Interview: Controversy Over Magu, Ali Portrays Presidency As Weak, Says Don

Dr. Gbade Ojo is an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Ilorin. In this interview with Rotimi Agboluaje in Ibadan, Ojo who is the former Special Adviser on Political Matters and Current Chief of Staff to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State said the controversy over the activities of acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu and the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, is portraying the Presidency in the public as weak.

The face-off between the Senate and Hammed Ali, the Nigeria Customs Service Comptroller-General, in one hand and the confirmation imbroglio of acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, has dominated the public space for the past few days.

Many opinion leaders and analysts have spoken on the issues. Not to be left out in the ongoing debate is a political scientist of international repute, Associate Professor Gbade Ojo.

Starting with EFCC czar’s ordeal vis-à-vis the intelligence and integrity check report that emanated from the Department of State Service (DSS),  Dr. Ojo pointed out:

“It is high-wired politics which has clearly shown that the President is either uncoordinated or perhaps politically naive.

“Is the DSS not an agency under the Presidency.?”, he asked. And answers: “Whatever the finding of the DSS, the presidency ought to have had a way to corroborate it before sending the name of Magu for the second time to the Senate for confirmation.

“The Senate President, Bukola Saraki belongs to the ruling party and he is superintending over a house that rejected Magu’s confirmation as Chairman of the EFCC for the second time. My expectation is that the presidency should have linked up with the National Assembly and made its position clear that Magu is the candidate it wanted as EFCC boss.

And majority of National Assembly members, who are APC members ought to have, if there was some party cohesion, cooperated and cleared Magu.

“It is politically unheard of for Mr. President who is of the same ruling party as are majority members in the Senate, to send the same name twice and be rejected twice by the Senate. Where is the required cooperation between the legislature and executive? And if the reason for the rejection is hinged on DSS report, what does it cost the President to respect it if the report is not favorable to Magu? I don’t want to believe it is only Magu in Nigeria as a police officer that can become chairman EFCC. No. I want to believe whoever is put there will perform.”

What are his reasons for saying so?. He lists them:

“The main reason is that EFCC has grown beyond personalities to become an institution. It is growing and secondly, the required political will on the part of the president to fight corruption is there. So if anybody is made its head, if the person doesn’t make new arrests, but just prosecute the ongoing cases, he can’t finish them in the next five years.

“I’ve not seen anything spectacular in what Magu has done. But if Magu denies the DSS report and the Presidency had no way to corroborate it before sending the name for the second time, it is politically naive on the part of the presidency”.

On the insinuation that the Magu’s ordeal can be equated to mean that corruption is fighting back, Ojo disagreed.

He said: “That’s absolutely speculative. Assuming that Magu was rejected because of that and another person was appointed in his place, what is the fear that the new appointee will not pursue the pending anti-corruption cases?

“Again, lets assume that the Senate was able to intimidate Magu to compromise so that he would be cleared and at the end of the day Magu goes back on his words, what can the lawmakers do? Can they turn around and remove him?”

Speaking on the committee headed by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation to unravel the allegations made against Magu, the former Head of Department of Political Science, University of Ilorin stirs coldly and thundered:

“That’s very ridiculous. The administrative panel headed by the Attorney General to look into the DSS report was supposed to make its findings public. That could have, perhaps, intimidated the National Assembly. It could have been very difficult for them to reject Magu for the second time. And it could have amounted to a cheap blackmail on the part of the Senate to reject Magu again. If AGF had said, for instance, they had looked into the DSS report and it was politically doctored or engineered and whoever that is the Director of DSS should be called to question because the allegations are mere speculative, that would have done it”.

On the two conflicting reports from DSS, the don said:

“I’m afraid, the DSS ought not to have surrendered itself like that. Ordinarily, it is purely the legal assignment of the DSS to do character and integrity checks. Most people appointed into public offices, you may not know, have had a lot of checks done on them before their names were publicly announced. If the DSS did character and integrity checks on Magu and it was not favorable, it is their duty to submit the report to Mr. President directly and tell him that from this security/intelligence report this man does not fit the position he is being considered for.  On that grounds, the president should not have submitted his name to the Senate.

