By Okey Ndiribe, Asst. Political Editor
Major-Gen Ishola Williams (rtd) is President of the Nigerian section of Transparency International ( TI)- the global anti-corruption body.Â He spoke on nation’s recent rating by TI ,Â measures that could be adopted to fight the social cankerworm in the countryÂ andÂ many other national issues. Excerpts:
How do you react to Transparency Internationalâ€™s recent rating of Nigeria which indicated that the nation had backslided in the war against corruption?
With respect to the Transparency International (TI)Â rating, itÂ is veryÂ useful not only for this country but for the whole world to see how endemic corruption is.Â In spite the various anti-corruption activities including lectures, laws, policies and directives, the general situation gives us the impressionÂ that we are not succeeding. And I believe we are not succeeding because there is a fundamental issue we have refused to tackle; and that is our political cum economic system.
The system we operate creates the atmosphere for corrupt practices. For instance when you consider the democracy we talk about which has been defined as government of the people, by the people and for the people,it is only good in terms of that statement. In practice, it doesnâ€™t work out. It doesnâ€™t work out because it has introduced competition in terms of who the people choose to be in government.
If you look into that competitive process, you would notice that some political parties and interest groupsÂ have advantage. What gives them the advantage? It is money. Therefore in the presentÂ democratic systemÂ if you donâ€™t have money you cannot win elections. In order to win elections you need to get money from somewhere. The question that arises is that where do you get money from? The answer is that you either steal, borrow or beg. This also applies to the political parties. If the parties and their members donâ€™t raise money in this manner, then the state must fund political parties to contest elections. If that happens, you wouldÂ haveÂ over 50 political parties created just to collect government funds.
In other words you and I can create political parties just to get funds from the Independent National Electoral Commission ( INEC). That particular problem of how to get money to contest elections has not been resolved either at the individual level or political party level.
The second fundamental problem is that the political ideology of democracy is also linked to the economic model being practiced. That economic model is also competi tive. Therefore if both of us have the same product I must findÂ a means of attracting patronage for my product because I set out to make profit from the beginning. Along that line, people tend to forget too that politicians who are in power make decisions that direct the economy. So, if you are a business person who takes decisions for your business, what do you do?Â When elections come what do you do? You simply give support toÂ politicians who would be favourable to your business. The question that then arises is whether such elections are in the interest of the people? So what I can say is that todayâ€™s democracy is government of business people, byÂ business people and for business people.
But some of those in business like manufacturers have been crying out that the business environment has not been conducive for them because of lack of energy supply and the resultant under-capacity utilisation it has caused?
That one is not the business of the government. What the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria ( MAN)Â should have done a long time ago if they had foresight was to have told Government to hands off supply ofÂ power and only provide a regulatory body. To return to what I was saying before, it is the business organisations that control politicians around the world today. Take for example, the problem President Barrack Obama is facing in the United States of America ( USA). He wants to ensure that bankers live in a manner that is in the best interest of their customers and shareholders. What are these things?
They are sayingÂ he wants to destroy capitalism and that he is a socialist. They say this because he wants to control things like bonuses they payÂ bankers.Â This is the reasonÂ I am linking democracy with a free-market system to corruption. It appears the two encourage corruption because of the impact of money which is difficult to control.
But it has been argued in some quarters that Nigeria is not even practicing the capitalist system because its economic framework is not in line with what is obtainable in other capitalist countries like the United States?
That is true because the Nigerian system is actually characterised by confusion. Again, you have to ask the question whether the capitalist system is really working for everybody in the US when you have over 40 million people without health insurance? Is that a good system? IfÂ a country is prosperous with a population of over 300 million and about 40 million among them donâ€™t have healthÂ insurance againstÂ the background of the fact that it is a very expensive country then such a country cannot say it is taking care of the poor.
But the American economy has remained the leading economy in the world for a long time.
Yes, it has been referred to as the leading economy in the world for a long time because many things about that country are hidden. Places like Canada, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are better off. Germany and France are alsoÂ far better off. That was why some people accused President Obama of trying to introduce the European system into the US. The question Africans need to ask themselves is this: Why didnâ€™t the Europeans follow the American systemÂ hook, line and sinker.
Are you suggesting that the welfarist system which is popular in Europe is better?
Exactly. That is a system we can build on. We can look at all the models and select one. The nation is at a stage when our economists and politicians need to sit down and look at all models in the world. In fact, I was trying to arrange a seminar with the Aminu Kano Centre to address the issue of what model is good for Nigeria or Africa in general.
