Private thoughts on Malami, Magu rift
Lai Mohammed, minister in charge of Information and Culture has assured that President Buhari is investigating the face-off between acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu and the attorney general of the federation/justice minister, Abubakar Malami. The two had been at some cold war for pretty long and nobody was willing to officially admit there was a rift. Malami, however, lost his cool and has twice blown it in the open.
The first time, it was veiled and once reporters probed the subject, Malami himself later denied. Another opportunity was on July 5, after a meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), when Malami told journalists the matter of Magu’s confirmation or not by the Senate had not been raised at the meeting, suggesting it was not so important to be an item in the FEC agenda. The Senate had twice rejected Magu’s nomination for confirmation, following which Acting President Yemi Osinbajo questioned the constitutional authority of the upper chamber to confirm Magu. It was in that atmosphere that Malami clarified the position of FEC on the subject, suggesting that the Vice President, who was then Acting, was on his own. Aside showing some disdain for the office of Acting President, that explanation by Malami showed some exasperation, because the matter was being pushed to extremes. It did not make sense, that after Magu was rejected twice by the Senate, Osinbajo, who had earlier seen the constitutional sense in presenting him twice now says Magu no longer needs Senate confirmation to become substantive chair of EFCC.
It was more confounding that the testimonial that worked against Magu’s confirmation emanated from the Department of State Security, another agency of the Federal Government that is supervised by the Presidency. For an attorney general, the Magu case, particularly the way the VP had pushed it did not give government a good name. Perhaps, it required a political solution, which is not helped by positions like that of the VP. It clearly suggested that the Presidency was divided; especially coming after the manner the change of baton between Buhari and Osinbajo was crafted as the former was on his way to London for medical vacation. The suggestion that the VP was to coordinate activities of government instead of acting in place of the president, got tongues wagging. The information minister tried to repair that public relations damage, but he didn’t do enough.
The last time Malami took umbrage at the acting EFCC chair, he did not leave anybody in doubt that there were deeper issues. He accused Magu of being responsible for the country’s suspension from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units. In a statement issued by the attorney general’s office, it was alleged that Magu had frustrated efforts to make the National Financial Intelligence Unit independent of the EFCC, as required by the global financial intelligence body. The statement also said Magu was frustrating the Federal Government’s anti-graft war.
Right now, the rift is no longer a hush-hush. The information minister has confirmed in a Channels Television interview that there are divergent views between the two and that the appropriate authority will look into it. “This, to me, is a purely administrative matter and if it is not, Mr. President will take appropriate action. The President is aware and is investigating it. He is the employer of both of them,” Mohammed said.
The back and forth on Magu issue has taken a toll on the anti-corruption war. The solid integrity and oneness that the process requires has been diluted and it’s not as if quick solution will be reached, not even after Lai Mohammed’s promise. This is because given Mr. President’s physical state, he is not likely to have a full complement of the attention span needed to pick the details and fix anomalies, wherever they may be. But should the President get round to having a firm grip of things, the better for the anti-corruption fight, and for the entire country.
I say this because it seems Magu’s troubles are located right within the President’s kitchen cabinet. He seems like the only one who rose from the ranks and was not part of the clique that was selected by the President, when he came onboard. Magu had been in the EFCC since the days of Nuhu Ribadu and was credited with good investigative skills, and a bit of integrity, which I suppose was what recommended him to Buhari. He has supporters out there in the rights community and civil society, as well as among senior lawyers in the likes of Femi Falana and Itse Sagay.
For a president who truly wants to fight corruption and is not so interested in the politics of it, whoever delivers the job and is well spoken of by a cross-section of stakeholders is good enough. This seems to be Magu’s backing. But for politicians, aspiring politicians and those who want to be kingmakers, there is more to fighting corruption than just having one stubborn man at the helms of affairs.
And this is the reading of some on the quarrel between Magu and Malami over surrendering files of cases to the office of attorney general. The attorney general is the final office on matters that pertain to prosecution in the land. The attorney general has constitutional authority to request for files and is also entitled to decide which cases can wait for whatever reason he comes up with.
For instance, if you have an attorney general who was a governorship candidate and still nurses the ambition to be governor, you cannot expect his views on anti-corruption not to be different from that of a career policeman whose next promotion is dependent on how many people he sends to jail. The attorney general, who is a politician, will be more perceptive and cautious, while the policeman could as well be on the loose. On that note, I think Mohammed was correct to say both Malami and Magu have divergent views on issues.
Yet, they both report to the same person. While we wait for the investigation by the President on the matter, some have suggested that the office of attorney general be separated from that of Justice minister. I don’t know the details of how that separation can be done, but if it will allow the minister play politics without empowering him to unduly intervene in case files, that will be fine.
You know this corruption fight is a delicate subject. Remember the question was put to Buhari, while he was a presidential candidate; on how he will deal with corruption cases among politicians, knowing full well that those who recommended him and spent huge sums to procure the ticket of All Progressives Congress (APC) for him were all politicians, who used public resources to fund his ambition to be president. All he said then was that he was going to draw a line between previous stealing and the moment he becomes president.
As 2019 draws closer, members of this government will run for offices and spend money on campaigns and hiring of aircrafts and all that. If Buhari feels strong enough to run, which I have advised against, he will use public resources to fund that project. In case he does not know, the office of EFCC chair will facilitate his next campaign in so many ways. All those eyeing his seat now, and those who will contest the APC 2019 ticket with him can be put to sleep via the EFCC. If Buhari does not know, others in the Presidency and FEC know and that’s what at stake now.
Some people also don’t like the accolades being showered on the EFCC chair, I mean persons high up there. Inter-agency rivalry is real and the more Magu works extra hard to impress, the less he is liked inside the power base. Overall, a more delicate balancing is required. Let there be an EFCC that is nobody’s tool or attack dog. Let there be office of attorney general that cannot issue spurious nolle prosequi. Let EFCC not be unleashed against only opposition members. Let there be justice for all!