“Nobody is indispensable, no matter how loyal. But if Mr. President believes it is only Magu that can do the work, then he ought to make public the report of AG’s committee”.

On statement that Magu can continue to work in acting capacity, as claimed by his supporters, Ojo had this to say:

“He can act in acting capacity, but for how long? That would be an infringement of the 1999 Constitution. The Constitution stipulates that the President can make appointments subject to the approval of the National Assembly. So if you ask Magu to continue for the next two years and the appointment is not approved, if at the end of the day he wants to claim pension, for example, and he is told that his appointment was never confirmed, it means he was never an EFCC Chairman.

“In this case, however, the National Assembly is superior to Mr. President, that is the position of the law. That is what we call separation of powers.  If power is to be ideally separated and the executive and legislature are to work cooperatively then, Magu’s appointment must be confirmed”.

Dr. Ojo said the implication of the ensuing controversy on the polity is the public perception that the President doesn’t respect the rule of law, emphasizing that democracy doesn’t operate that way.

” It doesn’t mean Mr. President must have his way at all time.  The National Assembly ratified names of all ministers and ambassadors. The National Assembly can hang on the DSS report until it is proven otherwise” he added.

On the face-off between the Senate and the Controller-General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS),Con. Hammed Ali, Dr. Ojo is a bit hard on the Senate:

”I think the Senate members are unserious with the issue of the Customs chief, in the sense that Ali happened to be a retired military officer.  The military has ego trip, a psychological make-up that makes its men and women feel that when they are retired as a military officer they can’t put on Immigration, Police or Customs uniform. They want to be regarded as being superior to men and women of other security agencies. That notwithstanding, the fact of the matter is that the Customs as a body needed to rejig under the change mantra of the Buhari administration”.

“If the president believes that Ali can go there and run it for him, that is OK. He has the power to appoint anybody, not necessarily another Customs man who had been part of the rot there. There is a limit to which a Customs officer can go in his bid to reorganize the system that has corrupted him. So the Senate has nothing to do with whether the man put on uniform or not. The Senators are supposed to do character checks and let the man do his work”.

Pressing his argument, Dr. Ojo said that though the Customs and Excise Act says the Controller-General must be chosen from among the ranks of Deputy Controller Generals, the president can decide to appoint anybody in the interim to head the agency, particularly in the current situation where senior officers of the Service were retired or removed.

That way the Customs as an agency can be cleansed of corruption and imbued with the spirit of change and thereafter an officer that is incorruptible could be appointed.
He cited the case of Major General Mamman Kotangora who was appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria when there was a crisis in the institution.

On Ali’s stand on the payment of customs duties on vehicles, the political scientist pointed out that Ali’s background as a military officer is a serious liability, maintaining that laws are not made to be retroactive in a democratic system.
“Democracy is about the rule of law. You don’t back date law in application. And that law that was backdated exposed the Customs as a corrupt agency the more” he said.

Dr. Ojo who stated that fairly used cars popularly called tokunbo were not being sold in hidden places, said the Customs offices should go to the shops where the vehicles are being sold and confiscate them and not wait to ensnare the owners on the roads.

“After you have collect returns at the end of the month from the tokunbo vehicles sellers, you now turn on hapless Nigerians who borrowed money, toiled and struggled to buy a fairly used car, an imported one, and subject him to harassment on the highways. Is the person the manufacturer or importer of the car? He is the final user. He is being harassed and nothing is being done on the dealer that brought the car and publicly displayed it”.

He maintained that if the Customs believe it could not police the country’s borders efficiently, it should collaborate with motor-licensing bodies and boards of internal revenue to do the job, rather than backdating a law and subjecting impoverished Nigerians who have not been paid in the last six months on a car they bought probably six years ago.

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