time Magu was appointed EFCC Chair, little was known or heard about him in media circles and pictures of him were a rarity. Even he expressed his surprise, telling Interview magazine last year, ‘’I never knew what was coming. When I was told that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation wanted to see me, I was a bit disturbed. I didn’t know what to expect, until the news was broken to me. I was speechless for a moment… honestly, I was not expecting it’.’

Chairman Magu

Magu’s appointment was hailed as a step in the right direction for the President’s anti-corruption drive but his style of leadership has also been a source of worry, especially among EFCC staffers. His administration has been described as high handed, closed off and suspicious of everybody else.

Magu has since his appointment, run EFCC affairs without a substantive director of operations, choosing instead to let two deputy directors head the unit. Naturally, civil servants have not been pleased. Like every EFCC chairman before him, Magu has also been accused of dominating the workforce with police personnel, thereby obstructing the career progress of regular members of staff.

The EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren in defence of his boss, told Daily Trust newspapers,  “The EFCC is a law enforcement agency with a set of established code of conduct. If insisting on discipline, professionalism, courage and integrity among staff is what makes Magu dictatorial, he has no apologies.”

On the core operations side, Magu’s EFCC has received a fresh lease of life and has gone on the attack once again, pushing as many prosecutions as humanly possible. The commission appears rejuvenated and its news worthiness has improved, something that has not happened since Mallam Ribadu left. In May 2016, Magu claimed that in only six months, the EFCC had secured more than 140 convictions and recovered billions of dollars in stolen funds from unscrupulous individuals, but as usual, failed to provide proof.

During his tenure, at least two fuel subsidy scammers have been convicted and in February this year, the EFCC announced a recovery of over $9.8 million in hard currencies from the residence of a former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC) Andrew Yakubu, in Kaduna.

Recovering looted funds to help boost the country’s present cash crunch has been a priority for Magu’s EFCC and according to Magu, the commission is doing quite nicely. Hear him, ‘’ We have achieved a lot in terms of recovery of looted funds and property in the past 11 months more than was achieved in the last 12 years of the existence of the commission.’’

But at his own confirmation hearing, Magu could not convincingly and coherently marshal out these achievements while he made a case for himself. At some point, he even suggested the EFCC was too big for him to keep tabs on every single detail. Not surprising as his training has rendered him in a near perpetual state of suspicion. He keeps his cards close to his chest and media appearances can be awkward and painful in their failure to elicit anything new, especially about his work.

General Magu

No spring chicken, Magu is a trained financial crimes investigator with a background in Forensic Accounting, and has undergone training both at the FBI institute and the London Metropolitan Police institute.

Nicknamed General because of his strong interrogation bonafides and work ethic, 53-year-old Ibrahim Mustafa Magu, a native of Maiduguri, in Borno State, attended the Government Secondary School in Waka-Biu. He went on to Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, from 1983 to 1986, and graduated with honours, with a degree in Accounting.

He enlisted in the Nigerian Police Force in 1990 as Assistant Superintendent of Police, and in 2005, moved to the University of Hong Kong where he obtained a graduate certificate in corruption studies. Between 2010 and 2011, Magu returned to his alma mater and bagged a Masters degree in Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.

Uncertain Magu

The Senate may have based their rejection of Magu’s confirmation on security reports but it is hard not to see another more cynical agenda playing out. EFCC sources reveal that the fear of Magu remains the beginning of wisdom for most politicians (legislators inclusive) and that Magu had dossiers and impending investigations on many members of the political class. A vote for him could have implied a death knell on their careers.

Buhari has insisted on not lobbying to secure Magu’s nomination but if he is convinced that Magu is the man for the job and his anti-corruption agenda is worth fighting for, he may need to come down from his high horse and do the needful. Politics has never been a simple issue of right and wrong and it is with uncomfortable compromises that history is sometimes made. See President Abraham Lincoln’s team of rivals.

Subsumed by his own righteousness and determination to maintain EFCC’s present momentum, Buhari may instead decide to keep Magu on in an acting capacity as there are no term limits. But this would only widen the gulf between the presidency and the legislature. Or he may well accept Magu’s loss as collateral damage and drop him entirely while he retreats to consider his next best option.

The Magu conundrum may well decide if the EFCC remains relevant or collapses for another two years. Various interests (the Senate, DSS, the Presidency) appear to be in battle and Magu has been thrust right at the centre with little control over his future. In this war, who fights dirtiest, wins.

It’s just politics.

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