By OBINNA EZUGWU
In 2015, Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari rode to power on the All Progressive Congress (APC) platform, promising to stamp out corruption, a menace that had ensured that Africa’s most populous nation remained a clay foot giant since it gained independence from Britain in 1960, and which was particularly prevalent during the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) administration of his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. Ironically, five years down the road, the government which came to fight corruption has become enmeshed in a level of corruption that, for many, has never been witnessed in the country’s history; one that has made the PDP sinners of yesterday look like today’s saints.
Buhari had campaigned for power on three key issues of corruption, security and job creation. Practically all, by many accounts, have gotten worse under him. But it’s anti corruption effort that has turned out to be a huge irony. The cases of Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms who was accused of misappropriating N195 billion pension funds; Abba Kyari, the late former Chief of Staff alleged to have collected N500million bribe from MTN; Babachir Lawal, former SGF accused of using N250million to cut grass at an IDP camp; Ayo Oke, former NIA boss, the custodian of the Osborne, Ikoyi billions; Kano governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, caught on camera allegedly receiving $5 million bribe from a contractor; Attorney General, Abubakar Malami who allegedly got his lawyers paid ‘dubious’ $15 million fee for Abacha loot for a job already done; Professor Usman Yusuf, Executive Secretary, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) alleged to have run corruption ring; Goodwill Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta Affair accused of embezzling billions whilst he was Akwa Ibom State governor, but whose case was dropped after he joined the ruling party, among others, who walk free despite being accused of graft are cases that bear testimony to the stark contradiction in the president’s would be anti corruption fight.
“The only person that doesn’t know we are fighting corruption is corruption itself,” noted Dr. Christopher Kolade, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.
“Observably, corruption is not any weaker today than it was before Buhari’s coming. If a government claims to be fighting corruption and yet corruption is thriving, then there is a fundamental disconnect. What the Buhari government claims to be the reality of its anti-corruption fight is actually an illusion.”
This contradiction has not escaped the attention of observer nations such as the United States which in 2018, thorough its Department of State, delivered damning verdict on Buhari’s anti corruption fight, noting that it had been all motion no movement. The report said there was a climate of impunity in the President Buhari government that allows officials to engage in corrupt practices with a sense of exemption from punishment.
“Buhari’s anti corruption campaign is just a mere slogan, that’s very obvious now,” noted Barr Oladotun Hassan, president, Yoruba Council of Youths. “This government has never fought corruption. If anything, it has created avenues for corruption so thrive.
“Look at even the anti terrorism war. This government has spent billions of naira on it, but soldiers on the front lines still complain bitterly of hunger and lack of equipment, and when anyone raises a voice, they come after him. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi spoke, appealed to the authorities to do something. But instead, they redeployed him. And now I hear they want to court martial him.”
From the president’s closest aides to holders of most strategic positions in the government, including, strangely, the same agencies saddled with fighting the corruption, the story is similar: allegations of mind-boggling sleaze and mindless pilfering of public funds are rife. The latest individual to join what is already a long list of government officials accused of indulging in graft is non other than the suspended chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu.
The very weighty allegations against Magu, in what for many, is an infighting within the Buhari government, pitting him against the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to whom he is supposed to report but doesn’t, have, for the past few days, held Nigerians spellbound.
Following Magu’s arrest and subsequent detention after a memo to Buhari by Malami detailing cases of alleged corruption and misconduct against him, Magu’s own men fought back, releasing to the media, details of the Attorney General’s own “ill-gotten wealth.”
Malami’s own alleged corruption soon became public knowledge, accused in media reports, among other things, of buying properties worth billions for his son, granting approval to Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd, an oil firm standing trial in court for stealing crude oil, Diesel to auction goods seized from It.
Malami is also said to have mandated the firm to sell five vessels despite the fact that the firm and its Managing Director, Mr Jerome Itepu, stood trial at the Delta State High Court, Asaba, for allegedly stealing about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil loaded in a vessel, MT Akuada a.k.a. MT Kua, valued at N384m in 2009.
Explaining himself regarding the oil deal in a statement, however, the Attorney General said he committed no illegality in approving the auction. According to him, the issue in contention should be whether Omoh-Jay “being a duly registered company can be denied the opportunity to participate in the auction bidding process”.
But many observers have questioned his powers to order the said auction, as according to them, he breached the constitution.
Amid the growing allegations, Malami in another statement on Monday last week, said has resolved to go to court, as according to him, the publications have subjected him to “considerable distress, psychological trauma, anxiety and greatly injured his character and reputation.”
But it would appear that the move by Magu’s men have achieved intended result. Within the same week, the former EFCC boss was finally released on self recognition, what many say could be Malami backing down.
“Magu made up his mind that he cannot go down alone. He is fighting back, you can see Malami is pulling back,” noted Barr Oscar Onwudiwe, president, Igbo think tank, Aka Ikenga.
