Weeks of controversy over the Judicial Commission of Inquiry investigating allegations of corruption against suspended chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, has increased expectations of Nigerians on the final report.
The Justice Ayo Salami Commission was set up by President Muhammadu Buhari following the petition against Magu by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, on allegations bordering on abuse of office and diversion of recovered assets.
Many of the allegations around the probe of Magu had been directed against Justice Salami. In the latest allegation, there were reports that the retired jurist had expressed regrets for accepting the chairmanship of the panel over the earlier statement by the Malami not to testify at the panel after he was summoned.
Malami had cited constitutional provisions, not personal, as the reason he won’t be attending the sitting, although he had on September 9 assured Nigerians that he would appear at the panel.
He was quoted as saying then that “if indeed the Ayo Salami panel invites Abubakar Malami as a person or the AGF in the person of Abubakar Malami for any testimony, for any clarification, for examination or cross-examination for that matter, Abubakar Malami will wholeheartedly, gladly, within the spirit and context of the rule of law, be there to testify, be there to be cross-examined, be there to be examined within the context of the rule of law.”
Lawyers to Magu, Zainab Abiola and Oluwatosin Ojaomo were on Monday September 28 quoted as saying that Salami brought out his handkerchief and said he was full of regrets for taking up the job instead of enjoying his retirement.
But Justice Salami in a statement dated September 29, 2020 described the report as the figment of the wild imagination of the reporter, the medium which published the story and the two lawyers quoted as sources in the report.
“There was no time anything near the unthinkable scenario painted in the false story occurred in any meeting between myself and the lawyers to Magu or any other person for that the matter, since Judicial Commission of Inquiry began its sittings,” he said.
While urging Nigerians to disregard the report, Justice Salami said he has no cause to express regret over his chairmanship of the Commission, “not to talk of betraying any form of emotion before anyone about it.”
He said the commission was determined to unearth the truth about the inquiry and to ensure that justice was manifestly done.
The controversy began when Malami in a detailed letter on June 22 accused Magu of flagrant abuse of office, mismanagement and lack of transparency in managing recovered assets, blatant display of arrogance and acquisition of illicit wealth, and filing of frivolous charges without seeking advice or even when advice is provided.
On July 6, Magu was picked up by operatives of the Department of State of Service (DSS), while driving out of his office. He was whisked away to the Aso Villa where he was held until granted bail after days of calls by lawyers for his bail.
Salami, who was former President of the Court of Appeal, was appointed to preside over the panel set up under the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, 2004. The seven-member panel also has Michael Ogbezi (South South); a representative of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Muhammad Badoko (North Central); and a representative of the Department of State Services (DSS), Hassan Abdullahi (North Central).
Others are Muhammad Shamsudeen of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (North West); Douglas Egweme of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (South East); and Mr Kazeem Atitebi (South West) the secretary.
But in his reply, Magu denied claims that he underreported the sum of N39.3bn recovered funds, explaining that he compiled a comprehensive list of the recoveries and forwarded same through a letter dated April 7, 2017, and that the funds were kept with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“In demonstrating my total commitment towards ensuring that the FGN derives the full economic benefit and in other to prevent the dissipation of forfeited assets, on the 17th of July, 2018 I wrote a letter to his Excellency, the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN (Chairman, Presidential Committee on Asset Recovery) wherein I informed him of the steps taken by the Commission to prevent economic loss as a result of the depreciating nature of the forfeited assets, the challenges we are encountering and the need to urgently dispose of the perishable and depreciating forfeited assets. The letter is attached and marked as Annexure 17,” Magu said.
On allegations that he protested the National Assembly enactments to address transparency in the management of such as the Proceeds of Crime Bill 2019, which made Mr President to decline assent to the Bill, Magu said the allegation was untrue and meant to rubbish his display of patriotism and unflinching loyalty to the President.
“That contrary to the allegations in paragraph B6) I know as a fact and verily believe that Mr President forwarded the draft Proceeds of Crime Bill to the Commission, as well as other Anti Corruption Agencies, such as the Nigeria Police Force, ICPC, NDLEA, NAPTIP and the Nigerian Customs Service. Attached and marked as Annexure 18 is the letter from the Chief of Staff to the President forwarding the Proceeds of Crime Bill, 2019 to the Commission for review, comments and remarks,” he submitted.
Media reports first emerged that Magu made payment of N573m to an Abuja-based pastor of a new generation church for purchase of property, and other transfers between 2015 and 2020. Again, Magu denied the allegation, while the pastor challenged the bank which purportedly made the payment.
Also, after the UK Court on September 4 accepted Nigeria’s application for leave to challenge the award of $9.6bn arbitral award in favour of Process and Industrial Development (P&ID) against Nigeria over a failed 2010 gas pipeline project, Magu issued a statement pointing out the role of the commission in establishing a prima facie evidence of fraud in the contract award against the firm and Nigerian officials.
In a statement through his lawyer, Wahab Shittu on September 6, Magu said the commendation by the court’s judge, Sir Ross Cranston, that Nigeria established exceptional circumstances and “a strong prima facie case that the GSPA was procured by bribery” was due to the investigators, prosecutors and himself staying at work till 1am, 2am and resuming 8 am including Saturdays and Sundays.
Magu argued that based on the latest UK Court ruling, the allegations of mishandling of the P&ID contract investigation contained in Malami’s petition to the president and which led to his suspension including the suspension or transfer of his men without pay or query, was not justifiable.
In the course of the hearing since July, witnesses, some of them businessmen and senior lawyers, have appeared at the panel and made allegations of disobedience to due process, violation of human rights, and corruption against Magu.
In his testimony, constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) criticized the approach by the EFCC in the fight against corruption, adding that he had made several suggestions to the commission on how to fight corruption in accordance with rule of law and due process.
“When you fight corruption prebendalistically, cronyistically, nepotically, sectionally with favouritism, then you are not fighting corruption, you are not even scratching the face,” he said.
“I told them beyond doubt, taking of money is corruption, looting of public treasury is corruption. But beyond all these, when you destroy institutions, that is a worse form of corruption, when you make appointments to the extent that 95 percent of the security apparatchik in a country like Nigeria is from one section of the country – the North, that is the mother, father, grandfather of corruption.”
Ozekhome said he also wrote a letter to the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo dated May 31, 2017, where he asked questions about the status of recovered properties and monies under the federal government’s anti-corruption war. He said the letter was not replied by the VP.
Speaking on the expectation of Nigerians about the Justice Salami panel, Barr Abdulhamid Mohammed said if the AGF or other witnesses did not appear, the panel would still proceed and submit its report, explaining that the work of the commission is not final as the president can either accept or refuse their recommendation as their work is mainly fact-finding and not a judicial proceeding.
“They cannot find anyone culpable but can only send their findings and recommendations to the President of Nigeria who will consider the findings and the federal government will publish a white paper and in it decide who is culpable or wrong and state sanctions by either prosecuting those found wanting or other administrative and executive sanctions,” he said.