Nigeria: Magu - International Groups Write Buhari, Say Nigeria's Anti-Corruption Fight May Suffer Setback

Prominent international groups involved in anti-corruption efforts globally have written to President Muhammadu Buhari on what they consider the unfortunate treatment of Ibrahim Magu.

PREMIUM TIMES reported the arrest of Mr Magu, acting chairman of Nigeria's anti-graft agency, EFCC, on Monday.

He has been detained since then as he continues to appear before a panel probing allegations of corruption and insubordination against him. The allegations were made by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami.

Mr Magu was also formally suspended from office on Friday, according to a statement by Mr Malami's office.

Mr Magu and Mr Malami have had repeated disagreements on the anti-corruption war and many Nigerians including a member of a presidential adviser on anti-corruption, Femi Odekunle, believe Mr Magu's ordeal is part of a power play with Mr Malami.

Mr Magu has denied wrongdoing, while the presidency has said Mr Magu's investigation was a sign there was no sacred cow in Mr Buhari's anti-corruption fight.

In their joint letter, dated July 9, the anti-corruption groups said: "What is going on in Nigeria is of concern to the international community. Mr Magu has proved himself to be up to the task."

The letter was signed by Lucas Manes of Re:Common, Nicholas Hildyard of Corner House, Simon Taylor of Globalwitness - all European organisations - and Olanrewaju Suraju of the HEDA in Nigeria.

"His determination to fight corruption is evident by the recovery of stolen funds and properties plus his own high moral ground earned at the cost of diligence and hardwork never before seen. His political removal questions the will of Nigeria to deal with a major cause of the country's underdevelopment which is corruption," the groups said in the letter.

The four groups have been at the vanguard of monitoring and exposing the corruption involved in the infamous OPL 245 Malabu scandal for which oil majors Shell and Eni and their officials are being prosecuted in Nigeria and Italy.

The groups on Sunday released a statement about the content of their letter to the Nigerian president.

Read the statement below.

The unceremonious exit of former Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) Acting Chairman, Mr Ibrahim Magu may erode the recent gains in the fight against corruption, global groups working against sleaze have said.

World acclaimed anti-corruption groups, Re:Common, Globalwitness and The Corner House based in Europe said Nigeria has regained unprecedented gains under Magu's leadership of EFCC and that his removal under the current circumstances may roll back the momentous gains already recorded under his tenure.

Re:Common top official Mr Lucas Manes, Corner House Nicholas Hildyard and Simon Taylor of Globalwitness in a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari last week expressed deep concern over the travails of Magu saying that the former EFCC boss may be a pawn in the desperate attempts by corrupt officials to kill the EFCC or turn the agency into a willing tool of corrupt politicians.

The letter was signed by Manes, Hildyard, Taylor and their Nigerian counterpart, Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre) Chairman, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju.

"What is going on in Nigeria is of concern to the international community. Mr Magu has proved himself to be up to the task. His determination to fight corruption is evident by the recovery of stolen funds and properties plus his own high moral ground earned at the cost of diligence and hardwork never before seen. His political removal questions the will of Nigeria to deal with a major cause of the country's underdevelopment which is corruption" the groups said in a letter delivered to the Nigerian President.

Some of the groups' most significant contributions to Nigeria's anti-graft effort is the historic exposure of Nigeria's top oil companies linked to large scale corruption and their on-going trial in Italy and other European courts.

The coalition said "We are therefore greatly alarmed - as are others in the international anti-corruption movement - by reports that Mr Magu has been detained and/or suspended following allegations against him that were reportedly made by Attorney General Malami directly to you."

They said the international community is not opposed to Mr Magu being investigated since all allegations of corruption must be thoroughly probed but rather that due process and the proper disciplinary procedures have not been followed.

"The procedures are clearly being hijacked by detractors of Magu in the political space and this is eroding the potential credibility of the outcome of the panel constituted to probe these allegations. The hounding of Magu through seemingly politically connected sponsored media harassment only makes matters worse", the groups stated in the letter.

The groups have been investigating corruption by Nigerian politicians and officials and the complicity of European and US banks, companies and others in facilitating such corruption.

The coalition's particular focus on corrupt acquisition by Shell and Eni of the OPL245 oil field, had exposed alleged corruption by two former Attorney Generals of Nigeria together with former oil ministers. Though, the companies and individuals that are being prosecuted have all denied wrongdoing but the matter has proved that oil giants operating in Nigeria regarded as sacred cows can be made to face the weight of law abroad.

The current prosecution in Italy had resulted directly from a complaint made by the organisations to the Milan Prosecutor, which in turn led to the seizure and subsequent return of OPL 245 funds frozen in the London courts. Magu gave full support while Buhari insisted that the evidence should be followed wherever it leads.

These and other actions have significantly improved Nigeria's standing internationally. As a recent report by the prestigious University of Edinburgh-led Global Integrity Anti-Corruption Evidence programme records: "Nigeria's anti-corruption law enforcement efforts are gradually growing more effective as practitioners adapt and innovate in response to many persistent challenges."

The report goes on to praise Magus's EFCC as "a robust and effective organisation" but warns that it has "tough choices to make about its future direction, especially how it . . . resists political influence". To curtail such interference, the report concludes, will require leadership to "institute and enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward executive branch interference with . . . anti-corruption agencies".

The unique work of the group on OPL245 and also investigating Diezani Alison-Madueke, Kola Aluko, P&ID and others, has involved close engagement with the EFCC.

The coalition said "We have been hugely impressed by the dedication of its investigators and by the disciplined leadership shown by Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu. The agency is completely different from the sclerotic, timid, politically captured bureaucracy that it was In the previous period. The credit for this is due in large part to you for appointing Magu and sticking with him despite efforts to unseat him."

It noted that the respect that Nigeria has gained is exemplified by the recognition accorded to Magu, not least by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, which recently honoured him with an Award of Excellence.

"Indeed, in meetings we have had with this, and other agencies, conversations have often referred to the impressive current leadership of the EFCC" it said.

The global group observed that the attorney-general has apparently sought to bypass the usual administrative procedures of issuing a query to an accused officer under his ministry in favour of a political approach.

It said the procedure risks severely denting Nigeria's reputation abroad and urging the president to enforce a "zero tolerance to political interference" as recommended by the Edinburgh research group.

"We note that many of the allegations reportedly made by the Attorney General have already been investigated by same Attorney General under your instruction in 2017 and that Magu was exonerated in respect of the corruption allegations: only those related to insubordination were freshly levelled. We are concerned that accusations of "insubordination" risk crossing the line that ensures the independence of prosecutors from political interference" adding that despite bearing false witness being illegal, no-one has been investigated or charged in relation to bringing the false allegations against Magu in 2017.

It said this regrettably sends the wrong message to the international community.

"We realize that you have been placed in an invidious position by the Attorney General. However, we very much hope that you will find a way forward that protects the huge strides made by the EFCC under Magu's acting chairmanship. We very much doubt if the Italian case would have reached the stage that it has without his committed and diligent response to Mutual Legal Assistance requests. At this critical stage in the trial, his replacement for political reasons would be wholly regrettable and would only give succour to those being prosecuted," the groups said.

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