Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Fred Itua, Paulinus Aidoghie and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The presidential panel investigating graft allegations against embattled acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, has given him two days to consult his lawyers.
The panel reportedly granted Magu the opportunity “when his responses to the allegations were incoherent,” a security source told Daily Sun yesterday.
For the third day in a row, Magu faced the panel sitting at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to account for his stewardship at the EFCC since November 2015. Among other allegations, the probe panel asked the EFCC boss to account for the specific number of properties recovered by the commission under his watch and what happened to them, the locations of the recovered property, how they were sold, whether the sale process(es) followed due process and the present state of those still in the commission’s custody.
Said the source: “From some of his submissions before the committee, he could not account for the exact figure of the assets in EFCC custody and what has even become of them. Even for the ones sold, he was incoherent when confronted with details of their disposal.”
The panel, it was further gathered, asked Magu if the bidding process(es) for the sold assets were advertised in national newspapers, as required by law, the short-listing process(es) and whether other government agencies were involved in the sale process(es) and also, whether the Presidency, through the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, was notified and involved in the disposal of looted assets, and “he was not coherent in his reply to these allegations.”
This reportedly prompted the probe panel to give him “two days to meet with and present his defence lawyers from Lagos,” according to report monitored by the News Agency of Nigeria.
The committee chaired by Justice Ayo Salami (retd), decided to give Magu the opportunity of “legal counsel,” as the “allegations against him are weighty.”
A Presidency source had on Tuesday told State House correspondents that Magu was suspended from office following the ongoing investigation by the presidential panel.
Since Monday night when he was invited to appear before the panel, Magu has been spending the night at the FCID.
Uncertainty in EFCC as Umar takes charge
Meanwhile, the Director of Operations, Mohammed Umar, has taken charge as the interim head, to avoid a leadership vacuum in the commission.
Until Magu is recalled or a substantive head appointed in his place, Umar would hold sway as boss of the anti-graft commission.
Secretary of the commission, Olanipekun Olukoyede, who ought to have stepped in, is considered to be lacking in operational experience, which makes it difficult for him to assume the position in acting capacity. A source said Umar had not been issued a letter from President Buhari to officially take over in an acting capacity, but decided to step in, to avoid a vacuum in the management of the agency.
Commission awaits presidential directive
“Officially, no letter or announcement has been made. We have been waiting since Monday when Ibrahim Magu was whisked to the Villa. We had imagined that he would either return or a new replacement announced. When that didn’t happen, the director of operations had to take over for now. If the President makes a new pronouncement anytime, the new person will take over. For now, that’s all I can tell you. We are waiting for the acting chairman to call for a management meeting and reduce the tension in the commission,” said the source.
Magu, pioneer staff of the EFCC, was appointed by President Buhari in an acting capacity in November 2015, following the expiration of the tenure of Ibrahim Lamorde.
His recent travail is the culmination of his long-running battle with the Senate, the DSS and the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami.
Malami had in a memo reportedly listed Magu’s ‘22 sins’ and recommended his sack to President Buhari.
Malami anchored his recommendation on several grounds “ranging from diversion of recovered loot to insubordination and misconduct.”
In Magu’s place, Malami reportedly recommended three persons as substantive chairman of the EFCC.
Magu must face prosecution -PDP
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) , yesterday, said Magu must be prosecuted for alleged graft.
The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the allegations against Magu, as reported in a memo by Malami has put a question mark on the Federal Government’s fight against corruption.
The opposition party stated that the allegations against the embattled EFCC boss has reinforced its position that “the much-hyped war against corruption by the EFCC, under his watch, has been a huge scam by corrupt individuals to cover the plundering of public resources, harass political opponents, intimidate and extort money from innocent Nigerians.”
According to the PDP, “the development has also exposed why corruption has worsened under the Buhari administration, as documented by credible international organisation, including the Transparency International (TI).
“It is a big embarrassment to our nation, that the head of anti-corruption agency in an administration led by the African Union (AU) anti-corruption champion and which prides itself on zero tolerance for corruption, is being dragged in allegation of looting recovered fund and other barefaced frauds.
“Now that the racket has been exposed, the onus lies on President Muhammadu Buhari to clean his Augean stable by not sweeping the matter under the carpet or seeking to provide soft landing for the indicted EFCC boss and shield him from prosecution.
