There are strong indications that the Presidential Investigative Panel headed by former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, may be focusing attention on the assets declaration of the suspended acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu. As early indications appear to show he may not have fully declared his assets if he declared one at all contrary to law in the form submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).
Magu, who is being investigated for official malfeasance and fraud was allegedly said to have admitted on record to making false assets declaration.
President Muhammadu Buhari had set up the panel to investigate various allegations of wrongdoing, including insubordination, failure to properly account for recovered assets, abuse of office, and other corrupt acts levelled against him by the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, SAN.
The panel’s investigation of Magu is continuing in the precincts of the Presidential Villa in Abuja. The suspended EFCC chief had earlier been arrested and detained for 10 days before he was released. According to a competent source privy to the investigation, the suspended chairman has now been availed opportunity to respond to more damning evidence against him before the investigative panel. After opening his defence last Monday, it was not immediately clear if he continued throughout the week as initially scheduled since he was said to have complained of not having the full scope of petitions against him.
It would be recalled that days after Magu was released from detention, a presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, told Nigerians, while fielding questions on a national television, to be prepared for more surprises from Magu’s investigation.
Shehu had said, “I am not going to pre-empt the panel investigation but I just advise Nigerians to hold their hearts in their hands. By the time they are done with this job and they come out with the reports, prepare yourselves for surprises.
“I don’t know what will come out but if the sense we are getting from what is being done over there is anything to go by, I think that Nigerians should not be confused by any outbursts by anybody.”
Magu’s lawyers have, since put up a strident defence of their client to counter some of the allegations against him.
THISDAY gathered at the weekend that the former EFCC boss allegedly admitted to making false assets declaration after the panel confronted him with evidence uncovered by the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). THISDAY source said Magu was found to have deliberately omitted, failed or neglected to fully declare his asset in banks in the assets declaration form he submitted or the subsequent updates.
Apparently shocked by the discovery, the source declared to THISDAY, “Can you imagine that Magu did not fully declare his assets while he was busy chasing others for similar breaches. He even admitted to not declaring his accounts in the asset declaration form he filled and returned to CCB. This is now a clearly established fact on record before the panel.”
Magu’s alleged false assets declaration and the admission if true, would be a cruel irony to his public posture. As acting chairman of EFCC, his investigations of false assets declaration had ruined the careers of many high-profile public officials, who failed to properly and fully declare their assets. Such inquests had formed part of the charges against the erring officials at either the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) or regular courts. While Magu was leading some of those investigations, astoundingly, he was himself guilty of the same offence, at least going by his alleged admission of false assets declaration.
Prominent among those felled by the false assets declaration saga in recent times is the former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen. He was arraigned last year at the CCT on a six-count charge bordering on false assets declaration and convicted on all six counts preferred against him by the federal government. Onnoghen was ordered to forfeit monies found in five bank accounts he failed to declare in his assets declaration form.
The tribunal, in addition, ordered his removal from office and barred him from holding any public office for 10 years. He appealed the verdict, but for over a year now, the Court of Appeal has yet to hear the suit.
Charged also with the offence of false assets declaration was Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court. Ngwuta was dragged to the tribunal following the discovery of huge sums of money in his house by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) during a 2016 sting operation at the residences of some judges in Abuja. He was arraigned in February 2017 before the CCT on an eight-count charge bordering on false assets declaration.
However, following the ruling of the tribunal’s chairman, Mr Danladi Umar, that Ngwuta could not be tried before it without passing through the disciplinary processes of the National Judicial Council (NJC), Ngwuta was cleared of the charges.
Former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, equally got a taste of the bitter pill of false assets declaration trial. The EFCC had in 2015 arraigned Saraki on a 13-count charge of falsely declaring his assets. The government later amended the charges to 16, and then 18. The major dispute was the source of purchase of an Ikoyi, Lagos, property.
But the tribunal later dismissed the suit, because the prosecution could not prove the ingredients of the charge.
At the Court of Appeal, Saraki was asked to answer to three of the 18 charges, but the Supreme Court nullified the decision of the appellate court. Saraki eventually won all the five cases against him, with a recent one returning his Lagos house to him.
Former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu suffered similar fate. The federal government, through the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, in 2018 filed a false declaration of assets charge against Ekweremadu before the CCT. Ekweremadu was said to have failed to disclose the foreign assets in his declarations to the CCB.
The alleged properties included, nine in Nigeria, two in the United Kingdom, eight in Dubai, and three in the United States.
Ekweremadu was charged alongside the senator representing Akwa Ibom North-east district, Senator Bassey Akpan. Although the charges were filed at the CCT, they were never arraigned.
A more recent case was that of a former Acting Registrar-General of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Lady Obiageli Azinge. Azinge was in December last year arraigned before the CCT on an 11-count charge of false assets declaration. She was specifically accused of concealing her Naira, Euro and Dollar domiciliary accounts in Access Bank Plc and Standard Chartered Bank. Azinge was also accused of receiving allowances, which she knew she was not entitled to as an Acting Registrar-General of the CAC. She, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
She was granted bail on self-recognition, but the tribunal ordered her suspension from office pending the determination of the case. The trial is pending at the CCT.
Apart from alleged failure to fully comply with the law on assets declaration, the source also alleged that Magu failed to account for the billions purportedly recovered for NNPC: “There is a problem with the money said to have been recovered for NNPC running into billions of Naira, which remains unaccounted for by the EFCC.
“So far, Magu has been unable to explain or shed light on the whereabouts of the money. NNPC has yet to receive a single kobo from the EFCC.”
Magu, THISDAY learnt, also allegedly failed to properly explain the rationale for leaving out some culprits in the alleged misapplication of N3 billion at the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), when Tunde Fowler was Chairman. The EFCC carried out an investigation into the misapplication of the amount and established the culpability of staff.
The source said, “After a diligent and painstaking review of the evidence, the decision was then reached to charge all those found culpable to court. But instead of following through with that decision, Magu curiously excluded major culprits or the approving authorities from those presented for trial. Only lower lever members of staff were put forward for trial.” This, according to the THISDAY source, essentially amounted to a cover-up – an attempt to shield high-level persons clearly culpable in the misapplication of government resources from accountability.
The source, which is privy to the Salami-led presidential panel, alleged that Magu was also grilled about an allegation of persecution of the head of EFCC in Gombe State, who, acting on a whistleblower’s tip-off, had attempted to mount an operation on a location, where identified loot was kept. But this, the source stated did not go down well with Magu, who allegedly started to victimise the EFCC zonal head.
“He was suspended, harassed, chased around and his salary stopped. The zonal head saw an opportunity following Magu’s suspension and subsequent investigation and approached the investigative panel to be allowed a hearing, which the panel obliged,” the source stated.
It was further gathered that the federal government was preparing for a total overhaul of the anticorruption agency, as many of the senior staff had allegedly compromised the trust in the commission and turned it into an avenue for extortion and other forms of corruption. Most of the senior level cadre are said to have one form of petition or the other against them. “Only a clean sweep and prosecution of all those found culpable will restore confidence to that all-important agency of government” .