By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
Ibrahim James Pam, a Nigerian, educated by the British government under its Chevening Scholarship Programme at the London School of Economics, and currently works as the Resident Investigator for the United Nations in South Sudan, is an expert in the criminal justice system.
He had previously worked as Chief Legal Officer with the Nigerian Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, Chief Investigator with the African Development Bank and the International Criminal Court at The Hague, helping to develop instruments for checking financial crimes in many parts of the world.
Just as he won the Chevening Scholarship in 2004, his daughter was among the 45 Nigerians who were admitted to the prestigious programme by the British High Commission in 2015 in Abuja and he was there to showcase himself as the head of the first Nigerian family where father and daughter have won the covetous award to study in London.
He spoke on how he won the award, what it has done to his life and career and what it means to be a British scholar. Pam also reflected on the ICPC where he served as Legal Officer and how Nigeria can win the war against corruption. Excerpts:
Not many Nigerians seem to know you. If I may ask, who is Ibrahim Pam?
I am a Nigerian from a family in Jos, Plateau State. My father was Berom while my mother was the part of Kano that is now in Jigawa State. Her father was a Ghanaian whose father had settled in Kano and was trading for many years.
My father was a lieutenant-colonel in the Nigerian Army. He was the first Nigerian officer who trained as an artillery officer and was commissioned in the Royal Military Academy in 1955.
My mother was a federal electoral commissioner from 1978 to 1983 and had done other public service before that. I am the last of six children; I am a lawyer who graduated from the University of Jos in 1988 and I was called to the Bar in 1989. I worked first as a lawyer in Lagos in my early practice before joining the Continental Merchant Bank. I worked for a few years in the bank before going back into private practice. I joined the Oputa Panel in 2000 and worked on the public hearings and so on. In July 2001, I got an appointment as Chief Legal Officer in ICPC and I worked closely with Justice Akanbi.
In that position I represented Nigeria in the negotiation of the African Union Convention against Corruption and the UN Convention against Corruption which we negotiated in Vienna and was concluded in 2003.
I applied for the British Chevening Scholarship in 2004 and was fortunate to get it and proceeded for my Master’s Programme at the London School of Economics where I bagged an MSc in Criminal Justice Policy.
On my return, I was fortunate to have the option of choosing between five different jobs that I got while I was away; so I chose to go to the International Criminal Court as an Associate Analyst and later on as an investigator and this was the time in 2005 they had opened investigation into the Darfur crisis. I was assigned to that case and, over the course of seven years, I worked with the ICC on the Darfur case and the Libyan case. In Darfur we brought charges against nine individuals in five different cases and it was a very challenging time. I left the International Criminal Court in April 2012 to take a position at the African Development Bank as the Chief Investigator looking at financial crimes, misconduct and corruption. There we developed a sanctions regime and implemented a sanction process in collaboration with other multilateral development banks- the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Bank, European Investment Bank and the Islamic Development Bank. So I worked for three years at the African Development Bank and I left recently in April 2015 and I joined the United Nations in June as the Resident Investigator in the UN Mission in South Sudan.
So can we say you have hit the ultimate job?
Not, my ultimate aim is to come home actually and contribute my quota to my country after 11 years outside. I love my country.
You mean it?
Actually, Nigeria is one of the most exciting countries in the world at the moment. I recently read two reports which gave me a lot of confidence about the prospects in Nigeria. One of the reports published in 2013 estimates that our economic potential will be so favourable that, by 2030, our consuming population alone will equal that of France and Germany put together. We are talking of tremendous market with tremendous potentials and the latest result by PwC estimates that, by 2050, Nigeria will be 9th largest economy in the world. So, we are looking at a tremendous progress between now and the next 35 years.
So, I really look forward to coming home.
You mentioned something that is of interest to me. You said you had to choose between five jobs. I am interested in knowing where those jobs were coming from?
I had the option to come to my old job at the ICPC. The second option was that I was offered a position at European Union Delegation in Nigeria to run. They had an office or department that was anti-corruption related; I can’t really remember the title. The third one was that I was invited also by the EU to help set up a fund to support the EFCC and that fund was about 23 million Euros. The fourth was an offer from the United Nations to join the UN in Sudan which was just, at the time, for me I was to be the deputy to Susan Page who later on became the U.S Ambassador to South Sudan early this year. The problem with that was that I could not move with my family to Juba at the time because of the situation then.
So I took up a position at the International Criminal Court instead and moved with my family. It was a lower position; the pay was about half of what I would have taken in Sudan but I think family was a big thing to consider.
