By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, was born in Birnin Kebbi, Kebbi State
and has served in various capacities including being a state counsel and magistrate in Kebbi State and teaching law at the Usman Dan Fodio University before going into private legal practice. He currently serves as the National Legal Adviser for Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. But his main interest lies in floating an NGO to help deepen the content of our laws by sponsoring private citizen bills in the National Assembly.In this interview, Malami looks at the menace of corruption in Nigeria and concludes that government is actually promoting graft rather than fighting it. The CPC legal adviser also pleads with President Goodluck Jonathan to take urgent steps to halt the wave of insecurity in the land, if Nigeria must make progress under his leadership. Malami says 2015 presidential race will be determined by the competence of the candidates rather than where they come from. Excerpts:
What do you make of the reported choice of General Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the CPC in the last election, to mediate in the Boko Haram/Federal Government talks?
Well, you know how complex the Nigerian psyche is when it comes to misinterpretation of issues. But the truth of the matter is that Nigeria is our country, we have no other country. So, we all have a role to play in whichever direction that will sustain its development and for the common good. If not for the misconception that is about to set into the acceptance of the offer by Buhari, I would suggest that the General should consider accepting to mediate. He should see that as a sacrifice by a statesman, a former Head of State and perhaps a saviour that the present circumstance says he is.
But, unfortunately, because of the political inclinations that are there and the likely tendencies associated with the opposition and the government in power, the possibility of bringing in some negative colourations into it is there. So, I think it is a personal decision for Buhari to take considering the variables associated with the Nigerian state and his personal political disposition.
The CPC recently accused the PDP government of using the Boko Haram insurgency to distract attention of Nigerians so as to gloss over many issues affecting the people. Could there be any truth in that assertion?
Well, if you are talking of the PDP as a political institution, the effect has been lost by most Nigerians associated with the party. If you look at the party’s tactics regarding election rigging, if you take a look at their schemes relating to power and education, one can safely say there is no havoc that PDP as a party cannot bring into the politics of this country. All tools of manipulation are at the disposal of the PDP to play with. So, in all sincerity, it is not out of place for people to make such conjectures associated with the party’s antecedents and its disposition. The security situation that has set into the country now is unprecedented. It was when the party came to power that the whole security situation degenerated to where we are now. Cast your mind back to when Gen. Buhari was the Head of State. His own War Against Indiscipline instilled discipline in Nigerians to the extent that every citizen was conscious of cleaning their compounds without being told to do so. If I may ask, what was the security cost implication for attaining that high level of discipline? Nothing. So, in all sincerity, the discipline element that Nigeria had over time has deteriorated arising from the manipulations of the PDP. So there is no way you can clear it of blame considering that these things are happening when it is in power.
Are you scared seeing the way things are going in the country?
If I tell you I am not worried, I am not sincere. I must say that I am extremely worried about the way this country is going. I am extremely worried because one thing that is visible is that we are drifting into a higher magnitude of insecurity. On daily basis, the same government budgets in and budgets out, expending huge amounts on security without anything to show for it. The key variable for the development of any nation has to do with the protection of lives and property. If you do not have security, nothing works. If any Nigerian tells you he is not worried about the deteriorating security situation in the country, then he is not telling the truth.
Do you think the government was sincere in setting up the Petroluem Revenue Special Task Force given the high drama that played out at the presentation of the report by the committee headed by Nuhu Ribadu?
Well, that goes to show the level of the manipulation of the PDP. In whatever comes to play or associated with the nation’s interest, PDP brings in negative manipulations into it. For goodness sake, how can a member of a committee, who claims to have a minority report, simply get up, at the point of the submission of a report, to raise issues arising from it? In the first place, do we even require that report? It is a clear case of distraction by the government. We have a multitude of committees that had identified the lapses in the oil industry. So if government is sincere and is not just trying to deceive the public, why must it not rely on the previous reports and prosecute those found culpable?
Why does it think the Ribadu committee is necessary at this point in time? The truth of the matter is that the institutions of government have not been allowed to work. The police, for instance, are not allowed a free hand to investigate and prosecute offenders or they are compromised to do the bidding of those in government. Other agencies or institutions are compromised and not allowed to deliver. So, for whatever it is, the government is simply interested in taking control of the process so that it can do whatever it wants. That is why the Ribadu committee comes into place. It is perhaps the Ribadu committee has come with some report against the interest of the government and it is looking for a way to rubbish it. That is the logical conclusion and until the government proves otherwise, the nation will hold on to that notion.
