Nigeria: Confusion As Presidency Silent On Magu's Probe, Replacement

(file photo).

Four days after he was picked up by security operatives, the presidency is yet to officially communicate to Nigerians on the probe of the suspended acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu.

Also, no official statement has been issued on the suspension of the EFCC boss, just as Nigerians await a presidential announcement on Magu's successor.

There is confusion as to who is in charge of the anti-corruption agency at the moment following the detention of Magu as some names have been flying in the media while relevant authorities keep mum.

Lawyers, anti-corruption crusaders and civil society groups yesterday knocked President Muhammadu Buhari and other federal government officials over the alleged "shoddy manner" the Magu debacle was being handled.

Since on Monday, July 6, 2020, when the Magu issue became public, the presidency did not issue any official statement on the matter, leaving Nigerians guessing and the media speculating.

Magu, who is seen as the face of President Buhari's corruption war, is being grilled by a presidential panel chaired by a former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, over corruption allegations.

Salami panel only heard of after Magu's arrest

Daily Trust reports that the existence of the Salami-led presidential panel was not known until Magu was arrested on Monday.

Credible sources said the panel had been sitting in the last two weeks and had reviewed "tons of documents and interacted with other people before directing security operatives to bring Magu for interrogation."

One of the credible sources said the panel was constituted by President Buhari to probe various allegations levelled against Magu following a petition by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, and the Department of State Service (DSS).

But on the day Magu was picked and taken to the Aso Rock, there was no official communication.

When contacted via a text message, the Senior Special Assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said Magu was not arrested but rather invited so that he could respond to some issues.

"There is a presidential panel that has begun sitting, investigating the disposal of recovered assets and the EFCC chairman is responding to their questions.

"I will not call it arrest per se, as many have suggested, but they need him to be immediately available to them so that he can respond to issues as they arise," he said. On the other hand, Malami through his spokesman, Dr Umar Gwandu, said he had no knowledge of Magu's arrest.

"You are just informing me now," Gwandu said when told that his boss had reportedly written a memo in June, 2020, which indicted Magu.

'Suspense' at EFCC

Late at night on Tuesday, July 7, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that Mohammed Umar, a deputy commissioner of police and director of operations at EFCC, had been picked to oversee the affairs of the agency in the absence of Magu.

It said an anonymous source at the agency said Umar was chosen by the "EFCC's hierarchy" following the reported suspension of Magu.

"The commission had not received any official communication on the reported suspension... The spokesman for the EFCC, Mr Dele Oyewale, declined comments when contacted to confirm the latest development," it said. Attempts by the Daily Trust last night to find out if there was new development at the anti- corruption agency was also not successful.

Oyewale did not respond to phone calls or reply to a text message sent to him. But a source in the commission said that Umar had taken control pending when a substantive head is announced by the presidency.

However, another source countered saying there was no official communication from the presidency to that effect.

"DCP Umar is only the most senior operation person in the agency and he has limitations as to what he can do... The truth is that things are not the way they should be," he said.

According to him, "I heard it somewhere that he is there as a stop-gap-measure pending when a substantive chairman would be appointed after the president receives the final report of the Justice Salami panel."

FG maintains sealed lips

The presidency also yesterday kept mum over the reported appointment of a new acting chairman for the EFCC.

While Garba Shehu declined comments on the matter, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, also refused to answer the question when asked during a briefing after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting. Mohammed said the best person to react to such a question was AGF Malami.

Daily Trust had reported that at least four people are being considered for the position of EFCC chairman. They are: Deputy Inspector-General of Police Mohammed Sani Usman (rtd); the FCT Commissioner of Police, Bala Ciroma; a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, from Kebbi State, and the Commissioner of Police in Enugu State, Ahmad Abdurrahman.

While some media outlets yesterday reported that Ciroma had been picked for the job, some sources at the FCT Police Command said there was nothing like that yet.

"We only read it in some newspapers," one of them said.

Meanwhile, for the third consecutive day, Magu, whose headship of the EFCC in acting capacity had created confusion, was again quizzed yesterday by Justice Salami panel.

Nigerians in the dark - CSOs

Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) said Nigerians deserve to know what is going on with respect to the Magu issue.

In a telephone chat with Daily Trust yesterday, Rafsanjani said citizens were being taken for a ride over the Magu saga adding that the unfolding drama was not good for the image of the country and its anti-corruption profile.

"There were denials and counter denials concerning Magu's alleged arrest and suspension, leaving Nigerians in the dark. Nigerians deserve to know what is going on," Rafsanjani said.

Earlier in a statement, Rafsanjani said CISLAC was concerned about the conflicting signals the Magu saga sent to Nigerians.

"This development has heightened the need for reforms in anti-corruption agencies, which is long overdue. In the aspect of Asset Recovery, CISLAC has been consistent in calling for a reform of the system, which is prone to mismanagement, embezzlement and political misuse. There is no clear framework on who takes custody of recovered assets and how they are utilized.

"The government has claimed recoveries of assets worth billions of dollars without accounting who manages these assets, how these assets are utilised and what prevents the re-looting of looted assets. The control of lucrative asset recovery 'business' of asset freezes, confiscations and repatriations has caused inter-agency rivalry among agencies saddled with the responsibility of fighting corruption," Rafsanjani said.

Govt must talk

Reacting to the development, Paul Ananaba (SAN), said it would be unconstitutional to keep Magu in custody beyond 24 hours. He, however, said that he was unaware if the authorities had obtained a court order to that effect or whether he was in detention. On the secrecy surrounding the investigation, he said between transparency and fairness, it depends on what the presidency considers a priority in the circumstance.

"Sometimes, too much transparency can defeat the essence of investigation," he said.

Also reacting, Dayo Akinlaja (SAN), said it was desirable that the public should not be kept in the dark over crucial issues concerning the country, adding that it was also the prerogative of the government to conduct administrative matters in the way and manner it deemed fit.

"In my own humble view, what is going on could still be regarded as administrative in nature. Without doubt, in the fullness of time, the public would have to be brought up to speed on what is going on. That being the case, what we can possibly do at the moment is just to keep our fingers crossed and wait with bated breath as events unfold," he said.

On whether Magu has been detained beyond the legally allowed period of time, Akinlaja said the issue of legality or otherwise of keeping Magu beyond 48 hours would have been easier to respond to if not for the secrecy that enshrouds the whole issue. In his view, Hameed Ajibola Jimoh said the attitude of the government conducting such investigation in secrecy was undemocratic because such secrecy puts the public in an unending confusion and gives way for unwarranted speculations, which could unsettle the country. "It is definitely unlawful and unconstitutional for the federal government to have kept Magu in custody for more than the reasonable time of 48 hours permitted by the constitution. Magu may seek remedy in court to enforce his fundamental rights," he said.

Ismail Mudashir, Fidelis Mac-Leva, Muideen Olaniyi, Abbas Jimoh, Ronald Mutum & John Chuks Azu

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