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Corrupt leaders deserve minimum of life sentence – Prof Oyebode

By Abdulwahab Abdulah

Prof. Akin Oyebode of the University of Lagos is a Professor of international relations and jurisprudence. In this interview, he argued that we must get our electoral process right before we can make headway as a country. To this end, he suggested that we must fight corruption to a stand still and ensure only good political leaders, emerge at the end of the day.

What is your view on the call for the adoption of the report of Justice Mohammed Uwais led  electoral reform committee, especially with the promise by President Goodluck Jonathan to ensure free and fair election?

President Goodluck Jonathan had made some statement in France to the effect that he did not really care about who become the next president but he was sworn to ensure that the vote of the people counts and all the riggers and ballot box snatchers are going to meet their waterloo and go to jail. This is the first time we are having someone saying this because all this statement of violation of electoral act has not been visited upon with sanctions.

The Mohammed Uwais electoral reform committee’s  recommendation in terms of the appointment of the INEC chairman via public advertisement, short listing by the National Judicial Council (NJC), name forwarded to the president and senate to finally approve would have given a veneer of transparency and non partisanship. If they have carried out the recommendation, it would have given the people a hope but that has not been done.

I hope that Jonathan is going to play the statesman like he promised because he had said similar thing in United State and gave the impression that he was a born again democrat.

I think Nigerians are maturing politically and getting wiser and even though we are in the thick of it all, we can’t perceive the maturation process that is going on within the polity. I think we are slowly but surely getting more sophisticated in terms of the questions we ask and the assessment we make. Nigerians are now taking very good advantage of the democratic process; they are going to court, making speeches and demonstrating. Look at the Save Nigeria Group (SNG) and the role they played during the time of the cabal and the charade of hoisting up somebody that was definitely incapable as returnee president. If not for the SNG which emboldened other groups like actors and others who never thought they would go on  demonstration, that is a symptomatic of what I call the law of turning quantity into quality because many more people are getting aware and are sticking out their neck to save this country.

I can perceive the changes that are going on within the polity which many people might not be aware of. That is why people pin their hope on 2011 that if the political class does not get it right, that might be the end of Nigeria as we know it.

There is a lot of belief that the politicians will learn their lesson and make sure that they do the right thing.
The Uwais report gives a lot of cheers and hope that Nigeria can get it right if the political will is there and if Jonathan can see the whole thing through then Nigeria can have a reprieve.

What do you have to say about amending  the Nigerian Constitution or reviewing part of the document?
Many of us believe that the entire constitution has to be jettisoned because it tells a lie against itself; we were never consulted by Abdusalami Abubakar who foisted the constitution on us.

The Nigerian constitution is an illegitimate instrument and it is supposed to be a product of the popular will of the people. In other word, there must be a constituent assembly convened to elaborate a blueprint that will form the basis of our interpersonal and group relations and such a blueprint will now be subjected to a referendum by the generality of Nigerians and if the draft reached the 61 percent mark then it becomes legitimate. Nigerians are supposed to do the amendment or review, it is not the job of the legislature. A legislature is to make a day to day laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigeria not to write the constitution.

Of course every constitution has an amending formula and the process here is having to go through the National Assembly, but when you are amending 54 per cent of the constitution, that is worse. Why don’t you throw such a document away and get a new one.

The American constitution which was adopted in 1787 had endured only 27 amendments with the 28th amendment still hanging and it’s been over 223 years. The document had been so resilient to have suffered amendment for less than 30 times, but in Nigeria within 10 years from 118 amendments we are thinking of 54 amendments again. To them, that may be progress. To me, it is still telling me that the constitution is lopsided and not a true federal document.

Nigeria’s federalism is a unique type of federalism where everything has to be decided from Abuja, including salaries of judges, including VAT, registration and all sorts of things, so that is not the type of constitution that heterogeneous people should have. The 406 ethnic nationalities that comprise Nigeria must freely choose their representatives to go to that big family meeting called the constituent assembly to hammer out the modalities of the constitution and what they hammer out should not be a finish business but have to be subjected to the popular votes of the people and if 51 per cent says yes, then it becomes a legitimate document that is how it is done in more civilized society.

How do you see current debates on zoning and the 2011 elections?

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is an amalgam of power mongers. So, the zoning formula they developed was a bond of expediency. But the only thing permanent in life as we all know is change so the formula which they elaborated a few years ago might not be applicable again today because of the scenario that we now have before us. Some people are already talking of God’s zoning that God has zoned the presidency to Goodluck Jonathan because of the exit of Umaru Yar’Adua.

This is a new situation and if the party wants to be relevant, it must come to terms with the changes that had occurred within the scenario. Of course, there are some die-hard old war horses that believed that the presidency of Nigeria has been zoned to the north but in the present circumstances, that might be cost prohibitive if you want to carry the south especially the South-South along.

