Obasanjo’s Administration Most Corrupt – Aturu
This Day (Lagos)
5 December 2007
By Philip Ogunmade
Despite the recurrent noise of anti-corruption campaign across the country, Nigeria’s involvement in corruption has continued to be on the hype, with consecutive outbreak of scandals involving Nigerian leaders on the global scene. In this interview with Philip Ogunmade, human rights crusader and Chairman of the Council of Industrial Lawyers, Mr. Bamidele Aturu spoke on why corruption persists and why the anti-graft war must be intensified
Recently, the United Nations (UN) appraised the anti-graft war in Nigeria and noted that the country’s image was now better. But ironically, in the last one month, there has been an outbreak of three scandals, namely: the Wilbros scandal in the United States, the Dan Etete scandal in France and Siemens scandal in Germany. What do you think this portends for Nigeria’s image?
I think we have not had enough of those scandals. And those scandals are nothing but the tip of the iceberg because our ruling class is a terribly backward and corrupt class. It is backward because it is a class that does not believe in developing the society. It does not believe in creating infrastructural basis for development. It is also backward because it has helped hook, line and sinker, developmental strategies and blueprints from the West in an uncritical fashion. Because it is also backward, it plays a very peripheral role in international capitalist system. So, what it means is that because it is not a productive class, it is a class that believes in speculation, a class that believes in idling away, a class that believes in making easy money.
When you have such a class, you then have this tendency. That tendency is that the class will then begin to engage in what you call primitive accumulation. The only way it can begin to enjoy a semblance that its counterparts in Europe and advanced societies enjoy is to steal money. That is what I call primitive accumulation. And that is why I said our ruling class is a very backward class. It is a lazy class and it is a class of looters.
So, you are just getting some of these revelations. You will still get more. The UN or whatever you said gave Nigeria a clean bill of health, didn’t understand that the code of capitalism which tries to pretend that people should not steal money has not been imbibed by our ruling class and they are probably looking at the force and the essence of capitalism development in Nigeria or maybe they were also trying to deceive our people to think that capitalism is a good way forward for our people. But I tell you that we have not even heard anything yet because don’t forget that particularly this Siemens scandal didn’t happen this year. This is a thing that happened maybe about three or four years ago. And then, you have had some trials in foreign courts. They are still many. As I am talking to you, people are stealing money. People are still collecting bribe because that is the only way this class can function in their own way of thinking.
It is a very lazy and backward class. They don’t produce anything. That is why all our production companies have almost collapsed. Many of them are operating at less than 30 per cent capacity. Yet you see them buying new cars, buying flashy cars, building new houses, buying new houses worth N100 million. These are people who have no means of livelihood. So that is the kind of class that you are dealing with. That is why many of them cannot but become politicians. Politics for them is another profession because they go to the place, steal money and they will collect estacode.
They will collect allowances. They will live the life of opulence that has no bearing with their contributions to our society.
So, the Wilbross scandal, the Siemens, Etete’s scandals are parts of the same sleaze that you find among our leaders. So, the only way you can deal with this is for us to do a comprehensive audit, comprehensive probe and to allow the (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) EFCC to do its work. For example, I’m beginning to now see justification to explain their lifestyles. If you see a boy of 18 years who is riding the best car in town, building the best houses in town, the onus should be on him to explain how he came about such stupendous wealth. So, I tell you, we need to take this as a critical matter.
And the fact that these things happened during the last regime that claimed that it was fighting corruption, is quite revealing. That tells you that no corruption was fought by (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo. In fact, his government is now going down in history as the most corrupt administration in Nigeria. So, that is the big problem and that tells you that people who tell you that they are fighting corruption; people who tell you that they are doing rule of law are doing practically the opposite. So, our people must then see that the responsibility is on them to insist that those who connected remotely or directly with these scandals are brought to justice; they are prosecuted and we allow the rule of law to take its course.
How do you think the prosecution of those involved in these scandals can be meaningfully achieved when the EFCC, perceived as the most vibrant anti-corruption agency, seems to have gone moribund especially since the Attorney General of the Federation has stripped the agency of its independence. The EFCC can no longer make decisions of its own, neither can it embark on any move to arrest suspects without going through rigorous protocol in the AGF’s office?
The war against corruption is a very serious war. And I think nobody should be under the illusion that it would be an easy war or that those people who are corrupt will not fight back one way or the other. And they will fight back in many ways. They will fight back in different perspectives, using different methods. So, what you are finding out is that those who looted our treasury, have by that reason, come in contact with enormous wealth and also by that reason, have become very powerful, mobilising people who out of poverty, or who out of nothing to do, or who out of just ignorance are supporting them to fight the war against the war against corruption. So, there are two wars.The war against corruption is going on and also the war against the war against corruption.
Now, which one will be victorious at the end of the day, will depend not on just the Attorney General or the EFCC alone, but on what the people of Nigeria themselves want; what the civil societies want and that is what the press wants. And that is why I said that I have come in conjunction in our history where everybody, particularly those people who have no stake in corruption, must stand up and say, ‘look, enough is enough, we are going to wage war against corruption in Nigeria’ and the way to do that is to, through our own organisations, issue statements, do protests as some people went to do protest in EFCC against General Obasanjo. I think this is the kind of thing that we want. We must make Nigeria ungovernable for those who want to steal. We must make Nigeria a hot place for those who stole and are trying to defend the basis of their crimes. Until this is done, I tell you, the war cannot be won.
