In what appears to be at odds with the current administration’s sworn mandate to tackle corruption, it has been 123 days since Bashir Magashi, Nigeria’s current defence minister, was exposed as having been indicted for stealing and shipping abroad about $550,000 from the nation’s treasury. Yet, President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to take action on the indictment.
PREMIUM TIMES on August 28 exclusively revealed how Mr Magashi, a retired major-general, while in service, got a slash from the infamous ‘Abacha Loot,’ estimated by Transparency International to be at least $5 billion, out of which $3 billion has been recovered.
At the time, a presidency official, who asked not to be named because he has no permission to grant media interviews, said, “I can tell you that there is no way the president would have ignored that kind of matter to appoint him if he were made aware.”
But 123 days after, the president still ignores the findings in the report. Spokesperson Garba Shehu did not answer or return multiple calls and text messages sent to him over two days on why the president has not taken a stance on the allegations.
For failing to detect Mr Magashi’s corrupt past before confirming him, it means the State Security Service, an institution entrusted with the responsibility of vetting appointees to top government positions, was found wanting again on its mandate.
Also, it shows that the Nigerian Senate, which holds confirmation hearings for ministerial nominees, did a shoddy job again in its ministerial confirmation process.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the ministerial screening that confirmed Mr Magashi a minister was characterized by a “bow-and-go” syndrome where critical questions were not asked.
His clearance was not, however, the first time a minister who has a controversial past would be cleared.
Both the SSS and Senate had failed in 2015 to detect that the NYSC certificate presented by former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, was fake.
President Muhammadu Buhari
The continuous silence of the Mr Buhari on the indictment against Mr Magashi adds the former to a list of public officials in the latter’s administration whose corruption allegations have been met with presidential silence.
The Buhari administration received a lot of criticisms for its treatment of corruption allegations levelled against the current Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, and the former Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau.
Following an investigation launched by the then president, Olusegun Obasanjo, proceeds of illegal crude oil worth about $550,000 from the Abacha booty was traced to Mr Magashi. The money was stashed at the Jessey, UK, branch of Bank PNP Paribas.
With clear evidence of guilt laid bare before him, Mr Magashi admitted wrongdoing, saying the money was a proceed of illegal crude oil allocation Mr Abacha made to members of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) under his government. He pleaded with authorities and pledged to forfeit two-third of his loot.
Having won the authority’s empathy, as a reprimand, he was immediately asked to return $400,000 of the $550,000 (equivalent of ₦200 million today) traced to his offshore account, and left to keep the rest to himself, PREMIUM TIMES found.
Mr Magashi, 74, between 1990–1992 was a military governor of Sokoto State, before he was appointed the commander of the strategic Brigade of Guards in September 1993 ahead of Sani Abacha’s coup in November of that year.
After Mr Abacha died in 1998, he was appointed commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy.
He held this position till 1999 when the Olusegun Obasanjo administration compulsorily retired all military officers who had served for six or more months in government, a category which he belonged.
Little was heard of him after retirement other than his shots at partisan political bids during which he ran for governorship in his home Kano State.
This year, nonetheless, President Muhammadu Buhari returned Mr Magashi to the limelight, handing him a ministerial position in one of the nation’s most powerful ministry, defence.