Attorney General Abubakar Malami and Acting EFCC Chairman Ibrahim Magu have endured a frosty relationship for a while now.
The frosty relationship between the pair has been there for a while.
Both men have clashed publicly over how best to dispense President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-graft agenda from their respective offices.
Fighting corruption is a major plank of the Buhari administration and the office of the AGF and that of the EFCC are critical to the president's dream of achieving that campaign objective.
In July 2017, Special Assistant to the President on Prosecutions, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, let the rest of the nation into the in-fighting between Malami and Magu.
Magu’s EFCC is under Malami’s purview.
The AGF also constitutionally supervises the activities of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Department of State Services (DSS), National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), and the Nigeria Police Force (NPF).
When Obono-Obla went on the record to accuse the EFCC of poor prosecution of corruption cases, it became evident that between Magu and Malami, the center was beginning to give way.
Obono-Obla works from the office of the AGF.
Poor prosecution by the EFCC, Obono-Obla said, was a major reason why high profile persons standing trial for allegedly stealing Nigeria blind, were not being convicted.
The Buhari administration is yet to score a high profile conviction since it commenced its all out war against corruption in May of 2015.
Analysts have often adduced a lack of diligent prosecution for the failures.
Obono-Obla also said the EFCC isn’t cooperating with the Attorney General’s office when it comes to prosecuting corruption cases.
“Although the Attorney General of the Federation has the power under both the constitution and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 to make a request of any case file that is pending either with the police, the ICPC, the EFCC or any of the prosecuting agencies, we met a brick wall when we requested the files of the high-profile cases of former Governors from the EFCC and the ICPC”, Obono-Obla said in July.
“They don’t cooperate with us. We cannot use a whip to start beating them, but I expect that the rules of public service require that if letters are written by the office of the AGF, those letters should be honoured.
“They (EFCC, ICPC) don’t want to work with the office of the AGF”, Obono-Obla further lamented.
Stopping short of throwing up his hands in resignation, Obono-Obla concluded: “We’ll keep on making the request so that at the end of the day, anybody, who accuses the office of the AGF as being responsible for the delay in the prosecution of criminal cases, then we present our evidence.”
The rift between Malami and Magu has been there before Obono-Obla’s outburst.
A week before, the Senate and the office of the AGF took turns to blame EFCC boss Magu for the suspension of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from the Egmont Group.
The Egmont Group is a body of Financial Intelligence units whose members compare notes on matters relating to international finance and illicit flow of monies.
The NFIU currently operates as a department under the EFCC, even though the Senate and Malami would prefer that NFIU operates independently.
Malami accused the EFCC of “manipulating and misusing intelligence to the detriment of the fight against corruption and financial crimes in Nigeria.”
Malami added that: “The EFCC is now in a state of paranoia, as it dreads the effort of the government to have an independent NFIU, which it has stood against stoically since 2006.
“As it presently stands, the NFIU staff are all deployed by the EFCC to serve in the interest of whoever is its current Chairman.
“This has to stop if it must conform to the new thinking and global best practice. Nigeria cannot be an island of its own. It cannot fight corruption in isolation.
“The threat of expulsion from the Egmont Group calls for a thorough review of the NFIU .
“To achieve the desired goal, NFIU needs to stand alone as an agency with full complements of power to recruit its staff and an annual budgetary allocation guaranteed for its operations.
“Its independence must be ascertained in the new law to set up Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency (NFIA) to enable it carry out its mandate, which shall include responsibilities for receiving, requesting, analysing and disseminating financial intelligence reports on money laundering, terrorist financing and other relevant information to law enforcement, security and intelligence agencies, and other relevant authorities.”
On Tuesday, August 29, 2017, Minister of information and culture, Lai Mohammed, admitted on a ChannelsTV breakfast program that Malami and Magu haven’t been the best of buddies in the last couple of weeks.
Mohammed also said President Buhari is aware of the rift and has duly intervened.
“People may have different ideas, but this is not unusual, and I can assure you that the matter will soon be brought under control”, Mohammed promised.
Mohammed also added that “there’s nothing unusual for two agencies of the same government to have different means on how to achieve a goal. But it is a matter that will be resolved".
Asked if Buhari was in the know of the face-off between Malami and Magu, Mohammed said: “Yes, he is aware. He is the employer of the two of them. The president would look into the matter and of course pronounce on the issue. The EFCC Chairman, why would he take the position that he is taking? The AGF, why would he take the line that he is taking?”
On August 29, 2017, AGF Malami said shallow investigations and suspension from the Egmont Group were two reasons why his relationship with Magu tanked.
To deal with the twin problems of poor investigation and prosecution by the EFCC, AGF Malami established a new unit in the Ministry of Justice which he said “will henceforth coordinate and form part of every investigation in Nigeria”.
Malami said there is an apparent lack of “legal expertise in the conduct and process of investigations by the various security agencies in Nigeria.
“Consequent upon want of expertise in the conduct and process of investigations by various security agencies in Nigeria and the need to address such anomalies leading to consistent rejection of vital/ relevant evidence in the course of prosecution and or the writing down of the probative value of such evidence owing to inappropriate investigation;
"My office as a result, and in line with the constitutional powers conferred on me as the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and by virtue of section 105(1) and (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, hereby deems it fit to establish an Investigation Unit within the ministry.
“This unit shall coordinate and form part of every investigation in Nigeria for robust investigation and successful prosecution of such cases.”
Acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, wasn’t immediately available for comments before press time.
EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren also didn’t immediately respond to requests for comments for this story.
The Senate has twice turned down requests from the presidency to confirm Magu as substantive EFCC Chairman.
It is not the first time members of the Buhari administration will be belting out tunes from different hymn sheets.
In May of 2017, Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama and Senior Special Assistant on Foreign, Diaspora Affairs to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, got locked in a supremacy battle over a travel advisory issued by the United States.
Magu's EFCC has also been at loggerheads with the DSS.
DSS Director General Lawal Daura has authored reports which were dispatched to the national assembly, indicting Magu of corruption and living above his means.
During Buhari's 103-day medical vacation, Ita-Enang who is Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters, contradicted the office of the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, on the signing of the budget document.
Administration spokespersons like Garba Shehu have also issued conflicting statements in the past against official grain.