Again, the system felled Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) last week. It had always done that. Olusegun Obasanjo, the maiden president at inception of Nigeria’s fourth republic, first erected the crucifixion upon which a crime-fighting czar was hung. While employing the old Yoruba verbal denunciation of thieves by way of pouting lips, clapping both hands repeatedly, literally poking hands into the face of the accused and shouting Ole! Ole! E ki’gbe ole, ole!, Obasanjo did all that against former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun in January, 2005.
He did more: Obasanjo asked Balogun to immediately tender his letter of resignation, on account of huge theft of public money traced to him. The dossier lay threateningly on the table before Obasanjo that morning inside the Aso Rock Villa. As narrated by Nuhu Ribadu, first EFCC’s Chairman’s biographer, Prof Wale Adebanwi in his A Paradise for Maggots, Balogun went on all fours as a tribal symbolic solicitation to Obasanjo to, in my words, kill me at home and not kill me abroad, whose Yoruba translation was, pa mi si’le, ma pa mi si’ta. A total sum of N2.7 billion in five different banks and jaw-dropping number of choice properties had been traced to the police chief whose mantra for combating crime was Operation Fire for Fire.
Three people were at that meeting: Obasanjo, his Chief of Staff, Abdullahi Mohammed and Balogun himself. Mohammed had earlier summoned Balogun, on behalf of the President. The three of them, being and having affinity with the Yoruba nation (Mohammed hailed from Ilorin, Kwara State), could connect with Balogun’s symbol-baiting prostration. Here was the bodily hefty, giant-in-position Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police in total surrender to his accuser. Tafa Balogun was not only prostrate, in that prostrating position, he was pliant, literally castrated of his manhood and was in subdued acceptance of his guilt.
Balogun was to be dragged by the EFCC to court a few weeks later. He had been handcuffed and even dragged on the floor by young police officers who probably had not stopped sucking their mothers’ teats when he joined the police force. Then Chief Superintendent of Police, Ibrahim Magu, one of the EFCC operatives under Ribadu, led that operation that saw a huge crime czar like Balogun falling with a deafening thud like a common felon. Thoroughly defoliated of his manhood in the public by Magu and his boys, Balogun had reportedly pleaded with them that, “I can change your lives, please. Let me settle you and let’s settle this. I can make you rich for life.”
Within the period he held the brunt of power, Ribadu oscillated in the air like a pestilence to a commune of Nigerian fraudsters and corrupt Politically-Exposed Persons (PEPs) who were mutating in the air like a ravaging virus. Aside allegations against him that he was Obasanjo’s poo-poo bowl carrier, Ribadu succeeded in instilling fears into the hearts of Nigerian malefactors clothed in the euphemism of political office holders. His rout of criminals was so celebrated that late literary giant, Chinua Achebe, in lauding the clinical way he fought crime and criminals, compared him to Eliot Ness. Ness was an American crime-bursting legend of the 1930s renowned for bringing down the Al Capone gang in Chicago, Illinois. His law enforcement team, a 1,000-strong group called Bureau of Prohibition, was nicknamed The Untouchables. When the system was to chop Ribadu off, it made mincemeat of him and flushed the Adamawa-born crime-buster down the cistern like a common felon.
In quick successions, Farida Waziri and Ibrahim Lamorde came, appointed into office by Presidents Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. They also made noise and got some criminals to scamper off their felonies. However, not long after, they became the proverbial Maga dogs, biting the systemic hands that recruited and fed them, thereby getting drenched in the sewage waters that seemed to have been reserved for Nigerian crime-busting chiefs. So, why did the four EFCC czars come into office with so much hope, so much adulations, expectations, vapory glories, but ended up being drenched in a haze of ignominy? Is there a latent systemic error that will always ensure that the after-office graveyards of these crime lords must be garlanded with stench and shame?
