What are the achievements of CACOL?
We started on Obasanjo’s case by writing a petition to the EFCC in November 2007, and we have been following up every year. We reminded both the EFCC and ICPC every year of the petitions. When the then EFCC Chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri took over and denied having any petition against former president Obasanjo, CACOL organized its members again to picket the Commission’s Lagos office where the Heads of the Commission’s Operations who incidentally is the same Mallam Umar Sanda, and that of Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Babafemi publicly delivered their Chairman’s message that work would begin within 24 hours later and indeed work started 24hours later which culminated in the discreet report earlier mentioned. Two days after receiving of the petition, we were invited to Abuja where the then Chairman of the EFCC, Mrs. Farida Waziri herself confirmed that she was confident to confirm that she had received our petitions against Obasanjo and actions had already commenced on it.
True to the promise, the EFCC announced by the following day that a 5-man panel has been set up to carry out the investigation of the former president, although no further information had been given whether, privately or publicly since then by the agency. It was our activities that made the EFCC to make a public statement that they had come-up with discreet report. No other group has forced any agency to make public statement on investigation of Obasanjo. Although we do not have the discreet report because they said they do not release it to petitioners but we are still pursuing further investigations on him. Our pressure on anti-corruption agencies to bring Obasanjo to book forced him to actually mention and castigate us in his recently launched book, ‘My Watch’.
The prosecution of James Ibori also started as a result of our protests to the EFCC in the days of Nuhu Ribadu. We were there when he was being tried in the Kaduna Federal High Court where his supporters attacked and injured our members. When the former Minister of Justice, Michael Andoaka said that Ibori was among the former governors whose cases had been cleared by the EFCC of culpability in corruption allegations against them, we protested to the EFCC which forced Nuhu Ribadu’s successor, Mrs. Farida Waziri who was forced to promise that she was going to charge Ibori to court within the next three weeks to that time. True to her word, before the end of the second week, Ibori had been charged to Asaba Federal High Court.
The pressure we also mounted on her, forced her to make a public statement against her then supervisory Minister, Michael Andoaka to say that the statement by the Minister that they have cleared three former governors including Ibori didn’t emanate from the EFCC.
Our petitions to NJC while Ibori case was going on led to three queries that were issued the trial Judge, Justice Matel Awokuleyin and it was on that basis that the justice had to postpone his ruling, at least, twice. He then made the statement that he was going to hear on the side of caution which was reported in the papers. He also castigated us that we made unfounded allegations against him.
Our members were also injured when we protested against his invitation to deliver lecture on corruption by Hallmark Magazine at NIIA in Lagos. Eventually we were vindicated by the conviction of the former governor in the United Kingdom. We traced Ibori from Lagos to Ogara, his village, to United Arab Emirate and eventually our affiliate in the United Kingdom were always in court to follow up the case of Ibori till he was convicted.
All these activities contributed to the understanding of the issues and strategies involved in the need and popular agitation for the probe of every sector of the economy under the various regimes in Nigeria and what individual or collective action to take by the cross section of the Nigerian populace.
What’s your assessment of President Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign after including some alleged corrupt officials in his ministerial list?
We would like to look at Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign from thee basic aspects: (i) President’s proclamations and appeals at various fora coupled with contacts so far made since assuming office, especially with governments of those countries which have, over the years, provided the store-house for stolen monies by corrupt public officers – all serve as a pointer to his determination to rid the country of the scourge; and they also enhance the image and integrity of Nigeria within the committee of Nations.
