It’s not a surprise that some folks are finally twisting the knife in the back of the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu. After working without a letter of appointment for one year and overstaying his confirmation by nearly six months, his current travails should not come as a surprise.
It’s now official. The Directorate of State Security said in a letter carefully released at the Senate committee December 10 confirmation hearing that Magu is Nigeria’s most dangerous man. The DSS could therefore not recommend him for clearing.
OK, the DSS letter didn’t put it exactly that way – it said there was evidence from eight years ago that Magu took official files home; that he fiddled with recovered assets sometime in his earlier life; that his friend, an air force officer, who is currently under investigation, paid twice the value of his house rent for him and furnished it; that he flies around with suspects under investigation; and that he even flies first class, against the rules.
With the leadership of the Senate facing corruption trial, the DSS letter was exactly the Christmas present that the lawmakers had been praying for. So when Santa Claus delivered it to the Senate committee, the matter did not even go to the whole house, as required by law, before Magu was rejected.
This curious episode reminds me of two things – an aphorism and a story. Lavrenti Beria, the former head of Joseph Stalin’s KGB loved his job to death and was always eager to show his boss. Whenever he thought Stalin had difficulties finding a reason to eliminate any of his foes, Lavrenti would go to him quietly and whisper, “show me the man and I will find the crime.”
In his one year doing one of Nigeria’s most difficult jobs, Magu has stepped on so many toes that finding a crime to hang him shouldn’t need a Lavrenti.
The DSS is doing a damn good job of it in Magu’s case.
When former President Mwai Kibaki started the war against corruption in Kenya, those who wanted it to fail did more than using aphorisms to fight against John Githongo, the anti-corruption czar at the time.
According to Michela Wrong in her book, “Our turn to eat,” at first, they ignored Githongo. When he seemed to be getting uncomfortably close to the thieves, who were mostly insiders, they tried to shoo him away. He persisted and sank his teeth into one of Kenya’s biggest scandals – the $1billion Anglo Leasing case. At that point, the backlash became nasty.
They called him a stooge of the Oyinbo man, especially the donor countries, and to incite the public against him, said he was gay and a traitor to his tribe. They sent stalkers after Githongo and threatened him directly. When he refused to back down, they went after his family.
They suddenly remembered a loan taken by his father who had an accounting firm under former President Jomo Kenyatta and reminded John that his father had not finished paying up. “The minister of Justice was telling me that if I eased off my enquiries, then my father’s loan matter would be made to go away,” Githongo said.
Corruption did not relent until Githongo fled for his life.
Those after Magu don’t want him to flee, not yet. If, like Lavrenti, they can find the crime for the man – scraps of files from the Waziri Farida days or ice cream toppings from his air force friend – that humiliation alone should be enough to humble and bring him back to line. If they can’t break him, they’re determined to mar him.
By all means, Magu should answer his query. And I hope that the full details of the DSS report against him, the Justice minister’s query, and Magu’s response would be released to the public.
Except if there’s something the public does not know, no public officer at Magu’s level is appointed without some basic form of security screening. It is strange that the DSS waited one year after Magu’s appointment to advise the president that he is unfit for office because he took some files home in 2008. Didn’t they know that before he assumed office one year ago?
As for the claim that he lives in a house paid for at twice the market price by his air force friend, who has been interrogated by the DSS and charged to court, that is wrong, if it’s true. But why was this claim not part of the DSS charge in court against the air force officer?
And where does this allegation leave the public in light of the story by Premium Times – with supporting documents – that the Abuja Municipal Management Council actually paid for Magu’s house and furnished it? Or was the house paid for twice?
The Senate has tried to give the impression that its main concern is to ensure that the man who is confirmed in the EFCC chair is above board. Yet, we can smell mischief. In his one year in office Magu has shown a commitment to work and independent-mindedness that have proved to be a major headache for politicians, their powerful cronies and insiders who would rather have a puppet in that office.
The war on corruption may still have its rough edges, but Magu has pursued a number of those who pocketed public funds and forced them to pay. He has worked with other institutions to tighten financial controls and plug leakages through which the country was losing billions of naira yearly.
All of this of course will be music in the ear of many politicians, as long as Magu is not coming after them or their cronies. With many of them already warming up for 2019, they are concerned that, at this pace, the anti-corruption war may upend their political ambition.
Magu has shown from his devotion and courage that he is a clear and present danger to a number of ambitious politicians and their friends who were used to easy passes. That’s why they want to stop him.
Acting appointments belong to the Stone Age. Appointments requiring Senate or any other statutory confirmation should precede assumption of office. Once a man takes a job he should be judged by his performance.
He should not be hostage to the selfish and narrow interests of those who would exploit an administrative leverage just to get even.
Politicians want to fight corruption; that is what they say. What is coming out of Magu’s confirmation hearing is that they want to fight corruption on their own terms.