Some Nigerian lawyers have reacted to the rejection by the Senate for the second time of the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as the substantive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The Senate hinged its decision on Wednesday on a letter by the State Security Service, SSS, which reaffirmed its earlier position that Mr. Magu lacks the integrity to lead the anti-corruption agency.
Lawyers accuse the presidency of having a hand in the impasse.
They said although President Muhammadu Buhari has the prerogative to re-nominate the same person again, he has a duty to first put his house in order.
Last December, the Senate through its spokesperson, Abdullahi Sabi, announced that Mr. Magu’s nomination for the EFCC leadership by President Buhari had been rejected “based on available security report”.
Lagos-based lawyer and rights activist, Femi Falana, said that the Senate has performed its constitutional duty on the matter.
“It is left for the president either to represent the nomination or to ask him to continue in acting capacity by invoking his own power under section 171 of the Nigerian Constitution or appoint another person so that this matter does not in any way distract the anti-corruption crusade.
“It’s not the first time that names are being rejected. Under Obasanjo, a ministerial nomination was rejected and was re-presented two or three times.
“But when you look at the entire scenario, I am of the strong view that the government clearly played into the hands of the Senate. The government didn’t handle the matter in a matured manner, apparently. This is the first time in the history of our country that the nomination of the presidency is being shot down by an arm of the presidency.
“It is the height of ridicule of the office of the president,” Mr. Falana said.
Similarly, Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, said there is no provision in law that says the Senate cannot refuse to confirm a presidential nominee.
“This particular refusal is predicated on a so-called security report that says that the nominee does not have integrity. So the questions is; what will the president do? Is the SSS not part of the presidency?” Mr. Ogunye queried.
“The report actually emanated from the presidency. Go and check the budget, the SSS budget is passed as part of the budget of the presidency. That is how it is categorised. In actual fact and by law, the SSS is constituted basically in terms of leadership by the presidency.
“So if you have a president nominating a candidate to head the EFCC with one hand and with another hand saying that the same candidate doesn’t have integrity, what do they now want Nigerians to do?
“This is the worst dysfunction I have seen in any government in decades in Nigeria. There is no coherence, things are like in a state of flux. On what basis was the presentation made if the president has not put his house in order? They are just subjecting governance and government protocols to ridicule. If I am to be the president of the country, I would be ashamed of myself,” Mr. Ogunye said.
Another lawyer, Nzube Akunne, stated, “With a clear look at the Constitution, section 154 and section 2 of the EFCC Act, it is crystal clear that the president can only appoint on the confirmation of the Senate.
“In line with the foregoing, I’m of the candid opinion that upon rejection of the person nominated by the president for the position of the Chairman of EFCC, the president cannot appoint but shall only nominate the person again and again.
“This only shows the lacuna in our laws, of which in this case, the only institution that can step in to resolve same is the court to determine whether the confirmation by the Senate was unjustly withheld, pending when the lacuna is filled up by a legislation.
“The president can also keep the person in acting capacity whilst he continues to nominate him as the Senate continues to reject him.”
Mr. Akunne however stressed that in such a case where there are issues of integrity on the part of a presidential nomination, it is unwarranted for the president to be insisting that someone of questionable integrity be confirmed as the EFCC chief.
EFCC chairperson is appointed for a four-year renewable term.
Mr. Magu has held the office in acting capacity since November 2015 when Ibrahim Lamorde was sacked.
The presidency made the request for Mr. Magu’s confirmation for the first time in July 2016 through a letter signed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in his capacity as acting president when Mr. Buhari traveled abroad for medical treatment.
But it was after one month of seeking the confirmation – and after eight months of holding the office in acting capacity – that the presidency sought security vetting for Mr. Magu.
By standard practice, nominees of the president get security clearance before their names are sent to the National Assembly for confirmation.
Since Mr. Magu’s nomination did not come with security clearance, the Senate, whose members, including its president, Bukola Saraki, have at different times been investigated by Mr. Magu, approached the SSS for security vetting.
Mr. Magu was rejected in December by the Senate but was re-presented by the Presidency in January.