(ii) Those anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC, ICPC, CCB, SFU and other regulatory bodies like NAFDAC, SON, NERC, Consumer Rights Commission(CRC) etc. which hitherto seemed to have turned to mere sleeping and lame watchdogs, have suddenly woken up and begun to bare their fangs at alleged offenders. They now appear to have been adequately strengthened to confront that seemingly untamable monster called corruption headlong. With the proposed ‘special court’ to try mainly corrupt cases; is a bold step at putting a stop to unnecessary protraction in the trial thereby ensuring quick dispensation of justice in corrupt cases. President Buhari’s recent order to every ministry and parastatal to maintain just one bank account as opposed to what had become the tradition of one ministry operating limitless number of accounts which had been discovered to have, over the years, facilitated sharp practices by public officers.
iii. Without any doubt, majority of patriotic Nigerians, CACOL inclusive, were certainly taken aback by the inclusion of the names of some alleged corrupt officials in his list of ministerial nominees and gladly enough they individually and collectively expressed their reservation on the exercise especially when given the long delay coupled with the President’s promise of appointing mostly technocrats with intimidating credentials to man the ministries. Most commentators and critics were unanimous in describing the long wait with its attendant anxiety as unwarranted and so regrettable.
However, whilst CACOL is not very comfortable with this development, we must concede to Mr. President, the powers conferred on him by our constitution, to solely determine who would work directly with him at this level. So looking at it legalistically, we can’t accuse him of having done any wrong; we can only fault him on moral ground and of course label him as not been sensitive to the sensibility of the average Nigerian that voted him in – after all, democracy is all about the people. This is why we will not be deterred from criticizing the said list and demanding that those alleged to have been involved in one corrupt practice or the other is thoroughly screened and their past dug into with a view to determining their culpability or otherwise, before being assigned any portfolio. We need to be able to trust our leaders. And be that as it may, CACOL acknowledges President Buhari’s seriousness and sincerity in his resolve to rid our society of official corruption especially; we therefore enjoin all and sundry to give his government the desired support to deliver.
Do you think some of the people in the ministerial list can help the President in his fight against corruption in the country?
Quite naturally, given our reservation to the list submitted to the senate, our answer to this question cannot be outright categorical. However, given President’s Buhari’s antecedent and character, and given the enormous power given him by our laws to hire and to fire at any time, as he deems fit and without recourse to anyone or quarters, we want to believe that his stature could have such a bandwagon effect on the overall performance of his team. We have it in our local maxim that, the fish rots from the head. Therefore, our optimism could only rest on the belief that he would not hesitate to throw out any black sheep in his stable, in order to ensure that his integrity remains untainted.
Some of the nominees, for instance, are too controversial for comfort: MRS. KEMI ADEOSUN – A very powerful commissioner in the cabinet of Senator Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State. There have been allegations ranging from financial impropriety and corrupt enrichment to graft. She is been severally accused of diverting state projects to her personal benefit or that of her cronies.
Also according to the news sources, no fewer than 25 petitions have been submitted by various individuals and groups seeking to stop the clearance of some of the 21 ministerial nominees. There had been news that petitions were also submitted to the National Assembly against former Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi. Another senator representing Kaduna South Senatorial District has been reported to have submitted a petition against the nomination of Mrs. Amina Mohammed from Kaduna State.
It must be understood that, by citing these few examples, we are not trying to label the others as saints, what CACOL is only saying is that, since these nominees are to be entrusted with state funds and projects, the presidency ought to have carried out a thorough findings on the allegations leveled against them with a view to determining their culpability or otherwise before proceeding on making such nominations. The average right-thinker would have expected to see in the list, names of established technocrats in the roll-call of academics and professionals of repute and there is no disputing the fact that our nation has it in abundance, both within and outside these shores.
Do you think that the President Buhari led administration is witch-hunting those who served in former President Jonathan’s administration?
For us in CACOL, we are realists; so, we tend to analyze and treat issues holistically, both from the moral and legal angles. But when it comes to issues bordering on prosecution of an alleged crime or issues arising from constitutional provisions, morality takes the back stage. This is because we have so far discovered that oftentimes, whenever we try to mix morality with legality, we end up with avoidable confusion. So we do not give in to such insinuations like witch-hunting, selectiveness, vendetta and the likes, when a public officer, placed in a position of trust, alleged to have abused his office via corruption, is being prosecuted by a competent court for the alleged offence. Such sentiments we see as self-defeatist, self-condemning and a product of a guilty conscience. As far as we are concerned, corrupt person, no matter the political or social status, no matter which party or group he belongs to, is a criminal and must be punished accordingly.
