by Gbenga Omotoso
A visit to the barber’s place is always exciting nowadays. The gossip, the jokes, the commentaries- on soccer, politics, medicine, law and, indeed, every subject under the sun, including cosmology – by conceited experts parading doubtful credentials.
This scorching afternoon there is an urgent matter of state, as a young fellow with a scary grin put it. The barber, a short man with a sturdy physique undermined by a bulgy tummy, takes his hand off the clippers to listen to the young man.
“This Magu matter is really getting interesting. Why will senators find him unfit for the EFCC job, which he has done with so much passion, getting more kudos than knocks? They claim to be acting on a security report,” he says in a mournful tone.
The reaction is electric – sharp and immediate. It is like emptying a bowl of dry maize before chickens. A row breaks out. A crossfire of arguments. A big scramble to be heard. In no time, the ever-busy shop becomes a scene of a hot debate between two sides – one for Magu and the other against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) acting chair.
An elderly man engrossed in a game of draught suddenly looks up to join the discussion. The fire-fight takes a break. All is quiet. “You see, the Senate’s action should be put in the right perspective,” the man begins in a voice tinged with the magisterial calmness of a judge. All is quiet.
“You see, these are complex matters. We need to understand the contest and the context of it all. Magu, since he mounted the saddle, has turned himself into a strange kind of magun that has been troubling those who see Nigeria as a mugun who must be exploited to death. That is why you have this elite magomago of rejection and all that drama.”
“Sir, you have turned it all into some esoteric matter. We are confused. You may wish to come down to our level,” says the young man, his face squeezed betraying his ignorance.
The old man adjusts his thick, black jacket, his chest displaying what obviously used to be a white t-shirt, which has seen better days. From the inner pocket, he whips out a small bottle of a particular drink, opens the cover and turns the contents into his mouth. The smell of gin fills the air. He shakes his head violently and coughs repeatedly. “Hmmm! Hmmm!!. He clears his throat.
“Pardon that short distraction. You see, these are also spiritual matters and to deal with them adequately, you must be in the spirit. In Yoruba , there is a juju called magun. Loosely translated, magun is ‘do not climb’. When a man suspects his woman of infidelity, he sets the juju against any man who may attempt to see her in the other room (apology to the eminent originators of that elegant phrase). The strange man falls down, kicking his legs and punching the air in a desperate battle to survive the lethal duel with his invisible opponent. He foams from the mouth. If the woman fails to raise the alarm for elders to rush down there, the man may die.
“The young man Magu, firm and stubborn, has hit some senators and they are foaming in the mouth like magun victims. Can’t you see the conspiracy, the magomago in the botched exercise? I understand that about 15 per cent of the senators are being investigated by the EFCC. Why won’t they join any other organisation to stop Magu? You think they are muguns (fools, blockheads)?”
“You see, when Magu hits you, you confess all; you vomit some of your loot and if you’re the obdurate type, you face the law.”
“But, sir, could the Senate have ignored those allegations against Magu? The N40m apartment, flying in somebody’s jet and keeping documents at home and others.”
My business done, I leave the barber shop. What will be Magu’s fate? Will he ever get the opportunity to defend his integrity? Let us agree that the Department of State Services (DSS) is reliable; are its allegations against Magu as solid as its integrity? Will President Muhammadu Buhari seek a second opinion on this matter? Will he stand by Magu? Is Magu getting a taste of his own medicine – as some have suggested?
There have been many suggestions about the future of the EFCC? Many names have come up on the list of those being touted as likely successors. I do not think that we should see this as a problem at all.
Why don’t we just draft in a distinguished senator? Such a candidate will not need any screening. He will just be asked to take a bow and go ahead to take his job. That way we would have been saved the horror of celebrating screening a security report that makes no room for its subject to defend himself.
With a senator in charge at the agency, there will be peace and harmony in the land. Our politicians and their allies in the corporate world will no longer don the garb of anxiety as they go about their legitimate businesses. The wealthy, among who are distinguished senators are privileged to be counted, will be free to spend their hard-earned cash, which those who will never understand how these things work, will continue to refer scornfully to as loot. Did they carry any gun or dynamite to tear down the treasury?
The Executive will no longer worry about those frivolities that we see as essential elements of governance. Newspapers will no longer report arrests of prominent citizens and salaciously sleazy stories. In other words, there will no longer be media trials of our best, big and bright men, many of whom have been hauled before the courts just because they have had the chance to serve us. We will not have to spend scarce foreign exchange on handcuffs. There will be few litigations and we will not need to explain the difference between prosecution and persecution and stealing and corruption.
The cash pumped into investigation and awareness campaigns will be saved for other matters of national importance, such as the revival of the cassava bread project that held so much promise until it got to the point of delivery. Even at the Presidential Villa where it made its tasty debut, the loaf has been shoved off the breakfast table.
Pardon the slight diversion. I return to the matter of the battle for EFCC chair.
What is more, with a senator in charge, it will be easier for the EFCC Act to be amended so that all those powers can be re-examined to give the organization a human face.
Those fellows who are impervious to change – and reason – and for whom obstinacy has become an incurable disease may want to recall that a former senator once spoke of how he surveyed the huge chamber, shook his head and said it was filled up with people he had either arrested or locked up for one crime or the other. So what? That was an old Senate; this is the Eighth Senate.
Besides, they may claim that corruption is fighting back. How? Isn’t that a cliché? And if it is fighting back, is that not to be expected? Aren’t some of our compatriots already singing “bring back our corruption”, comparing what they describe as good old days of abundance and these days of recession?”
If a senator heads the EFCC, he will at least ask the authorities who the landlords of his apartment are, even if the government procured the facility. How much rent was paid? How much did the furnishing, including the door mat, cost? Is it local or imported? Who made the furniture? What of the kitchen utensils? The cutlery? The dishes? Are they imported ? Were they procured, purchased or obtained or bought? Who got the contract? Or was it direct labour? Of what fabric are the window blinds made? Imported ? Local?
Being conversant with the law and its workings, a distinguished senator will ask all these questions – and more – so as not to be a liability to the war against corruption when he gets this all-important job.
Some names have come up as being tipped for the job. Commissioner of Police Zakari Biu (retd.). Remember Biu – the scourge of many a journalist and activists, who the late Gen. Sani Abacha (of fearful memory), used to scourge his regime’s opponents, including members of NADECO? Biu,the one who retired into obscurity after getting into trouble when Boko Haram kingpin Kabiru Sokoto escaped from custody; remember him? There are also Comptroller-General of Customs Hamid Ali, a retired Colonel, Assistant Inspector-General (AIG) Amodu Ali (retd.) and pioneer EFCC Chair Nuhu Ribadu.
As if to join the race and prove bookmakers right, just three days after Magu’s rejection by the Senate, a senator stepped up his own self-imposed anti- corruption war. He issued a two-page advertorial in national newspapers, urging the citizenry to support Buhari to win the war.
And those fellows who will never believe in change, let alone give anybody a chance, began to gossip, grinning from ear to ear and whispering: “Is Buruji Kashamu also among the warriors?”
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Gbenga Omotoso/The Nation