As against what its minders are making us to believe, it is a huge minus to the Muhammadu Buhari government that Magu is being tried now. It is either the government has no mind of its own and was amenable to being swept right, left and center by the currents of some individuals’ whims and caprices, or that it is seriously implicated in the politics of crime-fighting, the ocean of which is alleged to have drowned Magu. This is because, in the cache of allegations said to have been leveled against the ex-EFCC boss, there is a rehash of same allegations which the DSS, about five years ago, saw as reasons why Magu’s nomination should not be upheld by the Nigerian senate.
Throughout the years spent by Magu as EFCC chair, those who understood the workings of the mind of the Buhari government claimed that he was an insider-outsider therein. This meant that though Magu was of the government, he was not for them. If he was for them, his confirmation as EFCC chair shouldn’t have lingered as embarrassingly as it did, like the cry of a wife who clandestinely murdered her hubby. There is the claim that he was of the Bola Tinubu/Yemi Osinbajo rump of the current power calculus. This then must explain why it was easy for those who cooked the slur on the Vice President’s name, using alleged proceedings of Magu’s interrogation, to reinforce the believability of their claim.
The truth is, there are far weightier allegations against Buhari government functionaries hanging in the public domain than those leveled against Magu. For instance, owning property in Dubai, UAE is alleged to be one of Magu’s errs. However, it is common knowledge that the UAE remains a haven where corruptly acquired wealth is laundered for the Nigerian political elite and owning eye-popping property in this Arab country is the rule, rather than the exception. No wonder cyber-heist kingpins like Hushpuppi and Woodberry found a comforting nest there. A minister in Buhari’s government was recently accused of owning humongous mansions in Abuja. His riposte was that he acquired them as a teacher. The Attorney General of the Federation, the one who must be popping champagne for having seen the back of Magu, also has a mountain load of his own allegations trailing him like recalcitrant flies envelope oozing stench. There is no doubt that illicit financial outflows from Nigeria daily trickle out of PEPs’ conduits and pipes.
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai was, not long ago, enmeshed in an asset declaration scandal pronged on allegation of ownership of property in Dubai. In his reply, he claimed that the property belonged to his unstated family and that the family made these investments in this Middle East city in 2013, long before his appointment. No further questions were asked. No further investigations needed to be carried out. As far as Nigeria and government were concerned, Buratai’s answers were QED.
Matthew Page, in a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace page, had made a damning condemnation of this capricious craving of Nigeria’s political elite. “For Nigeria’s corrupt political elites, Dubai is the perfect place to stash their ill-gotten gains and enjoy luxury real estate worth millions. But unless authorities stop turning a blind eye, the long-term costs to Nigeria’s economy and Dubai’s reputation could be high,” he had written.
If the truth be told, Magu was an accident waiting to happen on the Nigerian crime-fighting system. So also were his predecessors. This is because, an office which is that consequential is subjected to inconsequential indices of operations which cannot but render its occupants dead on arrival. What procedure, process or rules guide the appointment of EFCC czars? In other words, how do they emerge? Are they chosen on account of moral gallantry, their ethnicity, man-knows-man procedure or mere seniority? How many times did past occupiers of that office, before and after coming on board, demonstrate ability to look at enticing lures in the face and tell them to go jump inside the River Niger? Elliot Ness, who Achebe compared Ribadu to, in 1931, had a member of the Al Capone gang bait with two $1,000 notes (about $17,000) if he turned a blind eye to the group’s illegal merchandizing. He refused and even though he died penurious at age 54, Ness’ heroic reputation is legendary in America.
Is there a crime-fighting institution or architecture in Nigeria? The answer is no. Our measurement of their suitability is the candidate’s ethnic affiliation, the person who introduces them and their loyalty to the occupier of authority seat. To expect a thorough-bred czar to come out of such a nebulous system is hypocrisy of the highest order.
