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Mago-mago as nemesis of an anti-graft offensive

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In mythology as in general everyday communication, Nemesis is reasoned as retribution especially the indignation of the gods when men show signs of hubris or of presumptive arrogance. Nemesis the synonym for an act which naturally invites retributive justice.

In local Nigerian parlance, mago-mago is the projected absence of fair play or the presence of partiality in an otherwise fair game or procedure.

Events surrounding the current travails of the suspended Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) helmsman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, and of the grave allegations of the dark and dank goings-on in an institution that was established to sanitise an impunitous public sector environment and restrain our private sense of profligacy, are truly unsettling.

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Even as politicians are not trusted to possess the capacity to act with dis-interestedness in any matter in which a definite private purpose or direction is the goal, the face-off between the Attorney-General of the Federation and Mr. Magu culminating in the present perverse circumstances of the EFCC will appear to be in the public interest. Politicians are known to truckle only to the interests of their abiding predilections. Their movement is purely personal or egotistical.

They can appear to be un-intelligent and their ideas befuddling but they are adept at working to the answer or to what they think is the answer. Whatever may be the reason for the Attorney-General’s blitzkrieg offensive against Mr. Magu, so long as the public interest is served, contrary positions will appear to be argumentum ad hominem and therefore fallacious.

From the beginning of his controversial appointment, many doubted Mr. Magu’s even-handedness in the discharge of the functions of his office. Some distrusted the capacity of a policeman to act with dis-interestedness in that office. Magu’s speeches and press statements were devoid of hope – supinely foreboding despair and foregrounding grim resignation. He held out that he possessed a fighting spirit against a recklessly corrupt ruling class. He, however, did not deceive many people. His agitprop appeared furnished with vigour but it lacked finesse or suavity.

Magu’s tenure was characterised by Gestapo-style invasion of residences, by un-feeling detention of suspects, hyped media trials, and smug dis-obedience or disregard of court orders. When some two weeks ago, the bubble burst and Magu was accused of employing methods or tactics that were inconsistent with the attainment of the ideals of a free society, few people were aghast. When he was accused of being irreverent or disrespectful to other institutions of government, the matter could be combated as being in the course of duty or in the context of a frenetic requirement to achieve a projected result; when he was accused of being partisan or one-sided the issue could be glibly settled or explained in the light of his principal’s frugal possession of humanist or democratic credentials.

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But when Magu was pointedly accused of doing the same things his office was established to fight, it is difficult or impossible to provide an explanation or to say there is no truth in it or, that if it were true, it did not necessarily connote that he was not opposed to official corruption or the fight against the menace of corruption.

We have learnt from the barrage of allegations against him that the congenial office and remunerative conditions of the office of Chairman, EFCC were not cozy enough to make Magu keep his cool. He is alleged to have liberally helped himself from the till. Recognition of his office, self-satisfaction in the duties of his office, physical and financial comfort, leisure for travels far and wide, etc – all these and more were the perquisites of his office.

Given these auspicious circumstances, it is strange there is a streak of a mis-governance of appetite for meretriciousness concerning this office and other offices of state. A man of modest material ambition would have deemed the aforementioned accoutrement of office as lavish or extravagant and therefore enough to restrain any unbridled cravings accompanied with uneasy sensation for ill-gotten wealth.

Even as we express contempt for the impunity and the official thieving (or thief-thief, to borrow from the inimitable lingo of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti) that have become the order of things in our nation, we all should show ourselves sensitive to the events and development foreshadowing the onslaught on our cherished liberties, our commonwealth and our collective desire to live in peace, in plenty or in progressive prosperity. The free nation that we claim to be, we must take a stand against desultoriness and the un-restrained assault on our common patrimony.

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The whole romantic idea of Nigeria as a land of youth and energy, of toleration and freedom and of the love of all that is good has fallen into premature antiquity. It could only conceivably apply to the period immediately preceding the independence era. Maybe there is some malevolent ogre or jinx about the office and tenure of the Chairman of EFCC. Magu’s plight is fore-grounded by the antecedents of his predecessors in office. His forerunners did not fare better.

In Nuhu Ribadu we find a rather fragile, effeminate gaiety even in the prosecution of his charge. Unsuspecting of the motives of persons who ought to have been his suspects or those who the “eagle eye” of the EFCC had identified as probable candidates for investigation, Ribadu allowed himself to be gratified with a nomination to run for president under a flag his sponsors knew could not be flown at full mast.

They succeeded in compromising him. Thereafter, Ribadu crashed unto irrelevance or into relative odium. His facility and polish are noted as his weakness. Ibrahim Lamorde, in his own tenure, was more than tepid as he strove to make a difference; his efforts were futile, however. A search for simplicity in place of cynicism and flippancy had led to the nomination of relatively virtuous Farida Waziri.

A middle-of-the-road morality replaced a display of vocal agility and gragra. An interplay of morality and sectarian politics soon found Farida on the short end of the stick. She became un-suitable pronto but she naively waited to be shown the door. In this clime, we love to idealise reality or egg on the man on the saddle. We fail to recognise that every successive appointee into the Chair of EFCC is a kindred spirit to the tradition of the professional training of all who qualify to be so appointed even as the enabling law of the agency has lamely prescribed that its directing mind or chief operating officer must necessarily be a policeman. We have been carried away by the enthusiasm, by what we have observed as self-absorption on the job and by the office occupiers’ indulgence is rather nebulous activities that we forget that they have rarely achieved much.

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We have, to our own peril, ignored some uncomfortable truths about our circumstance such as hegemony, tribalism, sectionalism and a number of un-tenable or unprincipled compromises at strategic moments in our history. A syncretic blend of modernity with certain benumbing practices of the ancients – e.g. feudalism with federal ethos­ – is the result of the cataclysm we are now witnessing. Its consequent dislocation is yet unfolding but has, even in the interim, thrown the future off balance or into jeopardy.

Mago-Mago in the affairs of state has produced a difficult and confusing or embarrassing panoply. Our duty today is to explore, interrogate and take benefit for the struggles of the true heroes of our past – not to kowtow or give in to the prescriptions of immorality and insensitivity or to indecorous and meretricious lifestyle.

The Magu affair has cast a slur on the integrity of the war against corruption. Whatever the outcome of the probe into Magu’s tenure at the EFCC, that institution has lost a vital battle. Its moral armour or escutcheon has been found to be of little worth. It is made of straw; its erstwhile frightful jackboots are fake after all. They are no longer intimidating. Our national institutions must not proceed on the basis of a vengeful, vindictive or vendetta transmutation. They should not be propelled by hate, the absence of decency and decorum or by behaviour that is socially odious or unacceptable as has been witnessed under Ibrahim Magu. The kind of perceptive insight and stark clarity required in the assignment in glaringly absent or not set any store in the appointment of the Chair of EFCC.

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.

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