Nigeria’s EFCC boss suspended from office following secret tribunal

By Oluwatosin Adeshokan

Posted on Friday, 17 July 2020 17:06, updated on Monday, 27 July 2020 17:54
A man on a motorcycle sits near a signboard campaigning against corruption along a road in Dangi district in Nigeria's northern city of Kano, January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Facing a slew of allegations of fraud including the diversion of recovered funds and seized assets, Ibrahim Magu, the head of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has been suspended from office.

His suspension follows an all too familiar trend of top bosses of the Nigerian anti-graft agency facing the axe in very questionable ways for allegedly questionable behaviour. Prior to joining the EFCC as the top boss, Ibrahim Magu was embroiled in a separate scandal.

It was reported at the time that under former EFCC boss Farida Waziri, Magu had been arrested at his Lagos home with EFCC case files and computers. The next day, Magu – who had served as the Head of the EFCC Economic Governance Unit –  had his Abuja home raided by EFCC officials looking for EFCC files and a computer containing classified documents.

Since its inception, the EFCC has been accused of being a political tool used to target enemies of the ruling politicians in Nigeria.

It was allegedly around this time that Magu’s problems came from other politicians friendly with the former EFCC boss Waziri. Later, Waziri would be removed from her position by President Goodluck Jonathan on accusations that the EFCC had been selective in its investigations.

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But policy experts assert that it was because of the falling out with the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice at the time over the prosecution of cases that were brought before the court.

Origins of the EFCC

Nigeria’s EFCC was established in 2003 in part as response to pressure from the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering after the group named Nigeria as one of the 23 countries that were uncooperative in the global fight against money laundering.

But, according to Transparency International, Nigeria currently ranks 146th out of 180 countries scoring a miserly 26% despite the 17 year run of the anti-graft agency. “EFCC came in because Nigeria was not fighting corruption. There needed to be a structure different from the police or the ICPC [Independent Corrupt Practices Commission]. But, even now, the EFCC does not fight corruption on the scale that’s needed,” Damilola Adebayo, a Lagos-based policy expert, tells The Africa Report.

Since its inception, the EFCC has been accused of being a political tool used to target enemies of the ruling politicians in Nigeria. “A lot of institutions in Africa and Nigeria especially are not strong. The EFCC is no different and this means that rogue agents can wield power any way they choose,” explains Adebayo.

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The EFCC is carefully tucked within the presidency with the EFCC head reporting directly to the president of Nigeria. The reporting system has almost always caused friction with the office of the Inspector General of Police or the Attorney General of the Federation. “Someone has to back the EFCC and putting it within the presidency was just to show that it would not fall by the wayside and become one of the many unfunded organisations begging for scraps within the budget,” adds Adebayo.

Magu’s predecessors at the EFCC

In order for Magu to get the top job at the EFCC, the Presidency had to have spent a lot of its political capital. The appointment of Magu as the EFCC chair was brought before the Senate twice and was rejected both times. Despite this, the Presidency kept him on as the now Acting head of the EFCC.

In 2017, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said the National Assembly does not need to agree with the Presidency on the appointment of Magu for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

“Section 1(71) of the Nigerian constitution could be cited as evidence that the government need not even have produced Mr. Magu to be cleared by the Senate at all,” he quoted. Magu had been one of the earliest recruits into the EFCC by Nuhu Ribadu, the first EFCC chair.

After heading the investigation of Bukola Saraki following the collapse of Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, and James Ibori, former Governor of Delta State, who was convicted for money laundering in the UK, Ribadu gained a reputation among his peers as an incorruptible and courageous officer.

Magu’s predecessor, Ibrahim Lamorde – a Goodluck Jonathan appointee – was removed by Muhammadu Buhari in November of 2015. However according to the Presidency, “Mr. Lamorde “was not sacked”, but that he was only proceeding on terminal leave ahead of the expiration of his tenure in February 2016.” The terminal leave meant President Buhari had refused Lamorde a second allowable term at the commission while dismissing him earlier than scheduled.

Before Lamorde was Farida Waziri. Waziri’s time as EFCC Chairperson was tumultuous and policy experts confirmed to The Africa Report that a former ambassador walked out of a meeting because Farida Waziri walked into the same meeting.

In the infamous Wikileaks, cables showed that EFCC’s foreign partners rejected and humiliated Waziri on account of their perception that she was sponsored into the leadership of the anti-corruption agency by politicians under investigation at the time.

Before her appointment, Waziri was well-known in law enforcement circles and generally highly respected particularly as the highest ranking woman in the Nigerian Police Force. She was Director of the Police Special Fraud Unit and trained both Ribadu and Lamorde in the 1990’s. A series of arrests, redeployments of officers and officers demoted by Waziri led critics to question the Yar’Adua administration’s commitment to fighting corruption.

“Compared to Farida’s [Waziri] time as EFCC chair, the international partners of the EFCC have increased their contributions. Magu remains an enigma. To some people, the corruption charges he is currently facing are well founded. But the international trust and contributions to the EFCC paint a different picture. He is known to be very effective as an investigator,” explains Adebayo.

In 2018, the EFCC announced that 603 Nigerian figures had been convicted on corruption charges Magu assumed office three years earlier.

Cut from the EFCC

Magu’s suspension comes at a time the reputation of the Buhari government is low. The Buhari government ran its campaign on an anti-corruption mandate, but general consensus in the country is the anti-corruption fight has not quite happened.

READ MORE Nigeria’s VP Osinbajo: Does he have friends in the political elite?

But Magu’s arrest is seen as a power play between him and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. The AGF reportedly accused Magu of insubordination and re-looting of recovered funds. Magu is notably an Osinbajo ally but at the moment, the general sentiment is that the Vice President is being frozen out of Aso Rock – in part to reduce his political capital ahead of 2023.

Magu has since been replaced by EFCC Director of Operations, Mohammed Umar. Umar is expected to take charge and oversee the activities of the Commission, pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigation and further directives. Since Magu’s axing, President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly suspended 10 senior officials of the EFCC.

Magu has now been allowed to go home after having spent time in detention.

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