Ibrahim Magu: The Emperor Has No Clothes
By Johnmary Chukwukasi Jideobi
“Those who fight corruption should be clean themselves”
– Vladimir Putin
That the former Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (called EFCC henceforth for short) was arrested on the 6th day of July, 2020, detained for over 9 days and subsequently suspended from office on the 10th day of July, 2020 by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (his Appointor) is no longer news. The facts of Magu’s detention and interrogation before the Presidential Panel probing the Recovery of Assets by the EFCC under and sundry wide-ranging corruption allegation against Mr. Ibrahim Magu (the supposedly number anti-corruption crusader) are all in the public domain. Therefore, their narration cannot detain us here.
The salient objective of this write-up is to forcefully bring to the fore what Augean stable the EFCC has become under Ibrahim Magu, how putrid and decadent the EFCC has become under Magu, suggest more profound actions to be taken by the President in reversing the vanishing moral credentials of the Commission and suggesting a template for institutional reforms all aimed at meeting the demands of Rule of Law and preserving our constitutional order. On the 10th day of July, 2020, the hitherto high-flying flag of the Acting Chairmanship of Mr. Ibrahim Magu at the EFCC was disgracefully lowered by no less a person than the President of the nation amidst plane-loads of pervasive corruption allegations bordering on conversion of recovered looted assets, gross abuse of office, mind-boggling sleaze, litany of roguish behaviour, insubordination to supervisory authority, desecration of Orders of Court among other heart-wrenching tales of abuse of public trust encircling our supposed anti-corruption Czar, Mr. Ibrahim Magu.I would like to isolate the twin allegations of violations of Court Orders and abuse of investigative/prosecutorial powers by Mr. Magu’s EFCC and accentuate them for proper examination in pressing home the objectives of this article as stated elsewhere.
However, before I take on these, permit me to state that the instant write-up has nothing to do with the current media war raging between the camps sympathetic to Mr. Ibrahim Magu and the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN. My sympathy (if I have any) is for none of the two. At this juncture, it would be to inform my reader at different times, I have had reasons to drag both Mr. Ibrahim Magu and Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN to the Federal High Court. While I sued Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN in Suit No.: FHC/ABJ/CS/807/2018, I sued Mr. Ibrahim Magu in Suit No.: FHC/ABJ/CS/159/2017. Since Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Government of Nigeria has set up a Panel to undertake a forensic audit of Magu’s stewardship at the EFCC, it is therefore Mr. Ibrahim Magu that is on trial. Incidentally, the objectives of this write-up are consistent with the ongoing trial of Magu.
VIOLATION OF COURT ORDERS BY MAGU’S EFCC:
I consider it a good starting point to reiterate the supremacy of our Constitution over everybody as its Section 1 (1) very eloquently proclaims that; “This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Amplifying this provision, the Nigerian Supreme Court, speaking through Tobi, J.S.C., in the case of Attorney-General of Abia State & 35 Ors v. Attorney-General of the Federation, had this to say;
“The Constitution of a nation, is the fons et origo, not only of the jurisprudence but also of the legal system. In Greek language, it is the alpha and the omega. It is the barometer with which all statutes are measured. In line with this kingly position of the Constitution, all the three arms of Government are slaves of the Constitution, not in the sense of undergoing servitude or bondage, but in the sense of total obeisance and loyalty to it. This is in recognition of the supremacy of the Constitution over and above every statute… All the three arms of Government must dance to the music and chorus that the Constitution beats and sings, whether the melody sound good or bad.”
