Prominent international groups involved in anti-corruption efforts have said that the removal of Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission might erode the recent gains in the fight against corruption.

The groups, Corner House and Global Witness, based in Italy and the United Kingdom, said this in a letter to Ayo Salami, Chairman, Presidential Panel of Inquiry handling the allegations against Magu.

The groups said Nigeria had made considerable strides in the fight against corruption under Magu's leadership.

It will be recalled that the groups had assisted Nigeria to retrieve stolen funds and assets running into billions of dollars. They are currently behind the prosecution of oil giants said to have defrauded Nigeria of billions of dollars in the infamous OPL 245 scandal.

Magu was arrested in July and is currently being probed over allegations of gross misconduct. He was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari and has since been replaced by Umar Mohammed, a director of operations at the agency.

The petition, signed by Lucas Manes, Nicholas Hildyard and Simon Taylor, said  the antics preceding the exit of Magu raised a fundamental question about the prospect of a fair trial.

It partly reads, "We can report that as things stand, these apparent failures of due process have already severely dented the confidence of several key international partners in Nigeria's fight, suppose this situation is not radically and urgently changed. 

"In that case, some may well conclude that the President's fight against the corrupt was merely a token gesture, a passing phase, to be discarded when the going got too tough."

It said that for an effective anti-corruption fight, no-one should be beyond the law.

It referenced reports linked to President Mohammadu Buhari when his Senior Special Assistant, Garba Shehu, said the proper procedure, when allegations are made against the chief executive, was to step down from his post and allow  a transparent and unhindered investigation.

Shehu had said, "We must realise that the fight against corruption is not a static event, but a dynamic and ever-evolving process [...] and as we continue to work towards improving our democratic process so shall every institution of ours also embark on that journey of evolution. 

"What is, however, important is that there must be accountability and transparency, and our people must realise that they would be held to account. This is the building block in the fight against corruption, the establishment of the concept of accountability and the recognition of the rule of law."

The groups said it agreed with Shehu but that such expressions also suggested the Presidency appeared to have made up its mind to nail Magu.

They raised concerns about the flaws in the trial of Magu. 

They cited the detention of Magu, the failure to serve Mr Magu with a copy of the complaint against him for several weeks; the suspension of 12 officials (investigators and prosecutors) of the EFCC without query, interrogation or any other expected standard treatment for such an action.

Others are the appearance of several conflicting allegations in the media without any official statement from the committee; appearances of those under trial for corruption before the panel; and the predictions of the panel's conclusions in the media by both politicians and aides of the President.

The groups urged  Justice Salami to confirm the logistics of when the panel's deliberations would be open to the public, as the groups intend to monitor and report on efforts to establish the facts in these matters.

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