“What Nigerians expect at this moment is for President Buhari to enforce the law by directing relevant agencies to commence actions that would lead to Magu’s prosecution in the court. Anything short of this will not be acceptable to Nigerians.”
Conflicting signals not good for anti-corruption fight’
Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) has called on the presidential panel to carry out a thorough and fair investigation.
A statement by executive director of CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, said it was unclear what the real issues were, even as the group expressed worry over the conflicting signals being sent to Nigerians.
The centre said Magu’s heading of a sensitive government agency, tasked with investigation of financial crimes such as advance fee fraud and money laundering, makes it pertinent that his case be handled with all diligence and transparency, to ensure the gains in the fight against corruption are not lost in the battle for supremacy and political advantage.
Rafsanjani said: “We, therefore, urge the panel to make the results of the investigation public, in the interest of the President and in order not to rubbish the progress made in the fight against corruption and undermine the efforts of stakeholders. Public trials of heads of anti-corruption agencies send a wrong signal to Nigerians and the international community about the genuineness of the fight against corruption. This incident comes at the worst possible moment and may hamper our national efforts to fight transnational financial crimes and national scams, which have plunged Nigerians into poverty and deprivation. Full transparency of the investigation panel is of paramount importance.
“We also ask that sanctions be meted out where necessary to serve as a deterrent for officers saddled with the fight against corruption and political office holders. We call on civil society organisations, the media and Nigerians to continue to monitor events as they unfold and demand justice is served.”
‘Malami deserves applause’
The Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI) has asked the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) to appreciate Malami for his oversight function on the suspended EFCC boss.
Executive secretary of ARDI, Chief Dennis Aghanya, made the call in Abuja, following criticisms from PACAC and SERAP over the probe of Magu.
Aghanya said preliminary reaction of Prof. Femi Odekunle, a member of PACAC, to the arrest of Magu, as the considered position of PACAC, having conferred with PACAC chairman and other members, according to him, was un-dignifying and inappropriate for a body charged with the responsibility of advising President Buhari on anti-graft matters.
“Prof. Odekunle described the weighty allegations enunciated by the AGF, Abubakar Malami, in his memo to Mr. President and the quizzing of Magu for interrogation by a presidential panel, chaired by a former president of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, as (implying) a witch-hunt. According to his words: The alleged originating Malami memo, up to the current ‘arrest’ seems an outcome of power play by power blocs in the corridors of power in which Malami appears to be an arrow-head or major agent of a power bloc that is not really interested in, or in support of, Buhari’s anti-corruption fight.
“Prof Odekunle’s outburst against the office of the AGF, in our considered opinion, is the actual act of sabotage of Mr. President’s fight against corruption, openly antagonising another constituted authority of the Federal Government,” Aghanya said.
Aghanya also noted SERAP’s surprising reaction few hours after Magu’s arrest and his interrogation by Justice Ayo Salami’s Presidential panel.
He said SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, issued a statement stating that his organisation was concerned over what it called “arbitrary arrest” and insisted that Magu must either be charged with a recognisable criminal offence or released immediately and allowed to do his job without fear of reprisals.
“We commend SERAP for always standing up to issues of national concern, but wish to express disappointment at the haste with which it issued such statement on the arrest without recourse to the ongoing interrogation of Magu by the presidential panel as at that moment.
“Abubakar Malami, as chief law officer of the federation, is saddled with the responsibility of living up to the demands of his office and to ensure thus, his memo to Mr. President contains 22 serious weighty allegations against Ibrahim Magu which bothers on unprofessional dealings in terms of his duties,” Aghanya said.
Aghanya added that just like in the case of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, which ARDI exposed as an anti-corruption organisation, the allegations against Magu were allegations of integrity deficit against an officer of the law.
“President Buhari, in his wisdom, has acted swiftly and ensured a fair process of interrogating Magu by Justice Salami. So why the criticism of Malami? What Prof. Odekunle, PACAC and SERAP should have done is to encourage Magu to debug all such allegations against him in the HAGF’s memo. Maligning the HAGF for performing his constitutional duties is the height of ignorance of whoever that chooses to call Malami names.”