Nigeria: As Buhari Decides On Justice Salami Panel Report

2 December 2020

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry led by Justice Ayo Salami (retired) set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the suspended acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, recently submitted its report. The report was said to have recommended the sack of Magu as chairman of the Commission. The panel also asked President Buhari to appoint a new EFCC chairman in an interim position for two years. It further recommended that the President should look outside the police force in appointing the next chairman of EFCC.

In his address, President Buhari reiterated that his administration has kept faith with the fight against corruption and shall remain committed to it until Nigeria triumphs over the evil of corruption.

It would be recalled that the embattled former EFCC boss was arrested and detained on July 6, 2020, following allegations of infractions made against him by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. They include the alleged sale of seized assets to cronies and friends. President Muhammadu Buhari on July 10, 2020, approved the immediate suspension of Ibrahim Magu as acting chairman of the EFCC pending the completion of investigations.

Reacting to the report, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay, said any indictment by the Justice Ayo Salami-led panel against the suspended Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, could not stand legal scrutiny. He said he was perturbed with the conclusion of the panel set up to investigate allegations of corruption against Magu because the panel "did not follow any rigour of law. It is as if they followed their impulse"; adding that the Salami-led panel was not a court of law.

He said, "It is one thing to make all sorts of allegations in a small room in the State House; it is another to come and prove them in the High Court." According to Sagay, Magu's case has proven that Nigeria is a difficult place to serve. He, however, agreed with the recommendation on extending the headship of the EFCC to other security agencies; advising that the police should not be totally excluded. Sagay reiterated that Magu's greatest crime was to be the Chairman of EFCC, saying there were many vested interests that wanted him out by all means.

Magu's predecessors were all removed from office. Not one of them since the establishment of the EFCC honourably exited office as Chairman of the Commission. In 2008, the pioneer Chairman of EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu was removed and replaced with Farida Waziri. Ribadu was thereafter demoted from the rank of AIG to DCP in the Police Force. Waziri was dismissed by President Goodluck Jonathan on November 23, 2011, and replaced with Ibrahim Lamorde as Acting Chairman of the EFCC. President Muhammadu Buhari on November 9, 2015, sacked Ibrahim Lamorde and was succeeded by Ibrahim Magu, whose confirmation as chairman of the commission was twice declined by the Senate based on security reports from other law enforcement agencies.

The EFCC was established in 2003 with a mandate to investigate and prosecute suspects of financial crimes such as advance fee fraud and money laundering.

As a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, the Justice Salami-led Panel should not have sat in camera. Similar Commissions in the past including the Justice Oputa-led Panel and the Panel on Maitatsine riot did not sit behind-closed-doors. Even under military regimes, which tried coup plotters, commissions of this nature were held in the public. The closed-door trial of Magu lends credence to probable insinuations that Magu was not given a fair hearing.

While we welcome the idea of appointing EFCC boss from outside the police, we are opposed to the appointment of an interim chairman for two years. Daily Trust suggests it is time to re-examine the law, which says the EFCC boss should be answerable to the Attorney-General of the Federation. Whereas we urge the government to use its institutional mechanisms to check existing lapses in the sale of government assets, we further encourage it to hasten the release of a White Paper on the Justice Salami-led Panel report.

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