By Ibrahim Modibbo
There are several ironic happenstances around the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ,EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, almost to the level of the myriad of paradoxes around Nigeria as a country.
However, of these many ironies about the man, the most interesting to me, and I think to majority of the discerning public, is the temerity of a public officer, with what in Nigeria is a huge political bridge to cross, namely confirmation of his acting appointment, to throw all caution to the wind and embark on his work, firing from all cylinders, as the work demands.
Some people have said, “The problem of Magu is that he acted like he has been confirmed, like he has no river to cross.”
If one is to hazard a guess, I could say the man went into the work in November of 2015 with the mindset of a wartime military commander – thinking of nothing else but how to surmount the assigned task, no matter how Herculean it was. And, in tackling the malfeasance, Magu diversified the fight with a clear focus on how to make the Nigerian economy function; restore the confidence of foreign investors and clean up all sections of the formal economy.
However, the most ironic of the ironies around Magu is that at the right time when his stewardship was beginning to be assessed and rated by the public, having reached one year in office steering the delicate operations of the EFCC, he got drown into needless controversy around the politics of his confirmation. This, sadly for keen watchers like myself, threatened the dispassionate atmosphere to consider the performance of the man bearing the torch of President Muhammadu Buhari’s celebrated fight against corruption. But it did not take away the glows that came from different quarters, even at the thick of the intrigues.
Magu’s gallantry and dispassionate drive has earned him, the EFCC and Nigeria, accolades from all angles of the compass. The influential Abuja-based newspaper, Leadership, crowned him as a joint winner of its person of the year award. Few days later, Silverbird TV, owned by the controversial senator from Bayelsa State, Ben Murray-Bruce, listed him among its nominees for man of the year. Not long afterwards, The Nation newspaper came up with Magu as its man of the year.
Previously, several prominent Nigerians had given their endorsements of what is happening with the fight against corruption, with credit to President Buhari for his square peg in square hole appointment and to Magu for being courageous and sincere about his work.
According to the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), the fiery Prof. Itse Sagay, the country has not had a more committed anti-corruption czar with “sterling qualities as Ibrahim Magu” since the pioneer EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu. Interestingly, Ribadu himself has publicly acknowledged Magu’s vision and the renewed energy he has given the anti-corruption fight.
This is what Ribadu had to say recently about Magu: “I will assure you that the leadership of the EFCC today is one that has the same spirit and belief in the vision of the EFCC right from the foundation and time the EFCC was established. It is a leadership that carries itself with integrity, a leadership that is strong, a leadership that is honest and a leadership that works with a lot of courage. You can see it in war that is going on.”
“Today, more than ever before, in our history, we have more cases that are being taken. We have more in terms of recoveries taking place, more than any time ever. You can simply say that maybe there is no one single anti- corruption organization in the world today that is doing the work that the EFCC is doing. So, that must be acknowledged and that must be understood.”
International commendation is equally huge, coming from world leaders such as President Barack Obama, the UK Government, the Commonwealth Secretary General, Patricia Scotland, and a host of others. When the US Secretary of State, John Kerry visited Nigeria in August, 2016, he specifically commended President Buhari for “making significant progress” in the fight against corruption, as he pledged US government’s support.
When the Nigerian delegation, led by President Buhari attended the London Anti-Corruption Summit in May last year, Nigeria stood out. That delegation was the toast of all with President Buhari conferring with fellow heads of government, while Magu was the toast of the experts from around the world.
Interestingly, as Magu approached one year in office with the uncertainty of his appointment hanging around his neck, it was the media, alongside civil society, as the voice of the critical mass, that began agitation for his confirmation as a tribute to his “dogged fight against corruption”, as one newspaper put it.
Many newspapers, among which the very credible and influential foursome of The Punch, Leadership, The Nation and Daily Trust on Sunday, have variously penned editorials, giving kudos to Magu for taking the war against corruption from a mantra off the mouth of the policymakers to a daring, resulted-oriented crusade. The four newspapers were also unanimous in calling on those saddled with the task of making Magu the substantive chairman of the EFCC to hasten and do that.
According to Leadership, in its editorial of November 3, 2016: “In our considered opinion, the best interest of the anti-corruption effort will be served when someone who has what it takes to call a spade by no other name is encouraged to do the work for which he is trained and has the aptitude. At the risk of being misunderstood, Magu, from our disinterested position, is one man who has been well primed for the task.”
Also in November, the who-is-who of civil society organisations working on anti-corruption issued a joint press statement calling for Magu’s confirmation as substantive head of EFCC citing these credentials: “…the EFCC has of late stepped up the fight against acts of corruption and abuse of public trust as exemplified in the tracking of those remotely and directly connected with the misapplication of monies meant to fight Boko Haram insurgency, confiscation of the properties suspected to have been acquired from proceeds of crime linked to politically exposed persons as well as the investigation and prosecution of alleged owners”.
With this gale of endorsements from independent-minded individuals and stakeholders, and with the outburst of public outrage witnessed penultimate Saturday when the orchestrated news went out that Magu had been relieved of his duties, it is clear where Nigerians stand on this matter.
These two scenarios: the praises and the rage, are clear pointers that though the anti-corruption work may be a thankless job, with majority of Nigerians, the effort is much appreciated.
And as the Latin maxim says, the voice of the people is the voice of God.
Modibbo is editor-at-large at Verbatim magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]