Ibrahim Magu: When the Hunter becomes the Hunted

In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Hollywood blockbuster, Minority Report, PreCrime supercop John Anderton, played by action superstar Tom Cruise, had to go on the run after he was accused of plotting to kill a man he didn’t even know.

Having successfully put many ‘thought criminals’ away, the irony of Anderton’s travails led to sensational headlines like: ‘PreCrime hunts one of its own’.

In yet another fascinating scenario of fact mirroring fiction, a similar scene played out in Nigeria this week as Ibrahim Magu, the powerful acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was arrested on allegations of corruption.

On a wet Monday afternoon in the nation’s capital Abuja, Magu, like a perp on the lam, was intercepted and nabbed by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) in a Gestapo-style raid in the city centre. In a sublimely karmic turn, the overzealous EFCC boss, whose anticorruption campaign was heavy on media bluster, was taken down in grand public spectacle.

Nigerians, never short on schadenfreude, set social media ablaze with memes and other reactions over his spectacular fall. A common theme of the reactions – derived from shared cultural trait – is that the hunter has become ‘bush meat’.

Magu was not a popular figure for two main reasons. First, in a nation where corruption is endemic, an anticorruption czar is bound to step on big toes to get the job done, thereby making a long list of enemies along the way. Second, and perhaps more tellingly in Magu’s case, he was unabashedly partisan to the extent that he was seen as the personification of the bastardization of public institutions in the country.

Two years ago, the EFCC under Magu’s watch, reached a particularly low watermark in the fight against corruption by personalizing and trivializing the prosecution of then governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose. On July 15, 2018, a day after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost the governorship poll in the state, the EFCC wrote on Twitter: “The parri [party] is over, the cloak of immunity torn apart and the staff broken. N1.3bn fraud case file dusted off the shelves. See you soon.”

The brazen and gleeful use of threats by a supposedly independent prosecutorial body was widely condemned across the country.

Nigerians also remember with dismay Magu’s aggressive pursuit of former Senate president, Dr Bukola Saraki despite his acquittal by the supreme court. It was reminiscent of the deranged cop, Inspector Javert, who spent 20 years chasing the wrong suspect, Jean Valjean, in Victor Hugo’s classic ‘Les Miserables’

His chairmanship of the EFCC was doomed ab-initio. Suspended from the commission in 2008 and severely reprimanded by the Police Service Commission in 2010 for underhand tactics and “actions unbecoming of an officer”, Magu was controversially reabsorbed by his predecessor Ibrahim Lamorde, thus paving the way for his nomination as substantive chairman in 2016. But the ghosts of past misdeeds and other contemporary foes, particularly the DSS under the leadership of Lawan Daura, came to haunt him.

His nomination was twice rejected by the senate under Saraki, citing a damning report conveniently submitted by the DSS. It read in part: “Magu is currently occupying a residence rented for N40m at N20m per annum. The accommodation was not paid for from the commission’s finances but by one Umar Mohammed, air commodore retired, a questionable businessman who has subsequently been arrested by the secret service. For the furnishing of the residence, Magu enlisted the Federal Capital Development Authority to award a contract to Africa Energy, a company owned by the same Mohammed, to furnish the residence at the cost of N43m. Magu has fostered a beneficial relationship with Mohammed who by his confession approaches clients for possible exploitation, favours and associated returns.”

These ostensibly formed the basis of the 24-count charge levelled against him at the presidential panel headed by former Appeal Court President, Justice Ayo Salami.

A day after his arrest and detention at the CID headquarters in Abuja, the presidency announced his suspension as acting head of the EFCC to enable him “face his probe”.

Magu was staring down the barrel of a gun: he spent the night behind bars, his home was searched and unsavoury details of his interrogation were leaked to the press painting him as a libertine profligate. Someone with puissance had ‘pulled a magu on Magu’.

In the days after his confirmation fell through at the senate, the prevailing narrative was that “corruption was fighting back” with Saraki at the helm of the legislature. This premise was however shown to be untenable after the Buhari administration refused to nominate him as substantive head of the anti-graft agency despite having the obsequious stooge Ahmed Lawan as senate president.

It becomes irrefutably clear that the presidency had had reasons to look askance at the anticorruption czar. And the fact that he remained on the job in an acting capacity for such a long time in spite of a slew of lawsuits contesting the legality of his position, was yet more proof of the banality of Buhari’s much-vaunted anticorruption crusade.

Magu’s travails – coming thick and fast – is not only a lesson on the ephemerality of power, but another stark reminder of the dangers inherent in totalitarianism.

In a fascist-leaning regime where loyalty to the president supersedes the rule of law, Magu checked all the boxes. He was a proud Buharist and neck-deep in partisan politics, swept charges against stalwarts of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) under the carpet and hounded members of the opposition with grating obsession. He even frequently displayed the bumbling incoherence that seems to be a must-have for those in the upper echelons of the administration. Many are still nonplussed by his chest-beating claims that corruption is the cause of coronavirus.

He is by every indication a prototype Buharist, which raises the pertinent question of why he is being ruthlessly removed from reckoning. It will be naïve to allude it to the corruption charges against him, because that hasn’t mattered in the past when members of the administration were concerned.

Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, indicted for fraud in the award of PINE contracts, continued to enjoy the support of the president until the bitter backlash that greeted the scandal involving former pension fund boss Abdulrasheed Maina. Also, Buhari proudly campaigned for Abdullahi Ganduje, the Kano State governor filmed receiving bribes from contractors ahead of the 2019 general election.

Quite clearly, there’s more to Magu’s troubles than the charges proffered against him. Besides, the allegations had hovered over him the entire time he was on the job. Moreover, his chief traducer, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, has been fingered in a number of shady deals, not the least of which was the $100m payoff to Kebbi Governor Atiku Bagudu from recovered funds looted by late dictator Sani Abacha.

Three weeks before Magu’s arrest, AGF Malami, in a leaked memo, had called for his sack alleging “diversion of recovered loot, insubordination and misconduct.”

It is plausible that Malami, who has increasingly diminished the office of AGF to that of the consigliere in a mafia family, has leveraged his closeness to the presidency to get rid of a rambunctious adversary.

This position was unequivocally conveyed by Prof Femi Odekunle, a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC).

Hours after Magu’s arrest, he said:

“The alleged originating Malami memo, up to the current “arrest “ seems an outcome of power-play by power blocs in the corridors of power in which Malami appears to be an arrow-head or major agent of a power bloc that is not really interested in, or in support of, Buhari’s anti-corruption fight.

“It may not be contestable that Malami has been exploiting his alleged loyalty and closeness to the President for his personal /power bloc agenda.”

With his back against the ropes in the Minority Report movie, John Anderton had to recover the ‘minority report’ from the ‘precogs’ to exonerate himself.

Magu, however, won’t get that chance, as there are no more ‘minority reports’ in the compromised judiciary bequeathed by the Buhari administration. He will be unanimously crushed under the giant wheel of impunity he helped build.

As he heads down the dustbin of the nation’s history, the moral of his fall comes soberingly clear to him and everyone else…what goes around comes around.

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