By the time the acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, first claimed that the deadly coronavirus disease was caused by corruption, I had long concluded that his dimness was genuine. In 2018, Channels TV host, Maupe Ogun-Yusuf, asked him during an interview about building formidable structures to institutionalize his agency’s supposed fight against corruption. Magu responded by talking about a N24bn building the agency was about to inaugurate. After a few stunned moments passed and I realized he was not being frivolous, it dawned on me that he was a dingbat!
How did it happen that someone so lacking in elemental knowledge superintends the anti-corruption initiative in Nigeria? Until the comment on “technicalities” by Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed, I did not imagine anyone in public administration could be that dim-witted. It should be a thing of wonder that a single administration like this present regime managed to headhunt, appoint, and retain people who have such a moronic grasp of their jobs. But no, all of that idiocy is pretty consistent with the character of the government that hired them.
Last month, at the passing out parade of 281 cadets of the EFCC Detective Inspector Course-5 that took place at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, Magu was quoted to have said, “Corruption is the biggest strategy to humankind. Your Excellency, corruption is worse than all the diseases now running about. And I strongly believe, Your Excellency, that even the coronavirus is caused by corruption.”
According to media reports, the president, the President, Maj. Gen Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) was in the audience and even applauded Magu. For Magu to have confidently stood before the president, his boss, and utter that nonsense, he knew that Buhari was not anymore intelligent, has no expectations of Magu’s aptitude, and no idea is so stupid that it cannot be passed off with Buhari as long as you blame it on “corruption.” I should pause to observe that one of the many ways that the Buhari’s overdetermining persona in public affairs has played out is this pervasive faux morality. Clueless public officials blame symptoms of their ignorance and incompetence on corruption. Magu, seeing Buhari in the audience, also pandered to that reigning sensibility.
After the initial denial by his embarrassed spin doctors at the EFCC that he never linked coronavirus to corruption Magu, recently, doubled down on his assertion. By the time I watched the second video of him still unintelligently linking coronavirus and corruption, I arrived at a second conclusion: Magu has no plans—from now to the unforeseeable future—to sharpen himself. And there is the real trouble with him: he did not get his job on merit, he knows his assessment for his continued fit for that office is not based on superior achievements, and therefore he has no motivation whatsoever to improve his intellect.
Please note that in that quote ascribed to Magu, he said he “strongly believe(d)” that even coronavirus was caused by corruption. It is troubling that the chair of an agency whose task is premised on the empiricism of investigation, evidence collection, rational analysis, indisputable facts, and provability of their allegations is talking about what he “strongly believes.” That attitude, the premising of your gut feelings over what might be objectively true, calls into question the judgment with which he approaches crimes as anti-corruption Czar.
Magu’s statement on coronavirus might not have been surprising, but it is still just as shameful. According to the media reports that told on him, Magu has also previously described cancer disease and resuming at work late as “corruption.” For someone who holds a prominent public position, he seems to lack any mindfulness of the gravitas of his public pronouncements. No, let me take that back. It is not that he is entirely unaware of his shortcomings; his banalization of corruption by relating it to unfortunate circumstances, in fact, shows how desperately he is trying to transcend the emptiness of his mind. He wants to make a profound and definitive statement on corruption, but there is not much in the part of his head that connects with his mouth.
If the spread of coronavirus can be blamed on corruption, to what does he attribute other pandemics that have been recorded in human history? Does Magu even think the current pandemic of coronavirus is novel as far as history is concerned? Has he ever heard of the bubonic plague, influenza, Ebola, smallpox, HIV, SARS, swine flu, Lassa fever, Zika virus? Did corruption cause all of them too? Does he know how many diseases modern medicine has pushed into a permanent recession? When those pestilences were overcome by brilliant science, was it corruption that was defeated? Why be unserious? Magu should know that for someone like him who holds a public position that is calibrated on trust—faith in a literate and thoughtful leader who can be counted on most of the time to do what is best because they have worked hard at knowing what is best—he ought not to be seen peddling silly conspiracy theories. Why make unsubstantiated claims about the origin of the coronavirus when trained scientists remain undecided on how the epidemic got triggered?
All of that said, I still cannot but wonder how come Magu does not sense the weight of his office resting on his limited knowledge and feel compelled to self-improvement? If fate has thrust you into a significant position like the chair of the EFCC, even when you do not have the mental resources to match up to it, you can at least strive towards self-development. Magu’s rather tepid speech about corruption suggests that he is not only defective, he is also surrounded by mediocre speech writers who operate on the same wavelength of intellection as he does and will not risk self-improvement lest they outshine their boss.
For Magu to link coronavirus with corruption, it suggests he either does not read at all or, he reads the wrong things for a man occupying his position. He probably woke up that morning, read some forwarded messages on WhatsApp linking coronavirus to deliberate human mischief, and that was how he formed his strong belief. Like other public officials that work with the Buhari administration and similarly use corruption as a virtue-signaling tactic, Magu tenuously reconciled an ongoing global pandemic with what rings in his head all day. It is an idolatrous pander to the reductionist manner Buhari’s regime views corruption, and it failed because they have cliched corruption to death. There are gazillion books on corruption out there for him to read and understand what corruption is, not only within the local Nigerian milieu but as a global phenomenon. Nothing about Magu’s rant demonstrates that he has ever cared to develop an abstract understanding of corruption.
When you occupy a sensitive position such as Magu does, you should at least train yourself to sound intelligent and competent. You should be able to speak confidently on issues from a place of knowledge. When you talk about you “strongly believe,” your opinion on that issue should come across as informed. You ought not to be clawing to connect disparate phenomenon of epidemic outbreak and corruption in the fraught bid to appear up to date on global issues. If at all you have to make a connection between corruption and contagion, it should be well-thought out not contrived and so unconvincing to even yourself. If his claim on coronavirus was not a scandal, why did the EFCC deny it on his behalf? First, they issued a statement to deny he ever said it only for him to turn around and insist on it. For someone who sees corruption in and every phenomenon, is that plain act of dishonesty itself not part of “corruption”?