From what you studied and your experience so far, what do you think is the problem with the Nigerian criminal justice system that has hampered its fight against corruption?
I think we all recognise that there are major issues with our criminal justice system and I happen to be on the National Coordination Committee on Justice Sector Reform set up by the Ministry of Justice in 2001, 2002. We did a tour of some prisons and we had engagement with other law enforcement officials- the police, the court, magistrates and I also worked with the UN Programme on the Judiciary Integrity in Nigeria. What I think about the criminal justice system in Nigeria along the entire chain of the system is that we have major obstacles in dealing with the issues of rule of law and enforcement. It looks like the police, which are to intercept and investigate crimes, don’t have enough resources to do so although they are much better now and more functionally equipped in terms of the qualification of personnel.
That means there has been a huge leap in Nigeria and there are people doing great work supporting the police and doing some great works in providing statistics in supporting police work. I know there is a lot of effort being put in place to establish database in the country and that is essential for crime detection and prevention.
You also have issues with the court, tremendous issues with personnel, staffing and oversight. In effect, there is a lot of work to be done in making the court more effective and efficient and making it less prone to corrupt activities. There is also a big problem with the prison; some of the stories you hear are horrifying, from what goes on in the prisons including how prisoners are able to negotiate formally by paying bribes and this is well known.
So we have got issues with the prison, the court, the police, the judiciary and, like all the larger problems in the Nigerian society, the first step to resolving the issues is leadership.
Once we have a committed, disciplined and patriotic leadership at the very top that can set the right tone for everyone to follow, corruption will be on its way out. That is what is called setting the moral tone; what that means is that you then empower people along that chain going downwards the hierarchy of public service to live up to the highest ideal of politics. It is not too far away from our history that we had people like that and I am sure we still do but, often times, when we talk about the system being corrupted, the system is not a structure; it is not a building, the system is people; so we are talking about people and the instinct of a human being is to lead or to be led. And if you are able to create the right leadership, people will follow you. In other words, the system will follow you.
So what we need is a moral regeneration at the very top to set the right moral tone and people will follow.
Nigeria’s criminal justice policy has to be properly structured in order to identify the source or the motivation of crime and you describe interventions that address the motivation directly.
There must be clear instruments to serve as deterrent and for punishment against financial crimes. What statistics show in Nigeria is that since the first execution of armed robbers in the 1970s, armed robbery has increased exponentially showing that the deterrent didn’t work? Why didn’t it work? If failed because it didn’t address the crime.
What it did was that it punished the individuals, which seems to be the mentality, with all due respect, to what has driven the anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria, chasing after the criminals and punishing them. That is effective but that is only part of the problem or part of the solution. If you remember, there was a due process that was set up under Oby Ezekwesili and, if you look at the records, that due process office did more to control or to limit the opportunities for stealing in the procurement system in the public service than the efforts of the ICPC and EFCC combined at that time.
It was much more effective but it wasn’t made known to the public; it wasn’t very dramatic.
You need to be effective in controlling your revenues from source. You need to be effective in blocking the leakages, some of these interventions are called low risk interventions but high impact and that is what due process is all about. It is called low risk because it does not involve anything that normal investigations and persecution will involve. High impact because it stopped the stealing of hundreds of billions of Naira but, when you do the high risk low impact intervention is when you arrest one big Customs official and you send him to jail and it is all over the papers. It makes for a lot of drama but the impact is low because the opportunity to steal is still there.
Corruption is a crime of opportunities; so you address the opportunities rather than intervening only with the individual because it is the opportunity that creates the crime not the individual. It is like what the conservatives say in the U.S ‘guns don’t kill people, people do’ and there is a lot of debate about that. They say that if there were no people, the guns won’t kill; if no one was operating the guns, then they won’t kill. So you have got to address the opportunity for the crime and I really wish that would be the focus of our anti-corruption activities.
If you were to draw up a template for fighting financial crimes in Nigeria, will it advocate the sustenance of the existing anti-corruption organisations like ICPC and the EFCC?
First, let me point out that the ICPC Law of 2000 is probably the most robust anti-corruption law in Africa. Having been involved in the drafting of the African Union Convention and the UN Convention, I have had the opportunity to look at one of the most successful models. Botswana, for example, has a great model of financial crimes control agency called the Directorate of Economic Crimes. The model they have in Botswana is not an autonomous agency; it is an agency of government but it is very effective because it is implemented effectively. ICPC has the distinction of being by its name an independent commission which gives it a tremendous amount of power.
