Nineteen public officials, including governors, ministers, special advisers, and their cronies in the last administration are going through the wringer now. About seven more are waiting in the wings. Ibrahim Magu of the EFCC is sure marshalling the biggest anti-corruption fight in the last 16 years.
Its success will come very pricey. And Magu is willing to pay. “If I am opportune to drive this thing and in the process I happen to go with it, so be it,” he told a group of lawyers in February. “We are determined to fight this fight to finish.”
A crusade unearthing $2.1 billion arms purchase scandal initially, now raking up more sleaze standing at $15 billion, truly requires a lot more hardy character than the niceties of the rule of law.
And character-wise, the EFCC boss is made of steel—going by his past as the commission’s interrogator in the days of its pioneer chairman Nuhu Ribadu.
Magu was even dreaded more than his boss then. “We used to plead with Ribadu that he should not allow Magu to grill us,” a former governor told the CableNews. “He’s the toughest interrogator you can ever think of.” His colleagues confirmed Magu brooked no shit when he investigated. Sources within the EFCC say he could work on a suspect hours on end, leaving no stone unturned.
Delta former Gov. James Ibori, now serving jail terms in the U.K., and some other suspects nailed in the Halliburton contract scams have plumbed the depth of Magu’s wizardry at digging up muck.
He wasn’t exactly in control then. Unlike now—when he gets all the backpats from Aso Rock as acting head of the commission. So far, Magu has quizzed and hauled in a number of big fish in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government: ex-governors like Sule Lamido, Murtala Nyako, and Godswill Akpabio; ex-NSA Sambo Dasuki, ex-Ministers Bashir Yuguda and Abba Moro; party men like Olisa Metuh, Bello Haliru, and media magnate Raymond Dokpesi. There are others like Sen. President Bukola Saraki’s wife, Sen. David Mark, and others in the commission’s black book.
In the days ahead, Magu’s sleuthhounds will also be coming for opposition’s stalwarts like Achike Udenwa and Femi Fani-Kayode. Some of them pencilled down are on the fly now. But the EFCC is already on the scent of many of them, including PDP’s ex-chair Adamu Mu’azu, ex-AGF Mohammed Adoke, and ex-Customs Comptroller Abdullahi Dikko that holed up in the United Arab Emirates. The pact President Buhari forged between Nigeria and the U.A.E. will take care of that.
The president will be signing another agreement with about 60 world leaders in May at an anti-corruption summit in London. The Punch reported last week that the new pact will target Nigerian looters seeking asylum abroad—their extradition, asset forfeiture, visa denial, monitoring, and others,
So Former Defence Minister Musliu Obanikoro, ex-Minister Diezani Allison-Madueke, Rufai Alikali, special adviser to Jonathan, former INEC chair Morris Iwu-–all on the run—have yet to find rest. They will soon be smoked out of their bolt-holes in the U.S. and U.K.
With more than 25 suspects and accomplices to probe and prosecute, Magu has the burden of recovering trillions of naira of stolen wealth: $15 billion arms fund from Dasuki and co.; $200 billion salted away in Dubai over the years, according to Sen. Shehu Sani; INEC-Iwu-Diezani N23.29 billion rigging fund; N37 billion NIMASA loot; the Panama Papers scandal; and many others. Investigations going on in the military, maritime, the former NSA office, and the interior ministry alone will fetch N1.5 trillion if the EFCC pull them off. All that’s just a pinch of the whole caboodle of the stolen wealth.
And this time, Magu’s job as the EFCC chief investigator affords him an array of tactics—the luxury he never had when he was Ribadu’s yes-man. His M.O now leans heavily on the media. He’s trying to be a smart ass. “The forces which we are battling are powerful and some of them may want to use all platforms of the media to distract and derail us,” Magu said during a media parley in Lagos.
To outwit the powerful forces, he now leaks information on corrupt politicians to the media early enough for journalists to feast on long before the sleazebags get to court. Magu has also asked for media intelligence. He wants newshounds to be telling on politicians stealing money, “You will be complementing the commission when you play the role of whistle blowers. Anywhere you see corruption, let us know about it,” he said.
Senior advocates that are mostly defending corruption suspects call this tactic media trial: the suspects have been condemned before their trial. Rotimi Akeredolu, a SAN, believes it’s an attack on the suspects. “At the end of the day, you have condemned them even before the trial and we will be the ones that will more or less suffer for it,” Akeredolu said in a speech he delivered in Ibadan in January.
The Public Interest Lawyers League was unable to answer the National Daily’s question on how much of public interest is in the “media trial” allegations by politicians.
But Magu doesn’t care. He would rather lambast some of the senior lawyers. “There are lawyers within the fold of the NBA who ought not to be among your noble ranks,” he said in his remark at conference of the Nigeria Bar Association in February. “Those people are not fit to be called ministers; rather, they are vandals of the temple of justice.” And he owes these bad eggs in the NBA no apology. The commission is currently prosecuting two of those Magu believes are vandals: Rickey Tarfa and Joseph Nwobike.
Whether all the EFCC sabre rattling is helping to recover the loot is a moot question, Magu can only tell Nigerians looters are returning billions and billions of naira to the government.
But that’s vague, and has yet to bump up his boss’ social media likes. Buhari’s popularity, Government Advancement Initiative for Nigeria said, dipped in March—from 63 percent in January to about 31 percent in March.
The anti-corruption crusade was among the four reasons he got all the thumbs down. According to the pollster, the rating of the anti-corruption war drops below 50 percent as a high priority area for the first time in four months. Nigerians are disappointed by slow pace of prosecution and lack of convictions, the survey stated.
In all this, there’s something still going great for the anti-graft war: the Magu scare coupled with Buhari’s obsession with the corruption probe is scaring the looters shitless. Even those under the radar are taking their lessons from Saraki’s trial.
That could be helpful somehow. Especially in the wider anti-corruption fight.
Weeks ago, the Senate decided to tweak the Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal Act as the Sen. President was facing trial over his false asset declaration charges. The EFCC has been prominent in the prosecution.
Many believed the lawmakers were frightened watching the No. 3 citizen sitting almost daily in the dock, and were simply trying to weaken the Act to save their scalps. PDP Sen, Ayoola Olujimi, for instance, couldn’t fight back her own fear. “If you don’t assist your neighbor when his house is burning, it will extend to yours,” she said as she defended the Peter Nwaobosh-sponsored bill
But many Nigerians, willing to see more trials of their corrupt leaders, didn’t take the lawmakers’ attempt lightly. Lagos lawyer Femi Falana said the senators were merely wasting their breath debating it.
The upper chamber made a similar attempt in 2003. The senators amended the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000 because some top-flight senators were caught in the web of corruption allegations. “The Federal High Court set aside the amendment as it violated the Constitution,” Falana said in a letter written to the House of Reps to keep away from the amendment, “Without amending the relevant provisions of the Constitution, the proposed amendment of the Act is an exercise in futility.”
Although the senators have backed down on the amendment, Magu’s—and other anti-graft agencies—are riding on the spur of the moment to rattle the corrupt politicians already caught in the dragnet.