By Bashir Adefaka
Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), is the proprietor of Crescent University, Abeokuta (CUAB), Ogun State. In this interview, he x-rays the Buhari government in the last two years, saying the problem with the economy is the people who are calling it bad in order to run down the country.
How do you assess the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government in the last two years?
I would first and foremost like to raise a point of fact here, anybody who is in government purposely to rid the government and the country of corruption cannot be popular. Majority of those in government are there for the purpose of enriching their pockets. Most of them are there to steal, to cheat, to bribe and to be bribed.
Therefore, if there is anyone going into government to get rid of such a situation, he is already on an uphill task and it is bound to be difficult. Hence you find a lot of people condemning the government. Hence you find a lot of people saying a lot of sad and bad things against the government. And, unfortunately, the government is headed by someone who, at the deep down of the anti-corruption campaign, suddenly develops health issues and that gave them the impetus, that gave them the idea of all the possible attempt to get rid of him. And as long as he is still there and is all out to rid our country of corruption, the more he will be derided by his people who are there invariably to cheat and to deprive the country of its wealth.
It has been going on for a long time. It is still going on now. A lot of people are still corruptly enriching themselves, left, right and centre. There is no doubt about that. People are suffering as a result of the activities of these corrupt people and it is, in fact, the cause of the economic recession. It is very, very unfortunate. But you see the issue of this corruption is an issue of yesterday. It is started a long time ago. It started when it was on 10 percent but now it is far more than that. It is taking enriching themselves at all costs and grabbing all they can. It is far more than corruption. It is a matter of stealing everything that they can lay their hands on. That is our problem. And, unless we get rid of it, it can kill Nigeria.
And to get rid of corruption before it kills Nigeria, are you suggesting therefore the continuity of the same government that started it two years ago?
Of course there is no doubt about that. We must be able to get rid of it. We should endeavour to get rid of it. And it is already institutionalized and it is very much in our Assemblies; very much in our Senate, everywhere. There must be concerted effort, first of all, to embark on restitution and getting hold of the money wherever they may be, in order to apply it to the proper and right things.
But in the last two years, would you say there has been a resemblance of the concerted effort that you are advocating for in the current government that makes the fight against corruption one of its three major cardinal points?
There is no doubt that there has been an improvement. There is no doubt since some monies are already in the coffers of the government, that they have been able to recover part of the sums stolen.
Is there any way we can correctly link corruption to the cause of the economic recession that the country has faced in recent time?
There is no recession anywhere. What we have had is some people just getting hold of the money which should be in the hand of government and putting it in the pockets of these individuals. It is sad! It is very sad!
In May 2015, you said in an interview that the government that was coming then was going to fight corruption but that, in doing so, looters will do a serious fight back which will cause hardship in the land. We do not know you to be a prophet. How did you come about that prediction that seems to have come to pass?
It is true because corruption is already endemic, it is already deep rooted and they have been used to it and they have been living on it and it is of general application, of general practice. And once it has become so regular and become so much all around, it is difficult to renege. It is difficult to go back from it. That is the problem we are in.
Buy why won’t we be able to just leave a bad past and willingly choose to change into a better present for our improved future?
Ha! You see, the money was coming in easily. It was all about our petroleum being sold. Only very few were doing the work and everybody was milking.
But we were told that even before oil, there was also corruption in Nigeria. Why is corruption a traditional phenomenon in this country; won’t there be any day that one positive thing will be used to relate to Nigeria and Nigerians?
But it was not as bad as this when we were up working hard to earn a living, during the days when we took agriculture serious and we had the groundnut pyramid in the North, in the Middle-Belt we were exporting hides and skin, in the South-West we had cocoa and in the South-South, there was palm oil. We were working very hard for our earnings or our daily bread. All of that we had and so we were using the money objectively, positively, purposefully, rightly. But at that time, we could not write-off corruption. It has been there all the time. Because it was not being checked, it started going deep into our governance.
Had the current government not come into power, what would the Nigerian situation have been?
We would have continued to be in the same poor situation and things would have been getting worse. Eventually it would have destroyed us.
Is that to say that in the last two years of the current government we are getting out of the poor situation?
At least, it is somehow static now. It is being checked and people are watching here and there with the fear of their being detected. That is better than allowing it to go unchecked.
Now on security, what is your assessment of the situation?
The matter of security is another issue that is not being properly checked at this present time. It is still very much with us. The situation is not a happy one. It is still very much a place where the whole country is considered to be in a dangerous and precarious situation. Nigeria is the 13th most dangerous country in the world at the moment. That is sad now that people don’t want Nigerians in their countries. They are being thrown out and they are being sent home. And when they are home, they prefer to destroy rather than to create, rather than to improve, rather than to work hard.
Which is to say that beyond Boko Haram, which has been tackled in the last two years, we still have other aspects of insecurity that should be addressed?
Oh! We have a lot. Apart from Boko Haram, we have the herdsmen and farmers fighting, we have some Niger Delta people who also are still very ferocious, causing a lot of damage to lives and property. Also look at issues of cultism here and there in our various communities; it is part of the problem I am talking about. All these things are there. We cannot delude ourselves and say they are not there.
There is a saying about how police are part of the problems that we live with, now talking about southern Nigeria outside the Boko Haram issue that is now tackled by government. Do you agree?
In some cases they are. In other cases they are doing their best. But that is their problem because today you hear about a group of policemen trying to profit from what they are doing and another day you find the policemen doing very well, but, if collectively they can all do very well, things will be better. But some are not doing very well. There is no doubt about that because, if a policeman should take the life of somebody else without a legal reason whatsoever, that is a problem.
What about the economy, how do you think it has fared in the last two years?
The problem there is that people are running down the economy. The economy itself is not all that bad. They call a dog a bad name in order to kill it. Foreign countries and institutions outside the country keep telling us that our economy is not bad, that we are no longer in recession, that we are okay and gradually the Naira is getting stronger against the dollar. Yet in order to get us still in this mess all the time, some people make it their hobby to say we are still in recession and that everything is poor, everything is bad and everything is difficult. They are saying it psychologically to keep us there. Because, if there is lawlessness and all these difficulties plaguing us, we shall not be in position to see ourselves properly. Especially, that our President is ill and all that we are saddled with is the good effort of the Vice President who is doing his very best, in line with the programmes of his boss, and is working hard to keep the country in good shape.
What is your message to the government in areas they need to patch up and to Nigerians on what their attitude should be as the government moves on in helping them to fix the country?
Let me tell you this; even the strongest possible governments would still be saddled with the problem of the people, who are trying to bring them down because they are stepping on toes. I have the feeling that they should do their best and embark on restitution and collect enough money to govern because, taking any other method may be difficult at the moment. And they should be careful about these whistle-blowers. They could keep the money somewhere and ask government to go there and get it and they will still earn part of the money. That is a game. They should be careful and watch it. Regardless of any other thing, the government must realise that it is facing an uphill task and fighting a very serious problem and there are so many of them (the corrupt people) fighting with the ulterior motive of running down the government.
But when such ulterior motive is clearly displayed by people who are in office as governors or who have benefited from this country as former ministers, how does it sound to you as somebody who has held office as Attorney-General of the Federation?
As for that type of people, they want to destroy somebody to be in higher position in another government. Do you see what I mean? Doing so, that they can be hailed as effective destroyers in order to be given a higher post when another is formed. That is the problem. But that attitude by them will not remove the problem of corruption. That will not remove the Herculean tasks facing the country. It is then left to the government of the day to know how to handle them.