In this interview, the Executive Chairman of the Campaign Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, discusses its campaign against the immediate former governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola and other issues
There are allegations that CACOL is being sponsored by some people to attack former Governor Babatunde Fashola for political reasons. By who?
CACOL definitely is being sponsored but the question is who is sponsoring CACOL? We have members; we have those who are committed to the cause of CACOL. Our members finance their way to any public function of CACOL. If you’re a member, you’re not expected to take anything from CACOL for whatever reason. And it is not compulsory for you to participate in all our programmes. You participate in programmes that you know you can sponsor yourself to and from. If we are going outside Lagos, for instance, you must be prepared to contribute your own transport fare, feed and take care of your own accommodation. Each time we protest in places like Abuja or Port Harcourt, we use our members on the ground more. Those who can come from other parts of the country do that on their own. We have slept at motor parks in Abuja; we have slept in the NLC House. Even when the hall was not open, we slept at the lobby. My daughter and I have slept in front of Banex Plaza till daybreak before when we couldn’t reach one of our members who had promised to provide accommodation for us on the telephone. We sat down in front of the Plaza and were there till day break. Some of our colleagues have slept at the reception hall of the secretariat of the National Conscience Party before. So this just symbolizes how we run our programmes.
What do we buy with money that somebody needs to give us? We have intellectuals among us who put our statements together. We have those who do our leg work. Before okada was banned in Lagos, we had several riders who were ready to disperse our letters with minimum amount. Sometimes we gave them a minimum amount of money just to buy fuel. Since okada has gone out of fashion, we have reverted to the use of internet facilities and text messages. So basically, we don’t spend much. And we don’t have staffers in our secretariat. The secretariat is the headquarters of First Faculty Ventures, a consultancy firm that consults on organisational development and capacity building. It does educational consultancy, publishes books and deals in allied products. It is this firm that houses CACOL and other similar CSOs. First Faculty Ventures are the holder of the tenement we use. That is why we could look at anybody, eyeball to eyeball and say who are you? There is nobody we cannot call their bluff in this country, starting from former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
CACOL officially started on May 29, 2007, the day we carried Obasanjo’s regime coffin, calling it the end of administration of death. All along Nigerians cried for the kind of difficulty they experienced in living and doing business in that regime. So when he left, we said we would not allow any government to rule us by the nose the way Obasanjo did again.
But people wonder why is CACOL raising all these allegations about Fashola now?
I can also throw the question back at you and ask why wait till now before asking that question. We have started since 2009; as a matter of fact, we have started since 2007, because we actually campaigned against Fashola’s emergence as Governor of Lagos State. It is just that we didn’t go to the podium to do the campaign. We told anybody who cared to listen to us that Fashola might not be the governor Lagos State needed. It was not because of his political leanings or whatever but because of his capacity to snub members of the public which we experienced when he was Chief of Staff to his predecessor, Bola Tinubu. We noticed his snobbishness a couple of times when our mentor, Beko Ransome Kuti had to see the Chief of Staff to get an appointment with the governor. That appointment was never given. At the time, we wanted to complain to the governor about some things happening in the state but he shut us out. We let it go and we didn’t have any encounter with him till he became the governor and started behaving like he was the one who constituted the people. We complained about him to some people but they pleaded for time that we should give him some time to settle down. And when he started planting flowers, we had the opportunity of addressing a gathering at a function attended by government functionaries. After praising the government for its efforts to immortalise people like Gani Fawehinmi, we raised the question- at what cost? We also asked him to do more immortalise people like Beko,Alao Aka-Bashorun, the late Awojobi. But they didn’t like it when we asked at what cost? Later, around January 2010, the True Face of Lagos came out with damning allegations about how Fashola had been misappropriating Lagos State funds. It claimed that contracts that had been earlier awarded were re-awarded at inflated prices, immorally. That there were contracts that had been awarded to Deux, owned by Owolafe, through which money was allegedly being siphoned out of Lagos State coffers. We published an advert complaining about this on the PM News, which was the newspaper we could afford to run the advert on. That was in 2010 and there was no response from any quarters. All the damning allegations raised by the True Face of Lagos advertorial were also summarised in our advert but nobody came out to counteract what we published. We didn’t stop there. So I’m telling you that our agitations for accountability in Lagos State didn’t start now. It only climaxed now.