“I expected that this day will come because of this culture of impunity. The moment you begin to do something with impunity, even the natural forces will start fighting against you and end up exposing you.
“But the other part of it is that all the noise that has happened now is just for us to record against Buhari’s name; that he is not what he pretended to be. But will anything happen to someone like Magu? The answer is No. Nothing is going to happen to him because there is a culture there that says, ‘go there and take it, as long as you have some important people who will protect you in that office, you go there and take care of them.’ Trust me, you just won’t hear it again.
“Now, what you you are going to keep hearing about, which will lead to consequences is Akpabio and his gang. These are southerners. There is nobody who is going to want to suppress their matter. Akpabio will get disgraced, the other lady (Joi Nunieh) may walk away like a hero, particularly now that (Nyesom) Wike is protecting her.”
Magu who had been at the helm at the EFCC since late 2015, has obviously never been in the good books of certain members of the president’s inner circle, the cabal, owing to his alleged links to former Lagos State governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. This was evident from 2016 when the Department of State Services (DSS), then led by Lawal Daura, moved to stop his confirmation as substantive chairman of the commission.
The 2016 report to the senate then led by Senator Bukola Saraki, accused Magu of sundry corrupt practices, including fraudulent acquisition of properties.
“In December 2010, the Police Service Commission (PSC) found Magu guilty of action prejudicial to state security – withholding of EFCC files, sabotage, unauthorised removal of EFCC files and acts unbecoming of a police officer, and awarded him severe reprimand as punishment,” the report had said.
“Magu is currently occupying a residence rented for N40m at N20m per annum. This accommodation was not paid [for] from the commission’s finances, but by one Umar Mohammed, air commodore retired, a questionable businessman who has subsequently been arrested by the secret service.
“For the furnishing of the residence, Magu enlisted the Federal Capital Development Authority to award a contract to Africa Energy, a company owned by the same Mohammed, to furnish the residence at the cost of N43m.
“Investigations show that the acting EFCC chairman regularly embarked on official and private trips through a private jet owned by Mohammed.
“In one of such trips, Magu flew to Maiduguri alongside Mohammed with a bank MD who was being investigated by the EFCC over complicity in funds allegedly stolen by the immediate past petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke.”
The report, among other allegations against Magu, had prompted Buhari to, in 2017, inaugurate a three-member committee headed by Olufemi Lijadu, who later became Chairman of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), with Mr. Mohammed Nami, the current Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) chairman and Mrs. Gloria Bibigha, an accountant in the office of the Auditor General of the Federation as members to audit all assets recovered by agencies of the government from May 2015.
The committee went to work and on 11th September 2018, submitted its report in which several questions were raised about assets recovered by the EFCC boss, even as discrepancies between amounts claimed to be recovered loot by Magu and the actual sum transmitted were discovered. Still, there were discoveries of lack of due process in the disposal of recovered assets.
Malami who received the report later addressed the media, noting that in summary, the recovered funds by the three-man committee is N769 billion cash within the period under review.”
But nothing was heard of it again until June 20 when the Attorney General sent a memo to Buhari with details of Magu’s alleged corruption and misconduct. The memo alleged, among other things, alleged that Magu misappropriated and re-looted funds recovered from corrupt people and kept the proceeds to himself and cronies.
The president thus charged Justice Ayo Salami led Presidential Investigative Panel on Anti-corruption to grill the EFCC chairman based on Malami’s allegations. He was subsequently arrested and later suspended.
Last week, the Presidential Committee on Audit of Recovered Assets (PCARA) made also said Magu failed to give a proper account of missing 332 out of the 836 recovered real estate property in March 2018.
But it would appear that the controversy has run its course. Magu has now been released, with his lawyer, Wahab Shittu noting confidently that his client would cleared of all allegations about reinstated as EFCC chairman. This, observers note, was always the expected outcome.
“I know the case was never going anywhere,” Hassan noted. What we are witnessing is power play, and it has everything to do with 2023 presidency. Obviously, some people are not comfortable with Magu because he is said to be close to Bola Tinubu and Yemi Osinbajo. They only want him out. This is further confirmed by the suggestion that a special adviser to Buhari on media is the one who alleged that Magu gave Osinbajo N4bn. Now that he is out, the matter is over.
“The truth is that all of them are involved in corruption. It is very bad. At this point, we should be praying that these people don’t plunge the country into deep trouble before 2023. We can only pray to survive this administration, no other expectation.”
The country’s opposition party, the PDP, perhaps sensing the same outcome, particularly, after Shittu’s remarks, raised concerns over what it said was an attempt to sweep the issues under the carpet.
“Our party hopes that this is not a case of corruption fighting back in a frantic effort to shield accused persons from prosecution,” the party said in the statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan last week.
