The Senate, Magu And More Quagmires By Zainab Suleiman Okino

The last has not been heard of Ibrahim Magu, chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and his controversial tenure. Magu has been a torn in the flesh of our lawmakers, until last week when they got a reprieve in form of a court judgement on their status in the screening of appointees of the president.

Our senators got their teeth back, over the Magu issue, and have since gotten their groove back too. In April 2017, the senators were the butts of jokes (and condemnation) when they refused to confirm Magu when he appeared before them, the second time. He was said to have performed poorly during the screening process.

As representatives of Nigerians who are seen as profligate because of their affluent lifestyle and brazen display of wealth in parallel with their constituents/electorates, they do not particularly enjoy sympathy from a cross section of Nigerians; and so got a lot of bashing/criticisms over the Magu affair despite hinging their decision on a Department of State Services (DSS) report and Magu’s inability to reply to basic questions about his operations. Before his screening and first rejection, the Senate claimed it acted on a DSS report that declared Magu unfit to head EFCC and predicated their decision on the anti-corruption czar’s soiled hands. EFCC under the embattled Magu is relatively popular among Nigerians, despite its penchant for intimidating the opposition, declaring them guilty before trial, literally trying them in the media and suspected of doing the biddings of forces outside government.

Although, most people pointed accusing fingers at the executive in the DSS report, the vice president’s intervention in defence of Magu created further confusion, and raised more questions. Was the DSS on its own? Was it doing the president’s biddings? Why did the president keep mum? Had Buhari lost confidence in Magu; if not why was Magu’s second nomination and screening hurriedly arranged when the president was away on sick leave and truncated on his return? Between Buhari and Osinbajo, whose interest is Magu serving? Without a clear understanding of the apparent conflict of interests, we all groped and did our assessment in futility then. And the matter went into the cocoon of the judiciary until last week.

It is not only Magu’s credentials that are called to question; even the institution under him had come under scrutiny; what with another court’s hammer on their modus operandi recently. Somewhere in Ado Ekiti, on January 30, EFCC suffered another defeat when a Federal High Court declared the agency had no business probing the account of a state, without the state’s assembly’s consent and cannot usurp their (states assembly) powers. This was the outcome of a case filed by the Ekiti State Government in response to EFCC’s letters to some government officials to answer questions on the State’s financial transactions. Justice Taiwo O. Taiwo came hard on the anti-corruption agency, saying it cannot continue to behave like “the lord of the manor”. He advised the agency not to “ride roughshod of the constitution” that clearly has the separation of power embedded in it. “It is unassailable that there is the separation of powers. Under a federal system, sections 4, 5 and 6 of the 1999 Constitution provide the separation of powers which guarantees independence and disallows encroachment of powers. The power for control of fund, financial outflow and appropriation is vested in the house of assembly. It is the auditor-general of the state that has the power to conduct checks on all government corporations and to submit his report to the house of assembly”.

As illuminating as this judgment is, the entire judicial interpretation of the Magu case and other such issues bordering on the constitution is bewildering to the lay person, who most Nigerians are. Could it be that the EFCC, which has been proactively going overboard to investigate state EXCOs and finances, at the behest of political actors, is not aware that it is doing that in error? I do not think so, because there is the case of Joshua Dariye precedent upon the Ekiti issue which dwelled on the same issue, yet EFCC’s impunity is somehow sanctioned by the executive and public opinion favours the agency. Presidents after presidents have used the EFCC to hound their opponents and to make governors fall in line, a legacy Magu has built on, albeit dangerously.

In the case of the last ruling, which the Senate has been gloating over, confusion is apparent too. I have watched analysts on national television contradicting themselves on the propriety of the judgement. One particular lawyer said, after the constitutional authority of the Senate was reaffirmed by the court, that Magu should have left immediately and should not have been admitted back in office. Yet, another legal luminary disagreed with the Senate’s position, citing Section 5 of the Constitution, which gives all powers of control and appointments to the president, while blaming senators for wanting to usurp the powers of the executive. In other words, going to court for interpretation was a waste of time. The mix-up, and interpretation upon interpretation, will not take us anywhere; instead it will muddle things up. Going forward, Magu’s authority will be questioned, his decisions can be subjected to scrutiny, annulled and the anti-corruption war will remain in jeopardy, that is, if it was ever really helpful. For all the grandstanding by the senators, the legal interpretation of Vice President Osinbajo, the president’s indifference and DSS’s open animosity, the polity can only get more heated up.

Now, coming to the powers of the state assemblies under the constitution, as espoused by the learned judge, I can only wish all of us well. As beautiful as it is on paper, we all know that they can neither bark nor bite. They are cowed and under the overwhelming influence of the governors, who pocket them and determine their affairs including their leadership. With this judgement, Justice Taiwo has unwittingly ceded more powers to governors, who are already power drunk. But then the judge is only an interpreter of laws and not the maker. Unfortunately the last constitutional amendment did not take this into cognisance; in essence our journey is a cyclical one without a clear cut destination.

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Categories: Column, Opinion

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