Counting the Cost of Confronting Corruption

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Counting the Cost, Confronting Corruption
EFCC Acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu

By Bala Ibrahim

For the best part of yesterday Monday, my phone was switched to silence and detained far away from me. I did so on purpose, because it was permanently ringing and I know why: those who know I know Ibrahim Magu, were calling to know if the story was true or just a hoax. I had the same feeling too initially, until someone reliable confirmed to me that it wasn’t a spoof.

Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the EFCC, was “pulled in”, “arrested” or “invited” for questioning yesterday, by the DSS or police of the FCID, and taken to the banquette hall of the Presidential Villa for questioning.

The circumstances of the request for his appearance before the panel are as confusing as they are intriguing. While the DSS was quick to react to the media reports that he was arrested by them, saying they have no hands in his purported arrest, his office said he was only invited to appear before the Presidential committee set up to investigate the allegations leveled against him. Both the DSS and the EFCC made it look like he wasn’t under arrest. But up till the time of writing this article, his phones were switched off, and no one can confirm whether he was permitted to go home after the interrogation, or is in detention.

Going by the press, Ibrahim Magu was reportedly stopped by the operatives of the DSS, while moving out of the Wuse II Annex of the EFCC in Abuja. His convoy was intercepted while driving out of the premises, in what some witnesses described as a commando style operation. He was taken to the banquette hall of the Villa, where the Presidential panel, headed by Justice Salami was waiting for him.

My dictionary describes arrest as, seize (someone) by legal authority and take him into custody. The same dictionary defines invitation as, a written or verbal request, inviting someone to go somewhere or to do something. It is therefore clear that arrest and invitation can be in conflict, with regards the state of having liberty.

Although arrest can come by way of invitation, the fact that one is seized through legal authority, and also taken into custody, means there is restriction of freedom, or the absence of choice, including the choice of answering phone calls. So simply put, I am convinced Magu was arrested, and is in detention. This is a proof that in anything one does, there is a cost.

Certainly confronting corruption comes with a cost, because, according to the World Bank, if allowed unchecked, it erodes trust in government and undermines the social contract. The World Bank says corruption fuels and perpetuates the inequalities and discontent that lead to fragility, violent extremism, and conflict. It impedes investment, with consequent effects on growth and jobs. In all cases, the poor are the biggest victims, because they pay the highest percentage of their income in bribes.

The costliest cost of combating corruption could come by way of compromise on the side of those saddled with the fight, which cannot happen without the collaboration of some wealthy individuals or institutions, who give out large bribes. The usual accusation is that the anticorruption crusaders sometimes connive, using friends, unethical lawyers and accountants, who facilitate corrupt transactions, that make way for the receipt of corrupt proceeds. And that is where Magu is being accused.

Magu is not the first to suffer such setback on the saddle. Before him there were others. Nuhu Ribadu was the pioneer chairman of the EFCC, under whose tenure many people were charged for corruption, including his boss, the then Inspector-General of Police Force, Mr Tafa Balogun, who was convicted, jailed and made to return £150 million under a plea bargain. In the end, Nuhu also suffered a setback that forced him into exile until 2010, when he returned to Nigeria and declared his intention to run for president, under the platform of the ACN.

Next came Mrs Farida Waziri, who chaired the EFCC from May 2008 to December 2011, when she was fired because she was enmeshed in multiple corruption controversies. Right from her first day in office, Mrs Waziri was accused of standing as a surety to indicted former governor of Benue State, George Akume, who was investigated for monumental corruption by Nuhu Ribadu. In the end, Farida Waziri was charged to court by the ICPC, in connection with several petitions written against her, over the accusation of involvement in alleged corrupt practices.

Ibrahim Lamurde succeeded her, who, despite his attested integrity, wasn’t also spared from smear campaigns. The Senate of the time set up a committee to investigate him on charges that assets and cash recovered by the EFCC, in excess of $5bn were diverted. Of course Mr. Lamurde dismissed the charges as smear campaign, saying the EFCC was prosecuting the man making the allegations. He maintained that even if all the money recovered by the EFCC was added up, together with its funding from government, it would not total $5bn. “How can we divert an amount we don’t have?” he asked. That was the saving grace that left him in service till now. But he was transferred back to the police, where his adjudged incorruptible record and reputation, elevated him to the rank of an acting DIG now.

While the opposition PDP is urging the President to demonstrate the genuineness of his war against corruption, by allowing the unhindered investigation of Magu, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), is asking the President to treat the matter with caution, alleging that Magu may be a victim of power play in the Presidency.

Whatever may be the position of the public, the law has a position on the accused, and is very clear: he is assumed innocent until proved otherwise. However, the law also came with a maxim, that, “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands.”

In counting the cost of confronting corruption, this case would put to test the President’s phrase: “I am for no one, I am for all”.

Mr Ibrahim writes from Kano

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