For the avoidance of any scintilla of doubt, Section 287(3) of our Constitution provides lucidly, in the very words which I would now most respectfully reproduce;
“The decisions of the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court, a High Court and of all other Courts established by this Constitution shall be enforced in any part of the Federation by all authorities and persons, and by other Courts of law with subordinate jurisdiction to that of the Federal High Court, the National Industrial Court, a High Court and those other Courts, respectively” Notwithstanding the foregoing lucid constitutional provisions and effulgent interpretations accorded them by the Apex Court, it is disheartening that Magu’s EFCC at best has been whimsical in its treatment of court orders. As a Lawyer in the field of litigation involved in criminal defences and human rights protection, I am aware of how many Court orders against the EFCC (which I am involved in handling the case) that were treated with disdain by the Commission under Magu. Mr. Ibrahim Magu may need to hear from the Nigerian Court of Appeal (though belatedly) in the memorable case of Balonwu v. Obi (2007) 5 NWLR (Pt. 1028) 488 at 538 Paras. C- E, 564-565 Paras. B – G, that;
“An order of court whether valid or not must be obeyed until it is set aside. An order of court must be obeyed as long as it is subsisting by all no matter how lowly or highly placed in society. An act of disobedience towards an order of a court can render any further act by those who have acted disobediently to sanctions from other court because no court would want its orders flouted. This is what the rule of law is all about hence the courts have always stressed the need for obedience of court orders…Obeying court orders is both legal and moral obligation but you find that court orders are toyed with both by lawyers and the litigating public…Without a strict adherence to the rule of law, our nascent democracy and indeed our Constitution will only be worth the paper on which it is written. What makes a great country is adherence to the rule of law. Even in hell, there is order and discipline.”
ABUSE OF INVESTIGATIVE/PROSECUTORIAL POWERS:
Under Magu, it is almost becoming a norm for the EFCC to whimsically issue an order to the banks requesting them to slam targeted fat bank accounts with ‘Post-No-Debit’ Order even without a Court Order and then they (EFCC personnel) would begin negotiation with the owner of the bank account as to percentage of sharing the money in the frozen account between the owner and the Commission personnel as a condition to lifting the restriction unlawfully placed on the account and discontinuing the purported or sham investigation of the account holder. In their satanic wickedness, most often these EFCC rogues go for the account holder’s jugular by demanding 40/60 percentage sharing formula. The mode of collecting these illegal money is to most times forward to the account holder (through an intermediary) the bank account details (obviously not government accounts) into which their victim would funnel the money either by bank drafts, cheques or executing Irrevocable Standing Payment Order in favour of the nominated accounts. Currently, this writer has a case in hand which has necessitated a formal petition against the EFCC personnel to the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and copied to the Presidential Panel Investigating Magu’s tenure. Where the targeted victim of this daylight robbery refuses to play ball, the EFCC would dredge up any possible charge and hang on the neck of their victim and rush to the media to broadcast the charges so as to rub the head of their victim in the mud with a view to possibly breaking his will and cowing him into submission.
Arising from the foregoing are the twin issues of unlawful blockade of citizens’ account and the evils of media trial revelled in by the EFCC both of which would be dealt with and disposed of summarily now. In the first instance, the EFCC has no power under the wide domain of our criminal justice administration to directly fetter the bank account of any citizen without a prior Order of Court. In vindication of this legal postulation, we call in aid the very recent case of GTB v. ADEDAMOLA & ORS (2019) LPELR-47310(CA) where the Court held thus:
I decided to check the provisions of the law relating to the powers of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to issue instructions to Banks to freeze Bank accounts of Customers…The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has no powers to give direct instructions to Bank to freeze the Account of a Customer, without an order of Court, so doing constitutes a flagrant disregard and violation of the rights of a Customer… Our Financial institutions must not be complacent and appear toothless in the face of brazen and reckless violence to the rights of their customers.
THE EVIL MEDIA TRIAL STRATEGY OF MAGU’S EFCC:
Notwithstanding the foregoing, EFCC still persists in its impunity. Secondly, the EFCC under Magu has used media trial to destroy uncountable Nigerians. A case in point is the trial of Nicholas Ashinze (a retired Colonel) where the then presiding trial Judge (now Justice of the Court of Appeal), Kolawole, J. chastised the Commission thus:
“It is unfair for EFCC as a complainant in this trial to resort to self-help by engaging the defendant in the media trial at the same time in the court trial. If you want to try the defendant in the media, you have to limit yourself to the media…You cannot be engaging in two trials: one in the court and one in the media at the same time…This press statement by one Wilson Uwujare who claimed to be from EFCC is scandalous and prejudice to fair trial of the defendant in this matter.”