Ribadu also lamented the other day that his removal from the EFCC was to destroy the commission and frustrate the fight against corruption. Do you think government is serious about fighting graft in all ramifications?
My personal assessment of it is that government is actually promoting corruption rather than fighting it. All these subsidy issues, as far as I am concerned, are self-inflicted. All the lapses noticeable in the oil and gas industry are self inflicted and self-manipulated. We have perhaps deliberately made our political process highly expensive and then government decided to look for a way to finance the project and the easiest way was to compromise certain people within the industry to create avenues for corruption so that these people will be made to contribute to the finances associated with the running of the expensive electioneering campaigns. Now issues are being exposed because, naturally, you do not expect falsehood to remain forever without being exposed. Government is now looking for ways to distract the public. That is the logical conclusion out of it because, if you look at it, it is inexplicable why Nigeria should lack accountability over the amount of oil it produces daily. Is it possible for us as a nation not to know how much we pay as subsidy and who the beneficiaries are and why we pay them and for what?
What are we then talking about? So, in all sincerity, all these things are deliberately manipulated by government to create avenues for corruption to thrive. But then, when the falsehood collapses, government must look for a way out to sustain its image and its perceived goodwill. And in the course of doing so, there should be sacrificial lambs. That is what government is trying to do by sacrificing some of those that it used to commit the monumental infractions in the oil industry.
Do you think the setting up of a special court to try corruption can change the situation?
Well, to be honest, such an institution will not work fundamentally because government is the promoter of corruption in Nigeria. A special court to try corruption will still be another government institution that will not be given a free hand to do its work in attacking corruption. So, without the government being clean in the first place, what you get from its institution will be a reflection of the government itself. What you get from the government institution is what the government is. It is the psyche of the government that moulds its institutions. If the government is insincere in fighting corruption, then the institutions that are put in place will have a free hand in fighting graft. Now the government as an institution is promoting corruption. How then do you expect the institutions put in place to fight corruption to be different? The government will definitely put in place people to dance to its tune. As we say, he who pays the piper calls the tune. That is the circumstance we have found ourselves. There is no sincerity on the part of the government to tackle graft. Whoever is put in such institution would be such elements to compromise their positions in line with the psyche of the government that put them in place.
But Nigerians have been held captive by the government that controls all levels of governance and it seems there is nothing they can do to change anything in this country. What do you think?
The truth of the matter is that we are coming out of the bondage, which the system has subjected Nigerians to in many years. There is no way we can remain in it perpetually. And what we are seeing today arising from the steps that have been taken by institutions of government is an indication that there is hope for this country. The National Assembly itself has started something that can take this country out of the woods. We are definitely getting out of the bondage. A few persons have been manipulating the system over time to their advantage. But, interestingly, the generality of Nigerians is coming out to realise that, look, we can’t take this anymore’. That is perhaps what has given rise to many of the probes you now see taking place in the National Assembly. Definitely, the time has come for us to see the light and the light has started coming and nothing can stop it.
Are you not afraid that the National Assembly as an institution of government can also be manipulated?
Well, NASS, as an institution, can be manipulated, but then, arising from what they have done over time as manifested in the various probes they have successfully carried out to the admiration of well-meaning Nigerians, certain level of enlightenment has dawned on the people. It was that initial probe associated with the mismanagement of the oil subsidy that made Nigerians to come out openly and protest. So the era now is changing from that of docility to that of a pro-active citizenry. So, whether the NASS is compromised or not, the right pointer for the direction of this country has started coming out and nobody can stop it.
Who do you think should take Nigerians out the wood come next election?
The issue is not about sectional consideration, but having the right people at the right place and at the right time regardless of where they come from because we are all Nigerians. The main consideration should be who is he that has the required credentials, who is he that has required antecedents, background and history associated with effective management of our national resources and the capacity and determination to take us out of the woods? It is not about religion, it is not about region, the state or the ward, but simply about the capacity, the competence and the willingness to take us to the next level.
Based on the criteria you have enumerated, who do you think should become the next president?
The question is pre-emptive because it will depend on who and who have put up themselves up to render service to Nigerians come 2015. And then we will look at their antecedents and determine what they can do.