Jonathan happens to come from the Niger-Delta and for the first time in the history of Nigeria, we are having somebody from that part of the country at the helm of affairs and so far so good, he has managed to keep the ship of state of Nigeria on an even scale and because of that some people might say “better the devil you know than the angel you are yet to meet”.

On account of that I think the PDP is between a rock and a hard place as some people within the party might want to hold tenaciously to the old arrangement and there is a dissenting group who want the reform within the party and were in fact suspended but again readmitted. A lot of water is passing under the bridge and the PDP must readjust to the changing scenario. I dare say that if the PDP is not careful, it might lose the presidency because if the oppositions can get their act together and throw up a political platform that includes probably people like  Pat Utomi and Abubakar Umar and host of others, that platform will be difficult to beat in the present day Nigeria.

Nigerians are yearning for change and it does not seem that the PDP is the party that could engineer that change. Things can’t continue the way it has been carried on, in the past couple of years. People now want a different approach to politics that would give event an utilitarian objective; policies that would increase the good and the happiness of the greatest majority of the people, not just catering for the interest of selected few. In that situation I foresee the possibility of a radical transformation of the situation within the next dispensation so the PDP must be careful not to lose out.

Nigeria Democracy would have come of age if and when the sitting government is voted out as it has happened in Ghana twice, that is why Ghana is the toast of the west. Right now people who have a do or die approach to politics who will continue to snatch ballot boxes, who will shoot gun in the air and perpetrate all kinds of shenanigans, create a very difficult image for Nigeria because you cannot have democracy without democrats and that is why for me, I think the political class must go back to the drawing board to give Nigeria some hope in this particular experiment.

Some people have advocated the highest penalty for corrupt office holders, do you subscribe to this ?
A drastic disease warrant drastic therapy. Corruption has destroyed our moral and values so much that the image of the ugly Nigeria is what theJuly 21, 2010 world knows. Nigerians are considered as synonymous with corruption. There was a time we held the world record for the most corrupt nation under the Transparency International, but they said we have made some progress and are now 17 in the world.

 Even at that, it is not still good enough. I am in support of increasing the stake for those who want to give Nigeria a bad name. Look at Ghana, Rawlings cut off a few heads and it put the fear of God in many, now Ghana is a destination of interest and number one destination for foreign investments.

In Nigeria, we have a situation where armed robbers are using their guns to do what others are using their pen to do. Tell me why people will see others living ostentatious lifestyle while they are condemned to go to bed hungry.

Unfortunately, those that made the law themselves are wielded with corruption. There is corruption everywhere but you can’t use just one prescription to treat all manner of corruption, we need to treat them separately. Some might warrant just tablet, others might warrant just mentholatum, and others injection. This must serve as a deterrent, though we know that it is not the severity of the sanction that brought deterrent.

At least corrupt persons deserve a minimum of a life sentence, let them be thrown in the cell and throw away the key so that people will know that corruption is bad. Look at the case of Bode George, it put some fear in the mind of the people, nobody knows that some people are not sacred cows.

 If we can convince the world that we do not have sacred cows, then the fight against corruption will have attained some progress, but not this slapping people on the wrist like sending people to six months imprisonment when he had appropriated N18 billion, while someone who steal yams bags 10 years jail term. That is not fair, similar cases should be treated similarly.

There is a United Nation, UN convention against corruption to which Nigeria is a signatory and to that extent, it is duty bound to apply the international law. Corruption is illegal under the international law.

It is a multi-dimensional thing, there is a convention against corruption in Europe and America also that is why you see corrupt people being tried and put to jail there. The war against corruption is a global war and Nigeria cannot be an exception.

The controversy surrounding the award of the Senior Advocate is yet to subside. What do you have to say about the call for the abrogation of the rank?
We borrowed that rank from the British where they have the Queen’s Counsel (QC) when Nigeria legal system felt the need to create the equivalent of QC and came out with the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). It was good when it was started as it is the highest title that legal practitioners could attain. It is most celebrated and have certain advantages, they wear silk gown, sit in the front row in court and have their cases heard first. But somewhere down the line, the status of SAN has become compromised like most things in Nigeria. You know Nigeria has a negative Midas Touch.

SAN has become like a family inheritance and the younger people are not very happy with it. You now need a godfather to be a SAN and many of the people being given the title did not command the respect of their peers.

Look at somebody like Gani, it became almost too late before they decided to honour him with the title, look at Femi Falana, how can you mention 10 names in the legal profession today and omit Femi Falana? Then that list is not complete. And the people are watching.

I can say that at least 30 of my students are SAN and most of them are accomplished people, I am proud of them. I see my success as the success of my students. SAN is like a fellowship in other professions, like the fellows of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria, Engineers, professorship and others. I would not say it should be abolished but it should be reformed in the way and manner that the selection is done.


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