The story is told of how Obasanjo picked Dora Akunyili without any bother about her ethnicity but a buzz that she had demonstrated an unusual moral courage alien to this clime while working with the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) as pharmacist. When she eventually came on board at NAFDAC, she merely rehashed what was her internal constitution. In serious climes, anyone who is to be appointed into an office as critical as the EFCC, who would naturally confront billions of Naira in kickbacks and illicit perks of office must have been psychologically grilled before society can arrive at their suitability. In Nigeria, politicians, who know the criminal functionality of having their Man Fridays occupy such positions, fight tooth and nail to have them in office.
Again, are we being fair to appoint a policeman with no pedigree of snubbing ill-gotten wealth, whose salary is a paltry few thousands of Naira, to superintend over a potential illicit wealth empire like the EFCC? The Carnegie Endowment said PEPs – “individuals who are or have been entrusted with a prominent public function” like Magu and the likes, “are at higher risk of involvement in unlawful activity due to their positions of influence and access to assets.” In fact, it states that, as at 2016, the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (now known as C4ADS) “acquired the data of a private database of Dubai real estate information (dubbed the ‘Sandcastles’ data) and that, at a conservative estimate, “at least 800 properties were found to have links to Nigerian PEPs or their family members, associates, and suspected proxies.” So why are we crying wolf now when we exposed a police officer whose take-home is less than a million naira to assets in multiple of billion naira worth?
In a Nigeria that is brimming with street mindsets of fraudulently acquired wealth, of filthy wealthy men and women who crawl in a cesspit like maggots, are we sincere to think we would always have men/women who will kick against what has become normal among us? Are we seriously looking for a clean EFCC chairman in this dirty clime? Those are the honest questions we must ask ourselves. If we now seek a person who is unlike the filth associated with us, should we just pick them peremptorily like they pick a fallen mango off the tree?
This is why, if we think that, with Muhammed Umar as replacement for Magu, or even any substantive name brought up eventually, the maladies in the EFCC would stop, we are fooling ourselves and are on a Pyrrhic victory binge. This is because, no institution of consequence is so forged in saner clime.
By the way, I read that Magu is bitterly complaining that his tormentors-in-chief had treated him with rank ignominy, like a common criminal, inside the Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence (FCIID) dungeon where he is said to be currently held. Oh, right? How did he, as CSP who led the assault operation against Tafa Balogun, treat the then Inspector General of Police? Wickedness is like the story in the Myth of Sisyphus, a 1942 essay by the Algerian-French philosopher, Albert Camus. While Sisyphus pushes the boulder down the mountain, he goes back again and does the same thing, till the end of time. Good is the only thing that can break the jinx.
Ondo: Heroines live here!
As interesting as the political soap opera that is playing out in Ondo State now is, we must take out time to acknowledge the pleasantly absurd scene that jutted out of the soap last week. In the thick of the melee to get the Deputy Governor of the state, Agboola Ajayi, impeached and the usual shamelessness advertised by politicians in the state, we must not forget that the state swam out of this usual Nigerian water. This was exhibited by the Chief Judge of the state, Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, who to my mind is the heroine of that soap opera. The Chief Judge, not kowtowing to political office holders, no matter their power and position, literally told the actors behind the impeachment that they were riding a roller-coaster of infamy.
To a request by the apparently financially instigated Ondo State House of Assembly, which was drunk on the bid to illegally impeach the deputy governor, Akeredolu, like a fearless judge that she apparently is, faulted the process of impeachment earlier spurned by the state legislators. In a letter dated July 9, 2020, Akeredolu had told the unruly and ostensibly shameless legislators driven by everything but the love of Ondo State, that their request to her to constitute a 7-man probe panel ran foul of constitutional requirements.
For me, no matter whether or not the legislators succeeded or eventually lived down their apparently influenced bid to impeach the deputy governor, that valiant pronouncement by Akeredolu could only have come from a heroine. This is at a time when men and women of honour, who can look political authorities in their bloodless faces and underscore justice, are becoming very rare in Nigeria. It also strengthens the hope that we will survive the mercantilists and buccaneers in political offices who are gallivanting about like Lords of the Manor of Nigeria. It probably also confirmed the thesis which Ondo State people flaunt that men and women of honour still inhabit that land.