Magu, the Senate and the ichabod presidency
“Then she named the child Ichabod, saying, “The glory has departed from Israel” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her [woebegone] father-in-law and her husband.”-1 Samuel 4:21, The Holy Bible NKJV.
The audience of the theatre of the absurd always suffer the peculiar dilemma of not knowing whether to laugh or cry at the spectacle before their eyes. So it is with the Nigerian public which has been forced to witness the farce that was the two unsuccessful attempts by President Muhammadu Buhari to get the constitutionally mandatory Senate confirmation for his anti-corruption czar Ibrahim Magu. In the discordant din of whether or not Mr. Magu was a ‘performer’ and/or whether or not the Senate was right in its decision, what appears lost on the vast majority of Nigerians is the true purport of the event: a most egregious example of a disorientated, indecisive and indeed probably irredeemably disabled Presidency.
The United States President Donald Trump famously dismissed Jeb Bush and some of his other opponents for the U.S. Presidency last year as being of ‘low energy’. In keeping with his own self-proclaimed high energy persona, he had his cabinet choices ready before his inauguration for office. It struck me at the time that merely a day after his inauguration Mr. Trump had got the United States Senate to confirm his defence secretary (minister), and who was already at the Pentagon to start work the following day (a Saturday).
The loquacious Trump would certainly be short of words were he to categorise his Nigerian counterpart who took over six months to assemble his nondescript cabinet. Given that candidate Buhari could be said to have run for, and was elected to, the Nigerian Presidency on only one major issue of anti-corruption, the least expected was that he would have been ready with his choice of the person to drive the fight against corruption upon his assumption of office. However, President Buhari took all of seven months to appoint Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the lead anti-corruption fight agency. As incomprehensible as this tardiness was, the President made matters worse by the strategic error of not promptly getting Mr. Magu confirmed and in the event did not send to the Senate for confirmation until after another seven months in July 2016. Even then, the deed was done by the Vice President Osinbajo as Acting President at the time President Buhari was overseas on medical vacation.
Meanwhile, Magu who had been in occupation of the office in an acting capacity appears to have been uncompromising in his pursuit of our too many larcenous politicians and business people who seem hell bent on stealing the rest of us into extinction. With the National Assembly, especially the Senate, seemingly the natural habitat of a great percentage of these characters, Magu even at the best of times was always going to find it very difficult obtaining the senatorial confirmation. As it turned out, the Department of State Security (DSS) appeared on the scene as a willing and effective agent provocateur.
Beyond the persistent rumours of a civil war within Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, it became starkly clear to all perceptive observers that there was no love lost between the DSS and EFCC when the latter testified before a National Assembly committee that it was beyond the DSS remit to raid judges’ homes supposedly to stamp out judicial corruption. The problem had obviously gone beyond understandable inter agency rivalry. However, whatever the state of the relationship between both agencies it was inconceivable for the DSS to author a report which trenchantly denied Magu’s fitness for the office of EFCC chairman. But that is what happened in the event.
It is a safe, even probably irrefutable, presumption that Magu enjoyed the President’s trust and approval in the circumstances, otherwise which he would not have been appointed in the first place. Similarly, it is axiomatic that the DSS and EFCC are not only agencies of the Executive branch/Presidency, they share special kinship in the sense of being merely different manifestations of the law enforcement responsibility of the Nigerian state. And both are under the superintendence of the National Security Adviser. Given these facts therefore, and assuming that its position was not considered ever before the nomination, the least expected in the circumstances was that the contrary report of the DSS on Magu should have first gone through a bureaucratic filtration process and by which, depending on the substance of the case against Magu, either the report would have been discarded or the nomination quietly withdrawn. That way, the President would have been saved the monumental and unprecedented embarrassment and very public humiliation.
Instead of an adequately decisive response, and reiterating the stupidity of any person holding or thinking of holding the tiger by its tail, the President rather like a punch-drunk boxer ponderously announced his mandate to the Attorney-General to investigate the allegations levelled against Magu in the DSS report. Rather predictably, the Attorney-General returned a ‘not guilty’ verdict, Nigerians were told, and upon which Magu’s name was resubmitted for senatorial confirmation. Yet again, the DSS stuck to its guns that he lacked the requisite integrity and was not fit for the office. The Senate’s humiliating rejection of Magu of course cast him in pathetic light; it is always a sorry sight watching the hunter being hunted down. But the matter is way beyond Magu the person.
