For Ibrahim Magu, the embattled Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the words of Ashly Lorenzana – “Sooner or later in life, we will all take our own turn being in the position we once had someone in – are apt, and will hopefully guide his future conduct. His confirmation as the substantive chairman of the agency should have been a walk-over, considering that President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration campaigned on a zero tolerance for corruption. But it is the untidy manner he has carried out his assignment – more than the “rough tackle” of the vicious cabal closely linked to the President – that has contributed to his confirmation woes.
Whatever delusions of his indispensability or importance in the so-called war on corruption, must have since evaporated. Has the President betrayed Magu? President Buhari hasn’t, because in the first place the war is all a joke, a huge one comparable to Nigeria sending astronauts to the moon in 2019. Senator Shehu Sani was on spot when he described the exoneration of David Babchir Lawal, Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF), as the funeral of Buhari’s anti-corruption war. The clincher was in distinguishing between the war outside the Presidency, for which the President uses disinfectant (Otapipia) and deodorant (old spice) for his close associates like Lawal. Magu surely understands what Senator Sani is talking about. It is a war that lacks standard, and not a war of double standards. For emphasis, from former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s time to Buhari’s, the war has been half-hearted and lacking in standard.
Not seeing beyond the hypocrisy, Magu has gone to war against corruption guided by the old adage of all is fair in war. The manner he has prosecuted the war showed lack of character, and scant regard for justice. The excuse that he is under considerable pressure from the government to deliver, to convince Nigerians that something serious is happening holds no water. Rather than tarnishing his image or trying to convict innocent people at all cost, he should have offered to resign. But cashing in on the mood of the country – scandalised by stories of thieving Generals who allegedly stole money meant for arms, and of governors and ministers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) (APC people have just started theirs through the grass-cutting scandal of the SGF), who looted the treasury – Magu has severally committed blue murder. He does everything to get conviction: media trial, suppression of facts, rough hand tactics, holding charges, threats of continued incarceration. And Nigerians naturally applauded because ‘justice’ was finally being served raw to the bad guys.
Magu, as Lorenzana said, is today in the position that he has put several people in. How does Magu feel that the government that he has faithfully served; that he has committed all manners of crime for, will write such a damning report: that he is not as clean as he has portrayed himself? To be described as being of “questionable credibility” and being vengeful are very hard words. There seems to be no respite, as even Transparency International has categorically denied endorsing him. “The invitation extended to Magu for the conference does not represent an endorsement by TI, UK.” Moving forward, Magu is fatally wounded by the report that not even the Americans can save him. There are several cases that in his sober moment, he would ask himself why he took the line of action that he took.
For instance, the EFCC has tried to move the trial of Orji Uzor Kalu, former governor of Abia State, from the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court to Lagos. This, obviously, is ‘forum shopping’ and an abuse of court process. Why would the EFCC want to move the case from Abuja to Lagos? Kalu has rights, which must not be violated in the name of trial. Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who has had his account frozen by the EFCC, described it as ‘forum shopping’ and persecution and not prosecution. Justice must be seen to be done, it is a process in which the defendant would at the end of the day accept that he was fairly tried and not ambushed. The EFCC does not have unilateral powers to move a case from one judicial division to another, except with the consent of the defendant. It must not convict at all cost. The alleged crime by the way, was committed in Abia State, so if for any reason the agency wants to transfer the case, then it should be to Abia State, where the offense was committed. The Supreme Court, in the James Ibori case, laid the issue to rest when it ruled that Ibori couldn’t be tried in Kaduna. Shopping for justice flows from a ‘me’ and them stance, hence the prosecution must look for a judge that must convict at all cost, as opposed to a judge that acts on evidence before the court.
Greatefully, Kalu’s counsel, Amobi Nzelu, petitioned Magu. In the petition, Re: Transfer of suit No FHC/ABJ/CR/56/07-Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs Orji Kalu & 2 Ors; Appeal for Re-consideration, Nzelu wrote: “The information at our disposal is to the effect that your commission, after the last adjourned date and without reference to our client or his defence team, requested for the transfer of the said case to Lagos. This is ambush and not law.”
