IBRAHIM MAGU: The fall guy in a face off
By Obi Nwakanma
In Taoism, the word “Magu” means something quite powerful: the transcendent and immortal divinity of life, who protects the sacred order of the universe, and the female principle. It is like “Ala” – the female goddess of the earth and protector of life and the sanctified in the Igbo aetiological systems. On the other hand, the name “Magu” also comes too close to that species the Nigerian street “wiseman” calls “Mugu.” Take the name, “Magu” and move the “A” and replace it with the “U” and you’d solve the puzzle.
The “Mugu” is the plaything of the “wise.” He falls prey to all kinds of sleek play and trickery often deployed to confuse him. One cannot but feel that the EFCC chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, may sometimes wonder which of these variations of his name he could fully claim – Magu, the powerful, or Mugu, the fool. Sometimes, personally, I think the man may have been turned into the “mugu” of the presidency – the fall guy – who has to take the heat in the battle between the executive branch and the Legislative branch.
In the fight against corruption, Ibrahim Magu took a very early stance, by bowling for the presidency, and taking on the National Assembly. Bad mistake. I will say this: Ibrahim Magu seemed far too inexperienced, and may have been utterly unprepared for the battle he is now fighting with regards to the tenure of his office. He arrived with a lot of brass. He did not understand one of the cardinal rules for holding public office: collegiality and diplomacy that required one to bite hard but blow the breeze gently on the scar. Secondly, Magu’s fight quite clearly raises questions about the impartiality of the EFCC, and of law enforcement in general in Nigeria, which places the presidency literally above the law. Yet clearly, although it cannot compel law enforcement, the National Assembly has the key to the purse strings.
This has made the battle over “corruption” – Buhari’s one agenda – a fundamental failure. It is the failure of approach, in the first place, that has brought Magu to the current pass. The National Assembly has rejected the president’s nomination of Magu, and members have refused to confirm him. In defiance of the National Assembly, the president has continued to keep Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC chair, and this has now come to a very serious pass, so much so that over the last week, Mr. Yemi Osibanjo, acting president of the republic declared that Ibrahim Magu will continue to be chair of the EFCC. To back up the President Protem, Mr. Femi Falana, famous public rights advocate was recorded to have also declared that the president does not need the confirmation of the National Assembly to keep the EFCC chairman. Wrong, Mr. Falana, and wrong, Acting President Osibanjo.
The constitution is clear on this, and it is shocking that these two gentlemen, both lawyers of good standing, show profound ignorance of the terms and the conditions of the establishment laws in the constitution of Nigeria. The president may of course continue to defy the National Assembly by continuing to keep Mr. Magu, but he risks impeachment, because that is the next logical move, should this issue come to its logical end. And here is how that may happen: because the National Assembly has the right under the constitution to pass and if need be, tweak all appropriations under the budget act, they also have the power to defund the EFCC. In other words, it is within the power of the National Assembly to close down the office of the EFCC by refusing to appropriate funds to its operations, and by constituting a review process to determine the need or desirability of its operations or continued existence. Once the National Assembly defunds the office of the EFCC, the president may not allocate funds to its operations, and the office of the Chair of the EFCC would go into abeyance.
Funding of that body outside of appropriation may result in a legislative inquiry, which may result in the charge of fiscal misappropriation, and which may lead to a legitimate move towards executive impeachment, because the finance laws are very clear on the ways and means of approbation, and the methods for the disposal and spending of monies appropriated by the National Assembly. It is this risk of defunding any aspect of the executive function that makes the National Assembly powerful. That power grants it the authority to add or subtract from the budget presented to it, and in some cases, add what the Americans call “pork” – or what we Nigerians now call “padding” – but which are actually “buy-off” constituency projects that are all part of the horse-tradings and negotiations sometimes necessary to push the budget beyond the various committee stages of the budget process in the National Assembly.
That is a fact. So, when many Nigerians ignore these facts, and talk about padding as “corruption,” they should look across the waters and see how these work from where we have borrowed our system. Magu did not understand this process, and he chose the wrong battle, and the wrong field. He is the president’s ultimate fall-guy in a battle that began very early on in the life of this administration, between the executive and the legislative arm. That battle is good for Nigeria, because it has, for once, given us a National Assembly that is not at the beck and call of a powerful executive, which has been the most dangerous and most deleterious thing to happen to Nigerian democracy since the Fourth Republic. The president of Nigeria has enormous powers that needs to be clipped or contained, otherwise, we will continue to have corruption, a lack of transparency in the workings of government, and a lack of sanctions against executive authority which is where much of the corruption happens. Take for instance, the location of the police powers in a single institution.
So, what happens to the president when he breaks the law? Say, the president gives Nigeria’s secrets to a foreign power, even as quid pro quo, without the authority or clearance of the National Assembly, in ways that undermine Nigeria’s strategic national interest, who arrests, and sanctions the president? Who determines that the president should be arrested for corruption, even while in office? Suppose the National Assembly by its declaration issues the order to arrest and try the president, who effects the arrest, when all the instruments of sanction are inherent and warehoused in the office of the president of Nigeria? This is dangerous power which comes from a long history of military rule, and a lack of knowledge about the establishment of authority under the rule of law in a republican democracy.
This National Assembly, before it disperses, must review these powers of the president and whittle it down to some manageable form. Take the office of the Attorney-General, for instance. Theoretically, although (s)he is appointed by the President, and is a member of the Executive Council, his unique status, makes him not the lawyer of the president, but the Chief Lawyer of the state, reporting both to the Executive and the Legislative arms. But not in Nigeria. The Attorney-General’s office is a hand tool of the president, and the executive body, to whom it owes allegiance. The effect is corruption and impunity. How can this be corrected? Here is how: the National Assembly must enact a law re-establishing the office of the Attorney General as independent of the president.
In a future essay, I’ll deal more comprehensively with this issue but just for today, it is worthwhile to just simply note that the president cannot keep Magu because it will be a futile battle with the National Assembly. Magu is now like water under the bridge, and certainly must now also feel like a fall guy who was used by the presidency to fight a turf war.
For that to happen, the Attorney-General must be appointed, following the election of a president, by the council of state, which must be made up of the President, Chief Justice of the Federation, and the president and Speaker respectively of the Senate and the House of Representatives, following a National search. His job remains as it should be, as the chief counsel to the Nation, and not just to the president. Secondly, the National Police Board and Intelligence Services should be placed, as is normal in other climes, under the authority of the Attorney General. The office of the Inspector General of police should be placed under the oversight of the Attorney General of the Federation, and the EFCC as a body, collapsed into normal police services, housed under the Criminal Investigation Divisions, where they rightfully belong. In a future essay, I’ll deal more comprehensively with this issue but just for today, it is worthwhile to just simply note that the president cannot keep Magu because it will be a futile battle with the National Assembly. Magu is now like water under the bridge, and certainly must now also feel like a fall guy who was used by the presidency to fight a turf war.