News reports were recently awash with the spectacle of one young man who had the temerity to sit on the stool of the Tor Tiv during the monarch’s installation ceremony in Markurdi. According to newspaper reports, he has since been promptly tried in a court of law and sentenced to some years imprisonment. I do not know the specific offence he was charged with but it certainly revolves round his perceived disrespect, desecration even, of a revered stool. However, those who enabled or conjured President Buhari’s predicament in the Magu palaver did worse: they contrived to undress the President in public.
It beggars belief that President Buhari and his handlers apparently do not realise the dreadful and lasting damage inflicted upon his Presidency in the circumstances of the Senate’s rejection of Magu. Decisive remedial measures were required to be taken to reassert the Presidency’s severely besmirched image and authority. I made the point at the time, and became even more convinced by subsequent events, that President Buhari had no justification at all resubmitting Magu’s name to the Senate without first sacking all those in the DSS involved in penning and sending the anti-Magu report to the Senate. Nothing less would do.
Resubmission of Magu’s name for senatorial confirmation and retention of the DSS leadership were, and remain, mutually exclusive unless the design is to turn government into a sick joke. Indeed if Mr. Magu is found to be corrupt, as alleged by the DSS, then the matter should go beyond promptly dropping him from further consideration for the job but he should also be prosecuted. At any rate, and given the heavily polluted water under the bridge in this case, it is inconceivable for the headship of both the EFCC and DSS to remain unchanged. Corruption-manifesting mainly in economic and financial crimes-may well be the biggest extant threat to Nigerian national security and there is therefore considerable coalescence in the objectives of both organisations. That there must be complete cooperation between them is therefore an article of faith for the Nigerian state. However, the headship of the EFCC and DSS are burdened by deep seated mutual distrust and have freely and openly exchanged charges of lack of integrity. It is thus unquestionably in our overall national interest that at least one must be sent away from office. The coach of a professional football team cannot have his two central defence partners not talking to each other and expect anything other than calamitous results. One, if not both, of the central defenders must be sold for the team to make any progress.
One lesson observable from the unfolding tragedy of the Buhari Presidency is that the problem is all self-inflicted. There were loud protests when Buhari insouciantly restricted his kitchen cabinet to what could be called the Kanuri-Daura and allied irredentists. As so insensitively lopsided as the appointments were, I had counseled the exercise of patience and understanding for the taciturn infantry general. If only his kinsmen and women and those of his mother are the persons who would best assist him in getting Nigeria on the right track, then so be it. Well, the jury has returned and the verdict is devastating. Team Buhari is failing spectacularly and it appears the major reason is his insularity and nepotism.
It does appear that the members of the President’s inner circle of power and influence acknowledge at a subconscious level that they did not need any qualification more than close family or such ties to him to occupy their exalted offices. Hence, their seeming lack of determination to justify themselves on the basis of stellar performance and overall merit. It is against this background of insouciance that we can understand why exalted officers of state would be so oblivious of the responsibilities of appearance on the national stage, and choosing to indulge in their petty personal and or clannish quarrels at our collective detriment. The buck however stops on President Buhari’s desk. At the news of Governor El Rufai’s letter of admonitions to him and listening to Emir Lamido Sanusi repeated advise on how Buhari could pick up the baton-which has so obviously fallen from his grasp-one becomes hopeful that the falcon may yet hear the falconer. Otherwise, we may discover to our collective doom that time may have passed for the best advice to Buhari, and which would have been that offered by Cardinal Wolsey to Thomas Cromwell:
“Mark but my fall, and that that ruin’d me.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition;
By that sin fell the angels;…..be just and fear not.
Let all the ends though aim’st at be thy country’s,
Thy God’s, and truth’s.”-Shakespeare, Henry VIII; act III, sc.2.
Okoli is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos branch.