Jude Ndukwe: Senate, SERAP, Magu and the dearth of CSOs in Nigeria
By Jude Ndukwe
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, recently wrote a letter to Mr Michel Forst, the UN Rapporteur on situation of human rights defenders on Senate’s refusal to confirm Mr Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, claiming political and other concocted reasons for the said refusal.
It is the purpose of this piece to vehemently urge Mr Forst to ignore the letter in its entirety as it was written out of mischief and towards actualising narrow and self-serving purposes. Let it be stated that in rejecting Ibrahim Magu’s nomination, the legislative body acted within the ambits of the law and principles of democracy that permit it to act as a check on the executive.
The description of Magu by SERAP as “a human rights defender within the provisions of the UN Declaration on the Rights and Responsibility of individuals, Groups and organs of society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom of 1998 (UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders)”, is nothing but a figment of the imagination of SERAP concocted to impose an anti-corruption chairman whose deliberate, vindictive and gross abuse of the rights of citizens under the guise of fighting corruption is not only well-documented but also legendary.
For example, a well known critic of the present day government, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of aviation, was illegally detained for a total of 91 days, 67 days in the first instance and then 24 days in the second. The arrests and detentions were done by Magu’s EFCC with questionable warrants where there was any at all, and outright disregard to the constitution where there was none at all, making such arrests arbitrary, tortuous and designed to inflict trauma and wear down the victims to the extent of getting them hospitalized in the process.
To lend credence to the above, Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court, Lagos, on November 14, 2016, upbraided the EFCC in open court for arresting Fani-Kayode in the court premises without a warrant and for detaining him illegally for 24 days without detention order from any court despite the court’s earlier advice to the EFCC not to re-arrest the former minister since he was already on a court bail granted as far back as July 4. Eventually, the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, had to apologise to the court on behalf of the anti-corruption agency. Also, Mr Ibrahim Magu’s gross abuse of citizens’ rights as EFCC chairman extends to innocent spouses and infants of suspects.
On Monday, October 17, 2016, Femi Fani-Kayode’s wife, Precious Chikwendu Fani-Kayode was stopped from withdrawing from an account operated by her, and was subsequently detained by the bank on the orders of EFCC despite carrying her infant with her while awaiting to be taken away by the commission until Peter Ayodele Fayose, governor of Ekiti State, came to their rescue hours later. These are just very few instances among the many issues of gross violations of rights of citizens by the anti-corruption agency under the guise of fighting corruption.
Apart from this, Mr Magu has mastered the art of deploying compromised media outfits to declare Nigerians under its radar guilty long even before such persons are arrested. This is usually done to create a leeway, harass, intimidate, detain and torture their victims without much resistance from CSO’s the media and members of the public. Such detained citizens become helpless as lies after lies are churned out against them in the media while they remain incarcerated and unable to refute the campaign of falsehood against them. By the time they face prosecution, their images and reputations are mortally battered and nearly irredeemable even if the courts eventually find them innocent.
It is nauseating and an insult to the sensibilities of human rights watchers all over the world, how SERAP has condescended so low to defend the indefensible and make excuses for the inexcusable! How could SERAP “believe that the action taken by the Senate of Nigeria and other agencies of government apparently working with them undermines and violates Nigeria’s international obligation to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the human rights of the citizens, which eventually creates a duty for the government to establish efficient and independent anti-corruption mechanisms” when Mr Magu himself is known to be a gross abuser of people’s rights?
It is unfair of SERAP to accuse the Senate of not offering Magu an opportunity to fair hearing. Even if this is so, SERAP should have availed itself the opportunity of seeking redress in the court rather than run to the UN for a matter that can be handled by our courts. Rather than attempt to vilify the Senate on this score, they should be commended for saving Nigeria and Nigerians from a man of vindictive tendencies who has no respect for our laws and who acts according to his own whims and caprices just to settle political scores with perceived enemies of government and members of the opposition thereby giving the day’s government continued avoidable bad publicity.
Let SERAP be asked if they are aware that despite petitions with overwhelming copious and cogent evidence against some members of the current administration and ruling party, none of such indicted persons have been invited for questioning by Magu’s EFCC not to talk of prosecuting them. Example of such people who have petitions against them lodged with Mr Magu’s EFCC but which Magu has consistently ignored, neglected and or failed to act upon include Mr Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Solid Minerals Development and Mr Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation among others, while the likes of Timipre Sylva and the late Abubakar Audu were cleared to contest elections as governors in their respective states.
It is laughable that while SERAP makes desperate attempts to clear Magu of any association with a corrupt person, it claimed the property Magu is currently occupying was not paid for by one retired Commodore Umar Mohammed who himself is being investigated for corruption by a sister security agency but by the Federal Capital Development Administration (FCDA). This is not only shameful but also disgraceful! Mohammed was said to have paid N40m for the property and lavishly furnished it with another N43m.
Even if we decide to agree with SERAP that the property was paid for by the FCDA and not Mohammed, the question is, when did it become the function of the FCDA to pay for and furnish properties for public officials? That is corruption in itself as it puts Magu in a position of conflicting interest. For Magu to have accepted such ‘gift’ from a government agency or any person or institution at all shows that the man is not fit to head our anti-corruption agency or any other office of responsibility.
Accusing the Senate of being political with the confirmation of Magu despite the preponderant abundance of acts unbecoming of a public official is to unfairly put the Senate in bad light. The Senate has not asked for the EFCC to be scrapped, they have merely asked that another citizen with high moral standards and respect for our laws and rights of citizens without compromising his/her function be appointed. This, to the right thinking Nigerian, is indeed what needs to be done. So rather than condemn the Senate, they should be commended for a job well done and for saving Nigeria and Nigerians from the continued embarrassing slips and persecutions of citizens and affront to our constitution.
This same Senate also about the same time with Ibrahim Magus’s confirmation, recommended that one of the most powerful forces in the Buhari administration, Mr Babachir Lawal, Secretary to the government of the federation, be sacked and prosecuted for allegedly diverting huge sums of money meant for internally displaced persons (IDP’s) who are being ravaged by hunger, disease and squalor. One wonders why SERAP has taken up the defence of Magu while ignoring the issue of funds meant for IDP’s but allegedly diverted by Lawal. The question is, whose interest is SERAP serving?
That SERAP would travel this infamous road to ignominy is a confirmation of what Nigerians have since known: the dearth and death of CSO’s in Nigeria since May 29, 2015!
—firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @stjudendukwe