By Toby Prince
Ibrahim Magu‘s suspension as acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Tuesday represents a shameful fall from grace for one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s most-trusted stalwarts. It is a sad end to a once-blistering and promising career; an almost untouchable personality who was the symbol of Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade with demigod status.
The manner in which Magu’s well-known alliance with the First Lady Mrs Aisha Buhari collapsed is a testament to how he flew too close to the sun and burnt his wax and wings.
“That an appointee who was already in trouble with powers that be, including his supervisory Minister, the Attorney General would have a fallout with his only staunch backer in the inner sanctum of power such as the First Lady shows how much power had constipated Magu,” our source surmised.
When Attorney-General Abubakar Malami recently accused Magu of corruption, insubordination and abuse of office, the handwriting was clear. The powerful police officer was running out of luck and only a slice of good fortune could save him this time.
Stemming from Malami’s allegations, Buhari’s much-fancied anti-graft Czar was arrested on Monday morning by a police team outside his office in Abuja. He was driven to the Presidential Villa and then appeared before a panel investigating the allegations against him and afterwards taken into custody by the police, where he was held overnight by detectives.
Mr Magu led the anti-graft agency in an acting capacity since 2016, overseeing scores of high-profile corruption cases that have seen many politicians and businessmen convicted and sentenced to prison. Although he strongly denied any wrongdoing, it is clear that President Buhari didn’t want to take any chances.
Magu, though, courted controversies and often cut a divisive figure. While to some, he was an incorruptible and courageous officer, others perceived him as a fraudulent, wicked and an egocentric maniac.
As an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Magu was a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption. He was one of the early recruits into the EFCC by the pioneer chairman of the commission, Nuhu Ribadu and was later made the head of the sensitive Economic Governance Unit (EGU), a unit in charge of investigations of senior public officials.
As head of the EGU, Mr Magu spearheaded the role of former Kwara State Governor and serving senator, Bukola Saraki, in the collapse of Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, and James Ibori, former Governor of Delta State, who was convicted for money laundering in the United Kingdom.
But trouble started for the police officer after the controversial removal of Mr Ribadu as chairman of the commission in December 2007. The new chairman, Farida Waziri, was said to be uncomfortable with his presence doubting his loyalty to her.
In August 2008, Mr Magu was accused of illegally keeping case files of top politicians being investigated by the commission. His house in Abuja was searched and his property carted away by operatives of the EFCC acting under the directive of Mrs Waziri.
He was subsequently re-deployed to the police after days of detention. Magu was later suspended, going without salaries for several months.
Following his appointment as Chairman of the EFCC in 2011, Mr Lamorde made the return of Mr Magu to the EFCC a top priority. Both men had worked together at the commission when Mr Lamorde served as head of operations.
In a letter written to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) on March 19, 2012, and titled “Re: Postings/Transfer and secondments of police officers to the EFCC,” Lamorde put Magu as top on the list of police officers he wanted to be deployed to the EFCC.
Following the President’s intervention, Mr Magu was released to the EFCC. He remained a top official of the commission until he was appointed to succeed Lamorde.
Magu faced loads of hurdles along the way. The most surmounting, however, was the eighth Senate saddled with the power to confirm nominees by the president. In December 2016, his nomination as the substantive Chairman was rejected over a “damning report from the Department of State Services (DSS)”.
Almost three months later, Magu was re-presented for confirmation and was yet again rejected. This was based on another report from the DSS which maintained the same position that he would constitute a problem to the ongoing anti-corruption fight.
“We want to reiterate our earlier position that we stand by our report, dated 3rd of October, 2016. Everything in the earlier document stands,” part of the cover note of the new report read. Magu remained unscathed, still.
If for anything, the 58-year-old was assured of President Buhari’s support and even that Vice-President, Yemi Osibanjo. As acting President, Osinbajo threw his weight behind the police officer to the disgust of some top shots.
” Mr. Chairman, two weeks ago, I discussed the EFCC and your appointment with President Muhammadu Buhari and he told me he has every confidence in you and every confidence in the commission and the work that you have been doing, and as long as he is president you remain the chairman of the EFCC,’’ he said.
Then a long episode began with Malami. In August 2017, the AGF accused Magu of playing “ignoble role” that led to the suspension of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from the Egmont Group. In a statement by his spokesperson, Malami alleged that Magu had frustrated efforts geared towards making the NFIU independent of the EFCC as required by the global body of financial intelligence units.
Malami was not the only minister that clashed with Magu or queried his work at the EFCC. A former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun had queried Magu on the figures the EFCC had been quoting in the media as monies recovered by it.
In a February 9, 2018 letter, Adeosun wrote to Magu: “This is to notify you of the records of cash asset recoveries in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from May 2015 till date based on information available to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (attached).
“It has, however, come to the notice of the ministry of finance, the use of recovery figures in media reports by the EFCC that do not reconcile with the records of the ministry.
“You are, therefore, kindly requested to clarify where these cash recoveries have been deposited and provide accompanying evidence.”
In what many say may have been the final onslaught against Magu that led to the events of Monday, July 6, 2020, the Attorney General returned again. In a shocking report, he accused the 58-year-old of several infractions, 22 in number, emphatically recommending his sack to President Buhari, who had solidly insisted on Magu’s stay in office. The president was left with no choice as his own integrity was under question. His favourite Czar had to go.
The manner Magu was ousted from office throws up a glut of questions. However, what is quite clear is that the police officer had more foes than friends in his line of duty. Little wonder his subordinates had a feast of some sort after news of his suspension flitted in. This isn’t much of a surprise, though.
Magu never worked with operatives of the EFCC but his own personal clique and neither respected the standard operating procedure of the Commission. His boys were more driven by what pleased Magu rather than the evidence from the investigation.