Magu and the invisible hands

Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

Who says there can be no in-fighting and intrigue among the president’s men? Conspiracy theorists, of various hues and backgrounds, to say nothing about their political leanings and motives,  have been having  a field day, since  the rejection by the Senate of Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). They have been analysing, disputing and interrogating the whys and the wherefores of the Senate’s refusal – two times they claim – to confirm Magu as the chairman of the EFCC.

The reasons, they offer, have ranged from  the alleged  in-fighting and  intrigue among the president’s men, some of them not quite beholden to Magu for allegedly not dancing to their tune to the raw motive of the senators, some of them believed to be Magu’s customers. To put it more decently, some of these senators are not the best friends of Magu. The reasons are not too difficult, even for the blind to see. They have to do with Magu’s insistence  on prying into  the  activities  of these distinguished ladies and gentlemen during their first  incarnation in various public offices. Fair is fair. Nobody would willingly allow those things that were done under the cover of the dark to be thrown open in  day light  without providing any safeguard against the toxicity of their odour.  First thing to do would have been to soften the ground with some assurance that their little palaver with this Magu man would be amicably settled. And there would be a warm hand shake thereafter indicating that the odoriferous past had been consigned to the past, and whatever the transgressions, they should be allowed to rest in peace.  But that did not happen.

And because it did not happen, there was, therefore, no meeting point of any sort. In those days, before the advent of the new Sherrif in town,  nocturnal visits to some homes with Ghana-must-go bags carrying the  newly minted impressive credentials of the applicant would have solved the problem. The following day, the D-day, it would have been a mere formality. But under the current dispensation, these serious minded and distinguished law makers have decided to change the format in favour of absolute transparency  as part of their  own modest contribution to the war effort. Come on.  I  mean the war against corruption.

Ghana-must-go bags as evidence of good qualification,  capability and suitability for the job has become ancient history –  call it absolute obsolescence –  according to those familiar with the scheme and the new curriculum. The new arrangement, I guess, has placed premium on  the legal dictum: those who go to equity must go with clean hands. Apparently that includes Magu.

But since they did not settle their palaver  with this Czar of the EFCC, it was a bit tricky, if not risky, to have sent the man for this all important interview, to go seek for their endorsement and confirmation. Predictably, they simply but politely told him to go back. He was not qualified. His testimonials were apparently not just okay. And so there was no interview.

To put a fine point to it, some lawyers have interpreted the first outing as a warm up exercise, what the military would call reconnaissance to assess the enemy strength. So it is not counted as number one rejection. He was not interrogated. No discussion, no screening. Those who come and go, will live to come back another day.

For Magu, his  second coming  was the real Mccoy. Convinced that he had known the territory beyond reasonable doubt, he allowed them to send him back to the same examiners. And, truth be told, both sides played their respective roles to the best of their ability. The examiners asked pertinent questions and the candidate calmly but politely provided all the pertinent answers to the best of his ability. At the end of the exercise, the jury gave its verdict. But  the verdict was, well, sorry no dice.

So what went wrong?  We were told that the Department of State Services (DSS), had earlier forwarded a report to the Senate on  Magu  and the contents  were not flattering. He was said to have compromised his integrity. He was accused of living a double life, staying in a tastefully furnished house in addition to flying first class to Saudi Arabia, apparently to seek the face of his creator. The reason they gave for not giving him a hearing the first time was the same  reason they gave for rejecting him after he had appeared before them and was duly screened.

President Muhammadu Buhari  sought to understand what the whole thing was all about and asked  the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to query the EFCC boss and get his own side of the story. The minister did exactly that. And Magu dutifully replied the query on the strength of which the president sent him back to the confirming authority apparently without even saying hello to them. And apparently, this time  in a foul mood,  it did not take them time to reject Magu, and to boot, request the president to name  his  successor with immediate effect.

Arising from this face-off, are some pertinent questions that have remained unanswered: did the president know about the damning DSS report before he sent Magu to the lion’s den for the second time or did he choose to ignore the advice of the DSS? And if he did that, how much of lobbying, sans Ghana-must-go bags, did the president or the president’s men do to soften the grounds for his  nominee?  What was the finding of the Malami one man probe panel?  In all of this, what was the role of Senator Ita Solomon Enang, the senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly Matters?

The aforementioned conspiracy theorists have had their hands full for good reasons. This is indeed their season. Some of the questions they have thrown up are valid. They have questioned the motives of the senators considering the fact that at least a dozen or so of them have cases with the EFCC. Whether or not the senators were  altruistic  in their handling of the Magu case is besides the point. They have a constitutional duty to approve or disapprove and to that extent the issue of motive becomes irrelevant. Truth is nobody who has a criminal case hanging on his neck will willingly surrender himself to his traducer to be led to the gallow. Unfortunately, it is their own payback time. It is like telling Magu, if you give, you must also take.

How does this eye ball to eye ball affect the war against corruption which, by all fair standards, is being prosecuted vigorously?  Methinks that Magu or no Magu, the war will go on so long as the Buhari administration stays on course and refuses to be dissuaded by those who stand to profit from corruption. It is all about President Buhari and nobody else. And the firmness with which he handles apparent conflicts and intrigues in and out of his cabinet will define the pace of the war and its ultimate success. It will also define the pace of his administration and how he pursues his set objectives.

Come to think of it, democratic system tolerates healthy in-fighting and rivalry for attention and the protection of one’s turf among those in the loop of power or those outside the loop. The bottom line is that such jostling must never be allowed to adversely affect the smooth running and the efficacy of the machinery of government.

A classic example of intrigues and power play that eventually saw off a senior cabinet minister was the one that took place in the Ronald Reagan presidency in the United States of America. It all began when President Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981 when he was on a visit outside Washington, just 10 days into his first term of office. The incident sent the administration into a tailspin with chaos and confusion ruling the day. Without a settled protocol in place, Alexander Haig, secretary of state, seized control of the situation, in the absence of  George Bush, the vice president, and proclaimed himself  the man of the moment with the famous quote “I am in charge here.” It was a classical faux pas that was to haunt him for the rest of his career which in fact abruptly ended a year later, a victim of conspiracy and his own tactlessness.  His colleagues who were not amused by his misadventure, took delight in goading him from one misstep to another hoping that the  big boss would fire him. But when the president refused to do their bidding, they dug in still, employing in the process other tactics that included assigning to  the secretary of state  a plane without windows in the cabin for  his trips between England and Argentina. Finally, frustrated Al Haig bowed out, a victim of vicious power play and deep rooted intrigues.

Reagan replaced him with George Shultz but with virtually no harm to the smooth running of the administration. The system was solid enough to contain the antics of the so-called cabal members and also solid enough not to distract the president from his chosen path to America’s economic recovery and growth.

The magic is in developing a philosophy of administration that will bring to the same page all those chosen to help in the implementation of President Buhari’s programmes as enunciated in his grand vision for the country. At the  end of the day what matters is not what his advisers did or failed to do but what the president permitted to be done or what he failed to do to keep faith with the people. It bears repeating that the buck stops on his desk.

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