So when people talk about being sponsored because they are trying to stop him from becoming a minister, I have told you that this is not the first time we would campaign against the gentleman. Even for him to become the Lagos State Governor in the first instance, we protested against it. We also protested against his coming back for a second term in office but our protest didn’t hold water. In the wisdom of Lagosians, they thought that Fashola was the best person to be their governor. But that the majority has their way doesn’t stop the minority from having their say. We keep on having our say. We believed in the maxim espoused by the late legal luminary, Gani Fawehinmi, that says: ‘stand on what is right, even if you are standing alone’. We were wondering if the Lagos public didn’t see what we saw. We went round to confirm the claims made by the True Face of Lagos and saw that several of the projects it named had not been executed to the level that it could serve Lagosians. We thought that we could be wrong, so we put a conference together, called open parliament in 2010. We brought in five representatives from each of the then 20 local governments. The representatives from 19 of them made it but the others missed their way to the venue. They gave testimonies of government presence in their various local governments; it was tales of woes. This was in 2010. We thought maybe they were being sentimental and looked at issues from our own lenses, so we administered questionnaires in the hall. It was the same. About 75 per cent were dissatisfied with the way Lagos State was being run, particularly when it came to the capital side of the budget. We were not satisfied, so we took the questionnaires to the local governments- about 2,000 for each of them. We still have raw scores which we can show to you if you like. It was the same result. We monitored radio stations, television stations, newspapers and the internet; everything didn’t say the gentleman was governing Lagos right. Then we were wondered where the accolade for him came from? We realised that Lagos State money was not being spent on Lagos. We summarised everything in the books we put together. We did everything and included photographs of dilapidated schools, roads and terrible state of BRT buses in the state. All these buses are bad already and what they promised was that no passenger would stay at the bus stop for more than 15 minutes but by the time we published the books, passengers were already waiting at the bus stops for over one hour. And the BRT lanes had become death traps and the scheme’s drivers had no choice than to join other motorists on the roads, compounding the traffic situation. If you look around, you will discover that most Lagos roads are in a bad shape. Instead of resurfacing them, they only patch them up. And the drainages are too shallow and narrow for the state, which means serious flooding. And the former governor (Fashola) was fond of saying that they were flash floods. But if flash floods are occurring annually and consuming lives and property, then it behooves on the government to fix the problem. Go to Ikeja, Wempco/Ogba, around 1004, Awolowo Road, Ikeja, Shogunle, Herbert Macauley, Yaba, they are always flooded when it rains. And the flooding didn’t start yesterday; the situation has been like that for a long time.
Government has said several times that some parts of the state are below sea level and that the attitude of some residents also contributes to the problem.
It is just an excuse because before you offer to serve, you must have assessed the needs of the people you are to serve. There is nobody that will say he doesn’t know that Lagos State is below sea level. There is nobody coming to Lagos who does not know that he will deal with the issue of flood. There is nobody that does not know that he will deal with traffic. There is nobody coming as governor that does not know that he will be confronted by problems of high population density. But it is the same population density that gives the state its mega city status. If the people were too many for them to cope with, what they needed to do was to move out. What a responsible government is expected to do in a mega city is to expand facilities to accommodate the mega population. It is not by depopulating or sending the poor out of town. Fashola rebelled against the poor. He pulled down their homes in Makoko, Ijora Badia and several places and didn’t replace them with anything. They went under the bridge; he drove them out of the place. So what he was saying to the poor in essence was- get out of town or die. He destroyed their markets. For the ones that got burnt during his tenure, instead of commiserating with the shop owners, he drove them out of the markets, confiscated the lands and built palatial bindings there. He rented the shops out at exorbitant rates that went beyond the contemplation of an average market woman. The examples are there at Tejuoso, Oyingbo and Ogba markets. He did the same thing with okada people. Granted that okada riders are not supposed to ply the highways, but if a rider commits an offence, you should take him to a regular court to try him and punish him. What he did was to confiscate their motor cycles and crush them. That is wickedness. They could have been fined.