Again, let’s look at it this way; granted that the process of apprehending thieves in our society is selective, one fact that stands out is that only thieves can be selected; non-thieves needs not be apprehensive of such process. My advice to those flaunting these sentiments, is that if they have identified that, say, we have 20 thieves in our midst and only five are being pushed forward for trial, let them borrow a leaf from CACOL by coming out to mention to the appropriate authority and members of the public, the names of the remaining 15. That settles it, isn’t it? But to just sit back and point accusing fingers at concerned authority would not help our common cause to build a society that upholds respect for the rule of law.
What measures do you think this administration can take to curb corruption in the Civil Service?
To curb corruption in the Civil Service, the Buhari’s-led administration, should; Make civil servants earn their pay: To whom much is given, much is expected, they say. A new orientation program should, without delay, be drawn up for the civil servant; to move him away from this already rooted inclination of always wanting to take and not to give. Today, what we have is the civil servant, regardless of his level or grade, places more emphasis on what he is able to amass for himself, through whatever means and at whatever cost to the nation, than his productive contribution to its growth. However, we hasten to say that this cannot be done in isolation; his earning power too should be strengthened to build up his loyalty and commitment to service. Sincerely, an N18,000 per month worker, who has a wife and four children to cater for, cannot be expected to give his all in terms of dedication and commitment, given the hard economic pressure he is constantly subjected to. This administration’s attention should be focused on both aspects of earning and service. Give and take should be the watch-word. When a worker is paid a worker’s wage and NOT a slave wage, there is always that moral obligation placed upon him to commensurately deliver to justify his pay.
The administration should have complete data on each one of them and ensure that their lifestyles are monitored: Sadly enough, the average civil servant especially the one placed in a position of high responsibility and trust, must, in most cases, have risen through the ranks and we know that he must have inherited a tradition from his predecessor(s) – we mean, a tradition of ‘it’s-my-turn’ and so, he goes all out to amass as much he’s able to. And because no one blinks any eye-lid, he becomes so confident that he even flaunts his ill-gotten wealth around his work-place. He knows, from experience, that nobody or quarters would ever call him for questioning. But in a setting whereby such a senior civil servant knows that he is monitored and that a data is kept on his lifestyle and possessions, and that facts from such data would certainly serve as possible materials for prosecution in the future, his excesses are bound to be curbed extensively.
The Federal Government should empower ICPC to set up Anti-Corruption and Transparency Monitoring Unit (ACTU) in all the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs):
The EFCC should evoke powers under Section 7B of their laws to try the materials accumulation of civil servants: There is this local adage that says; where there is no law; there is no offence. The EFCC could only be effective or seen to be, when law breakers are tried under the existing laws and punished if found culpable. Therefore the body should always ensure that it lives up to its expectation by not shying away from dragging corrupt persons, regardless of whose ox is gored, before the courts, for the purpose of not only convicting him but also dispossessing him of every kobo illegitimately acquired, in order to deter others with similar mindset.
Anti-graft law should be strengthened so that no offender will go unpunished: A lame law is just like no law at all. Therefore, if we all agree that corruption is a destroyer and killer and that it’s ready to kill this nation, laws made to curb and possibly kill it before it kills us, should be so strengthened that any potential offender would have to think twice before attempting to perpetrate the act. The days of ridiculous fines by the courts and plea-bargaining should be a thing of the past and pave way for heavy penalties capable to deterring others with similar intentions. Asian countries like North Korea, China and others, which laws prescribe a death sentence for drug traffickers, indisputably record the least rate of drug trafficking across the world.
What roles do you think Civil Society groups can play in the war against corruption in Nigeria?
Whistleblower: we must know that the various institutions that have been assigned the responsibilities of searching out and investigating crimes cannot be everywhere. The CSOs can only be living up to their billing by taking it upon themselves to engage in the search and probing of acts of corruption in any form or guise. They could also make themselves a veritable channel of communication between the government and the governed by making themselves easily accessible to anybody or group with one information or another on issues of corruption.
Do you support the calls for the merger of EFCC and ICPC?
