Magu, Still Nigeria’s Most Dangerous Man, By Azu Ishiekwene

It was framed as a question roughly one year ago. In a piece entitled, “Is Magu still Nigeria’s most dangerous man?”, I wondered why in a country with a shortage of heroes, a public servant would be rewarded with suspense and anxiety for giving of his best to his country. 

There’s no need to wonder. The question mark is off. The acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, is, without a doubt, still Nigeria’s most dangerous man and the government does not appear to be in any hurry to change Magu’s status.

On Saturday, it would be exactly four years since Magu was appointed; four years since he was charged with fighting corruption, one of the core assignments on the agenda of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. Yet, Magu, easily one of the most recognisable faces in the anti-corruption fight, is in his fourth year on the job without a letter of confirmation.

Not because he has done anything wrong. On the contrary, powerful forces bent on frustrating him have weaponised his confirmation. They believe that by doing so, they can force him to play on their own terms and by their own rules. 

The leadership of the 8th National Assembly appeared sworn to an oath not to confirm Magu – or even to hear his own side of the story during the confirmation hearing. Twice his name was presented, twice the Senate refused to confirm him.

Cheerleaders in other security agencies who had personal scores to settle with Magu supplied ammunition to the Senate leadership which had personal scores to settle with Buhari, however scurrilous.

The Director of the State Security Services at the time, Lawal Daura, who made Magu’s fall his main job, alleged among things in his letter to the Senate, that there was evidence from Magu’s former life that he took official files home; that he fiddled with recovered assets sometime in his earlier life; that his friend, an air force officer, who was under investigation, paid twice the value of his house rent for him and furnished it; that he flies around with suspects under investigation; and that he even flew first class, against the rules.

It’s a despicably famous tactic in football: if you can’t get the ball, get the leg.

But Magu is still standing, steadily but surely ramping up the war against corruption with at least 794 convictions between 2015 and 2018, and 890 convictions so far in 2019, according to figures by the agency. After overstaying his confirmation by three years and six months, Magu would be exactly four years on his job on November 9. 

Here’s a summary, in italics, of portions of the article I wrote on Magu’s non-confirmation on his third year on the job:

“In three years of doing one of Nigeria’s most difficult jobs, Magu has stepped on so many toes that finding a crime to hang him didn’t need a Lavrenti Beria, the head of Stalin’s KGB famous for saying, “show me the man and I’ll find the crime.”

“When former President Mwai Kibaki started the war against corruption in Kenya, those who wanted it to fail did more than use aphorisms to fight John Githongo, the anti-corruption czar at the time.

“According to Michela Wrong in her book, ‘Our Turn to Eat,’ at first, they ignored Githongo. When he seemed to be getting uncomfortably close to the thieves, who were mostly insiders, they tried to shoo him away. He persisted and sank his teeth into one of Kenya’s biggest scandals – the $1 billion Anglo Leasing case. At that point, the backlash got nasty.  

“They called him a stooge of the Oyinbo man, especially the donor countries, and to incite the public against him, said he was gay and a traitor to his tribe. They sent stalkers after Githongo and threatened him directly. When he refused to back down, they went after his family.

“They suddenly remembered a loan taken by his father who had an accounting firm under former President Jomo Kenyatta and reminded John that his father had not finished paying up. “The minister of Justice was telling me that if I eased off my enquiries, then my father’s loan matter would be made to go away,” Githongo said.  

“Corruption did not relent until Githongo fled for his life. 

“Magu is not going anywhere. They have thrown at him the kitchen sink and some more, but I’m sure he knows by now that it comes with the territory. Not one EFCC chairperson since inception has served two terms and Magu has the added distinction of nearly completing his first term of four years without a letter of confirmation!

“The EFCC is not a perfect organisation but in the last three years we have witnessed clear and sustained efforts to improve its efficiency, the autonomy granted the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, the improved record of conviction, and the excellent facilities in the new Abuja headquarters, to mention a few.

“The war on corruption may still have its rough edges, but Magu has pursued a number of those who pocketed public funds and forced them to pay. He has worked with other institutions to tighten financial controls and plugged leakages through which the country was losing billions of naira yearly.

“All of this of course will be music in the ear of many politicians, as long as Magu is not coming after them or their cronies. 

“Magu has shown from his devotion and courage that he is a clear and present danger to a number of ambitious politicians and their friends used to easy passes. That’s why they want to stop him.

“The Senate tried to give the impression that the main reason why it rejected Magu’s nomination twice was that it was looking for someone above board; not exactly like the distinguished senators, I guess, but someone above board! 

“Yet, we can smell mischief in his three years in office. Magu has shown a commitment to work and independent-mindedness that have proved to be a major headache for politicians, their powerful cronies and insiders who would rather have a puppet in that office.

“Acting appointments belong to the stone age. As Magu marks three years in office without a letter of appointment, we don’t expect any surprises from the Senate. But that’s precisely where Magu’s freedom lies. 

“He does not owe the politicians any special favours and is therefore not a hostage to the selfish and narrow interests of those who would exploit an administrative leverage just to get even.