For a while now, Nigerians have been bemused and worried at the same time by the seemingly unending circus that the nomination and Senate confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has become. President Muhammad Buhari’s strong confidence in Ibrahim Magu is only rivalled by the Senate’s disdain and contempt of him. As the two elephants fought over Magu’s suitability or otherwise as the country’s top corruption czar, Nigerians and the fight against corruption were the worse for it. Thankfully, it would appear an end is in sight for this long running saga.
Twice the Senate has refused to confirm Magu as the EFCC chairman but the presidency remains determined to retain him in that position regardless. Until now there has been a media frenzy feeding off this stalemate with no indication as to the president’s next line of action. However, last week, the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, gave the clearest indication yet of the president’s thoughts on the matter. Speaking to a cross section of journalists, Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, advanced legal reasons for government’s stance.It is the opinion of the presidency that going by section 171 of the 1999 constitution, as amended, the president does not necessarily need Senate’s confirmation of Magu’s appointment. He also disclosed that president Buhari did not find the DSS report on Magu meritorious enough to negate his nomination. The vice president also indicated the readiness of the president if necessary, to resubmit Magu’s name to the senate for as many times as it takes the senate to confirm him .It is worthy to note also that a huge number of legal experts support the position of the law as espoused by the vice president. It is argued and convincingly too, that the effect of section 1 (1) &(3) read together with Section 171 (1) &(2) of the 1999 constitution as amended, is to void section 2 (3) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act which requires that a nominee for the agency’s chairmanship be subject to confirmation by the Senate. Since this provision of the Act is inconsistent with section 171 of the constitution, it becomes void to the extent of its inconsistency as per section 1 (1) & (3). In other words, since section 171 (1) &(2) does not require Senate’s confirmation of the appointments of heads of government agencies like the EFCC, and the constitution is superior to the EFCC Act which requires such senate confirmation , Ibrahim Magu automatically becomes the substantive chairman of the anti-corruption agency and will hold office for such period as stipulated by law.
The reasoning of the presidency is not only sound in law, it is also a lot of common sense. Everything is not politics. While it may be politically savvy for the president to drop Ibrahim Magu to diffuse executive versus legislature tension, such move may deal a death blow to the administration’s anti-corruption fight. Also, since the matter involves interesting constitutional issues, it will enrich our democratic jurisprudence to have the Supreme Court give an opinion in the event that the Senate is minded to challenge the presidency’s reading of the law. That is what the judiciary exists for. It is hoped that the Senate will come to terms with this legal reality and move on, or opt for a legal challenge at the Supreme Court. I agree with the presidency and the Senate is best advised to let go and move on.
The monumental accomplishments of the EFCC under the chairmanship of Ibrahim Magu even in the face of the uncertainty surrounding his confirmation, is a testament to the stuff he is made of. Rather than be distracted by it all, he remained resolute in his determination to win the war against corruption. President Buhari must, in like manner be commended for his steadfast belief and trust in the abilities and integrity of the man he has chosen as the arrow head of the anti-corruption campaign. His painstaking adherence to fair hearing, due process and the principle of separation of powers is a hallmark of great leadership. Nor can we forget the institution of the Senate and the patriotic senators who participated in the confirmation process in the Senate. They have inexorably contributed their own quota to the democratic process and constitutional jurisprudence. They can only be derided to the extent that some of them sought to use the process to settle personal scores and as a bargaining chip in their ongoing corruption investigations and trials.
Yet this is not an occasion to gloat by any of the parties. It is a call to increased action for the EFCC. The calming of the storm now can only mean one thing--- a demand for more of what Magu has done these past months. More discoveries and recovery of looted funds, more prosecutions and convictions of suspects and a more proactive engagement with the people and authorities with a view to achieving an all embracing attitudinal change among the people. Truth be told, not a few people were dismayed at Magu’s inability or reluctance during his confirmation hearing, to disclose to the nation the sum total of all monies and properties recovered from politically exposed persons since he assumed office as acting chairman of the agency. Going forward, Nigerians expect a detailed disclosure regarding all recoveries and the government will do well to inform us on how it intends to apply the recovered monies and properties.
Corruption, official corruption especially, is very debilitating to the well-being of a people. It affects us all irrespective of our status and political leaning. It is unarguably the single most significant factor that has held back the development of Nigeria since independence. The imperative and urgency of the fight against this scourge can therefore never be over emphasised. The executive, the National Assembly and indeed all Nigerians must as a necessity pull together as one in confronting the corruption malaise. What better way to do this than to focus on the things that matter and leave out inanities and ego. It is therefore time we end the Senate circus show and unleash the dragon on corruption and corrupt people at all levels and in all spheres of life in Nigeria. It is time to let Ibrahim Magu and the EFCC go to work without further distractions.
Prince Nwaeze Onu is a public affairs commentator and writes from Abuja.
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