By ONOZURE DANIA
CHIEF Ladi Williams, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in this interview, lamented the degeneration the country had suffered over the years due to corruption.
He advocated stiffer steps to be taken to address the corruption scourge by killing those found guilty of the practice to reduce its prevalence in the country.
He also called on the National Assembly to investigate the allegation that the $67 billion left behind by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration was squandered by successive administrations.
THE judiciary came into spotlight recently over the two years jail term passed on former Director of the Police Pension Board, John Yusuf, by an Abuja High Court for stealing N23 billion pension funds. What is your reaction to the judgment?
The truth is that I have not read the judgment other than what I saw in the newspapers. Before I can comment on that judgment as a lawyer, it is important for me to have read the judgment because it will contain the reasoning of the judge. I really don’t know what is the content of the plea bargain between the alleged defendant and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and I, don’t know why they agreed on what was agreed upon.
I know that the general opinion of the populace is that the man should have been given a longer jail term and more money should have been recovered from him and so on. Again, the High Court is allowed to make mistakes, that is why we have Court of Appeal.
If the prosecution feels that the judge did not use his discretion judiciously by sentencing the man to a very minimal jail term, what the prosecution can do is to appeal the sentence. The Court of Appeal is there to correct the wrongs by the High Court. So, the ball is back to the court of the prosecution.
There is no need attacking the judge. It is only the Supreme Court who theoretically cannot make mistake. Even they themselves have admitted that in certain circumstances, they too can make mistake. So, the judge should be left alone. I don’t believe in attacking judges. They are doing their jobs the way they know it and understand. I will not levy any allegation against any judge unless it is substantiated.
As a way of tackling corruption in Nigeria, some people have called for capital punishment. Do you share this idea?
For me, desperate situation like this requires drastic steps to be taken. If you are a judge and you are found to be corrupt, and you bring shame to the judiciary, if you have no integrity or you are habitually breaking the code of conduct of your office, we should apply the Chinese solution. That is execution.
In China if you are corrupt, you will be executed because you constitute danger to the larger community. Once you are convicted of corruption, it is not enough to retire you. No. If you are corrupt you should be executed, otherwise this nation will not move forward.
I think the law of the land should be revised to deal ruthlessly with corruption and nothing short of execution will stop corruption. There is no reason why the children of the poor must remain poor. It is wicked, inhuman for anybody who is put in a position of trust to be corrupt. That is why I think of the death penalty, if only for a short while, let it be a short term therapy and you will see that there will be a change.
Only recently, the Presidency tackled former minister, Oby Ezekwesili, over her claim that the governments of the late Yar’adua and Jonathan wasted away $67 billion savings left behind by former President Obasanjo. How do you think the public can benefit from the arguments?
I think the National Assembly should look into the matter. The National Assembly under the constitution has powers of oversight on broad range of matters, one of them is how public funds are expended. They can call on the Accountant-General of the Federation to enlighten them on how the money was spent within the periods mentioned. Ezekwesili herself can make herself available once the National Assembly invites her to come and explain.
Mr. President can, if he so wishes sends one of his aides like the Minister of Finance and Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Governor whose duty is to keep the documents pertaining to these funds to explain where the funds are lodged. The National Assembly can also set up a committee on Finance to meet and examine all these documents with the assistance of those who are in power and those who were in power then.
Boko Haram recently declared a ceased fire but the Federal Government said it will watch closely to determine their sincerity. What is your reaction to this?
The first question to ask is ‘Who is Boko Haram’? Nobody has come out to say that he or she is a member of Boko Haram. Now, it looks as if every crime committed in the country is carried out by Boko Haram. Every criminal now appears to take his operational license from Boko Haram. Who are they?
Who can the government talk to? Some people have said ‘no, we cannot negotiate with criminals,’ but all these happenings that are coming under the auspices of Boko Haram, are they really the ones doing it? Is the country degenerating into a failed state? This Boko Haram is so nebulous.
We have not been able to know who their leaders are. Are we fighting guerrilla warfare? Honestly, we need a thorough investigation to know what exactly Boko Haram wants. The literal meaning of the word Boko Haram is ‘Western education is a sin.’ But we all know that everybody has borrowed one form of education from another. So, when you now go around throwing bombs amongst people and targeting someone like the Emir of Kano, can these people be said to be doing it in furtherance of Islam?
