On December 15, Thursday, the Nigerian Senate refused to confirm Ibrahim Magu’s nomination as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), citing security report.
“Security report” on Magu
Surely, there has to be a lot more to the Senate refusal to confirm Ibrahim Magu as Chairman of the EFCC than the contents of what is being circulated in the media as “security report”. In all honesty, it is hard to see the ‘damning’ part of what the public has been fed with so far, or how it even qualifies as a security report in the first place.
To be sure, Magu’s transgressions include allegations that he lives in a 20 million naira a year accommodation (or 40 million, whichever figure sounds more cool) paid for by FCDA (or Magu’s “questionable” businessman friend, whichever version is more fit for purpose); that he once flew in a private jet owned by, and in the company of the same ‘friend’, a retired Air Commodore; that he once flew first class to Saudi Arabia for Umrah; that he was once arrested and detained by his bosses for taking official EFCC files home from the office.
I have tried to list these allegations in their order of severity. However, it so happens that as you move from one to the next, you are not so sure about which is more flimsy among the charges. There are one or two more details such as the private jet in which he flew (from Maiduguri to Abuja) also had, as one of its passengers, a bank managing director under investigation at the time by EFCC.
Now, let’s forget the flimsiness of these allegations for a while, or the accuracy of the ‘facts’ for that matter, and look more dispassionately at the case, at least now that the shock value of the report has waned somewhat.
The evidence has turned out to invalidate the narrative
Starting with the forty million naira rent, the substance of the SSS allegation appear to hinge initially on the insinuation that Magu’s residential accommodation was paid for by this businessman whose activities the DSS only recently determined to be on the wrong side of the law. However, the evidence has turned out to invalidate the narrative. First, documents that we have seen in the media, including contract details, show clearly that the rent was paid for by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA), the government agency that has in the past been responsible for accommodation of political appointees based in the federal capital.
So what is the source of the misrepresentation? It is not clear at this point whether it was deliberate misinformation by the DSS or the product of spin and propaganda by the hatchet man. But for what purpose really? It is also very questionable why a two-year rent term was first made to look as if it was rent paid for only one year, obviously for exaggerated effect. The padding of evidence can only mean that even the authors of the report are not very convinced about the strength of the initial evidence and its capacity to achieve the intended “damning” purpose.
The allegation about the private flight from Maiduguri in the company of the same “questionable” businessman was obviously constructed to achieve the same impression as the one about the link with the rented accommodation – guilt by association. Until Magu himself speaks, it is premature to reach any verdict one way or the other about the significance of this plane ride, since the DSS has not told us anything of substance beyond describing the physical encounter between the Acting EFCC Chairman and the owner of the private jet. However, it would be a real tragedy of national proportions if what the DSS does by way of top security intelligence gathering is to try to create a pattern from two disparate events with no connection whatsoever, in order to establish guilt by association.
The allegation about the first-class trip to Saudi Arabia would appear on the face of it to be more clear cut, considering that it is a more straightforward matter whether the man violated a federal government directive or not. Never mind that it is the most flimsy ground on which to base a ‘security’ report. The matter even becomes more academic if, as we have also read in the media, Magu paid for the ticket with his own money. Why should it matter to us how Magu decides to spend his own money, as long as he is not encroaching on any of our rights or offending our sensibilities? Except you can show that the money was corruptly acquired.
Now the one about the official files that were found in Magu’s home during Farida Waziri’s time is the most baffling, and raises the biggest question about the real purpose of the DSS secret memo to the Senate. Honestly, the DSS will have to clarify what is the problem with possession of confidential files for which the officer has been granted authorized access. In all the years that I served in the Civil Service, I am shocked to hear that taking files home to treat is one of the cardinal sins of the service. For those of us who did not recognize the distinction between private time and official hours in the amount of time and effort that we devoted to public service, the DSS report is beginning to make me feel like the biggest transgressor of my time.
But I will say this to Magu if he is listening: getting on the wrong side of Farida Waziri on something like that is nothing short of a big badge of honour.
DSS should come clean with the real reasons
Beyond that, the DSS should come clean with the real reasons for why the candidate is unworthy of the position of Chairman of EFCC. Because there is nothing to suggest that what we have been fed so far in the media is the product of any rigorous intelligence gathering or that it even qualifies to be described as security report.
For most Nigerians who have been on the receiving end of the scourge of corruption, the interest is simply in having an anti- corruption agency that is strong enough to confront the monster with all the force that we can muster. True, there is nothing that equates an effective anti-corruption agency only with Magu at the top. But the process of selecting the leadership of that institution should not become an arena for executing an agenda that erodes the credibility of that institution as well as undermines its future effectiveness.
In giving the DSS the benefit of the doubt, it is probable that they think the EFCC position is too serious and sensitive to allow any detail to go unnoticed. But it is precisely for that reason that Nigerians expect a supposedly serious institution like the DSS to treat the matter with the seriousness that it deserves and not with the underhandedness that they have handled the Magu report. In a proper democracy, issues relating to conflict of interest of public officials are placed in the public domain, not surreptitiously designated as ‘security report’.
In the off-chance that the DSS has information about Magu that validly disqualifies the man from holding that position, by all means let’s have it. The EFCC and the DSS are both accountable to Nigerians. If they are holding on to a more serious version of this ‘security report’ it should be declassified for the sake of the integrity and credibility of the process – because the current version just doesn’t wash.
Joseph writes from Gwarimpa, Abuja.