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July 8, 2020

NIGERIA: Anti-corruption czar suspended amid ruling party power tussle

BY Malte Liewerscheidt

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On 7 July, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the suspension of Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), amidst allegations of gross misconduct. Since accusations of corrupt practices already surrounded Magu when he was appointed in 2016, the timing of yesterday’s suspension suggests that political motives are at play. In fact, the suspension likely forms part of the ruling party’s internal battle over the 2023 presidential nomination and could mean another severe blow for the ambitions of its Lagos-based strongman Bola Tinubu.

The EFCC is an anti-corruption unit reporting straight to the president. Set up under then-president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003, the unit is notorious for targeting political enemies of the president for alleged corrupt practices. In 2016, Magu had been nominated by Buhari to head the EFCC. However, to this day, he had been leading the agency ad interim as the Senate had rejected his nomination twice on the basis of a dossier put together by the State Security Service (SSS), which implicated Magu in corrupt practices.

His suspension is officially based on more recent accusations according to which Magu sold recovered assets to associates. However, following the recent escalation of the infighting within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), it seems more likely that Magu fell from grace for ignoring several petitions to investigate Tinubu and his associates – one of which, ironically, concerned two bullion vans spotted in his Lagos residence on the eve of the 2019 election, presumably stuffed with cash to be disbursed among voters to secure Buhari’s re-election.

This would suggest that the APC’s northern camp – though internally divided – is stepping up its game to deny the south-western power-broker Tinubu the 2023 presidential ticket. In fact, Tinubu is already in a tight spot as the importance of the south-west as a vote bank has shrunk both in absolute and relative terms in 2019. The APC lost nearly 400,000 votes in the south-west compared to 2015 but managed to expand its foothold in traditional opposition strongholds across the south-south and the south-east geopolitical regions. If the EFCC, under a new chairman, decided to go after Tinubu and freeze his assets, this would deprive him of his remaining leverage. Under such a scenario, Tinubu would be finished politically, as it would close off the – already unlikely – scenario of him ‘decamping’ to the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

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