But the militaryÂ regime of Gen. Ibrahim BabangidaÂ set up a Political Bureau in 1986 to recommend a socio-economic system for the nation, but when the Bureau submitted its report that Nigerians wanted socialismÂ its recommendations were dumped. Wonâ€™t that happen again?
What happens in this country is that sometimes when those in power set up such committees they use it as a smokescreen. Even before they set up a committee they already know what they want to do and may never implement the recommendations of the committee. That committee recommended socialism for Nigeria at that time but their report was treated that way because socialism was a no-go area for western countries that were giving money to Nigeria. The western world wanted the country to be pro-capitalist and anti-socialist. It was at this period that the Federal Government was talking about the Structural Adjustment Programme ( SAP). What does SAP mean? It meant free market,Â privatisation and all those things. Now 23 years down the line, has it not failed Africa?Â Has Africa not become poorer?Â Now they have changed it to Poverty Alleviation Programme which was copied into theÂ National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS),Â but it is basically the same thing with SAP.
Now theyÂ have copied it as SEEDS and LEEDS at the state and local government levels. Again, the Europeans have come with another model which they call Equal Partnership with Africa (EPA).Â But that in itself is spreading poverty in the continent. But because Africans are complaining they have now changed to New Economic Partnership for Africaâ€™s Development (NEPAD). This is all deception. Africa cannot be an equal partner with the WesternÂ world.Â If our leaders continue with the way they are behaving, the western world will continueÂ to maintain the advantage they have over us for the next 50 years.
So, when you look at this type of situation you would realise that for people to be able to cope they would be tempted to be corrupt. Because of that temptation some people have advocated that if you donâ€™t want NigeriansÂ to steal,Â pay them a lot of money. That is what has been done for our legislators but it has not stopped them from getting involved in corruption. It was also advocated for our civil servants, but this has still not changed them too. However, where the problem lies is not whether we are the highest paid or lowest paid in the world.Â The problem lies inÂ the gap between the highest paid and lowest paid worker in this country.
Can you throwÂ more light on that ?
If you pay the president or universityÂ Vice-chancellorÂ say N1Â millionÂ per month and a labourer in the same universityÂ earns N7,500 per month , what do you think about the gap? Do they go to different markets? How then do you justify that type of gap in salaries in any country in the world especially where you donâ€™t have separate markets ? Where you donâ€™t have ration cards. In India people who earn salaries below a certain level are given ration cards. Such people could go to special shops to buy food.
In the United States, in spite of the fact that they donâ€™t want socialism or anything like that they have a social security system. They also have what is called a food stamp which people could use to buy food. In Nigeria, there is no social security, no food stamp and no ration card. So you cannot justify the big gap between the highest paid person and the least paid. This also applies to the banks. Look at the type of salaries some of the Managing directors are earning. And within the same banking sector some people are earning N25,000 per month.
That gap is too wide. But in spite of all this, Nigerians have proved that no matter how much money you pay them they would still continue to steal. What is happening to the Managing Directors of banks also applies to members of the National Assembly. If you confront them over this what they would likely ask you is whether you know how much it cost them to win elections? Some of them sold their houses. Some of them had to borrow money from banks which they have to refund. For those who sold their houses they have to get new houses.
So what could be done to curb corruption in this country?
In the first place, the judiciary must help this country. When persons who are accused of corrupt practices are taken before the courts, let the judges endeavour to dispose of such cases between three and sixÂ months.
If there is enough evidence against accused persons they should not only be sent to jail, their property should be recovered. Second, we do not need to set up special courts to handle corruption cases like the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC) Mrs Farida Waziri said. I would rather suggest that Chief Judges of different states in the country could appoint about three or four judges to handle only corruption cases. Such judges must also be mandated to conclude such cases within six months. Canâ€™tÂ you see the way Bode Georgeâ€™s case was handled?Â There is no need for a special court to handle corruption cases.
We must also have a civil law which allows me to sue you ifÂ you take bribe from me to do your work. For instance, if you are a civil servant and I want something official from you and you insist that I must give you bribe before you do your job, what I will do is to go and bring as many people as possible to come and give and pay you and therefore accumulate enough evidence against you.Â Then we would take you and your ministry to court and claim damages.
Can this type of proposal be applied to the Nigeria Police?
Definitely, it would apply to policemen as well. But the question we need to ask with all due respect is that the EFCC Chairman ,Â a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police, can she say she is clean enough to ask for people who are corrupt to be shot?Â Can she say she has not lived in a glass house before to start throwing stones? Let her beat her chest and say she has all the moral right to say she is clean as a formerÂ policeÂ officer. I will also propose that all policemen should be removed from ICPC and EFCC.
Who should then do their jobs in both institutions?