The EFCC has also been getting away with ‘holding charge,’ which enables the agency keep suspects beyond the time stipulated by law. Suspects are detained indefinitely, without formal charge. It has also been accused of obtaining remands from different courts or different jurisdictions, to avoid breaching the constitution. Section 35 (3) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “any person who is arrested or detained shall be informed in writing within 24 hours (and in a language that he understands) of the facts and grounds for his arrest or detention. Sub-section 4 (a) and (b) provides for commencement of trial within two months or three months, depending on the nature of the case. Sections 293 to 296 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act (ACJA, 2015) provide that a remand obtained from court can only be valid for 14 days and renewable for another 14 days, if the authority shows ‘good cause’. But the agency uses non-conclusion of investigation to hold people indefinitely.
Femi Fani-Kayode, former Director of Media and Publicity of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was arrested over a N4.9 billion fraud, based on a warrant from a magistrate court in Abuja. He was subsequently transferred to Lagos on a fresh remand warrant. The EFCC eventually charged Kayode before the Federal High Courts in Lagos and Abuja – in what can be described as fishing for justice, and intimidating the suspect that if he is not convicted in Abuja, he will be convicted in Lagos.
Ordinarily, Justice Hassan Muslim ought to have disqualified himself from all cases involving the EFCC, as their former employee. He prosecuted Kayode on behalf of the EFCC and he lost. How can Kayode ever get justice from Justice Hassan Muslim? Kayode and, indeed, everyone with case before Justice Hassan Muslim, can never be guaranteed fair trial, impartiality or neutrality. Good, the judge has finally hands-off the case.
Na’im Lawal does not have Fani Kayode’s fame, so his is a footnote. Arrested in Katsina on charges of conspiracy, theft of government money, money laundering and obtaining under false pretence. He was moved to Abuja, based on a warrant from Magistrate Usman Shu’iabu of the Chief Magistrate Court, Wuse Zone 2, for 14 days, in the first instance, pending the conclusion of investigation. At the expiration of the initial 14 days, the EFCC went before Azubuike Okeagu of the Chief Magistrate Court Mpape for a fresh remand warrant. The court, at the expiration of the warrant, was forced to order his release, which the commission refused to obey. Why circumvent the law?
There are several revealing cases of how the EFCC works. Some of the suspects are guilty by association. How on earth can anyone be a friend of Diezani Allison Madueke – the Umaru Dikko of the Goodluck Jonathan administration – without being corrupt? And Buhari, like in 1985, would very much want to lay his hands on Diezani Allison Madueke, who by sheer coincidence is holed up in London, like Dikko was in 1984. Far from the gripes of Buhari, Nigerians have been inundated with tales of how she single-handily wrecked the economy. Do recall that Buhari desperately wanted Umaru Dikko that he contracted General T Y Danjuma to kidnap Dikko, Shehu Shagari’s powerful Minister of Transport. Dikko was the ‘Poster face’ of the inept and corrupt Shagari administration. But, we all know how the Dikko saga ended. Although he was never convicted by any competent court of law, yet he was thoroughly demonised by the Buhari administration. That is why I urge circumspection when EFCC, through its media outlets, releases stories of missing billions.
The United States Department of State Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in its International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 11 on Money Laundering and Financial Crimes of March 2017, was scathing. The EFCC was described as more brawn than brain. It will be difficult to wipe out corruption, just like prostitution. The task is to prevent the large scale corruption that the agency tantalises us with day in, day out. And that can only be done by strengthening the institutions. This is a hard work, and so very uninteresting to the agency.
The effect of corruption is horrible, but the EFCC doesn’t have to secure conviction based on falsehood or suppression of facts. The EFCC must not fight corruption with corruption – lies, falsehood, ambush – this will be more reprehensible as the high crime they allege. The EFCC should imbibe the maxim that it is better for 1,000 guilty people to be set free, than one innocent man to be wrongfully convicted. This maxim should be EFCC’s operating code. And like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “justice cannot be for one side alone. It must be for both.”
My thoughts are with all victims of miscarriage of justice, especially all those guilty by relationship, including friends of Diezani, the poster face of corruption during the Jonathan administration.
•Emmanuel Ado writes from Kaduna. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org