Published On: Thu, Mar 23rd, 2017

Of Magu, saints and sinners, by Sufuyan Ojeifo

Ibrahim Magu

If you happen to be a purist and you desire to dine with saints, you are not likely to find one here.  This is because the search for saints in the haystacks of the sin and corruption that exemplify the totality of human existence, and circumscribe the sum of socio-economic, political and religious interactions in our society is, without doubt, an off-putting task.  Sin is corruption and vice versa; whereas sainthood-the absence of corruption- is a virtue that attracts the divine charisma.  Corruption is a dishonorable global citizen.  It is a transcendental phenomenon intersecting the physical to the spiritual and the terrestrial to the celestial.  It is a monstrosity that confronts humanity and violates our pristine nature.  In our climes, corruption unravels in diverse dimensions: cheating, stealing, bribery, embezzlement, conversion, money laundering, nepotism, ethnic irredentism, religious bigotry, et al. Fighting corruption with precision is, thus, not an easy task universally.

This is why there is a global focus on the issue of corruption in the management of public finance and its effects on development.  Transparency International’s (TI’s) Corruption Perceptions Index is a critical measurement of how countries deal with the monster of corruption in the architectures of their public administration and development. Nigeria is ranked as one of the most corrupt nations of the world, even in the most recent ranking by TI. The tendency has always been for government officials to dismiss the ranking as mere perception.

The truth is, the nation is afflicted with unconscionable and gluttonous crops of leaders who have become more negatively sophisticated in perpetrating the scourge. The socio-economic, political and religious ecology of the nation is manifestly corrupted. This explains why the fight against the scourge is a critical agenda issue in governance.  The sincerity of any administration that does not consciously strengthen its anti-graft institutions is doubted. The anti-corruption war under successive governments has been differently approached.

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For the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is believed to have zero tolerance for financial corruption, the stakes and expectations have become understandably very high, which is why the legislative process of confirming the appointment of Mr. Ibrahim Mustafa Magu as substantive chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has generated an unusual national and international interest. The first time Magu was presented to the Senate for confirmation, the legislative chamber, latching on a report by the Department of State Services (DSS) in which he allegedly failed the integrity test, refused to screen him.  He has continued to act in that office and there is another opportunity ahead to go through the Senate screening as his name has, once again, been forwarded for confirmation. Screening by Senate will hold, no doubt, but the question is, will it confirm Magu?  The screening will afford Magu an opportunity for a fair hearing, which he was denied the last time. That was a dimension of corruption- denying him an opportunity for fair hearing.

If he is screened now and denied confirmation on the grounds of certain prejudices or biases, the non-confirmation will also be deemed to be corrupt. Besides, can the Senate, as presently constituted, occupy the moral high ground to interdict Magu or any other person for alleged corrupt acts? The popular aphorism that “whoever comes to equity must come with clean hands” kicks in at this intersection.  It will be manifestly unfair if the fate of Magu is negatively decided and whimsically deuced by the Senate on the altar of extreme political considerations, even if he is not a saint. Truth is, there is no way Magu or anyone else can be a saint in a community of sinners where corruption is genetic and corruptive tendencies denominate all manner of interactions.

Even in the Christendom, it is the sufficiency of God’s grace and mercies that have been the staying power; thus, no one can lay claim to being holy by him or herself. Indeed, the confirmatory test of holiness lies with God. But because we live in a world of sin and the Nigerian society, like other national milieus, is corrupt (even if levels are different going by the TI ranking), it becomes pretty difficult to impose the standard of absolutism in terms of honesty in public and private interactions.

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Therefore, we should be looking at a template of arriving at substantial compliance with global best practices.  There should be ways of measuring and ranking public officers on the Corruption Perceptions Index on the basis of their acts of commission and omission in the course of official duties, with a view to allocating values or indications of qualification and non-qualification. I said in a recent piece that Buhari is a man of integrity as far as financial matters are concerned, but that he can, arguably, be accused of something else, ranging from nepotism and ethnic irredentism to religious bigotry, et al, which are all dimensions of corruption that must be operationalised in dealing with the concept of corruption.

I must restate here that regarding integrity in matters financial, I doubt if Buhari can be accused of embezzlement of funds. The point being made here is that, although Buhari is perceived to be a man of integrity, it does not mean he is exceptionally righteous. He has his failings because he is human. In corollary, the Magu persona should be appreciated within this context. His experience so far must have sobered him.  He now knows that, in the anti-corruption war, he is the issue, as much as Buhari is. Therefore, he must live a life of self-abnegation while in the saddle.  He must not deploy the agency as an attack dog of the incumbent executive head, as that will be corruption.  By and large, it is heartening that the EFCC is not a court of law; whatever the dimensions of its power, as circumscribed in the Act that established it, they are subject to the Constitution of the country, which is the grundnorm.

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The judiciary is empowered to review the exercise of EFCC’s powers as they affect any Nigerian in alignment with constitutional provisions. Therefore, to bolster Buhari’s anti-corruption war, the Senate should be considerate and confirm Magu.  It should hinge its action on the withdrawal of the original DSS report. The stakeholders should locate a compromise and act in accordance. The different arms of the APC government should be reasonable enough to support one another in pushing forward the anti-corruption war and not to combatively and maliciously destroy one another in the process. Moral rearmament is a necessity. We must all agree and be ready to imbibe the right way of doing things with transparency and accountability as our watchwords. For now, let Magu be. He has realised that he is a gold fish with no hiding place in the sea of the anti-corruption war. This will instruct him, henceforth, to be circumspect in the battle to save our nation, of very scarce saints and too many sinners, from ourselves.

Ojeifo is a journalist and publisher

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