By Owei Lakemfa
MY primary concern in the running soap opera on the “investigation” of Ibrahim Magu, the erstwhile acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes, EFCC, is public safety. The filming of the drama with the Aso Rock Presidential Villa as main location, had begun with a vehicle suddenly blocking the armed convoy of Magu in the busy streets of Abuja. Both sides were fully armed and a shootout could easily have occurred as they challenged themselves. All the invading force wanted was to deliver a letter to Magu inviting him to appear before a Presidential Panel. So why was the invitation not dropped in Magu’s office or a phone call made inviting him?
The idea was to make a dramatic point that even a member of the Presidential gang can be treated like a common criminal or even worse. The ordinary suspect even when illegally paraded on camera by the police, is still in accordance with the constitution, presumed innocent until proven guilty. In this case, Magu is presumed guilty. He was simply abducted, flung before a panel with no known legal status, and held hostage even when the constitution states that no citizen can be held for more than 48 hours without being charged to court. I imagined if the invading force had an exchange of gunfire with Magu’s unsuspecting convoy, innocent passers-by might have become victims.
A similar scenario had played out on June 11 right in the Presidential Villa when the First Lady, Aisha Buhari led her children, Zahra, Halima and Yusuf, and security details to the house of Mr. Sabiu Yusuf, the President’s nephew and personal assistant to place him in forced isolation. Gun shots were fired in the process leading to the latter fleeing for his life. Neither side admitted to firing the shots and all the Presidency said is that it has ordered an investigation which I am sure, like many others, will not see the light of day. What would have happened if passers-by had been hit by the bullets?
Within minutes of his abduction, Magu’s media trial was in full swing. The secret memo of Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had been leaked to the press and Magu’s humilation, made public. In the days following, allegations of Magu’s criminality including the looting of recovered funds, accumulation of property through fraudulent means, alleged liaison with a well-known fraudster, were systematically fed to the press.
With a successful media trial spiced with juicy stories and gossips, Magu has been convicted in the court of public opinion; he is like a sacrificial lamb dragged before the altar for slaughter. All the talk about Magu being assured of justice because the Presidential Panel is chaired by the respected Justice Ayo Salami, former President of the Court of Appeal, amounts to nothing because the foundation is faulty. His chances of being declared innocent and restored to his former position is no higher than a cockroach proving its innocence in a gathering of fowls.
In the first place, no serious government would have appointed Magu to such high office given the fact that five years before his appointment, the Police Service Commission had placed him on 20 months forced leave without pay and indicted him for theft of public documents and unprofessionalism, and subsequently handed him a severe reprimand. Secondly, given the seriousness of the 2016 report on Magu by the Department of State Services, DSS, which contains pretty much the allegations being made against him today, the Buhari government had no business retaining him for another four years. Thirdly with the Buhari Government twice presenting Magu for confirmation by the Senate, and the latter rejecting him on both occasions, the administration had no business forcing him on the country. Now, having run the Magu numbers for half a decade, rather than apologise to Nigerians, the Buhari government pretends to have just realised that it is all a racket.
Following the Senate refusal to confirm Magu, I distilled three broad positions by the three main institutions involved. For the secret services, Magu is a rotten egg unfit to wear the police uniform or hold any public office. Its message is that Magu is no different from the crooked persons he is being asked to bring to book; that in fixing or changing your locks, you do not hire a graduate from the School of Burglary and Related Studies.
As for the Senate, confirming Magu as the EFCC Chairman is like asking a cat to keep watch over fried fish or a dog to guard a bone. The Presidency made no attempts to publicly defend its nominee, it simply insisted that Magu must remain the EFCC boss. Its body language suggested that it takes a thief to catch a thief; Magu is the best man for the job.
So for five years, the Buhari government that advertises itself as an anti-corruption administration, proudly used the intellectually-challenged Magu as the poster boy of its corruption fight. It appears its anger is that Magu is running a racket of his own within the larger runs entrusted to him.
The move against Magu bears all the trappings of a mafia family getting fed up with a burnt enforcer and showing him who is the boss. Simultaneously, it was sending a message to people outside the group that if a member of the family can be so savagely attacked, worse can be done to outsiders; if chickens can eat the intestines of other chickens what can they not do to the entrails of the cockroach?
Magu was a serial violator of fundamental human rights and many Nigerians think he deserves the treatment being meted out to him. But I do not think we should descend to his level even if a fundamental principle of the Buhari government as enunciated by Malami, its Minister of Justice is that: “The rule of law must be subject to the supremacy of the nation’s security and national interest.” In other words that the fundamental human rights of the Nigerian are subject to the government’s nebulous definition of ‘national security and national interest.’ This is an elegant way of dressing up fascism.
In defending Magu’s fundamental human rights to fair hearing, to bail or prosecution within 48 hours and presumption of innocence unless found guilty by a competent court, we are also defending our fundamental rights. If tomorrow the rights of Malami or Salami are similarly trampled upon, we have a duty as Nigerians to also come to their rescue.
We must not allow the low standards of the Buhari administration to define us as a people. Like all good things, the Buhari administration shall come to pass, but Nigeria will remain.
- Owei Lakemfa is a prolific writer, activist, political commentator and columnist.