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The Magu Affair and the Crumbling of Presidential Authority

If the president allows himself to lose his legitimacy, he cannot exercise his authority and that is what we are beginning to observe. The president appointed Magu to the EFCC in November 2015 and thirteen months later, he cannot get the appointment confirmed. Where is his authority?

The action of the Department of State Security of going to the Senate to challenge the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is the clearest signifier of the crumbling of President’s Buhari’s authority. The DSS has the competence to advice on the suitability of candidates for appointment through background checks that show whether or not the said candidates have skeletons in their closets that make them ineligible. That process occurs before the names of the persons are submitted for confirmation. For the DSS to go to a third party, the Senate, and argue that the person whose name has been submitted by the president is not suitable for appointment is a direct challenge to the authority of the president. Of course the DSS can find information at anytime that would in their assessment make a person ineligible for appointment. When the name of the person has already been sent to the Senate for approval, the correct protocol is to forward such information to the president who could then decide to withdraw the nomination if he makes the determination that, based on the facts presented, the person is no longer considered suitable for the appointment.

Presidential authority is about the power, or rather, the competence to make decisions, give directives and enforce compliance to the said decisions and directives. When a president gives directives and state institutions under his authority take action to nullify the directive, the implication is that they feel no compulsion to obey the president, and that is a bad sign for the exercise of authority. I believe that the Senate was right to make the decision not to confirm Magu because a security agency directly under the president’s authority has questioned the suitability of the nomination. This is not to say that they might not have ulterior motives for using the information provided by the DSS. The point, however, is that when there is disarray in the exercise of presidential powers, they have a responsibility to pause and question the process. I therefore have no problem with the decision that: “Based on available security report, the Senate cannot proceed with the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu as Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.”

What is interesting about the Magu affair is the content of the evidence provided in the security report, which was immediately leaked to the public. The first allegation was that Mr. Magu lives in a residence fraudulently rented for N40 million at N20 million per annum. This is surprising, as it is generally known that when people are given political appointments that are considered to require secure accommodation, it is the responsibility of the Federal Capital Development Administration to provide such official accommodation. It is therefore strange to accuse the resident of such accommodation for rents that had been paid by another government agency. A second allegation was that he flew on a first-class ticket to Saudi Arabia on Emirate Airlines to perform the lesser hajj. The allegation is that the cost of the ticket was N2.9m. What is surprising, however, is that there was no information whether it was a private or official visit. If the visit was private and Mr. Magu was paying for the ticket himself, there is nothing that says he cannot fly first class.

Nigeria’s security situation is very fragile and it is imperative that all security agencies work in concert and synergy for the return of peace and good governance. When they appear to work at cross-purposes, it is our security that suffers. President Muhammadu Buhari must re-assert his authority immediately by ensuring that all his subaltern appointees obey his directives and support his policies.

The most surprising allegations related to the difficult time Mr. Magu had following the removal of Nuhu Ribadu and the appointment of Farida Waziri as EFCC chairperson. The received wisdom was that Magu become a victim of political intrigues by politically exposed individuals that wanted to destroy the commitment of EFCC to prosecuting corrupt politicians. It was precisely because the assessment was made that Mr. Magu was sent out because he was doing his job well that might have convinced the president to bring him back and appoint him as Chairman. Once again, the message here is that the authority of the president to make the decision to appoint Magu is what his subordinates are questioning.

The legitimacy of President Mohammadu Buhari is based on the belief of Nigerians that he is deeply committed to the war against corruption. He searched for and appointed Mr. Magu because he believes that the choice will advance the struggle against corruption. What is clear is that a number of key officers in the Administration are bent on frustrating the anti-corruption war. The Senate has just revealed explosive information that indicts the Secretary to the Government of engaging in corrupt acts. The information is very damaging to the president because the alleged corruption involves money meant to help the starving population seeking to recover from the devastation imposed on them by the Boko Haram insurgency.

There have also been allegations against the Chief of Staff to the President that no one has responded to. The message to Nigerians is that those around the president are engaged in corruption and would not allow anyone to expose their acts. This is the fastest route to the dismantling of President Buhari as a leader committed to the struggle against corruption. If the president allows himself to lose his legitimacy, he cannot exercise his authority and that is what we are beginning to observe. The president appointed Magu to the EFCC in November 2015 and thirteen months later, he cannot get the appointment confirmed. Where is his authority?

Finally, there is growing evidence of intense inter-agency rivalry and conflicts within the security sector. Nigeria’s security situation is very fragile and it is imperative that all security agencies work in concert and synergy for the return of peace and good governance. When they appear to work at cross-purposes, it is our security that suffers. President Muhammadu Buhari must re-assert his authority immediately by ensuring that all his subaltern appointees obey his directives and support his policies.


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