“Already, the statement by Magu’s counsel has heightened public concerns that the probe have become a sham and that the allegations against Magu will eventually be swept under the carpet despite demands by Nigerians to prosecute the suspended EFCC boss in a court of competent jurisdiction.
“The PDP wonders if Magu’s counsel is now informing Nigerians that the activities of the Presidential Panel, as well as the indicting memo by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, are all drama to facilitate Magu’s clearance at the Senate.
“The party notes that the details of the allegations by the Attorney General of the Federation against Magu are in the public domain, including the alleged discrepancy in the financial records of the EFCC funds, alleged stealing of funds recovered by the commission, alleged sale of property recovered by the EFCC, details of alleged acts of insubordination, among others.
“This is in addition to issues of an alleged violation of rules, abuse of investigation processes, manipulation of court procedures by the EFCC under Magu, which has allegedly become a partisan vehicle for persecution, harassment and extortion against innocent Nigerians.
“There are also allegations that the EFCC under Magu was more interested in securing a conviction and not justice; for which innocent citizens were harassed with trumped-up charges, denied bail, allegedly made to make a statement in custody without the services of their lawyers and convicted on media trial even before being allowed to defend themselves in court.
“Moreover, there are also insinuations in the public space that the EFCC under Magu was harassing certain judges to get a conviction in cases, in addition to the manifest selective persecution in which no member of the current administration, including those who have been openly indicted for corruption, have been prosecuted by the EFCC.
“The statement by Magu, through his counsel, is, therefore, a direct slap on the integrity of our justice system and the fight against corruption in Nigeria.
“What Nigerians and indeed the global community expect is for the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, the African Union, AU, Anti-Corruption Champion, to take immediate steps to arraign the suspended EFCC Chairman before a court of competent jurisdiction to defend and clear his name over the very weighty allegations that have been brought against him. Anything short of this will only signpost a huge compromise in the matter.”
However, while the Magu saga appears to be petering out, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) scandal which has pitted its former Managing Director, Mrs Joi Junieh against Akpabio is taking centre stage.
Akpabio and Nunieh had fortnight ago, appeared before a Senate ad hoc panel investigating the alleged mismanagement of N40bn by the Interim Management Committee of the NDDC.
At the hearing, Akpabio said he did not know the expenditure of the NDDC under Nunieh because she refused to give him briefings.
However, Nunieh, who made damning allegations against Akpabio, said the minister engineered her removal for failing to dance to his tunes.
She alleged that Akpabio asked her to change the dollars in the NDDC account; sack the head of the legal team, who is from the North; remove all directors, who refused to follow his instructions and also implicate Delta Senator, Peter Nwaoboshi, Chairman of the Senate Committee on NDDC.
According to Nunieh, Akpabio warned that if she did not follow his instructions, she would be removed. She also alleged that Akpabio would never sign any document but rather ask his subordinates to commit fraud.
She said the minister asked her to take an oath of secrecy to stop her from exposing any of his dealings but she refused.
The controversy subsequently degenerated into personal attacks, with Akpabio accusing her of marrying five different husbands. Nunieh also accused the minister of harassing her sexually, which made her slap him.
Akpabio latter issued a statement denying all of Nunieh’s allegations. But things took a dramatic turn on Thursday when heavily armed men of the Nigerian police force broke into Nunieh’s home in apparent attempt to stop her from appearing before the Senate committee on NDDC that morning.
It took the intervention of Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike to save her from being arrested. Nunieh subsequently appeared before the committee on Friday via Skype and made several other damning allegations against Akpabio.
“Akpabio is going down,” Onwudiwe emphasized. “But Magu is going nowhere. Do you know that Magu’s lawyer actually boasted that Magu would be reinstated? It is the height of indiscretion. But it’s an existing culture of impunity. I’m aware that there is no way Magu will be reinstated. But I’m also aware that nothing will happen to him.
“The question is who told our president about Magu that made him see him as the only one that could fight corruption, even after getting security report from his trusted towns man, Lawal Daura to the effect that look, this man is corrupt? I had done my own little investigation about him and his colleague I asked about him just laughed.
“Go to EFCC office and see the kind of cars they are driving. We know how much they collect as salary.
“Now, there is one question some of us must ask. How come the chairmanship of EFCC is reserved for Northerners? Does it mean that there is a definition for corruption that we don’t know? Is corruption only what Southerners do because Northerners are never corrupt? The reason is the culture of patronage. If you go there and make money, you know that there are people you must take care of. Once you take care of them, that’s it.
“But the Southerners won’t understand that. And we make too much noise. We Southerners are noise makers. We have a stupid mentality in the South. The mentality is called ‘I better pass my neighbour.’ The others are bonding to continue to exploit us but we are busy competing with ourselves with this ‘I better pass my neighbour mentality.’ When things go bad, we don’t come together to say No, this should not be happening. All we think is how do I manage this situation so that I will be better than my neighbour? If there is no light, it is, how do I buy a generator so I can be better than my neighbour?”