•Calls Sagay-led anti-corruption panel unserious
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
On the heels of President Muhammadu Buhari’s defence of the pardon, he granted former Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State and his Taraba State counterpart, Rev Jolly Nyame, who was jailed for corruption, a former Chairman of Transparency International, Gen Ishola Williams, retd, in this interview, speaks on issues around it. Williams explains how the development would encourage impunity and calls the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption led by Professor Sagay unserious.
As a former leader of a global anti-corruption body, what do you think are the implications of the pardoning of ex-governors Dariye and Nyame?
The President through the National Council of State, NCA, had the power to grant pardons to the people. He used the power but what do you expect in politics? If members of your party are in a difficult situation for whatever it is, you will find an excuse to get them out of that difficult situation. Even if it is contradictory to whatever you stand for, that is politics. But in the real sense of it, people play ‘’politricks’’ in Nigeria and not politics.
Recall that Oshiomhole once said that if you sin and defect to the All Progressives Congress, APC, your sins are forgiven. APC is an alliance of politicians of questionable characters. If an alliance of politicians of questionable characters is in power, what do you expect? The chairman of APC, who is an old man like me, is a former governor and a senator. He said something I find very important.
He said our current governors create problems for political parties. And it is because they fund the political parties. The man who pays the piper dictates the tune. That is what Wike is saying. Wike is saying he rescued the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP when Atiku was away. He said this is the time for the party to recognise his work by giving him the ticket.
What does that say about the current political class in Nigeria?
It shows the political class in Nigeria is a kleptocratic class. Therefore, if we want to do something great, the best thing is to look for someone who is not in any of the political parties. We need someone new in politics. Someone like Kinsley Moghalu fits the bill.
Sadly, it won’t happen. The amendment of the constitution made provisions for independent candidacy. But would they rectify that position before the election? I am not sure it would happen because most of the parties are already choosing their candidates.
Sincerely, I think the council and the President made a mistake by granting that pardon. They shouldn’t have done so because it allows the reign of impunity to continue. It is obvious that even the money the governors stole, I am sure they didn’t recover all. They must have kept some money somewhere.
A former Air Force chief, Alex Badeh, for example, who was said to be taking half a billion naira monthly, is dead now. Who are they going to pursue the money? He stole for his children and grandchildren. We are just living in a kleptocratic society. The political class is stealing not to send their children to school or whatever but for generations to come.
You said the President and the Council of State made a big mistake by pardoning the convicted governors, but the Presidency came out to say that Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, PACAC, endorsed its action…
Now, who leads PACAC? What is his name? It was wrong in the beginning to appoint him. You don’t appoint someone with close ties to the party to head a committee of that nature. But it shows that right from the beginning; they were not interested in dealing with the issue of corruption. What has PACAC been doing since it came on board? People have even forgotten that it exists. For me, PACAC is not any institution to be taken seriously. It was not set up by the National Assembly. It was set up just to create the impression that the government is fighting corruption when it is not. I don’t think any Nigerian takes them seriously.
Were you surprised when you heard about the pardon granted to the convicted former governors?
What many people forget is that the day we begin to deal with corruption in the public sector, Nigeria’s greatness would begin on that day. What I meant by the public sector are the minister and civil servants. The two combined formed the public sector. The point is that the public sector is very corrupt.
A minister said a few weeks ago that no minister is not corrupt. He challenged any minister to come out and say his hands are clean. During the time of Obasanjo, if he appointed you a minister, he would tell you to sign a letter of resignation. We are not just serious about fighting corruption in the private and public sectors. Now, when people have opportunities, they steal without being questioned. It is very difficult to find an ounce of integrity in Nigeria. There may be a few but one does not know them.
Nigeria is not just a nation of integrity. Therefore, you find many corrupt people everywhere. If the church is corrupt, what do you expect? One thing I keep telling people is that the Islamic movement, compared to the church, is a saint. How many imams have you seen with private jets? How many Imams have you seen acting the way pastors are acting? Our pastors should not just compare themselves with the imams.
It is not that Muslims do not steal, they steal like thieves. But the point is that the congregation in the mosques has control over their imams and the imams are very afraid of the congregation.
That is why they don’t display wealth or anything of that nature. That is the sort of culture we need in Nigeria. Unfortunately, they become like ordinary Nigerians outside their mosque. But if they can take that culture outside, Nigeria would be better. Don’t worry about Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC. Even my Programme Coordinator here does not even take its leader seriously. He is just a noisemaker. We have to play politics of integrity. For instance, in the universities, people still remember a few former Vice Chancellors for their incorruptibility, but the majority now are after what they can take from the system.
Do you think the action by the government would affect the job of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC?
These commissions are never independent. ICPC and EFCC know they are not independent because if they want to do any investigation and are told to stop, they have to stop.
It is because the President who appointed them can relieve them of their appointments. For efficiency, ICPC and EFCC should be merged. There should be a civil law against corruption if they are merged. The law should say that if, for example, someone asks me for a bribe, I will give the bribe and take a picture. There will be an administrative tribunal to which I would present my case.
