There were indications on Sunday that the anti-corruption war being waged by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration may have suffered a major setback following revelation by Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), that he had neither met nor spoken with Ibrahim Umar, the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), since his appointment in July 2020.
PACAC was established in August 2015 with the mandate to promote the reform agenda of the government on the anti-corruption effort, and to advise the present administration in the prosecution of the war against corruption and the implementation of required reforms in Nigeria’s criminal justice system.
The committee enjoyed a harmonious working relationship with Ibrahim Magu, the former EFCC Acting Chairman and even recommended him for confirmation as substantive chairman of the commission on several occasions.
Even when Magu was rejected twice by the 8th Senate, Sagay had advised President Buhari not to replace him, saying he could serve as acting chairman indefinitely. Magu was later suspended by President Buhari and was replaced by Umar who, until his appointment, was the anti-corruption agency’s Head of Operations.
Speaking with Daily Independent, Sagay said he had neither met nor spoken with Umar since his appointment over seven months ago, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as a major barrier.
When asked about the relationship between his committee and the acting EFCC chairman since his appointment, Sagay said: “Unfortunately, his appointment coincided with the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. So, I have not been to Abuja for a year. So, I have not met the acting EFCC chairman and we have never spoken together.
“But we have made some arrangements; we arranged a programme with the heads of the various anti-corruption agencies to be present and we will have some discussion on how they should cooperate with each other and supply relevant information to each other and back up each other in any investigation or prosecution.
“We had arranged all that but unfortunately, COVID-19 made us postpone it. If we had made it virtual, it would not be as successful as when we are all together. So, because of that I have not met him.”
Also speaking on the request by the president asking the Senate to confirm Abdulrasheed Bawa as substantive chairman of the EFCC, Sagay said nobody could question the president’s decision to appoint whomever he desires to head the commission.
“If he has sent another name to the Senate for confirmation, the implication is that he has dropped Magu. On the claim by his lawyer that justice was not served in Magu’s case, that could be true”.
“The whole thing is under some cloud somehow. That is the way I see it. I am not even happy about the situation but, well, one has to accept things like that. The president has the prerogative to forward the name of whomever he desires. I don’t think that can be questioned. You can question his judgment but you cannot question his right to appoint whomever he desires to head the commission.”
However, speaking with our correspondent, some Nigerians believe all is not well with the anti-graft war, wondering how COVID-19 could have limited communication between the agencies involved in the fight against corruption.
Monday Ubani, former Second Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said given the importance of both bodies in the fight against corruption, the fact that Sagay and Umar had not communicated in the last seven months showed that something was fundamentally wrong.
“If COVID-19 makes physical contact impossible, we are now in an era where communication is being conducted through technology and there are so many devices now that one can use to get in touch with one another no matter where you are in the world.
“So, it is very strange that there has been no communication in the light of his role and the importance of his agency in the fight against corruption.
“If the acting EFCC chairman is not in touch with the man that heads the presidential advisory committee on corruption, then it is clearly obvious that something is fundamentally wrong.”
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said the situation has further confirmed its claim that there is a collapse of governance in the country.
Kola Ologbondiyan, the party’s National Publicity Secretary, said: “We have always maintained that governance has broken down under the APC. There is a total collapse of government with no one in charge. So, Prof. Sagay’s statement did not come to us as a surprise.”
Also speaking, Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, said Nigerians would be deceiving themselves to believe that the anti-corruption war was being fought by the present administration.
Yinka Odumakin, the organisation’s National Publicity Secretary, said the anti-corruption war had collapsed totally.
“It is clear that the anti-corruption war has collapsed totally. There is nothing going on called anti-corruption war, it is just deception. No wonder, they have just picked someone that is allegedly facing a theft charge as the new chairman of the EFCC. We will be deceiving ourselves if we believe that there is any serious anti-corruption war going on in this administration.”