There are civilian investigators in both agencies. All over the world, there are private investigators who are trained. The point is that if a new set of people are recruited they would bring a new culture; not the culture of the police. In fact, I am told that in the EFCC and ICPC, there is always constant conflict between those who are policemen and those who are not. I hear that those who are uniformed men get different treatment from those who donâ€™t wear uniforms.
Can you expatiate on that ?
There are policemen who handle anti-corruption cases and there are non-policemen who are also working in these agencies. There have been media reports that policemen in both EFCC and ICPC who take bribes enjoy protection while non-policemen who take bribes are not protected. However, what surprises me about the ICPC andÂ EFCC even during the tenure of its former Chairman, Nuhu RibaduÂ is that not a single official of these agenciesÂ has been prosecuted for taking bribe. Can the leaders of these anti-corruption agencies say that non of their officersÂ has committed that sort of offence? It is impossible in the Nigerian context. They donâ€™tÂ want to tell anybody about what is happening in these anti-corruption agencies. The second issue is this: How can you have an Executive Chairperson? Who is checking who under that arrangement?Â Who checks the EFCC ? The President cannot be the person to check EFCC. What time does he have for that?Â EFCC should have a separate board,Â Chairman and chief executive officer. As far as I am concerned EFCC and ICPC should be merged. The board should be made up of prominent and reputable Nigerians.
Given the recent conviction of Bode George for corruption, donâ€™t you think Nigeriaâ€™s rating by Transparency International ought to have improved rather than decline?
Bode Georgeâ€™s conviction has just happened. It could only be reflected in a future corruption perceptionÂ indexÂ by TI. If more of that happens in 2010, by the time the next rating comes out towards the end of next year you would see an improvement. When you consider all the scandal that happened in the banks this year and a case like that of former governor of Delta StateÂ you would understand why the nationâ€™s rating went down. For instance, where else have you seen in the whole world where a judge would grant a perpetual injunction to prevent somebody who has been accused of corruption from being investigated?
That was the type of injunction that was granted to the former governor of Rivers StateÂ Why should we have that sort of thing? Thatâ€™s why I said earlier that the judiciary can help us. Why is it that the EFCC or anybody who is in chargeÂ has not gone to the Supreme Court to throw out that injunction? Of course, we can ask the National Judicial Council to deal with thatÂ judge because such a judge is sincerelyÂ an enemy of the people. Another question thatÂ needs to be answered is: how come it took so long forÂ some ofÂ these former governors to face corruption charges?Â Why where they not charged during the tenure of Obasanjo? That means their files were hidden.
The EFCC Chairman actually said that theÂ case file of Bode George was hidden when she took over …
Cuts in: In the case of Bode George, it appeared he was not the favourite of so many people. What happened in the case of the former governor of Edo State who was only fined about three or four millionÂ naira and asked to go home just like that?Â Corruption is a crime against humanity. These corrupt ex- governors committed crimes against humanity. They areÂ worse than armed robbers. Wherever they are if they are not ashamed of themselves and their families are not ashamed of them then they have no conscience. It reminds me of what Mahati Mohammed said that corruption cannot be tackled by laws alone, it can only be tackled by the values of the people. He gave the example of Japan where those who are caught for corrupt practices commit harakiri or suicide. And some of them would apologise to the public.
What is your view concerning a proposal made by the late Prof. C.S. Momoh on how corruption should be fought with taking of traditional oaths of office intead of the present type taken by public office holders?
I think that Governor Gbenga Daniel has already started practicing that with members of the stateâ€™s House of Assembly for the purpose of retaining their loyalty not for the purpose of fighting corruption. At Abia and other states too they have gone to the Okija Shrine for the same purpose. But what is interesting about Nigeria is that there so many born again christians and all that who say tradiional ways of doing things are demonic.
But the truth of the matter is that most of these politicians have no respect for either the Holy Bible or Holy Koran. So they just use these holy books to swear and turn around to do what they like. When you tell them to go their traditional shrines, they would say no! no!! no!!! They would say you are asking them to go to the demons.
They demonise traditional religion and values. What I tell them and their pastorsÂ is that what it means is that those who are neither Christians nor Muslims all over the world would all go to hell. The question I used to ask them is : If only these two religions are good how come some countries like Japan and IndiaÂ that donâ€™t accept them are doing so well?Â It is because we are not a people of concience; we are not a spiritual people. We use religion as a showbiz . Only few Nigerians be they Christians or Muslims are incorruptible. I do not support those who hide under the cover of religion and say they cannot take traditional oath. If traditional oath-taking can help us to minimise corruption let us adopt it.