Nigeria: Hunter Is Hunted, Presidential Panel Investigates Magu

(file photo).
7 July 2020

Abuja — The hunter turned the hunted yesterday as security operatives intercepted the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, and took him to the Presidential Villa, Abuja for interrogation by a presidential panel investigating sundry allegations of wrongdoing against him.

Accounts of how Magu got to the seat of power yesterday differed. While one said he was flagged down by security agents as he drove out of his Wuse II Annex Office and shepherded to the Villa, another said he was invited to face the panel.

Anyway, Magu was still with the panel at the Old Banquet Hall of the State House at press time.

Magu's grilling by the presidential panel prompted the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to ask the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to show the genuineness of its war against corruption by allowing unhindered investigation of the anti-corruption chief, while he steps aside.

The embattled EFCC boss was said to have arrived at the State House about 1:40 p.m., where he was ushered into the wing, accompanied by one of the EFCC's lawyers, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs.

There were initial reports that Magu was arrested by the Department of State Security (DSS) but in a statement, the agency refuted the report.

"The Department of State Services (DSS) wishes to inform the public that it did not arrest Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as has been reported by sections of the media.

"The service, has since, today, 6th July 2020, been inundated with enquiries over the alleged arrest," the Public Relations Officer of DSS, Dr. Peter Afunaya, stated.

A similar statement by the EFCC's spokesman, Mr. Dele Oyewale, said Magu was neither arrested nor forced to honour the invitation, adding that a member of a legal team from the EFCC was with him at the panel.

"Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, on Monday, July 6, 2020, honoured an invitation by a presidential panel reviewing the activities of the EFCC, at the Banquet Hall wing of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

"He was served the invitation to the panel, while on his way to the Force Headquarters, Abuja for a meeting. The panel is currently sitting at the presidential villa in Abuja," EFCC stated.

Insiders told THISDAY that the presidential panel was investigating Magu over allegations levelled against him by Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami's (SAN), which THISDAY exclusively published in a report in its June 19 edition of the newspaper.

Malami, in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, had detailed alleged cases of malfeasance against Magu, and sought his sacking for alleged corruption and insubordination.

The AGF anchored his recommendation on several grounds "raging from diversion of recovered loot to insubordination and misconduct" by Magu; while including a shortlist of three candidates for consideration to replace the anti-corruption agency's boss.

The Office of AGF has asked Magu to account for gaps or discrepancies of figures concerning recovered assets, claiming that Magu was not transparent enough in the management of the recovered assets.

But Magu's supporters within the Presidency said: "Removing Magu at this time when he has given muscle to Buhari's anti-corruption fight would be a mistake.

"It is painful that the EFCC boss is facing certain powerful forces who have decided to remove him in spite of his remarkable achievements," a source had stated.

The source had told THISDAY that given the weight of Malami's allegations against Magu, the president might be inclined "to set up a probe panel that will look into the veracity of the allegations and make necessary recommendations."

Another source, however, told THISDAY: "I can authoritatively tell you that though Magu has survived previous plots to remove him, the AGF's legal opinion remains the deadliest plot to get Magu out of the EFCC as the AGF's letter to the president contained 22 weighty allegations that require Buhari's decision on whether or not to send Magu's name to the Senate for confirmation or replace him. This is because the office of the AGF is the supervising ministry of the EFCC and so his legal opinion cannot be treated with levity.

"For example, Malami alleged accounting gaps or discrepancies of figures concerning the recovered assets, claiming that Magu was not transparent enough in the management of recovered assets."

A Magu supporter had said: "It will interest you to note that Malami accused the EFCC boss of disclosing a total naira recovery of N504 billion but lodged N543 billion in the Recovery Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Incidentally, this exceeded the disclosed figures by N39 billion."

According to the supporter of the EFCC boss, what should be a point of commendation is now being used against him.

In the past, a former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had also asked Magu to clarify where the cash recoveries from May 2015 to January 2018 were deposited and to provide accompanying evidence.

In a letter with reference number: FM/HMF/EFCC/S-EFCC-REC/2018/1 dated February 9, 2018, and entitled: "Summary of EFCC Recoveries from May 2015 to January 2018," Adeosun said the clarification became necessary based on the information available to the Office of Accountant-General of the Federation.

The minister said: "This is to notify you of the records of cash asset recoveries in the custody of the EFCC from May 2015 till date based on information available to the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (attached).

"It has, however, come to the attention of the Ministry of Finance, the use of recovery figures in media reports by the EFCC that do not reconcile with the records of the ministry.

"You are, therefore, kindly requested to clarify where these cash recoveries have been deposited and provide accompanying evidence."

Many efforts have been made in the past to make the president drop Magu, since his appointment as EFCC acting chairman on November 9, 2015.

The plot for his removal twice stalled his confirmation by the Eighth Senate, prompting him to remain the interim head of the nation's foremost anti-graft agency.