But they will return to the highways immediately. Don’t you think so?
Look, the reason why laws exist is because human beings will violate extant rules. You won’t need laws if there are no lawbreakers. The law didn’t say crush their tools of trade. If a car violates a traffic offence for example, do you crush it? If a man violates a law, do you crush the man? A lot of houses were demolished because he said they violated environmental laws even though some of them had been there before the laws took effect and still they did not get compensations. For example, there was a gentleman, an okada rider, who had to leave his area to buy fuel. Most fuel stations are not in areas where okada riders are allowed to ply. It was a two-week old bike. After buying the fuel, the man wanted to cross the road to the other side, then his okada was seized. The man had used his contribution in the cooperative to buy the motorbike. The man became paralysed when he was told that he could not retrieve the okada. That is a government without a human face; it is wicked governance.
You are talking as if you disagree with the records of performance Fashola seems to have in the public eye. Do you know he won several awards as one of the best governors in the country?
Fashola was a media hero. I wouldn’t know what the media saw on him that made them paint him in glowing colours. It is not only Fashola that we have campaigned against not be appointed minister. We campaigned against Stella Oduah that she should not be returned as minister. We campaigned against Alison-Madueke, we campaigned against Adoke , Andoaka and several other people like that.
But why Fashola now, there is Rotimi Amaechi, who is also being touted as likely to be nominated minister.
He’s the one that we have studied in-depth and he is the only one among those we believe carried out inhuman governance that is parading himself in the corridors of power. We have evidence against him that he didn’t spend Lagos State money on the needs of Lagosians. He’s the only one that we know tried to sabotage the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act. He is the only one who wrote to us to say that the Act is not applicable to Lagos State. He is the one we know who was so arrogant and said he would sack all the state doctors over agitations for the consolidated medical salary scale. He shut down the Lagos State University and didn’t care about the future of the students. That is wickedness. So we know that if he finds himself in the President’s cabinet, he might initiate the repealing of the FOI Act, which we are asking the National Assembly to upgrade to have inbuilt mechanism for adjudication in cases by those who are aggrieved by the implementation of the law. We believe that Fashola didn’t like the law at all. Lagos state was the centre of activities that led to the promulgation of the FOI Act.
Before Fashola came, Lagos State then contributed to the efforts made by civil society organizations to ensure that the bill became a law. Why will it be Lagos that will undermine the law? If you don’t puncture the fake accolade he wore in Lagos, he will take that garb to the cabinet. And everybody will still be looking at him from that prism that he was the best governor Nigeria ever had. They would think he was frugal and prudent and not that he was a plague on Lagosians. The taxi drivers would tell you that Fashola made them pay eight different dues to run their taxis. A car they could have bought for over N1.4m was sold to them at N4m and they had to pay within a short period. If they didn’t pay, government had a technology to shut it down and they would not get any compensation. What kind of governance is that? Governance of punishment! If we allow him to go to the federal cabinet and not puncture this garment of grandstanding that he is carrying about, we will be the ones to suffer the jeopardy, just like we suffered by not mustering enough support to stop him from returning for a second term in office as the Lagos State Governor. So it is not because we enjoy what we are doing, it is because we want to safeguard the future of our children. We don’t want to be enslaved by a civilian regime. In the eight years Fashola was governor, we were in bondage. We paid for everything. If your vehicle was unfortunate to be faulty on the road, the Lagos State Traffic Management authority will tow your vehicle and you will pay through your nose. If you are caught hawking, they don’t only confiscate your wares, they arrest and put you in a Black Maria and none of your family members will know that you are there until the very evening when they will take you to a kangaroo court. They presume you guilty and then you are taken to Badagry prison. Most of the time, relatives of those that are convicted will not know where their people are until someone tells them that he has been taken to prison. It is wickedness. That is not the way government should run. Government should run with human face and where human face is lacking, wickedness comes in.