Many Nigerians believe our problems are caused by a faulty constitution that should be urgently amended.
Our problem is not caused in anyway by the constitution. Do not forget that there are great and forward-moving countries that operate without a written constitution, an example is Britain. Is Britain going backwards because its constitution is not written down? Our own is written down and the way things should be done clearly spelt out. But in spite of the specifications by the law, we have deliberately chosen to ingeniously bastardise the provisions of the constitution. The idea of fairness, justice, and due compliance with due process is not taken seriously. What we do is to breach the law with impunity and no amount of constitutional amendment can save the day until we begin to punish infractions no matter who is involved.
In other words, even if we change the law daily, it would not work?
It will not make any significant impact as long as we do not address the lapses associated with ourselves as a people and as a country. The sincerity and determination required for us to get along as a nation must be there for anything to work well for the nation. These are the key points for consideration for us to make progress and not constitutional amendment.
What type of government do you think is good enough for this country?
You see Federalism as a system is not too bad for this country. Where I feel we failed to get it right is the accumulation of expenses associated with federalism as an institution. It is too costly to manage and too costly to operate.
I think that we should continue to operate federalism as an institution, but curtail the level of expenses associated with it. We do not need a full-time National Assembly since it is a very costly institution. We should make government highly unattractive in terms of minimizing costs associated with it. The expenses associated with the executive as well should be reduced to the barest minimum and the associated executive institutions should be slashed to the lowest level. The responsibilities to such institutions should be clearly spelt out and breaches of any of the assigned duties adequately punished. People are now earning a living out of the inefficiency of the system. Electricity is not being generated as it should be. Those assigned with the responsibility would rather compromise the efficiency of the system so as to raise memo for money to be paid into their private pockets. So responsibilities should be properly assigned and breaches of such roles should be effectively punished. That is the only way we can get out of the woods. Accountability should be strengthened.Crule a state for four years and goes out of office without being made to account for his tenure. All the institutions in the country must be made to be accountable to the people so as to reduce the high level of corruption and the penchant for massive looting of public property by office holders. The expenses for Nigeria’s democracy are too much to bear because the money being unnecessarily expended on elections is enough to take us to the promised land when translated to developmental issues.
Are you suggesting that we should not hold elections?
No, but we should make our elections as cheap as possible.
How do we achieve that?
Look at the way we spend money on elections as if we have no other thing to do in this country. There are laws spelling out the limits of expenditure by politicians, but the laws are merely being observed in breach. So our laws should not be there for cosmetic purposes but should be complied with. We should do whatever it takes to ensure that our laws are obeyed for the purpose of curtailing the breaches in the land and punishment meted out against any breach of the law. We should not allow impunity to take over Nigeria. It does not happen anywhere else. No nation makes progress when its laws are being observed in breach.
Do you support the view that the Federal Government should dialogue with Boko Haram as it did with the Niger Delta militants so as to bring about peace in Nigeria?
The universal truth is that dialogue remains a weapon that breeds peace regardless of who is involved. Wars have never been a solution to any problem of our time. What war succeeds in doing generally is the loss of lives, economic disintegration and deterioration of infrastructure. So if dialogue will save a life, I think it is worth pursuing regardless of the nature and circumstances of the situation. As far as I am concerned, I believe that whatever it takes to dialogue for the purpose of saving a life, for the purpose of sustaining development and for the purpose of bringing about peace is worth pursuing irrespective of who is involved. It does not cost the nation anything to dialogue.
But what happens now that the sect is insisting that the talks should take place in far away Saudi Arabia?
When dialogue is at stake, whatever is associated with it including the venue and time, are open for negotiations. The essence of dialogue is giving an opening for negotiation and compromises. So if you want dialogue with me in the United Kingdom or the United States and the third party insists to have it in Afghanistan, it is left for all of us to negotiate the venue once we have all agreed to have peace.
What would you advise Mr. President to do if you were to be asked to do so?
He should address insecurity, which has become a very serious problem in Nigeria today. Insecurity is taking the nation back in terms of development. The security problem is one that is being manipulated for a purpose. Government needs to urgently unmask those behind the insurgency and bring them to account. I just cannot imagine a government operating without the ability to identify those behind the mayhem with all the intelligence and money being appropriated yearly for security. Last year alone we had almost a trillion earmarked for security and nothing concrete came out of it.