Aso Rock is facing an unenviable dilemma over the investigation of Ibrahim Magu, suspended acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over alleged financial crimes.
Ibrahim Magu is a cat with nine lives. He has survived several banana peels in his career as a police officer and posting to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which saw him rise rapidly to head the Commission. When he was arrested to face trial before the Justice Ayo Salami Presidential Panel on July 6, 2020, his enemies thought it was the end of the road for the anti-corruption czar; but not quite.
Indicting Magu will take more than the 21 allegations he is battling to free himself from. TELL gathered that “a lot of issues are at stake” and government is being mindful of the little it has achieved in the anti-corruption war since 2015. There are different perspectives; some feel indicting, trying, and convicting him will reaffirm President Muhammadu Buhari’s scorecard as the foremost anti-corruption leader in the African Union. Some feel he should be given a soft- landing as destroying him would jeopardise all the government had achieved in the war against corruption in the past five years. Another group wants him cleared and returned to his job.
They feel he knows enough “to ruin this government if he wants.” An open court trial for Magu, they argue, may throw up very unpleasant consequences. “If he sees himself going down, he may decide to take the whole country down with him,” argued a source. To him, Magu will survive according to the principle of “Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD.” According him, “Magu is not a fool. He has been on that beat since the inception of EFCC. This government is riddled with corruption in high places; if you disgrace him, he will blow the lid on official corruption.”
There is a lull in the fervor of the war against corruption as the attention of government is focused on Magu’s fate. Suspects who are being investigated or tried for various crimes in Nigeria are enjoying a moratorium since the removal of Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman of EFCC. The Ayo Salami Presidential Panel investigating Magu is said to be ‘struggling’ to have a conclusive report. It is alleged that the panel has recommended that Magu be sacked but this has not been substantiated. The Panel, inaugurated July 31, has 45 days to submit its report to the President. Magu has protested that suspects under EFCC investigation are being called to testify against him before the panel.
Those close to Magu say he has an answer to all the 21 allegations and more. That all he needs is fair hearing. The defence team is optimistic that the Panel has no sufficient evidence to support their alleged recommendation that Magu be sacked.
Magu is accused of living above his official means, corruption in the disposal of assets valued at over one trillion naira, and duplicity in accounting for recovered monies. His principal accuser is Abubakar Malami, minister of justice and attorney general of the federation, who, in a leaked memo to the President, accused Magu of insubordination and mismanagement of recovered funds. Malami further accused him of financial impropriety in a 22-point memo to the Ayo Salami judicial commission of inquiry.
Tosin Ojaomo, counsel to Magu, wondered why was inviting suspects facing EFCC trial as witnesses. “What is the basis of the panel’s invitation to a senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, a lawyer that is defending the looters of our common patrimony, especially those who are under EFCC’s investigations and trial?” Ozekhome and Obla issued statements and made public what transpired before the panel.
Nuru Buhari Dalhatu, described as “a disgruntled official of the EFCC” by Ojaomo, also testified against Magu. Dalhatu is alleged to be under investigation for misconduct and fraternizing with suspects. Godwin Obla, senior advocate of Nigeria, SAN, who is facing EFCC trial with a judge of the Federal High Court, also testified before the panel, according to Ojaomo. He accused the panel of being hostile to Magu “any time he tried to take up issues with those invited to testify against him.”
“How come that a fact-finding panel over allegations of corruption against Mr. Magu has now turned to a platform where certain individuals whose actions and antecedents fit into the description ‘corruption enablers’ as well as ‘haters of the war against corruption’ and its leadership are being invited to testify against Mr. Magu?”
Wahab Shittu, another counsel to Magu, has also accused the panel of pursuing a hidden agenda and double standard. “Our client was excluded from the initial stages of the proceedings with several witnesses testifying in his absence; That counsel to our client was not allowed to cross-examine many of the witnesses who had testified until recently; That our client, owing to his suspension from office, is unable to have access to official documents and other information necessary for his defence.
“That cases pending before superior courts of records such as Federal High Court, Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court are being reviewed in the proceedings. We believe that this development is sub judice and unhealthy for our jurisprudence; That witnesses appearing before the panel were not sworn on oath before giving evidence as stipulated under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act, 2004 on whose authority the instrument setting up the Judicial Commission of Inquiry is derived.”
Shittu finds it “curious and worrisome that an administrative panel of inquiry headed by His Lordship, Justice Ayo Isa Salami, having sat and taken evidence (both oral and documentary) in the past one month, has suddenly metamorphosed into a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. How this comes within a contemplation of a commission of the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, 2004 is very questionable.” He insisted that Magu had not presented his defence to the panel and that the panel cannot conclude its sitting without giving him fair hearing.
“We wish to confirm that the proceedings are still ongoing and my client is yet to present his defence. We are therefore shocked at the suggestion that an interim report has been submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari. We all know that this is a democracy anchored on respect for the rule of law. Central to the rule of law is the element of fair hearing. Section 36(1) of 1999 Constitution (as amended) is explicit on this. It provides;
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.
“We urge those bent on prejudicing the proceedings of the panel by planting false stories in the public space to think of the interest of our country and not prejudge our client whose commitment all along is service to the country. The only thing keeping our client going in spite of the desire of mischief-makers to pitch him unfairly against the authorities is his conviction of his innocence. Please no one is entitled to condemn our innocent client before he is heard or before he is afforded the opportunity of defending himself on the merits”.