There have been allegations against Amaechi also and former Governor of Ekiti, Kayode Fayemi, allegedly bought a bed for N50m. Why focus on Fashola?
I have told you that we have limited capability. Even agencies that are being sponsored from state funds cannot take care of all those who committed the same offence. We only take a short step at a time. We need information. For the things we have done in Lagos, if we want to do that in another state, we would have to go there several times, take photographs, stage a conference there, administer questionnaires. But in spite of that, we are also monitoring other states and when we have enough evidence, we will publish it so the public can see. I should tell you also that you don’t just expect us to take up all allegations that get to us. In this book, we explained how contracts were awarded and mobilization fee of up to 90 per cent was paid, yet the contracts were not executed. We don’t have that on our hands for every other state. We have asked people to send us their evidence, if we have it and they are plausible enough, we will investigate. We put this book together over a period of about five years. We started in 2009 and didn’t publish the first part until 2011. Even when we had compiled the manuscripts, we couldn’t get enough resources to publish it since 2013. So how then are we likely to do that for every state when we are not being paid from taxpayers’ money? Even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the ICPC and the other anti-graft agencies have not been able to do all they are expected to do in the states. And they have not been able to do an in-depth study of the level of corruption the way we have done it.
Are you looking at former heads of state too?
We started from Obasanjo, we submitted our petition against him in November and December 2007 to the EFCC and the ICPC respectively in open protest march. We have protested in Lagos and Abuja and all over the country. We are being frustrated but we are not deterred. We go at a pace that our resources- human and material can take us. That is why we are saying, we will be glad if these people that some people claim are sponsoring actually come forward to sponsor us. We don’t mind if anyone of them sponsors us, what we will mind is for them to determine what we utilise the sponsorship on. If somebody wants to sponsor us to Rivers State for instance, we won’t mind. Sponsor us there, give us the allegations, we find out what is in the books, what is on the ground, compile and do our comparison. So basically, it is because of lack of sponsorship or resources that is preventing us from going to the other states. And when we have reasons to complain about the other states, we do that. Go and do your findings. Check our website, google us and you will see that we have at one time or the other complained. Occasions are that when we know that what people have alleged are mere administration lapses, we don’t engage in that. If we know it is a campaign of calumny, we also don’t engage in that. But what we see that it is what engaging in it, we will not back down until we have done our best. We may not succeed in getting prosecution from anti-corruption agencies, but we will put it on record that while the issue generated up to a certain level, this is what we did. That is why we document our findings, activities and all our actions. You should know that it is the same system that is exchanging baton between itself. So you cannot expect a system that is corruption compliant to ensure justice on corruption culprits. We know we may not get justice in this enterprise immediately but we are putting things together for posterity. It is history that will vindicate the just. But the recent publication on the website of the Lagos State Public Procurement Commission, which was reported by The PUNCH has vindicated us. We complained about contracts being awarded to Olowolafe; we complained about contracts being shrouded in secrecy; contracts that are being immorally inflated.
Don’t you think it is strange that all of these attacks are coming left right and centre for Fashola now that he is being touted to likely emerge a ministerial nominee?
The truth is that if yours is the power, yours is the glory, it cannot last forever. Yoruba people say ‘ti iro ba sa lo ni ogun odun, ojo kan ni otitio ma le ba’,
You don’t think it is all political?
Well, I don’t care whether it is political or not. As long as the person being so treated has not been able to extricate himself from the webs of allegations around him, then so be it. We fight with all arsenals. Our preamble is ‘to pressure anti corruption agencies by any means possible. To investigate and prosecute all suspected and confirmed corrupt culprits by any means possible’. So even using the window of opportunity provided by politicians is good for us. That is why we said that we don’t mind being sponsored by anybody as long as there is no limit to which we can take our anti-corruption drive.