So, I don’t think the EFCC has become moribund. I don’t think the EFCC has become powerless. What I will say rather, is that the EFCC has a lot of logistic problems. That is all. Look, to fight this war can also be very overwhelming in a way that it may also be right to say that ‘well, we need to enhance the capacity of the EFCC to do this battle in the sense that we are talking about 36 states of the federation. Almost all of them without exception, particularly the governors of the last regime – 2003 – 2007; almost all of them were accused of corruption. There are petitions against all of them. The EFCC itself said it had unearthed several of such allegations against some of these people and had evidence. Now the EFCC with the way it is today, does not have the logistic basis to prosecute all of them at once.
That is why, we must insist even in this budget, I am surprised, I didn’t see enough money budgeted for the EFCC. I expect that government should budget enough money because if you are going to fight corruption, the EFCC has proven to be the arrow head of the fight against corruption. There was also a time that I had my own quarrels with them, which was also publicised because I insisted then that we must follow the rule of law. But I think that today, everybody agrees that the EFCC is trying to do things according to the rule of law. Look at the example of the Delta case, the Ibori case, where the man went and got a very funny exparte order. But the EFCC did the right thing. They got lawyers to vacate that order. That is how it should be done and that means that the EFCC cannot be accused of not following the rule of law. Now, the EFCC is pursuing the path of rule of law and constitutionalism.
Every Nigerian must support the EFCC, must support that organisation, must support that position and government itself must support the organisation by making adequate budgetary allocation for it, by giving it moral support in the sense that I expect that the President of this country should make it known to everybody, his associates and those who sponsored his election and whoever, that ‘look, the EFCC has come to stay’ and that he will give the EFCC maximum co-operation because it is the only way we can rid Nigeria off corrupt elements.
To prosecute governors across the 36 states will involve a lot of money. It will involve you briefing lawyers from different parts of the country. It will involve you sending your security operatives and agents to almost all the states. It will involve analysis of documents and this is going to take time.
So, as a people, we must try to enhance the capacity of the EFCC to deliver more blows against the corrupt people. So, I said it before that there is no dilemma between the rule of law and the fight against corruption. Both of them can go on simultaneously.
In fact, both of them should be done simultaneously because I have always said this that it is only when you respect the rule of law that those who are eventually jailed will understand that they cannot go to people and say ‘it is because you don’t like my face.’ But the way Obasanjo was waging his own war, the man was doing selective justice and so, the stigma that will come from that process will not be there because the idea of sending somebody to jail is that when he comes out, people should say, ‘look at this man, he is an ex-prisoner.’ But in the case of somebody who says ‘he sent me to jail because he didn’t like my face,’ when he comes back, his people will organise civic reception for him as they did for (DSP) Alamieyeseigha because some thought whether they liked it or not, that the man was being victimised. That was why I kept saying that we must do things right.
So, I tell you that in this war, we must support (Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission) ICPC. We must support the EFCC. You can imagine. Many people are working honourably. Many people are sweating, earning their salaries, making ends meet, yet some bandits, some hoodlums, who claim they are governors will just go and dip their dirty hands in the collective tea of the nation. That is worse than armed robbery.
So, I insist that in the Wilbros’ and Siemens’ scandals, it is not just the National Assembly or the ICPC just inviting people for interrogation. I expected that by now, that the Attorney General of the Federation must be prosecuting people. Some people will say, ‘we need evidence, we need evidence.’ That is true. We need evidence. We have had how many days that this scandal broke now? There are reported judgments in foreign countries which can be a basis for us to act. If in the next one or two weeks, if they are not prosecuting them, something is wrong somewhere. It is not just for you to go and tell the ICPC, ‘this is what I did and that.’ No, no, no. These guys must be prosecuted. This is what has run this country down. The roads are bad today. Vehicles can’t pass through the roads. Hospitals have become worse than mortuaries that people don’t go there. Many people are now having all sorts of terminal diseases because they diagnose their diseases to be a result of buying fake drugs and all of that.
The truth is that not many people want to do fake businesses or sell fake drugs but because they don’t have jobs, and you trace this at the end of the day to somebody stealing money. So, we insist that these guys must be prosecuted. Let the court set them free or jail them. Whoever the court sets free, we agree. And even when the court sets them free, we expect appeals from the Attorney General. We need to sanitise our country. We need to make corruption very expensive.
I asked this question earlier. What do you think is the adverse effect of these scandals at the international scene on the image of Nigeria?
These people have rubbished our image. And it didn’t start yesterday. It started many years back when those who came to power started thinking that being in power also meant privatising the state, privatising the resources of the state. One, the governors even made a comment that if you find government’s money in Government House, it didn’t matter whether it got there through the procedure or not. What is important for them is that they think they have come to personalize the state and so they could do what they like and so the culture of impunity came in.
People did what they liked. So, the image of Nigeria has been battered by the activities of our leaders who steal our money and until we begin to deal with them, impose maximum punishment for these crimes, to dissuade others from doing that, to deter others from following their footsteps, our image will remain for so long battered. It is true that not many serious foreigners will want to take Nigerians as a honest person and you cannot blame them because if you hear about three scandals in one month, if you hear about a country that has oil, that God has blessed so much, yet we can’t have decent public primary schools, then of course, they must continue to be wary of Nigerians. So, it is true as far as people are concerned, that this is a thoroughly corrupt country, a society where almost everybody is greedy until he can prove otherwise.