In Manu Sharma vs. State (NCT of Delhi) 2010(2) ACR 1645(SC), AIR2010SC2352, the Indian Supreme Court most aptly warned that ‘a trial by media amounts to travesty of justice if it causes impediments in the accepted judicious and fair investigation and trial’. Earlier, the same Indian Supreme Court condemning media trial saliently noted that:
“The impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person’s reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt regardless of any verdict in a court of law. During high publicity court cases, the media are often accused of provoking an atmosphere of public hysteria akin to a lynch mob which not only makes a fair trial nearly impossible but means that, regardless of the result of the trial, in public perception the accused is already held guilty and would not be able to live the rest of their life without intense public scrutiny.”
MR. IBRAHIM MAGU WAS NEVER QUALIFIED TO LEAD THE EFCC:
In the suit I filed to challenge the continuous stay of Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC Acting Chairman in 2017 (which I earlier alluded to), I note that paragraphs 20 and 21 of my affidavit thereat spoke to the debris which the Presidential Panel is now clearing at the EFCC. Listen to this:
20. I know as a fact that in considering the nomination of the 4th Defendant and rejecting him on the 15th December, 2016, the 1st Defendant has found the 4th Defendant wanting and grossly unfit to be appointed to the Office of the Chairman of the 3rd Defendant.
21. I know as a fact that despite the grave allegations leveled against the 4th Defendant by the State Security Service (otherwise called the DSS) in its letter to the 1st Defendant, the basis upon which the 4th Defendant’s nomination was rejected by the 1st Defendant, the 4th Defendant has not been arraigned before any court of competent jurisdiction for the purposes of the determination of his guilt or otherwise of the grave allegations dangling over his head like the sword of Damocles.
If there are still vestiges of doubt regarding the intention of this writer in challenging the impunity of Mr. Ibrahim Mustapha Magu, they would quickly give way to these unanswerable submissions found in the plaintiff’s written address before the trial Court which are hereby reproduced;
“2.05: The Plaintiff being of the considered view that the persistent refusal of the 4th Defendant to bow to the constitutional authority of the Nigerian Senate is scandalously spiteful and scornful of the Nigerian Constitution and capable of weakening the potency of the laws of the land in a manner that will precipitate anarchy and crash our democratic system, he has approached this Honourable Court with a view to vindicating the sanctity and strength of the law.
2.06: The Plaintiff is of the further considered view that, like the Ceasar’s wife, those who seek to preside over the institutions of the State charged with the sacred duties of cleaning the Augean stable of corruption (in the mode of the 3rd Defendant), ought to live above board and should be seen as such. The Plaintiff is deeply worried that ever since the damning security report of the DSS on the 4th Defendant was acted upon by the Nigerian Senate, the 4th Defendant has never deemed it fit to submit himself for proper trial by a court of competent jurisdiction with a view to ascertaining his innocence or guilt. This is particularly compelling given the scandalous nature of the said allegations and the image burden they have foisted on the 4th Defendant. These background facts in their aggregate propelled the institution of the present suit so that large-scale impunity would not be consecrated and accepted in our 21st century Nigeria as a new normal.”
SUGESTIONS FOR REFORMS:
In handing over the leadership of the EFCC to Magu despite the protestations of the 8th Nigerian Senate, the Nigerian nation walked into a waiting disaster and the Presidency of President Muhammadu Buhari recorded one of its costliest but avoidable error of judgment. It has now exploded in our faces and the Presidential Panel is now using precious time that could have been deployed to other rewarding ventures to clear the accumulated debris in the EFCC. For Mr. Ibrahim Magu, all along we knew that the emperor has no pants. His grimy records present a glaring example of what a corruption fighter ought not to be! It is against the backdrop of the foregoing that I would suggest that the President of our nation hastens to assent to the EFCC amended Bill as proposed by the 8th National Assembly. It holds the key to the institutional reforms that would turn around the fortunes of the EFCC if passed into law and implemented. I choose to stop here.
JOHNMARY CHUKWUKASI JIDEOBI, Esq.