By Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Former Minister of Education and stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Chinwe Obaji is of the opinion that the current war on corruption should be taken to the doorsteps of past leaders and anybody, no matter how highly placed, fingered in questionable deals. She argued that compelling leaders to answer questions regarding their stewardship would maker office holders not to take the public for granted. The ex-minister spoke on other issues including what the South East must do to up its political relevance.
Before now, you had insisted that our development is tied to ending corruption. Are you satisfied with the effort of the government so far in tackling the menace?
Yes I am. Their effort is quite commendable. I am convinced that the government is doing its best to address the issue of corruption, and this is evident in the case of certain people whom before now were regarded as “untouchable” being taken to the court for corruption trial. In fact, from all indications, government is not ready to spare any arm of government in the corruption fight. In the last few months, officials of different arms of government who are indicted in corruption cases have been brought to justice. I am encouraging the government to even beam their searchlight on the private sector. A lot of corruption is being perpetrated there too.
In praising the government, don’t you hear cries and claims in some quarters that the corruption fight is one sided?
Of course I am not and cannot be one of those that listen to such allegations. But what else do you expect of them to say. They will definitely try to paint it as one sided and even try to convince majority of Nigerians to believe them. We have a major problem of pandering to sentiments in Nigeria. I read recently in the newspapers where the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo was quoted to have said that some people still believe that their persons cannot be harmed or touched in the corruption fight. So, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear such comments because such, obviously is coming from the people that might have benefitted from corruption proceeds. The present administration has obviously touched every part of Nigeria in a bid to give everyone the sense of belonging. We have had people from every part of Nigeria who are involved in one corruption case or the other being placed under the government corruption radar. So, I totally disagree with the one sidedness claim by some people.
What about the growing call for the sack of some appointees of the President who are alleged to have enriched themselves in questionable deals?
Thank God you used the word “alleged”. President Muhammadu Buhari is a man of integrity and he hates corruption with passion and I know he would not associate with people that are found to be corrupt. Remember that all we have heard are allegations. They are yet to be substantiated. It is a worldwide practice for you to prove your allegations against someone before proper punitive action could be taken against such a person. You should not be surprised in our today’s society if anyone wakes up and alleges that a government official who he might not like his or her face has embezzled, mismanaged or even diverted public funds for personal use. It is possible because people are looking for ways to pull others down and that won’t take us anywhere near development.
What do you make of the ongoing investigation of former first lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, over corruption allegations?
I believe in justice and fairness. If anybody is found to be involved in any corrupt practices, he or she, irrespective of societal status should be thoroughly investigated and appropriate punishment served if necessary. That is the only way, in my opinion, that Nigeria can move forward. I don’t need to remind you that corruption is not only about embezzling public money, there are other forms of corruption, aside financial corruption that have had devastating effect on our socioeconomic life as a country. It is satanic for someone to divert huge sums of money meant to construct roads, build hospitals and provide other social amenities to private use, while people who are supposed to benefit from these facilities die on daily basis as a result of absence of such services. Such person is wicked and needs psychiatric examination.
Just recently, the Senate rejected the nomination of Ibrahim Magu as the EFCC Chairman based on a security report by the Department of State Services (DSS). Are you comfortable with such development?
Well, I may not give you definite answer to your question because I have not interacted with members of the Senate on the issue neither have I read their report. But nevertheless, all these security reports are mere allegations. Remember that, for the fact that an appointee’s name is taken to the Senate does not translate to express confirmation. A candidate maybe rejected in the Senate at the first call for one reason or the other. But when more time and opportunity are provided for the Senators to do a proper background check, they may retrace their steps and confirm the candidate if the name of such candidate is resubmitted. I don’t see the non clearance of Magu as an issue. It is widely discussed in the media because many people are idle and they need to keep themselves busy with some political discussions. However, I believe the Senate must have given the President who nominated Magu the reasons for not clearing him. If it borders on the security report by the DSS and allied matters, then they would discuss it and find a common ground. I don’t know how correct that could be, but I read that the Presidency is looking for additional information to present to the Senators to either convince them or otherwise. But by the time they are done, they may resubmit the name and who knows, the Senate might confirm him.
