Since Monday, when the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu, became a subject of discussion and investigation, I have been wondering if government and institutions of government would ever do anything without unnecessary drama. A simple administrative matter involving investigation and verification relating to various allegations has been turned to an opera, with many acts and scenes.
A petition was written against Magu. The Federal Government deemed it necessary to investigate, so that any action that would be taken thereafter would be fair and seen to be fair. This is fine. I agree with government that nobody is above the law. I also agree that whatever allegation was brought against Magu, which, in any case, has not been made public but still in the realm of speculation, should not be overlooked. However, the way government has gone about this exercise leaves much to be desired. It is not fair that in investigating a man, who is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty, actions taken to prove his guilt or innocence have already criminalised him. The EFCC is also guilty of this, in relation to its mode of operation.
To say the least, the handling of Magu’s investigation is funny. Till today, the Federal Government has not made any official statement since Magu was dragged before an administrative panel investigating allegations against him. No official statement has been made regarding whether Magu is on suspension or still in charge of the EFCC. No official statement has been made on the running of the EFCC at present. Everything has been left to speculation. Indeed, the purported suspension of Magu is speculation. The purported appointment of Umar Mohammad, EFCC Director of Operations, as interim chairman, is speculation. Government has said nothing. If government has the will to investigate a sitting appointee, it should have the will to let the public know what is going on.
Magu may not be your kind of guy. He may have run roughshod over many in discharging his duties. However, there is a minimum standard expected in investigating him or anybody for that matter. The action of sending security operatives to block his convoy and serve him an invitation to appear before the investigative panel or arresting him in the street and driving him to the panel’s sitting is not the best practice. The ideal thing to have done was to extend an invitation to him. At the panel, he would be questioned as much as the members want. If he has to be taken into custody, there is no problem about that. If there was no act of playing to the gallery in the exercise, it is possible that Magu would face the panel, as many times as the members want, without anybody knowing. The process may leak but it would be a mere speculation until government makes it public. The process could start and end without much ado, before the outcome would be made public.
I had told a story before of a prominent Nigerian who said he was once investigated in the United States and subsequently cleared, without him knowing it. According to him, in his earlier years as a young businessman, he used to spend some weeks with his friends in the US on vacation annually. Using the period as time to rest and unwind, he used to, with his friends, go nightclubbing daily and sleep at home during the day. He revealed that, unknown to him, residents in the neigbourhood, where he usually stayed with his friends, noticed that they often went out in the night, returned in the early morning and stayed indoors throughout the day, and started suspecting them. Being blacks of African descent, the neighbours concluded that they might be involved in shady business and alerted the police.
For days, this now prominent Nigerian said the police placed surveillance on his home, followed him and his friends to nightclubs, rummaged through their trash or garbage, without, for once, making contact with them. Satisfied that this Nigerian and his friends were clean, the police dismantled the surveillance and left them alone. Throughout the period of surveillance, these Nigerians never knew. They were never visited. They were never invited to the police station for questioning. However, they were investigated and found clean. It was much later, many years thereafter, that somebody told the man in question, in passing, while discussing other things, what happened.
Were this to happen in Nigeria, these innocent suspects would have been criminalised big time, first, before being cleared later. The police or any security agency mounting surveillance on them would have stormed their home with armed operatives and media men. They would have arrested them, dragged them to the station in handcuffs and made indicting statements against them, all in a bid to grab the headlines. And when the security agency eventually discovers that the suspicion is unfounded, nobody would be told. No apology would be rendered. The innocent suspects would have been left to live with the stigma of having been presented as criminals.
The Federal Government has made a bad show of Magu’s investigation. This is not the way to prove that the government believes that nobody is above the law or above scrutiny. You don’t have to destroy somebody or an institution just to prove a point. Some people would say it serves Magu right as he also made the same mistake in doing his job. Whatever it is, this does not make it right. It only proves the mob mentality in government. The question is: After this whole episode, what will become of Magu?
The government may not know or pretend not to know that, whether Magu is cleared eventually or found guilty of the allegations, a lot of damage has been done to him as a man and the EFCC as an institution. If Magu is cleared and allowed to continue as the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, there will be a question mark on his integrity. If he is indicted, there will still be question mark on the corruption war. That the government suspects him, in the first place and has made a show of his investigation has rubbished him and the EFCC, no matter the outcome of the probe. This would not be the case if government quietly does an investigation and takes action thereafter.
What has happened to Magu is a lesson to everybody. It should be a lesson to the EFCC as an institution and its heads as individuals. It ought to shape the operations of the EFCC, in the main, in future. We have said before and it is worth repeating, that the EFCC has operated in a way to criminalise all suspects being investigated. The manner EFCC makes arrests is an issue. The way its operatives treat suspects, during arrest or arraignment, is a problem. The way information on investigation is leaked before suspects are taken to court is bad. It did not start today. It was there during the days of Nuhu Ribadu. All these are playing out in the Magu investigation saga. It is not good in the administration of criminal justice.
As Magu faces the panel and presents his defence, what Nigerians need is a thorough job, with fairness and justice in mind. People should not see the exercise as the hunter being hunted or corruption fighting back. The exercise should rather be seen as an attempt to prove that he who comes to equity should do so with clean hands. Despite the shortcomings regarding the operation of the investigative panel, it is an opportunity for Magu to prove that he is above board, as Caesar’s wife. If he is not, the law should take its course. By then, we will assess him accordingly. If he is, he should get a pat on the back and be reassigned, to preserve the corruption war, as what has happened is a dent. It is an opportunity for the government to prove that its corruption fight is all-embracing.
As they say, “in God we trust, but others must prove themselves.” That is the cross every mortal must bear.