What about Tinubu? Will you be willing to go after him also as he is allegedly sponsoring this campaign against Fashola?
It’s not about being willing- look at these pamphlets we distributed during our protest in March 2015, asking the same Tinubu to defend the allegations levelled against him by a documentary on some television station- the AIT. We told Tinubu that going to court is an escapist strategy that any fool can go to court and get an injunction against such propaganda, come out and defend it. Defend it by stating your own side off the story and the public can be the judge. So it is no big deal. But the truth is this, the allegations leveled against him; we have not found them against him. We have investigated them. We are telling people who have concrete evidence against him to come to us. So if anyone says we didn’t do something against Tinubu, he’s just giving us a bad name to hang us.
So how do react to people who say you are being sponsored by him to go after Fashola?
That is why I told you that they are making unfounded allegations. I have not seen Tinubu for four or five years. I saw him when we were investigating cases against Lagos State. We met at the Airport Hotel; we told him that this was the allegation against him, that he was the one behind the profligacy that was embedded in governance in Lagos State as headed by Fashola. He gave us an appointment and we made the appointment. But we could not move forward because we didn’t have concrete evidence as I told you. We cannot go to any site and take photographs that this belongs to Tinubu because we don’t have proof that it belongs to him. It was when we started administering questionnaires about Fashola, it was after we had made an advertorial in the PM News that we started on the ground study of budgetary implementation in Lagos State. There is nothing to advertise about Tinubu because we didn’t find anything on the ground that confirms the allegation. When you go to any of these companies that are listed there, you will find the names of other people there. So what do you do? Do you insist that this must be Tinubu’s name by proxy? If you saw what we did about Obasanjo; he used his influence to raise N6bn with which he built what he calls Obasanjo Library. The library is supposed to belong to Nigeria. When he was coming to government, he said he didn’t have up to N20,000 in his account. But today, he sits on top of a multibillion naira estate; university, secondary school, farms, and the rest of them. Section 7 (b) of EFCC act gives them power to probe into the dealings of anybody suspected to be living above his regular income. We told the agency to apply that and probe Obasanjo for accumulating that wealth because we calculated his salary. If for the 70 years he has lived, if he had been earning N3m monthly without spending out of it. In a year, it would have been N36m. In two years, N72m and so on like that. In 70 years, he would not have been able to put together N6bn. So how come he sits atop an estate that runs into hundreds of billions of naira, they should make him explain. So this is what we do. We spoke about Fashola, who claimed that N29.3bn was spent on a bridge. Sometimes, they even claimed about N38bn. Do you know that the longest bridge on the sea in an Asian country, which is about 10miles, cost $70m. Our own which is 1.3km and less than one mile cost $140m. How do we rationalize that? The ramp between Ozumba Mbadiwe and Falomo bridge in front of Law School which is less than 200 metres was said to have cost Lagos State N2.5bn. Experts say that there is no reason why 100 metre of that ramp bridge should cost N100m. That is an embarrassment.
He upgraded a website for N78; we are not even talking about setting up a new one.
He has come out defend himself. Are you saying you don’t believe him?
