Undermining President Buhari’s Fight Against Corruption? Alarming News out of Nigeria

Nigerian media have been filled with conflicting accounts (here and here) about whether Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, was himself arrested for corruption Tuesday.  A press release issued by a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption meant to clarify the situation reveals highly disturbing ongoing machinations within the Nigerian government over President Buhari’s effort to curb corruption.  It is reprinted below. UPDATE: Since its appearance, other advisory committee members have said they do not endorse it.

Press Release: Professor Femi Odekunle, Member, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption.

This is a preliminary reaction of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) to the alleged ‘arrest’ of Ibrahim Magu, Acting Chairman the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Of course, the real information reaching us is that he was only invited to appear before a Panel set up not long ago concerning some alleged memo by Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, regarding some alleged malfeasance by Magu, along with nominations for his replacement.

It was just that those sent to invite him for whatever reasons best known to them invited some press along and made it look an arrest. That mischief has been confirmed by some apparent afterthought denial by the DSS [the Department of State Services, the domestic intelligence agency] that it was not an arrest. While PACAC has not had a formal meeting on this development, I have discussed with the Chairman and some other members and the following can be considered as PACAC’s preliminary reaction to this development.

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.

  1. One can recall the earlier non-confirmation experience of Magu by the 8th Assembly, orchestrated by a power bloc and supported by the DSS ‘Security’ reports.
  2. One can also note the non-resubmission of Magu for confirmation since May 2019 despite the apparent willingness of the 9th Assembly to consider it this time around.
  3. Furthermore, one must take cognisance of the alleged memo referred to earlier i.e by Malami concerning alleged corrupt practices by Magu, along with his own nominations for Magu’s replacement.
  4. Again, we cannot forget Malami’s demand of certain high-profile case files from Magu which the latter has been resisting.

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The Lawyers’ Role in Perpetuating Corruption in Nigeria

Nuhu Ribadu, the former head of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, spoke to lawyers in Abuja on December 1 on his experience fighting corruption in Nigeria and the role the bar played.

Ribadu came to international attention in the mid-2000s for his audacious efforts to combat the high level corruption then rampant in the country, a fight that led to attempts on his life and ultimately his illegal removal from office despite protests from Nigerian civil society and the international community.  Although Ribadu remains active in Nigerian public life, chairing a high level commission on corruption in the Nigerian oil industry and running twice (unsuccessfully) for public office, he has been relatively silent on the obstacles he faced as head of the EFCC.  In his December 1 speech, unfortunately at this writing still not available online, he explains how some of Nigeria’s most prestigious lawyers, known as SANs or Senior Advocate Nigeria, collaborate with some of Nigeria’s most corrupt actors to frustrate the country’s effort to eradicate corruption at the highest levels of government.

For the benefit of his friends in the international community (of which this writer is one) as well as for a useful insight on one of the challenges of tackling grand corruption, below are excerpts from that speech as reported in the Nigerian press. Continue reading

Institutions, Not Heroes: Lessons from Nigeria’s EFCC

Nigeria has a corruption problem. Whether described as misuse of public office for private gain, trading in influence, money laundering, or the theft of public funds, this problem is rife, and we know it. There is also a list of scandals that is as long as it is depressing: that fuel subsidy fraud, those egregiously inflated prices for the purchase of vehicles, the disappearing treasury, and a bewildering pardon for an infamous corrupt convict.

Between 2003 and 2007, it looked as if Nigeria had found a solution to the corruption problem, and that solution had a name: Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. As Chair of the Economic and Financial Commission (EFCC), Mallam Ribadu led successful prosecutions of financial crimes, bringing thousands of indictments, over 270 convictions and double that number in arrests. Described by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime as “a crime-buster made of the hardest steel alloy every manufactured”, Ribadu’s work was filled with fearless firsts. Under his leadership, the EFCC conducted investigations leading to the indictment and conviction of the Inspector General of Police (Ribadu was a policeman). The EFCC indicted five governors and secured two convictions – feats previously thought impossible. The EFCC also arrested and prosecuted hundreds of confidence scammers, and served as an effective deterrent to financial crimes. It was also largely due to the EFCC’s efforts that Nigeria was removed from Financial Action Task Force’s list of non-cooperative jurisdictions. Ribadu put a face to the previously mythical dependable and trustworthy law enforcement.

Yet for all his well-deserved praise, Ribadu’s tenure at the EFCC, and what happened afterwards, illustrates the limits of strong individuals in weak institutions. While anticorruption heroes are great, institutions matter more.

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