Raymond MORDI, Deputy Political Editor
Without Senate confirmation, Ibrahim Magu, a Commissioner of Police, has served four years as the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Magu as the EFCC chairman on November 9, 2015 following the removal of the former chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde.
But the Eighth Senate under the leadership of Bukola Saraki declined to confirm his nomination twice.
In explaining his rejection when he was first considered on December 15, 2015, the leadership of the Eighth Senate had said it refused to confirm Magu based on security report available to the senators.
This was in apparent reference to the mandatory report usually issued by the Department of State (DSS) on nominees for top public office appointments.
Former Director-General of the DSS, Lawal Musa Daura, was reported to have written to the Senate, to prevail on the lawmakers not to confirm his appointment. Going by convention, the Senate has the powers to confirm or reject the nomination of a candidate as EFCC chairman.
Some governors and former governors are said to be among those against Magu’s substantive appointment. A clique within the Presidency is also said to be against his appointment.
Magu’s appointment was one of the controversies faced by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari during his first term.
Lawyers say there is a lacuna in the law because it does not state how long a candidate nominated for the position can remain in acting capacity. This was what facilitated his staying on the job without Senate confirmation.
A Federal High Court in Abuja last month dismissed suits seeking the removal of Magu as acting chairman of the EFCC. The suits were challenging Magu’s status as acting EFCC chairman, despite the non-confirmation of his appointment by the Senate under the leadership of Bukola Saraki.
The plaintiffs had argued that based on Magu’s rejection by the Senate, he should not be allowed to continue to serve in that capacity.
But delivering her verdict, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu said the law does not provide a specific duration for which an individual can serve as acting EFCC chairman.
Magu’s case is a bit complex. If the Senate had promptly confirmed his appointment four years ago, he would have completed his first tenure or about to complete it and would be hoping for a re-appointment for another tenure by the President. But his non-confirmation by the Senate has thrown a spanner into the works of a routine job by the President.
Six months after the swearing-in of President Buhari for a second term, the matter is far from being resolved and Magu’s fate remains uncertain.
The President is still weighing his options on the Magu case. The forces against him are as powerful as those backing him. Politicians, it is said, have been mounting pressure on the President to drop the acting EFCC chairman.
But he appears to enjoy the confidence of the President. Prof. Itse Sagay, who heads the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), has made a case for the appointment Magu as the substantive chairman of the commission.
Sagay made the endorsement when he led his team on a solidarity visit to the EFCC boss at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja November, last year.
Sagay’s words: “When something is good; when you see high quality, merit, dedication, and somebody who is courageous in the fight against corruption, I think it will be stupid to say you are looking for something outside.
This is not a turn-by-turn thing. It is a thing of merit. You must work for it and achieve it. In our view, the Acting chairman deserves everything, including his being given a substantive appointment.”
He equally expressed optimism that the Ninth Senate would do the right thing by confirming Magu when his name is forwarded to it by President Buhari, saying there would not be any reason for the legislators to reject Magu’s confirmation.
Read Also: PACAC backs Magu’s re-nomination by Buhari
This brings to the fore the position held by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) and Lagos lawyer Femi Falana (SAN) that Magu does not require the confirmation of the Senate to be in office.
Some legal practitioners have advised the Senate to reject any fresh request for Magu’s confirmation until the Presidency apologises to the National Assembly and indeed Nigerians for the misleading position it (the Presidency) held about the powers of the Senate to approve his appointment.
They are of the view that it would be a moral burden for the same Presidency, which earlier said that Senate’s confirmation was not required, by virtue of Section 171 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) to return to the same chamber seeking Magu’s confirmation.
The Section 171 Subsection (1) says: “Power to appoint persons to hold or act in the offices to which this section applies and to remove persons so appointed from any such office shall vest in the President.”
A Port Harcourt-based lawyer, Mr. Festus Oguche, said Sagay’s comment appeared to have woken the sleeping dog. He also wondered what informed the persistent demand for Magu’s confirmation without first clearing allegation of corruption against him.
He said: “It appears that the Magu chairmanship issue has reared its ugly head again. One begins to wonder what informed this insistence on him, particularly from the authorities.
“I do not think it has anything to do with his performance as I am yet to see any feat in the anti-corruption war that makes him indispensable as a person, if at all there is still such a war going on.
“But the question then becomes the purpose and tenacity of the current move. Is it meant to renew or extend his tenure in an acting capacity or to formalise his appointment in a substantive capacity? Again, he is yet to be cleared of the allegations as contained in the report of the DSS against him, which are all hanging on his head like the Sword of Damocles.”
Oguche said while also wondering if the National Assembly would be exercising its legislative powers appropriately if it gives its nod to the executive’s request.
He also expressed uncertainty whether the new tenure will dovetail into the one he had in acting capacity or would be a new one that could make it possible for Magu to secure more tenures.
An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr. Daniel Makolo, also described the development as both a moral burden on the executive, as well as the failure to observe global standards and best practices by a government that rode to power on the wings of integrity.
He said: “Being boastful is one thing, the actual display of the position you boast of is another thing. For one to fail the examination he sets is the ninth wonder of the world. How long is Mr. Magu allowed to act under Nigerian law? Is it forever?”
Makolo said the DSS, which is part of the Presidency, questioned his fitness to occupy the office, and the Eighth Senate agreed with it.