However, when the president insisted on Magu being confirmed, the previous Senate demanded the reversal of a damning security report on the EFCC boss from the DSS, which it had cited as the reason for his non-confirmation.

Many groups and individuals had also gone to court to challenge the continued stay of Magu as the acting chairman of the commission.

But Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu of the Federal High Court in Abuja, in a judgment delivered in 2019 over consolidated suits on Magu's status, had held that there was no time limit in the law establishing the commission for him to act as the EFCC boss.

The judge further held that Buhari is holding the proverbial "yam and knife" on Magu, adding that the president should do the needful by sending the name of Magu to the Senate for confirmation.

PDP Asks EFCC Boss to Step Aside

Reacting to the interrogation of Magu, the PDP asked Buhari to show the genuineness of his war against corruption by allowing the unhindered investigation of the acting chairman of the EFCC.

The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said the fact that Magu had to be accompanied by an attorney when he appeared before the presidential panel, showed that the "invitation," was beyond the routine.

The PDP said the attempt by the EFCC to cover or wave off Magu's investigation raised more integrity questions regarding his activities in the commission.

"Only last month, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, released a memo in which he indicted Magu of alleged diversion of recovered funds and fraudulent sale of assets seized by the EFCC.

"Our party, Nigerians and indeed, the international co1mmunity are keenly monitoring the development and expect the Buhari presidency to muster the courage to carry out a comprehensive investigation and make its findings available to the public.

"Now that Magu has been pulled in for investigation, the federal government should preserve the integrity of the office of the Chairman of the EFCC by ordering him to step aside while investigators take charge of every activity of the office to forestall the destruction of evidence as well as unnecessary interferences in the matter," the opposition party said.

It explained that with the allegations and investigation, Magu has lost the moral rectitude to continue to preside over the anti-corruption agency, stating that "he should step aside until he proves himself innocent."

Magu's Invitation, Product of Power Play, says PACAC

Meanwhile, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) said yesterday that the invitation of the Magu to face a presidential panel probing the activities of the anti-graft agency was a product of power play by power blocs in government.

It warned that Buhari must be careful not to shoot his government's anti-corruption fight and modest achievements in the foot and should be more mindful of the fact that EFCC under Magu remained the administration's anti-corruption poster-face.

It posited that the memo written recently by the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) calling for Magu's removal was also an outcome of the clash by power blocs in government.

"The alleged originating Malami memo, up to the current "arrest" seems an outcome of power-play by power blocs in the corridors of power in which Malami appears to be an arrow-head or major agent of a power bloc that is not really interested in, or in support of, Buhari's anti-corruption fight".

A statement issued by a member of PACAC, Prof. Femi Odekunle, made reference to the refusal by the 8th National Assembly to confirm Magu and the non-resubmission of his name for confirmation in spite of the willingness of the 9th National Assembly to do so.

"One can recall the earlier non-confirmation experience of Magu by the 8th Assembly, orchestrated by a power bloc and supported by the DSS 'security' reports.

"One can also note the non-resubmission of Magu for confirmation since May 2019 despite the apparent willingness of the 9th Assembly to consider it this time around", it said.

The statement contended that the alleged memo written by Malami concerning alleged corrupt practices by Magu went along with his own nominations for Magu's replacement.

"Again, we cannot forget Malami's demand of certain high-profile case files from Magu, which the latter has been resisting.

"The position of PACAC is that while Magu, or any official of whatever status, must be nailed if found to be corrupt, the President must be careful not to shoot its anti-corruption fight and modest achievements in the foot, and not to forget that EFCC under Magu has been the administration's anti-corruption poster-face", it said.

The committee maintained that "it may not be contestable that Malami has been exploiting his alleged loyalty and closeness to the President for his personal/power bloc agenda".

It further stated that "to the best of PACAC's knowledge and observations, Malami has not manifested any genuine commitment to the anti-corruption fight.

"Samplers: The nolle- prosequi entered in a case of corruption against Orubebe in relation to alleged malfeasance while Minister of Niger Delta Ministry, his secret meeting with fugitive Maina in Dubai under whatever guise/excuse, his involvement in the surreptitious reinjection of the same Maina into the civil service and his supervision of Obono-Obla's kangaroo Asset Recovery outfit which Obono subsequently ran out of the country when exposed by some ICPC investigation".

The PACAC also listed among others "his non-due attention, by design or default, to the P&ID matter since 2015 until it was blown open by humongous financial damage to the country".

The presidential advisory committee warned the president to be conscious of the shenanigans of power players working from inside against his anti-graft war.

"Notwithstanding the situation at hand, the hope of PACAC is that the President would wake up to the ongoing shenanigans of power players that are working from the inside against his anti-corruption fight.

"We are also counting on the experience and dexterity of the new Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Gambari whose loyalty to the President and good of the country cannot be doubted, and we also hope that the demonstrated integrity of retired Justice Salami would carry the day for thoroughness, fairness and justice in the interest of the anti-corruption fight," it said.

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