The Senate, for the second time, rejected President Muhammadu Buhari’s nomination of Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman on grounds of adverse report by the Department of State Security Services (DSS). His first attempt at confirmation was rejected in December 2016 on the same ground.
Obviously the second time rejection has raised several questions and spawned some conspiracy theories: how come, some wondered, that President Buhari was out of the country on each of the two occasions Magu’s name was submitted to the Senate by Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President? Is the President actually behind the plot to reject Magu? Does his rejection twice by the Senate mean a diminution of the authority of the President? Following his second time rejection, is it proper for him to continue to act as Chairman of the EFCC?
The above are some of the contentious issues around what some people now call the ‘Magu Affair’:
I believe that those lambasting the Senate for rejecting Magu’s rejection twice miss the point. The Upper Chamber has the constitutional and moral authority to reject any nominee put before it. Whether members are driven by emotions or a desire to cover their backs is immaterial. In the past the Senate had also been accused of treating some nominees with velvet gloves with its (infamous?) “take a bow and go.” Similarly nominees had also been refused confirmation on trite grounds such as their inability to recite the national anthem off-head. Sure, the ability to recite the national anthem is important but it is hardly a valid metric for measuring one’s competence for a job. The point here is that being ‘qualified’ is not enough to scale the screening hurdle just as being qualified does not guarantee that people will vote for you if you stand for an election. In any case, the notion of being ‘qualified’ is relative.
Under the separation of power principle in presidential systems of government, it is not abnormal for nominees to be rejected on any ground or even for the three arms of government to aggressively and jealously guard their spheres of influence.
Does the rejection mean that the President has lost control of his government as some people argue? Here it depends on where one stands in the political divide: for the critics of the President, the fact that the DSS on two occasions went against the supposed preference of the President is an indication of the diminution of Buhari’s authority. Others wondered why the presidency had to re-present him to the Senate (if it must) without first sorting out the issue of the negative letter from the DSS. Conspiracy theorists lap onto questions like this to argue that the rejection was actually tele-guided by the presidency for yet undisclosed reasons.
For the supporters of the President however, the two-time rejection is a clear demonstration that the President has a ‘democratic temperament’ and does not interfere in unfolding political processes. For this group, the President allows processes to play themselves out because he prefers to strengthen institutions rather than personality-driven rule.
A broader question following Magu’s second rejection by the Senate is whether he can continue as Acting Chairman of the EFCC. While the law seems to be silent on the number of times an Acting Chairman of the EFCC can be re-presented to the Senate for confirmation, I believe there is a persuasive moral argument why it will amount to impunity if he is allowed to continue to act. First, it will make mockery of the entire Senate confirmation process – which is a legal requirement in the statute setting up the EFCC. Second, we may be setting a precedent where in future, a nominee likely to have issues of confirmation in the Senate can be appointed to that office in an acting capacity ad infinitum. Third, for a government that is legitimately criticized for its poor record in obeying court orders, this will be an additional grouse in the arsenal of those accusing the government of abridging the country’s democratic space.
Related to the question of the morality of Magu continuing as Acting Chairman of EFCC, is whether he can be re-presented to the Senate a third time. It will, in my opinion, be wrong to do so. Re-presenting him would suggest that the rejection by the Senate was political (and based on inadequate or wrong information as could have been argued the first time he was rejected). Even if we could read politics or vendetta in his rejection, nominating him a third time would immediately raise questions of whether other nominees confirmed were also done on political grounds – rather than on the ground that the Senate found those nominees worthy. This would again bring into focus the legitimacy of the entire screening exercise. An option open to the President if it really wants Magu on EFCC is to appoint him as an Adviser on EFCC – a position that does not need Senate confirmation. But here again Magu would be operating with a big moral burden on his shoulders.
Whatever might have been the real reasons for his rejection by the Senate, Magu also did himself no favours by appearing unprepared during the screening exercise. He did not know the amount of money seized by the EFCC, did not show he was on top of the happenings in the agency and was not even convincing on how the agency could fight corruption.He simply missed the opportunity to score important moral victory in the court of public opinion. Additionally the exuberance and arrogance of Professor Itse Sagay, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption, did not help matters. Prof Sagay, an otherwise respected lawyer and SAN, has repeatedly boasted that whether Senate likes it or not Magu would continue as Acting Chairman of EFCC. Prof Sagay’s lack of subtlety on the matter was annoying and a mobilization campaign for those against Magu’s Senate confirmation. Magu is a member of Sagay’s Presidential Advisory Committee on Corruption.
From all indications, Magu has shown a determination to up the game in the EFCC’s ‘gra gra’ method of fighting corruption. He claims to have recorded the highest amount of forfeitures and convictions of suspects since the setting up of the EFCC. His critics however question his methods and even some of his claims.
I have never been a fan of EFCC and its ‘gra gra’ methods. Nor have I ever believed it is succeeding in the fight against corruption. My argument is that if it is succeeding the incidence of corruption will be declining not increasing – despite its continuous war against the ailment since it came into existence in 2003. I am also against the implicit notion that the effectiveness of the EFCC is dependent on a mythical ‘superhuman’ who heads it. Such a messianic complex is antithetical to institution-building. Sustainable fight against corruption must be institution, not person-driven. In fact if I were Ibrahim Magu, I would ask for my name to be removed from further consideration. What is the big deal about heading the EFCC? He must not give the impression that he is too desperate for the job or that he cannot have a life without it. At 55, he is still relatively young for other opportunities. He has also made his mark since being named the Acting Chairman in November 2015.
A letter written by Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai in September 2016 to President Buhari and recently leaked to the press has been generating debates. In the 30-page letter, El-Rufai claimed, among other ‘blunt talks’, that the All Progressives Congress (APC) “has not only failed to manage expectations of a populace that expected overnight ‘change’ but has failed to deliver even mundane matters of governance outside of our successes in fighting BH insurgency and corruption.”
There have been speculations on the motive for the letter, especially given that in the early days of the Buhari government, El-Rufai was regarded by some as the de facto Vice President. Is he trying to imitate Obasanjo in the art of ‘prophetic’ public letter writing? Is he planning to reposition himself for a possible shot at the presidency in 2019? Was the letter a confirmation of the reported allegation by Obasanjo that he (El Rufai) has issues with sustaining loyalty? Is El-Rufai complaining because his own power centre has become eclipsed by other power polarities within the presidency? Was his letter a demonstration of that rare courage (some will say bravado) for which he is known? Was there no other way of reaching the President other than leaking the letter to the public?
I fail to see the wisdom in El-Rufai’s chosen method of venting his frustrations. While many respect his intellect and ability to bulldoze his way through challenges, his critics also see him as a polarizing figure. As Governor of Kaduna State,he will need the president on his side if he wants to prove his critics wrong.