The man who took money from me would return my money while I would be given compensation. Another thing that can make EFCC or ICPC function better is a law, stating that nobody can remove the head of either of the commissions except the National Assembly. But before that, to appoint the head of EFCC, there should be an advertorial for the position. To conduct the interview, those to be interviewed should be exposed to the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, civil society and anti-corruption experts. They can form a committee that would interview each of the persons screened and make a recommendation.
The recommendation should not go to the President. It should go to the National Assembly. In that case, the President has no control over the agencies. And the person in charge knows he is not answerable to the President or the National Assembly. If they remove him unjustly, he can take the National Assembly to court. Those are the things to be done to protect the position of the head of EFCC. And when that is done, we would deal with every form of corruption.
But we must start with the civil service because the permanent secretary is the head of the ministry. If a minister approves money, and the permanent secretary says there is no money, money would not be available. So, for a minister to steal, the permanent secretary must have agreed with him. The permanent secretary is as kleptocratic as the ministers themselves.
What would you have recommended for the NCS in place of the pardon it proposed?
All the former heads of state who are members of the council should have refused. They should have insisted the people served their jail terms. But remember that Femi Falana said some people serve jail terms on behalf of convicted people. We know governors in jail enjoy special treatment. But the very bad one, which only a few groups like SERAP talk about, is allowing jailed senators to receive salaries.
Why should a senator go to jail and you continue to pay him? Even the Senate President defended it, saying there is nothing in their rules that says a jailed senator shouldn’t be paid. Where in the world does that happen? When someone goes to jail, he or she loses privileges and certain rights. It is automatic. In fact, our Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, is the worst in Nigeria’s history. I hope he never comes back. His people in his constituency should not vote for him again.
But he has just asked his party for automatic tickets for himself and all APC senators…
That is normal. We have heard it before. When David Mark was there, they asked for an automatic ticket too. Lawan knows he can’t ask for himself alone. That was why he asked for everyone. Maybe he thinks he is coming back as Senate President. What he doesn’t know is that the APC government was skewed from the beginning. Buhari is from the North. Lawan is from the North also. This has never happened in Nigeria’s history.
The Senate President should have gone to the South-East, but it didn’t happen. They put a northerner there. Now, we have a south westerner as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The Vice President is another Yoruba man, which is wrong. As the 2023 presidential election approaches, we are saying the ticket should be given to the South-East and some people are grumbling. Why? That is very bad. The APC leadership is dominated by northerners and south westerners. As far as I am concerned, APC and PDP should ensure their presidential candidates are from the South-East.
How does this affect Nigeria’sranking in the global anti-corruption index?
The whole world knows Nigeria as a corrupt country. We are not a nation of integrity. The FBI was saying that half of Nigerians in jail in the United States were jailed for fraud.
If your country is known abroad for having many people in jail for drugs and fraud, who is going to respect you? When you travel abroad, just expect to be treated anyhow because you have a Nigerian passport. We just have to accept that. If you are in certain positions and they accept you, count yourself lucky.
Corruption is so endemic in Nigeria that if someone says he is a born-again Christian you have to run away. If you claim to be a born-again Christian and still attend a church where prosperity is the focus, what are you looking for? If you look at the Yahoo Yahoo boys, fraudsters, most of them are from the South and not from the North. Nigeria is just a joke in terms of corruption.
Imagine the case of the wife of the Kano State governor, whose son was accused of corruption and ran away. That boy is my hero. What is so bad about Nigeria is that people commit serious crimes that affect the lives of the people, but we take it like that and move on. What sort of country would someone buy an oil bloc and it didn’t take long for him to discover that security agents are among those stealing crude oil? Nigeria is just like a child that lost his head.
You sound as if the situation is irredeemable…
What the government has done doesn’t make their job difficult. Where the challenge of the EFCC and ICPC lies is the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF. The AGF has the powers to say prosecute this and stop prosecuting that. Therefore, many people like us have been asking for the office of the AGF to be separated for there to be a ministry of justice.
The Minister of Justice should be advising the President as his legal adviser like what South Africans call Public Defender. Such a person would be in charge of prosecuting agencies. It will be separate from the Ministry of Justice. When you have an independent Attorney-General or Prosecutor General, EFCC and ICPC do not need to be afraid of anybody.
They can do their job. Part of the amendment the National Assembly is making is for there to be a separate Attorney General from the Ministry of Justice. But they need to go further by saying we should have a separate prosecuting agency and Ministry of Justice to advise the President. That is all that needs to be done. All these have been suggested but no government wants to put them in place because it would expose them.
Obasanjo started this crusade but he didn’t conclude it. If he had done it, corruption could have been reduced in Nigeria. The former heads of state who attended the National Council of State, NCS, the meeting should have rejected the idea of pardoning corrupt ex-governors. They were not fair to the country.
But what has happened does not affect the job of EFCC and ICPC. The job of the EFCC rests with the judiciary. Special courts are needed for anti-corruption cases. EFCC and ICPC have many files they won’t be able to treat in the next 10 years. But anti-corruption cases must be fast-tracked. They have it in Ghana and it is working.