He was lying. It is unreasonable. I made bold to say so because if he was right, the firm that upgraded would have come out to say they took N78, so they would have been the one to rationalise. But the firm said what it took was N10m. So the question now is where is the N68m, the difference between what the firm said it collected and the amount in the books of the Lagos State Public Procurement Commission. The same thing with what Punch reported that Fashola spent N139m on two bore holes. Children’s project constructed a borehole in Ojodu primary school and another one at Isheri, the two didn’t cost us N1m. One of them which included the overhead tank and every other thing cost us less than N300, 000. Now this gentleman constructed two for N139m. The two cost us less than N1m and they are still functioning. The reconstruction of a car park at Marina cost N640m. It was just the reconstruction, not a new one. Now, relocation of cables N200m cost. Replacement of railings at Idumota, N175m. take note that everything is re-, not that they are building a new one o. Now there is an unidentified storey building at Onikan, you must have been to Onikan recently, did you see any new building there that must have cost that much? It cost Lagosians N1.2bn. Then construction of a hotel in Badagry cost N1.6bn. Which hotel is that? Well, we have not been to Badagry, we will still go there. Then half a billion naira was spent to remodel and equip the residence of the state Chief Judge at Thompson Avenue in Ikoyi. Supposing you want to build a new one, how much will it cost? And we know that house; you won’t see anything different from outside.
Then the construction of an 18-classroom block at Ajara senior secondary cost N165m. Meanwhile, one block of six classrooms is not more than N5m. we constructed one recently so we know.
So how do react to allegations that CACOL has also benefited from Fashola’s administration in the past?
That is not true. What have we benefitted? They should state it. Anytime we want to organise our annual convention, we write to inform them and we invite them for support but they have never supported us. Maybe it’s the same way they construct their buildings in places where nobody can locate them.
What if President Buhari goes ahead and nominates Fashola as a minister?
We have no power than to resist it. It will be a protest without end. Didn’t you hear what I’ve been telling you since morning? That was what we did with Ibori too. Ibori was our project; we started in Kaduna state together and ended it in the UK together also. We monitored the prosecution of Ibori in Asaba court; I was to be kidnapped in Asaba. We did everything in Ibori case too. We followed him too Oghara, his town. We wrote petitions too. It was on the strength of our petition that the trial judge in Asaba court, Justice Awokuleyin, was issued a query by the Chief Justice of the federation then. He answered the query and that was the reason why he had to suspend his ruling three times. He got to a point when he said he preferred to err on the side of caution. We followed the proceedings and that is why they tried to attack us wherever they saw us. They attacked us in Kaduna, Asaba, at the Nigerian Institute of International Studies in Lagos, so that is the way we do our thing. We protested against Andoaka several times. We didn’t stop until he was stopped. We protested against Adoke but we didn’t succeed. We protested against Stella Oduah, we don’t know whether it is on the strength of our protest that she was removed. We protested against Obasanjo too and we are still protesting.
The President recently nominated Obasanjo as special envoy to Guinea Bissau. What do you make of that?
We cannot stop the president from doing what he wants to do; we made the statement that we are not in support of that until Obasanjo is made to account for the source of his wealth. Several cases like that, you win some, and you lose some. So if Fashola is appointed to the federal cabinet, we promise protests without end. That is our promise.
Some say the issue has made CACOL become more popular. Is this a publicity stunt?
Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, there is no time since we started that COCAL is not in the news. There is no time that we paid journalists to suppress other people’s news and pick ours. We don’t pay journalists. We can’t even pay for advertorials most of the time. It is the initiative of the various media houses to look for what will enhance their own production and if we fall in that category, should we blame ourselves for it? There has been no time in our history that the media has not been inviting us, either electronic or print. If things are just coming about the same time, it means that it is the case that is in vogue. If Fashola garnered so much popularity while in office for so long but has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, then it will make news when everybody discovers that what we have been complaining about in the last ni ne years is correct after all. We didn’t care whether news media cared whether news media reported what we were doing or not. We just kept on putting it on record. We formerly launched these books and it didn’t attract a lot of media mention. We didn’t care. We are not waiting for the regular court of law; we are waiting for the court of history. It is history that can salvage us from any contrived accusations and conjectures about our intentions. I’ve explained to you that we have limited needs. Let me tell you, if you want to join CACOL today, we will ask you if you have another job you are doing. Some of members are lawyers, some are okada riders and so on, and all these are what we harness to do what we do. If you don’t have a job, we get you a job. We ask you to go for training. And our activities are not compulsory for members and our dues too. I challenge those we have paid to come out apart from advertorials.