I think the answer is obvious. So, the government will have to brace itself to its duty. It is the duty of the government to provide security for its citizenry and they should go the extra mile to do so. So, telling me that a group of people that we don’t know their names and address tell the government that they are going to cease fire is unacceptable.
I think until they identify the leaders, we can’t even begin to talk of giving them a month to determine if their cease-fire talk is genuine. So, the important thing is good governance. Once we have good governance, a lot of these unfortunate and needless killings will considerably abate.
Former president Olusegun Obasanjo had been quoted in an interview that President Jonathan should adopt the ‘carrot and stick’ approach in tackling Boko Haram insurgency. Do you think that is the best solution to the problem?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, because we have a Joint Task Force, , that is operating in several areas of the North. They go after perceived Boko Haram members and there is usually exchange of gunfire leaving so many people dead. I am sure that the ones we don’t know is probably far more than the ones we know.
They will tell you that ’30 Boko Haram members have been killed.’ How are we sure that these ones killed are members of Boko Haram? Do they carry a card? Do they write it on their foreheads? We don’t know. There might be some mischief makers who will point to a village and say ‘those five people are members of Boko Haram.’ JTF will come there and attack them and later it will turn out that they are innocent farmers, who might have some problems with some of their neighbours.
So, obviously there is a mini-war going on between the JTF and certain elements in the far North. At the same time, the problem that President Jonathan may be faced with is that he may be thinking ‘How can I sit down and be negotiating with criminals? How will the families of the victims feel if they hear that Mr. President is negotiating with them?
It is not an easy problem to solve. People believe that it is okay to talk to Boko Haram, but nobody has pointed out the leaders of this sect, so that the president can negotiate with them. Since that has not happened, who are we going to talk to? At least in Syria, Assad knows the people that are fighting him, some of them are abroad and they have been talking to him.
The whole world knows them; even government has recognised some of them. In Libya when Ghadaffi was overthrown, we knew who the oppositions are, in fact they were given recognition by Arab countries. But in this instance, who are we going to talk to? I am sure that if somebody comes out today and identified himself as a leader of Boko Haram, the government will just arrest him. So, what should the president do in such circumstances? Until we know the leadership of Boko Haram, there is no one to talk to.
It was alleged that the Federal Government had spent $40 million in the on-going war in Mali. Do you think this amount is justified?
The sum of $40 million that we spent is nothing compared to the kind of income Nigeria make from our resources, especially crude oil. The problem of Mali is not for Mali alone. Instability in Mali can also affect Nigeria. We only need to take a cursory look at the map and you see how proximate Mali is to Nigeria in far North. From what I saw in the media, they destroyed ancient libraries, ancient books that can never be recovered again.
If it is not curtailed and if possible annihilated, it can flow into Nigeria. You will not be able to fly from Lagos to Abuja because these people will shoot down the plane, saying it is a western invention.We are talking here of people who are well armed, people who have missiles to shoot down aircraft.
So, $40 million spent on security, provided it is used for what it was budgeted for, I believe it is money well spent. But don’t forget the Nigerian factor which is very important. How much of this money will actually go directly to prosecuting the war and how much of it will go into private pockets?
A year from now or so, you will hear that EFCC is looking for one person or the other, who was supposed to have bought certain things for the prosecution of the war in Mali but he had bought a house in California enjoying himself. To say that 100 percent of that money will be used for the prosecution of the war in Mali, it is not possible. So, I think that is why a lot of Nigerians are skeptical about the intervention in Mali, but the objective is good.
Are you saying in essence that the fight against corruption in Nigeria cannot be won, if you said we should allow 20 to 25 percent pilfering?
Corruption has become part and parcel of our system. I have said it before and I will say it again, until we establish a proper social security system in this country, corruption will always be here. And we are not even moving towards that at all. By social security system, I am talking about a welfarist state where nobody can die for nothing simply because he cannot get adequate medical assistance, which some people call health-care delivery system.
It was late Prof. Olikoye Ransome-Kuti of blessed memory who tried to lay the foundation, but no sooner had he left office that his dream died. I just used that as an example. We need to fight poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, power failure among other, until we do that, I am afraid corruption is here to stay.
You set up EFCC and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, these are just palliatives. You are not really addressing the cause of corruption. It is only when you attack the cause of corruption and you diagnose it that you can now cure it. But the way we are doing it, corruption can never be defeated.