By Ikenna Asomba
100 days after President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office, human rights lawyer and former President, Nigerian Bar Association, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, takes a critical look at the Buhari administration. According to Agbakoba, 100 days is not too early to judge the President, but the parameters used in judging him is what matters. He also takes a critical look at the role of the anti-corruption agencies in the fight against graft, the new oppositional role of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Agbakoba advises Buhari to implement the report of the 2014 Confab for a new Nigeria. Excerpts:
President Muhammadu Buhari has just spent 100 days in office. Are you among those who believe that 100 days is too early to judge the President?
No, 100 days is not too early. 100 days is a good length of time to judge a President. But on what parameters? My parameter of judging President Buhari’s 100 days is different from the parameter I see in the media. They want to know where the ministers are and what is new. They are judging him on physical parameter, while I’m gauging his effectiveness on intangible parameters. What I see different is Buhari’s understanding of the Nigerian mindset and tackling it before addressing other issues. It is the succeeding period that will be judged. Firstly, the people need to be patient for the appointment of ministers.
If the ministers fit the mindset he has developed, it will be wonderful, but if the ministers are the same typical ministers that we see, that will be below the laid down expectations and the mindset of the people.
I also expect the dismantling of the corporatist government. Nigeria is a corporatist country, meaning we are interested in corporate well-being. The Nigerian society cares for the elites and is not interested in the common man. This was one of President Barak Obama’s challenges. President Obama shows interest in the welfare of the common man, while the Republicans are interested in the corporate well-being.
Buhari campaigned on the agenda that he shall include the common man. He said that he would identify vulnerable Nigerians. He has set the target for at least, 25 million people and will dedicate finances towards their needs. We have to see that happen. Social issues also have to be addressed, issues such as health, education and what policies the President is going to run on.
The problem is that Nigeria is a very sick country and the president’s prescriptions to cure this sickness and ensure its future must be addressed. It’s sick because no Nigerian leader has understood how to manage Nigeria’s diverse peoples.
What’s your take on the role of the EFCC and ICPC in President Buhari’s anti-graft war?
We have jumbled everything in our justice sector. Everyone is doing the wrong thing. For instance, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has no business prosecuting cases. It’s too tedious for the EFCC to be doing three jobs. How can the EFCC be the investigator, prosecutor and then engage in the recovery of assets. But if one must ask, how much has the EFCC recovered that is in public knowledge? To my mind, the main function of the EFCC should be investigation. So, why jumble up these together. Again, why give the EFCC corrupt practices legal framework when you have financial framework to prosecute. It means the EFCC is doing the work of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and this was caused by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who mixed everything together. You will get a jumbled system and you will be delayed.
So, the system needs to be sorted out. It’s not rocket science. When a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who could not be jailed here, went abroad, he was jailed, because the system put him in jail. As a prosecuting lawyer, I can put anyone in jail in a week if the evidence is there, and if I come before a good judge. It’s very simple, it’s not rocket science. You can see that this person has stolen, you need a docket, you can see that he has stolen and the evidence is there. I can tell you that even though it’s on CCTV, give it to a prosecutor here to prosecute the person, he will bungle it. It will take nine to 10 years to finish. So, there is something wrong with our judicial system which we need to address.
You were a delegate to the 2014 Confab convoked by former President Goodluck Jonathan. Looking at the mixed reactions that have greeted the call for Buhari to implement the Confab report, do you think its implementation can solve Nigeria’s myriad of problems.
The Confab report implementation will go a long way in bringing solution to our problems as a nation. I remember when I chaired a session of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, conference recently, when the Nigerian government, led by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, presented the agenda. He spoke and I think many of the participants stated that there is a lot of meat in the report of the National Conference and it will be a very good idea for President Buhari to use it as a very good framework for developing a new agenda for Nigeria. And I think that is very correct. As a member of the Confab, I find it extremely imperative for the report to be implemented. If we could implement half of what was decided at the National Conference, I tell you, Nigeria will be on the run.
What’s your take on the controversy generated by the President’s assets declaration?
We have become so cynical in this country. The President doesn’t declare his assets, we condemn him, he declares it, we also condemn him. I don’t understand this. It’s an absolutely non-issue. He has no business publicly declaring his assets, because there is no requirement in any law for him to do what he has done. So, I commend him for doing what he has done and forget the rest. How many Presidents have declared their assets publicly?
But, a cross section of Nigerians are of the view that the declaration was not enough, particularly looking at that done by the late former President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who declared his assets, liabilities and his net worth, including that of his wife?
Where is it in the law books? I have just told you that it’s a non-issue. Nigerians are very cynical. I have observed TV stations wasting precious air time discussing the matter. The man has declared his assets publicly, what else do you want to know? The President is not required by law to go public with his assets.
But that’s one of his campaign promises, to declare his assets publicly?
He is not required to do that. All he is required to do is to submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau, saying ‘this is what I own’. It’s now left for the media to investigate.
This whole noise about public declaration of the President’s assets shows our cynicism. I am tired of this cynicism. Can’t we have a rethink for a change. Let’s feel good about ourselves and not thinking about knocking a person down all the time.
If you understand the way our law works, Buhari is not bound to declare his assets publicly. I actually promoted a law known as Public Declaration of Assets Bill (PDAB) when Obasanjo came. I think it was under Section 144 of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates that you can’t assume office except you declare your assets. If you declare the assets only to CCB, it makes no sense, but publicly declaring it is what makes it verifiable. To me, that is enough. However, on the issue of particularization, I firmly say that’s the work of the media to do. Instead of journalists to phone people like us, to speak on the President’s assets declaration, they should just go to the CCB using the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), and ask for what he has filed. That is what the media should be doing, so that when you now challenge his lack of proper declaration, it can be quantified.
You are being too defensive of President Buhari, or are you looking for an appointment?
I’m not looking for anything. I don’t know him personally. But I just feel Nigerians are too cynical. There is nothing the President does that Nigerians won’t react to. If he does something, they will say he has done it again; when he doesn’t do, they will say he hasn’t done this. It’s not just about President Buhari, but about everything.
But by the way, am I not entitled to an appointment as a bonafide citizen of Nigeria? I am 40 years old at the Bar, I am a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). I have been the President of the NBA. However, I’m not begging for an appointment, and I’m not interested in begging for one. Look, I have been speaking to the media for a long time on the state of the nation, and I always make my positions on issues very clear.