The more the merrier because if a criminal should escape one he won’t be able to escape the other. That was what worked against Ibori: the stealing aspect of it is a case for the ICPC while the money laundering aspect is for the EFCC. Ibori was almost proven innocent of the stealing charge and that was why when he escaped the stealing aspect, he couldn’t escape that of money laundering. This is why the activities of the two agencies are complementary. The same will be with the cases of other regulatory agencies; if somebody engages in fake and adulterated products, if he escapes from NAFDAC, he is unlikely going to escape from SON.
So Buhari’s-led administration should actually create more anti-graft agencies for different sectors of the economy. We need more anti-graft agencies to complement the effort of the existing ones, especially at the rate at which corruption is growing in our public and private sectors.
Corruption is the worst enemy that can actually kill Nigeria if we do not succeed in killing it. The present administration should rather create more anti-graft agencies that will specialize in different areas of crimes instead of whittling down the power of the existing ones through merger.
The existing anti-graft agencies should be strengthened; they should be given more funds, more personnel and if there are bad eggs discovered among them, those bad ones should be thrown out and if it is the entirety of the personnel of the agencies that are untrustworthy they can collectively be changed. Regulatory agencies such as SON, NAFDAC, etc. should also be further strengthened to enhance better performances and efficiency.
Do you support the call for capital punishment for corrupt officials as done in some countries?
Such calls contravened the right to life, which has been described as the most basic of human rights. We should recognize the sanctity of life. It should not be taken for whatever reason since we believe that every offender can change for good. We should not also assume that the trial judge that condemned the offender could not have made a mistake. A lot of people have been calling for death penalty for corrupt officials. CACOL disagrees with them. We have a couple of reasons why we disagree with them. Ordinarily, when you look at the ravaging jeopardy that corrupt people have thrown Nigeria into including the battering of our image and the loss of integrity within the comity of nations, you would want to say we should completely eliminate those who have brought us into that state of shame and disrepute. If you kill them you have covered up their deeds. We should put them behind the bars. Special prison yards should be created for corruption criminals so that at the end of the day, school children that are just growing up, that are yet to be co-opted to the cohorts of corrupt practitioners, would be taken to the prison yards to see the kind of people who have pillaged the commonwealth of this country, that made their tomorrow uncertain; Those who made it impossible for us to have regular power supply, those who made it impossible for us to have good free and qualitative education, good things of life, and so on and so forth.
What are Civil Society groups doing to ensure an updated weak and outdated laws that have encouraged corruption in Nigeria?
The Civil Society groups expose the area of deficiency and engage in advocacy towards ensuring that new Laws are made to make anti-corruption agencies more efficient and more accountable: We should know that the fundamental objective of making laws is not only to check and discourage offences from being committed but to also prescribe punishment for offenders. And for any such law to be considered rational, punishment for violation of such law must be commensurate or be at par on the scale of justice, with the weight of the offence.
In addition to a long jail term, we would suggest that such offenders be made to forfeit all that he’s been able to acquire all his life, both before and after assumption of office. Such laws, no doubt, would reduce to the barest minimum if not eliminate corruption in public office. Like I said earlier, anyone contemplating trafficking hard drugs to Thailand today, will certainly think twice before embarking on such a ‘suicide mission’.
Do you think a corrupt free Nigeria is possible and what are the roles of citizens in this fight against corruption?
Corruption as a concept has broad definition; so there is no society that can be entirely corrupt-free. It can be reduced to a minimum, so that the damage that corrupt practices may cause will not create grievous jeopardy on the lives and properties of other people. Basically the efforts being made is to ensure that grand corruption that affects the majority of the people is reduced to the barest minimum and petty corruption is also discouraged by ensuring that citizens are productively engaged and are provided satisfactorily with necessary infrastructure. Because if we have money for what we need, if education is free, if health-care service delivery is free, if there is water, if there is power supply, and everybody is able to engage in its own personal, economic and commercial activities then we would not be pushed into corruption. Also, If those that commit corruption crimes are well punished, everybody will want to engage in activities that will not be deemed to be corrupt.