But can it be said to be truly independent when it does not have financial autonomy?
No, it does not have.#
So where does the independence come from?
Financial independence can be guaranteed by parliament and, in fact, what you say is very important because when ICPC began to investigate some very senior parliamentarians, there was an attempt to abrogate the law and I was part of the ICPC delegation that was invited to the Senate under the leadership of Anyim Anyim. I had followed my Chairman to the Senate that day and I remember that it was a big threat to our operation.
I actually believe in democracy, parliamentary democracy and I think that all government revenues must be derived strictly by appropriation through parliament but I did an analysis of ICPC finances at the time and, honestly, what I discovered was that its problem was poor funding. The present structure makes it difficult to free enough funds to do investigation and prosecution since it has to cater for many Board members provided for by the law.
As it is, if you have a commission made up of a Chairman and 12 Board members with each of them entitled to three exotic vehicles made up of one Prado jeep and two utility vehicles; a Peugeot saloon car and one utility and three or four staff members, accommodation in choice parts of Abuja, you have already spent half of your budget on servicing the Board. Meanwhile, the Investigation Division at the time I was there had only two functional Peugeot 504 station wagon vehicles with which staff members were running all over the country doing investigations.
Now, that’s part of the problem. The structure favoured the Board more than the major operations of the ICPC. To get the best out of the commission, it has to be restructured in such a way that the operations will have more funds and facilities to work with and deliver results.
The best way out is to restructure the commission in such a way that it has a directorate headed by one director with staff members under him and create a leaner, more functional, more efficient structure.
In other words, the ICPC, as it is currently, should be retained but mainly restructured to give it more impact, more powers?
I have been away for a while; so I am not quite sure about the current structure of the ICPC.
It is the same thing you left behind. Nothing has been added or removed. The same thing applies to the EFCC.
I think there is definitely a case for restructuring ICPC. That is my personal opinion in terms of the actual structure of it. They just need to remove the excessive expenditure on the part of the Board and give more powers to the operatives. I think the operational focus must be top priority. I think you can save a lot by restructuring and, I think, you can be more efficient by restructuring.
How did you get Chevening Scholarship to study in Britain?
When I worked at Continental Merchant Bank, the British Council was virtually at the back of the bank. So, I had been there, I had found out about it and I applied once in the early 1990s but I didn’t get it.
But that experience helped me to discover what I did not do well and what I needed to do the next time in order to succeed. I went through a lot of rigorous processes but, at the end, only 25 Nigerians drawn from various sectors of the economy, including myself, were successful. I went to the LSE and studied criminal justice policy. To be quite honest, that scholarship marked a turning point in my life because, without it, there was no where I could afford that huge amount to sponsor myself in Britain at the time.
People tell me that once you get the Chevening Scholarship, everything is paid for, like going for a jolly trip. Was that the experience?
No, for two reasons; one is because, in my office, I didn’t get a leave of absence with pay; it was without pay; so my N50,000 salary at the time was but God is faithful. At the time too, my wife got a job which was actually paying more than my salary at ICPC. My accommodation in London was over £800 a year and what I had at the end of paying my rent could hardly sustain me for the rest of the programme. But I had to manage by avoiding luxurious goods.
Now your daughter has also won the same scholarship. How do you feel?
I am extremely proud.Is it because you played a role that made it possible for her to be selected?
I did not even know that my daughter had applied for it since she was not in the same country with me when she applied. Secondly, she did not even believe she would be selected after submitting her forms online, fearing that she had not done enough work to qualify.
So, I guess she wanted to relieve me of the burden of paying for her tuition; so she applied for the Chevening Scholarship on her own and, when she told me that she had applied, I told her that I really didn’t think they would take her and the reason is simple: usually Chevening scholars are just mid-level professionals.
They always look for people who have some experience and are in the position to project into the future, but Elizabeth really had only one or two years experience maybe a little bit more of active working experience. So, I thought she had the potentials but maybe in a few years time she could apply again. But I was quite proud and surprised when she got the scholarship and I think she must have been outstanding in her performance.
What will you tell Nigerians who fear that if you don’t have connections you cannot win the scholarship?
When I got the job at the ICC, there was a rumour which I found very amusing and it came out in some papers about the fact that I must have gotten the job for the ICC because my mother is partly Ghanaian and the UN Secretary-General at the time was Koffi Anan. I found it very amusing because perceptions count a lot and I know that a lot of people sit down and expect other people to do the connection and the hard work for them. Nigerians should believe in themselves, work hard and try their hands in opportunities without thinking of cutting corners in order to excel.