An elixir of sort came the way of our dying democracy on December 14, 2016 when the senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria rejected a letter from the presidency requesting the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu, as a substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Until the courageous refusal by the Senate not to use its sacred gavel to confer legitimacy on a man who has brazenly used the EFCC in a most crude manner to undermine human rights, the rule of law has been practically forced into coma in the supposed fight against corruption. But the justified process to stop the Magu cancer from spreading is not over yet, as anti-democratic elements are fighting back.
The senate would still have to grapple with the reality of the emerging pressure from the presidency to rescind its decision: to choose between setting a bruised snake free to further endanger perceived enemies as it was the norm under Magu and its avowed responsibility of protecting the sanctity of our democracy. The overtures to confirm Magu and equally rescue the embattled secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, have joined a growing list of favour the presidency is seeking from the senate. The onus is, however, on the red chamber to be discernible enough in resisting the Greek gifts being extended by the executive and acting in the best interest of democracy.
The security report that the senate had claimed it strongly relied upon to reject the nomination of Magu provided a leeway to justify what should ordinarily pass as an exclusive wisdom and responsibility of the lawmakers to reject him. It would have been tragic for any responsible parliament or congress to desecrate a legislative institution by confirming a personality in the mould of Magu, who has repeatedly shown disdain for the courts and treated rule of law with reckless abandon. Magu is entangled by several allegations of violation of human rights and rule of law, including contravention of the constitution.
According to section 287 of the constitution, the decisions of our courts are binding on authorities and persons including the president and the EFCC. But in spite of being in acting capacity, Magu has undermined the laws of the land and, thereby, severally drawing the ire of the courts. Justice Yusuf Haliru of the federal capital high court sitting in Jabi, Abuja, was quoted by Thisday Newspaper of March 29, 2016, to have rebuked the EFCC for disobedience of the law.
Read him: “The EFCC is a creation of the law. The court will not allow it to act as if it is above the law. It is remarkable to note that the motto of the EFCC is nobody is above the law, yet they are acting as if they are above the law. The EFCC Act is not superior to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The respondents in this matter have not behaved as if we are in a civilized society. They have behaved as if we are in a military dictatorship where they arrest and release persons at will.”
Similarly, another high court judge in the FCT, Justice Peter Affen was also reported to have berated the EFCC and its lawyers for showing disdain towards the court: “This is not EFCC office. You must comport yourself. The problem is that you people (EFCC) have too much physical power and you carry it everywhere. This is not a motor park and you must not be throwing your hands anyhow. You owe the court a duty of deference. Leave your policemen of EFCC power at the door. Didn’t they teach you that in Law School?”
The fight against corruption is not an exclusive responsibility of the executive alone. It is a collective responsibility. The other arms of government and all Nigerians have that sacred duty to fight and defeat the monster of corruption. It is therefore expected that the senate would make it a point of duty to caution the executive on the moral implications of sticking with Magu after a security agency of the State had indicted him of corruption. The implication of undermining the report by the Department of State Service, which nailed Magu is grave on the country and would create a bad precedent that is difficult to stop in the future.
The senate, as the legislative arm of government, which bears the guiding torch of democracy, should not, in any way, allow the executive to approbate and reprobate over the fight against corruption. It must be conscious of the future implications of today’s actions and decisions. As a nation, we have made many mistakes in the past that must not be repeated. The role the presidency played during the invasion of judges’ residences across the country and the pressure mounted on the National Judicial Council (NJC) in forcing some accused judges to step down, should ordinarily create a moral burden on the part of the executive to stop action on Magu. Maintaining a glaring double standard is bad for the fight against corruption and the image of Nigeria.
The Walls Street Journal on June 16, 2016 had this to say on Nigeria’s anti-corruption drive: “Mr. Buhari notes that building trust is a priority for Nigeria. But an anti-corruption drive that is selective and focused on senior members of the opposition party creates deep political divisions. Meanwhile, members of Mr. Buhari’s own cabinet, accused of large scale corruption, walk free. Seventy percent of the national treasury is spent on the salaries and benefits of government officials, who make upward of $2 million a year.” This vividly applies to the case of Magu.
Magu is like a bruised snake; it is a matter of wisdom for the senate to understand the implications of allowing a wounded rattlesnake to run riot against the system. So many persons have regretted past actions since May 29, 2015, but time will tell, if this will be added to the list of such regrets. In reality, senate has little or no power to curtail any excesses of the EFCC under Magu, should he be re-confirmed. As a matter of fact, it is the senate that Nigerians will blame for circumventing security report and undermining due process to reconfirm Magu.
The senate may elect to further broaden its view on local and international reports on the EFCC. For instance, a US congressman, Tom Marino in a letter, dated September 1, 2016, to US secretary of state, John Kerry, expressed misgivings over the anti-corruption crusade of the EFCC. He said: “of a concern is President Buhari’s selective anti-corruption drive which has focused exclusively on members of the opposition party, over-looking corruption amongst some of the Buhari’s closest advisors. Politicising his anti-corruption efforts has only reinforced hostility among southerners.”
Marino also went further to mention another report accusing the Buhari government of biases, to wit: “Human Rights group like Amnesty International have widely documented torture, inhumane treatment, and extra-judicial killings of defenseless Nigerians since President Buhari took office.” It is, indeed, a shame that a government that rose to power on the strength of its promise to fight corruption frontally and which prided itself in self-acclaimed “saintliness,” is now battling very hard to defend its officials accused of graft.
But, can the senate, under the presidency of Bukola Saraki who is having a running battle with the executive arm of government over allegations of false assets declaration, which is before the code of conduct tribunal, be above board in this conspiracy to institutionalise double standard in the fight against corruption and the threat of undermining democracy? Or will the leadership of the senate kowtow to the perceived move by the presidency to water down and even dismiss the allegations against some of its top officials, including Magu?