The Acting Chairman of the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Agency (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, failed his second screening and confirmation exercise at the country's senate on Wednesday. The senate had rejected Magu's nomination on December 15th last year following a security report by the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura that accused Magu of high-handedness and alleged involvement in some corrupt practices. President Buhari resubmitted his name for a further screening exercise at the senate in January this year. The Senate again obviously relied on the indictment by the DSS on account of suspicions of corrupt practices and high handedness.

Several interesting issues suggest themselves. First, it emerges that of the four people nominated for this highly exalted position only Magu, the President’s favorite had actually failed the intelligence background checks. Save a possible finding that the report is tainted in any way by bias, mischief or incompetence the President's judgment on this matter surely must be called into question. This is more especially so if he is also on notice as to the DSS's findings on this candidate. That age old bug-bear question of democratic presidencies pops up - what does the President know and when did he know it?

Secondly, what is it about Nigerian leadership selection processes that seemingly attracts the 'wrong types' towards powerful positions and why are wrong persons more successful at attracting power and retaining it? It is happening with concerning frequency that top notch positions go to people who are latter on dropped for findings which really ought to have been discovered through pretty basic due diligence. The Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies under the Yaradua administration appointed Professor Professor Ahmed Dembo Danfulani with experience at Cambridge University as Director General in 2009 only for aspersions to be later cast on his qualifications after a couple of years in office, much to his own and the country's embarrassment. He was ignominiously removed from office although he maintains his innocence. The matter has simply been swept under the carpet. Surely this is not good for an innocent scholar and the validity of university qualifications can be quite rapidly determined in this day and age.

Then there was the bizarre case of the former Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, Mrs. Ndidi Okereke–Onyiuke, who brandished a Doctorate degree from City University of New York (CUNY) which was found to be fraudulent in 2011. Her claim of previous working experience at the New York Stock Exchange was equally baseless in reality. In true form while in office, she purchased about N186 million (482,207. GBP) worth of wristwatches without proper accounts and a bought a yacht for the modest sum of N39 million (100,908 GBP). The yacht was indeed “written down in the books as a gift presented during the Nigerian Stock Exchange 2008 long service award”. This was one year after her being put in office. Who does not know that a year indeed feels like a long time?  

Similar issues of wholesale forgery of academic qualifications were brought against former Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Alhaji Abdullahi Dikko Inde. He eventually ‘voluntarily resigned’ but the EFCC last year indicted him over allegations of N42 billion fraud (109 Million British Pounds) relating to his tenure. The agency also famously impounded 17 exotic found cars in his possession. 

Thirdly, how in the world did photographs of the confidential report of the DSS clearly marked ‘secret’ and passed to the Senate (attached to this commentary) get out into the open and so quickly? Who is to blame for this –the DSS or the Senate? This does appear exceptional ‘glasnost’ given the notorious difficulty of obtaining public records in Nigeria even after the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011. Can the Nigerian people not trust that government business will be handled with appropriate confidentiality and decency?

On the whole these are all very worrying issues and the imperatives are clear. Whether or not Magu is guilty of the claims made against him by the DSS, something must be done about the way and manner persons are appointed, even nominated to the highest offices of the land. It is quite embarrassing to a nation that its key positions are repeatedly filled by persons who easily become permanently ridiculed.

Furthermore, Magu must be given a fair hearing on these issues. In the urge to introduce transparency and high standards into politics and appointments, reputations should not be destroyed in a cavalier manner. Some of the issues raised against Magu are intriguing if not contradictory in nature. On the one hand he is said to be of easy company in a business and political sense; on the other hand he is specifically indicted for ‘high handedness’ which in Nigerian parlance is a shorthand for a disciplined and uncompromising character. Could the latter attribute be a possible reason for the unsavory accusations? The contents of the ‘leaked’ DSS report indeed says that ‘Magu parades a twin personality’. This particular finding is peculiar given the fact that forensic psychological diagnosis are not within the usual competence of an intelligence agency. This coupled with the allegation that Magu ‘covers his tracks’ by using “only his police cronies to execute operation” may bear the tell-tale signs of inter-agency rivalry. Could this be the bane of the outcome of the Agency’s investigation?

Magu is said in press reports to insist that his non-confirmation would not stop him from fighting corruption. That may be true but I am afraid he must clear his name through some other independent and timeous enquiry. The outcome of fresh investigations into Magus’ innocence or culpability is necessary in his own interest and that of the sacred office he has occupied in the last many months. Most importantly this Nigerian Presidency and succeeding regimes must save citizens from the scourge of controversial and often ill-advised appointments. Both the Presidency and state governors must realise that in house scrutiny should be stricter than that which is to be expected from skeptical legislative houses, the press and general public.

Dr. Gbenga Oduntan is an Associate Professor of international commercial law at the University of Kent, UK.

EFCC Chairman Ibrahim Magu

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