The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Monday, arrested Nigeria’s Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris. The EFCC has accused Idris of defrauding the nation to the tune of 80 billion Naira. An EFCC statement said its “verified intelligence showed that the AGF raked off the funds through bogus consultancies and other illegal activities, using proxies, family members and close associates.” Idris is said to have failed to honour an invitation extended to him by the anti-graft agency.
As usual, a cross section of Nigerians have been reacting to the news. They are lamenting what motivates Nigerian public officials to embezzle such mind-freezing amounts of money from the public purse. Others, in an attempt to breakdown the sheer size of 80 billion Naira, have shown that at the rate of over 2 million Naira a day, one would need 100 years to be able to spend the money Ahmed Idris is reported to have diverted.
Sad as this discovery is, especially at a time of choking economic reality, it is not the first nor will it be the last. There seems to be an unwritten code of magu-magu to which the majority of Nigerian public officeholders subscribe. It seems to be a code that urges them to steal as much as they can whenever they get the chance. This institutionalised stealing is why Nigeria cannot keep her students in school due to perennial strikes by academic staff unions. It is why the economy is on its belly and there is escalating poverty, illiteracy and unrest nationwide.
Yet, officials like Ahmed Idris do not care. As far as they are concerned, public office is their chance to escape poverty – to attempt to lift entire treasuries – and store up for themselves and families inexhaustible wealth. The grand plan is often to loot Nigeria dry, then jet out of the country and build a home in countries whose officials invest in genuine nation-building. Idris and his magu-magu colleagues know that magu-magu is anti-development – that there is no future for a country whose officials’ area of competence is stealing.
Magu-magu is an informal Nigerian adjective that describes dishonest, shadowy conduct especially having to do with money. Curiously, the nation once had an EFCC chairman named Magu, who, probably living up to this meaning, was allegedly hunting with the dogs and running with the rabbits simultaneously. He was arrested by his own parent agency, the police, and a presidential panel set up to investigate him which turned in its findings to the president. The report now rests beautifully in the presidential archives, with Magu himself getting promoted only a few days ago. This is why the magu-magu continues.
Ahmed Idris belongs to this administration. He knows it to be a magu-magu government running a magu-magu country. He knows that after the initial gara-gara and the noise, nothing will happen. There will soon be a scandal bigger than his own, and any report produced on his case will simply join that of Ibrahim Magu on the shelf. No shaking. It is a system of unmitigated corruption, unrestrained lawlessness and subsidized impunity.
Another clever official of the administration was, until a few days ago, trying to remain the Central Bank Governor and still become a presidential aspirant. When outrage greeted his outing, he went to court to seek “interpretation.” Never mind that the conflict of interest is too obvious to be ignored. With magu-magu in place, the nation’s purse can conveniently fuse with that of his campaign organization or political party and no one will know. And if they know, nothing will happen.
The summary is that Nigeria is very far from starting the journey to genuine nationbuilding, in things that have to do with how to spend money, just as in those that have to do with how to live together in peace. It is an entangled mess that will take decades of meticulous, energy-draining efforts to clean. Sadly, the process has not even started and the required leadership is not available. For now, magu-magu remains the code, and those who know magu-magu, like Ahmed Idris, are strong and doing exploits.