Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was at a gathering to strategise on the re-election campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The event, which held on Tuesday at Nicon Luxury in Abuja, was exclusively billed as a consultative forum for politicians of the ruling All Progress Congress (APC). It was put together by the National Committee of Buhari Support Groups, a political committee loyal to Mr Buhari.
Mr Magu was sighted at the event wearing his signature black suit, seating amidst APC leaders like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who represented an out-of-town Mr Buhari, and Bola Tinubu, a national leader of the party.
Instructively, Mr Magu was in Lagos hours apart, defending himself and the EFCC as apolitical, the Vanguard reported.
Tuesday’s appearance by the anti-corruption chief came three weeks after service chiefs came under public ridicule after being sighted at the formal launch of Mr Buhari’s 2019 campaign at Transport Hilton, Abuja.
The presidency later explained away the awkward affair, saying the military chiefs showed up because they thought the event was to showcase the president’s security achievements — and they hastily departed the venue after realising it was political.
It also came as the police are jailing Deji Adeyanju, a political activist, for accusing security and law enforcement chiefs of being increasingly and overtly partisan. He was leading a protest against partisan conduct of security chiefs ahead of 2019 elections when he was arrested with two others on November 28.
Boma Williams and Daniel Abobama, the two activists arrested with him, have since been released, but Mr Adeyanju has remained at a federal prison in Keffi, after being arraigned on duplicated charges of defamation brought by the police and the Nigerian Army.
It was not immediately learnt what Mr Magu, as the head of an agency that should be above partisan pandering, was doing at the event. The EFCC chief did not return calls and text messages seeking clarification from PREMIUM TIMES on Monday afternoon. A spokesperson for the anti-graft agency also declined comments.
The EFCC and other security and law enforcement agencies, although under the control and supervision of the president, are expected to function as independent institutions — and their heads abstain from situations that could portray them as partisan before Nigerians.
Tuesday’s gathering with APC politicians was not the first time Mr Magu would publicly show his loyalty to Mr Buhari.
The EFCC chief was viciously reprimanded on social media when he appeared on a television show on May 15 wearing a lapel of Mr Buhari’s re-election campaign. He brushed off the complaints at the time, failing to specifically react to critics’ concerns that his conduct was too partisan for a law enforcement chief.
The EFCC has faced relentless allegations of bias under Mr Magu, with main opposition Peoples Democratic Party decrying that the agency was only targeting its members, especially those who served under President Goodluck Jonathan.
Mr Magu has repeatedly declined to pursue allegations of corruption against Abdullahi Ganduje, the Kano State governor who was recently caught on video seemingly accepting huge bribes from public works contractors.
He has also been accused of leading his agency to focus its anti-corruption efforts on opposition politicians of the PDP.
The perception of the EFCC as being partisan may have been factored in the report by Transparency International, which found earlier this year that Nigeria’s corruption perception had worsened under Mr Buhari.
Loyalty as a currency
Mr Magu was appointed by Mr Buhari in 2015, but he has remained in acting capacity with any hope that he would be confirmed, all but lost in the current dispensation.
The Nigerian Senate rejected his nomination twice in 2016 and 2017, and Mr Buhari has not been able to secure another hearing for his confirmation ever since.
In a ruling that emphasised the principles of separation of powers in January, a federal court affirmed the Senate’s decision to thwart Mr Magu’s nomination, but Mr Buhari kept him in office, nonetheless.
Mr Magu himself does not seem bothered that his name would not be carved as one of the former heads of the country’s pre-eminent anti-graft agency, established in 2002.
Asked recently by PREMIUM TIMES whether he was concerned that his legacy may not endure for the simple reason that the law would not recognise him as a former chairman of the EFCC, having failed the required Senate confirmation, Mr Magu said he was not bothered.
I just want to do my job going after corrupt people because corruption is a serious hindrance to national development, he said, during a media briefing to mark his three years in office, last month.
Mr Buhari’s retention of Mr Magu as acting EFCC chief despite failing Senate clearance twice could be a gesture the anti-graft chief could not but repay the president for, and there may not be a better way around this beyond absolute loyalty, or a demonstration thereof, said political analyst Yomi Ogunsanya.
What Mr Magu did “shows that the EFCC has become an appendage of the ruling party,” Mr Ogunsanya told PREMIUM TIMES Wednesday afternoon. “It is wrong to openly portray an agency as partial.”
“But it could be because the president appointed him and kept him in office despite being rejected by the Senate repeatedly,” the analyst said. “But he should remember that he is being paid by the taxpayers, not the president, and should stop degrading an anti-corruption institution with his partisanship.”