No sincere follower of the purported ongoing investigation of Ibrahim Magu, who was recently forcibly sacked as Acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), would not describe the exercise as what it truly is: a charade. An orchestrated extralegal act so brazenly packaged in the worst form of travesty.
Without any tinge of doubt, Abubakar Malami, the infamous attorney general of the federation and minister of justice, is the architect of this conspiratorial affair that unfortunately bears a presidential rubber stamp. From the moment Magu showed his hand as one who would be his own man outside President Buhari‘s influence as far as the fight against corruption is concerned, Malami knew he had to work on both the president and the former EFCC boss to enable him to achieve a substantial consummation of his self-serving mission.
Regrettably, he has succeeded to a large extent. He has been able to completely reverse whatever good fortunes Magu hitherto enjoyed in the eyes of Buhari. To get this far, though, he must have initiated a sustained and indiscriminate calumny of the EFCC under Magu, following up with a blistering offensive that culminated in the biased petition to the president chronicling sundry allegations of corruption and mismanagement against Magu. The outcome of the petition is the Justice Isa Salami administrative panel, which was secretly put together and, unknown to many, had kicked off a covert probe of Malami’s prey in, of all places, the presidential villa.
Only a handful of people, even in the power circle, knew of the existence of the panel and its intended purpose. But the lid blew open to the public as soon as Magu was “kidnapped” on the street in the mid-morning of July 6, 2020, by security operatives and swiftly bundled to the villa to face the panel. By this time, the drama was already shaping up to present the audience with an ugly theme of well-scripted injustice and campaign of calumny.
It’s all too obvious. There is no need harping on the point that contrary to the normal order of proceedings in matters like this, Malami the accuser is also the judge here, a fact that can’t be said to be lost on the chairman of the panel, Salami, himself a well-regarded judge of sterling adjudicatory attributes. Instead of being taken before the panel as he was told when he was seized, Magu was kept somewhere in the precinct of the villa for 10 days under conditions that left much to be desired. Of all those days under captivity, not once was he brought before the panel for him to be interrogated.
The object of this exercise is unmistakable to the discerning who are clearly in the majority. They knew that Magu was doing a good job but Malami wanted him out of the way by all means just so he can weaken the anti-corruption war and redirect its course to his own advantage. Femi Odekunle, professor of criminology and member of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), the think-tank set up to advise the government on issues of corruption, was one of the earliest voices to criticise Magu’s removal and subsequent ordeal, blaming it on Malami and other forces around the presidency who are bent on hijacking government’s anti-corruption crusade to suit their own needs.
No one quarrels with probing the poster child of the Buhari government’s anti-corruption campaign if only the venue of the exercise and the procedure adopted don’t smell strongly of bias against him. That the issue of lack of fair hearing has been counted as a major stain in the garment of the Salami panel is a thing of grave concern. Itse Sagay, professor of law and chairman of PACAC, raised two issues on this ground in a recent interview with The Sun newspaper.
One, he said, most members of the seven-member panel came from agencies that are accusing Magu. He said this is contrary to the normal principle of fair hearing. “You cannot be the judge and the accuser,” he said. Two, he said, those who wrote petitions against him were invited to state their cases when Magu was not present, and that it was only after they had left that he was called in to respond. According to Sagay, that is contrary to all the procedures in the common law.
“In accordance with the constitution,” he explained, “when somebody is accusing you of something you’re supposed to be present; first you’re supposed to be served whatever you are accused of, then you will be there when the person is making a case, so that you have an opportunity of challenging him, cross-examining him and exposing any lies or inconsistencies if there are.”
Issues of fairness and the sudden transformation of a panel that is originally an administrative panel into a judicial panel of inquiry has been a source of worry to Magu’s counsel, Wahab Shittu, who has written at least three letters to the panel detailing the multiple procedural lapses as well other untoward developments that have attended the conduct of the probe. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the letters have drawn the right response from the panel.
For justice to be done and be seen to have been done, the former EFCC boss deserves to be questioned in the open, at a place accessible to the public, and accorded a fair hearing in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. The notion that a panel is a tool for witch-hunting Magu is deeply rooted in the minds of most people owing to its conduct thus far.
The panel can dispel such belief, the belief that it has something to hide by, for instance, by taking the probe to a neutral venue like the International Conference Centre; let Magu meet all his accusers there and engage all the issues in full glare of the public. The man, as his lawyer repeatedly said, is not opposed to the probe and is ready to square up to all those having one allegation or the other against him. In particular, the panel should invite Malami, the mastermind of the investigation, to testify and prove his allegations against Magu in Magu’s presence.
If not, the continued convergence of the panel in a closed venue and the glaring denial of the accused the opportunity to adequately defend himself would sustain the impression that the panel is working toward a predetermined outcome, a situation that no doubt invites a negative portrayal of the country in the eyes of the civilized community, as well as a total withdrawal of assistance in critical areas like combating corruption.
Three prominent international organisations, Re: Common, Corner House and Globalwitness, involved in helping to fight corruption across the world recently wrote to Buhari on Magu’s case. Sadly, the tone of the letter suggests another shade of corruption in the pattern of Magu’s investigation. It is not the feedback Nigeria needs from the world.
Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist. He can be reached on email@example.com