By Godwin Onyeacholem
With the heightened frequency of astonishing disclosures of official graft, and its accompanying high-profile arrests, interrogations, detentions, recovery of looted funds, confiscation of property allegedly acquired fraudulently and prosecutions, no one is left in doubt that President Muhammadu Buhari is living up to his pre-election promise of making the fight against corruption at all levels a top priority of his government.
Though no conviction of any momentous significance yet, one thing is clear: this government, in spite of its tendency to commit unforced errors at intervals, has so far demonstrated a rare political will which has given birth to a renewed zeal in the anti-graft agencies to deal with corruption in a more determined and forthright manner. It is, therefore, safe to predict that sooner rather than later, their efforts would begin to yield results that Nigerians would be happy about.
But it should be placed on record that one institution is currently leading the way in ensuring this happens quickly enough and is undoubtedly unsurpassable in effecting the new momentum to tame the scourge of corruption in Nigeria. It is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), led by Ibrahim Mustafa Magu, a Deputy Commissioner of Police. An incredibly focused, dogged officer with a take-no-prisoner attitude toward corruption, Magu has played an invaluable role in the remarkable success story of the agency from the glorious era of Nuhu Ribadu at the helm of affairs to this moment.
When Ribadu was eventually forced out by a gang of corrupt and doughty politicians and a lack-lustre puppet regime was installed, Magu became a marked man whose subsequent serial victimization culminated in a redeployment instigated by the same die-hard politicians and retrograde insiders who removed Ribadu. But he was to later resume his day in the sun when Ibrahim Lamorde, as chairman, fully conscious of his striking pedigree as a consummate investigator and an unrepentant anti-corruption crusader, recalled him to EFCC.
Magu’s return to the EFCC saw him more toughened and increasingly more determined to confront and crush the monster that has been fingered as having more or less brought Nigeria to her knees. Under Lamorde, he became even more visible as the nemesis of the perpetrators of corrupt acts; and as in the Ribadu years, significant gains made under this regime can be rightly attributed to him.
Therefore, it didn’t come as a surprise when President Buhari appointed him acting chairman last November at the exit of Lamorde. Like those who have followed Magu’s professional trajectory, the President evidently seems persuaded by his glittering track record which, among other things, drips with towering accomplishments, exceptional courage and single-minded dedication.
By any stretch of the imagination, President Buhari cannot be said to be mistaken in choosing Magu to lead EFCC to mercilessly wage a much needed war against corruption, for the appointee himself instantly betrayed his natural anti-corruption instincts by keying into the body language of the appointer as soon as he was named. And truth be told, Magu has acquitted himself so well that except for those driven by the cynical refusal to admit it, the chemistry between him and his boss has considerably evolved to the point of inspiring a temptation to conclude that in today’s Nigeria, Buhari and Magu sit in the front row of the very few public officers interested in and conscientiously fighting corruption.
But it is obvious that the duo is up against a formidable army of agents of the reactionary cadre who are hell-bent on not only stopping the anti-corruption train on its tracks, but also truncating the ultimate goal of clearing the remnants of a regressive status quo and entrenching a new order in the polity. These agents, as one has observed in the past, are in every sector of the nation’s life, be it politics, the executive, legislature, judiciary, media, military, academia, private sector, civil society, etc.
For these agents, President Buhari, proves a hard nut to crack; they also know his arch ally, Magu, has similarly shown that he cannot be bought or manipulated to do their bidding, and so the only way to deal with him is by ensuring he does not become a substantive chairman of EFCC. That explains why almost four months after a letter requesting his confirmation as chairman was sent to the senate by then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, and the letter read at plenary July 14 by senate president, Bukola Saraki, Magu has yet to be invited for screening by the senate.
In that letter Osinbajo had said, “I hope the screening will as usual be carried out expeditiously by the distinguished senate.” He must now be thoroughly scandalized that his expectation had been rubbished by the leadership of the upper chamber and its collaborators. Indeed, he would be more embarrassed to learn that the real masquerade behind Magu’s ordeal, and his own humiliation by the senate, is a top staffer of the presidency who most times likes to position himself as the de facto vice president of Nigeria.
This is a man who is on record as having displayed crass insolence in throwing back a letter inviting him to lead the campaign for Buhari’s election as APC presidential candidate, saying arrogantly that he would not be seen to be working for a “serial loser.” He made good that bluff by going ahead to work for another presidential aspirant. How such a man ended up in Aso Rock villa as the highest ranking employee of the presidency is a question only Buhari himself will have to answer someday. But as a thoroughbred Yoruba man, Osinbajo is more than familiar with the Yoruba proverb, Kokoro t’onjefo, inu efo lowa. Translated in English, the full literal meaning of this proverb is: The bugs eating the vegetables reside in the vegetables. Those scheming to undo the president reside in the presidency.
For now, President Buhari must know who is responsible should Magu fail to be confirmed as the substantive chairman of EFCC. But not only that. The president should also realize that once the perversely corrupt and reactionary forces have their way and Magu is blocked, the consequences on his anti-corruption fight will be heavy; for Magu’s exit would automatically mean that the president’s war against corruption is, as they say, dead on arrival.
That is why the vast majority of Nigerians who are eager to see the big thieves in jail and this government succeed want the president to intervene, not only to save Magu, but to also ensure that his war against corruption remains on course.
Now is also the time for the leadership of the senate which had in the past mouthed not only its support for President Buhari’s efforts to tackle corruption but its commitment to the campaign against corruption to put its money where its mouth is! The Magu confirmation imbroglio will be a true test of that avowed commitment.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist based in Abuja. He can be reached through email@example.com