Recently, a campaign was launched by the Ministry of Women Affairs, to encourage women to get involved in the fight against corruption. Does that make sense to you or you see it as mere politics?
No! It is not mere politics. Such campaign ought to have started long ago. Corruption is indeed a cankerworm that is slowing the pace of our development as a nation. It is found everywhere even in the market where petty things are sold. Some market men and women have chosen the option of short-changing their customers to maximize profit. It is worrisome today that even mothers now visit exam invigilators secretly to solicit for marks for their children. These acts are corruption at different level and women are obviously at the receiving end. So, women need to rise up and join the fight against corruption. One of the most annoying things is the involvement of some traditional rulers who openly encourage corruption by conferring or bestowing traditional titles on some undeserving people in the community. These are people who might have made money through dubious means and the traditional ruler cares not. People no longer work hard to achieve success, rather they prefer shortcuts because they have seen that only the corrupt live in affluence. So, there’s a great role for women to play to this big fight against the cankerworm called corruption.
You headed the Ministry of Education years ago and you had severally expressed great concerns about the decline of quality and standard in our education system. Do you think the government is getting it right now?
The problem of education does not only lie in the government but in every body. Government is nobody’s name. It is just that somebody at the head may come up with a policy but who implements it? And the answer is civil servants and the society generally. I don’t think that we are getting it right. Yes! government has consistently churned out good policies but it beholds on us to implement such policies. Remember that the duty of government is to develop policies and monitor the implementation. But funny enough, the people that are supposed to implement the policies are not doing so and that has become the big problem for the government, resulting in a merry-go-round kind of development. For instance, there has not been facility expansion for years in our unity schools, meanwhile population is consistently on the increase. People now fight to get into the limited space. To this end, the government has asked schools not to exceed a particular number of students in an admission every year. But what do you see? Some parents whose children performed poorly in the entrance exams adopt the habit of inducing teachers, principals and other admission staff to secure admission for their children. This is worrisome.
In fact, the society should be reformed because a lot of things have gone wrong with our societal values. Imagine that some people have vowed to always sabotage the efforts of government to develop and implement good educational policies.
The present government has consistently attributed the current economic hardship to 16 years of bad leadership. You served as a minister in one of the PDP governments, would you say the government is speaking the truth?
They are 100 percent right. I totally agree with them. As a matter of fact, you must make reference to the past for you to profitably plan for the future. But unfortunately in Nigeria, we live for the moment and easily forget the past. But if we make reference to the past, then we would be able to know how to pursue the future. The present government’s criticism of the past administrations cannot be taken as castigation. They are only giving us a fact. Has anyone come to deny the fact that was disclosed by the government? That means they are not lying but informing Nigerians about what transpired in the past so that we can collectively correct it and make right decisions for posterity.
If you interpret it that way, do you support that past Presidents should be made to answer some questions on their financial stewardship?
Yes! I totally support that people should be held accountable for their actions or inactions in public office irrespective of the social status. Even if you are a President, you ought to know that you are occupying that office in trust. My appointment and service as a Minister of education was in trust. So, I shouldn’t be afraid to answer questions if I did anything wrong or right while serving as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, people should not be afraid if their successors look into their past, rather they should be proud to give account of stewardship if they didn’t immerse themselves in corrupt related deals. I think we should make it a must for whoever that must occupy public office to give account of stewardship to the people and you will see that public officers will sit up and judiciously use public funds to service the interest of the people.
In recent times, stalwarts of PDP have been defecting in droves to APC . Do you consider this a good development for our democracy?
No, it is not. It doesn’t augur well for our democratic journey. If you noticed, most of the people that moved from PDP to APC before election were deliberately pushed out of the party by the then leaders of the party. But surprisingly, the same people that pushed out others from the party are now running out of the same party. That calls for serious concern from the party leaders and founders. I suggest that people remain in their party, build it firmly and entrench internal democracy instead of jumping to where the bread is buttered. Opposition is the beauty of any democracy because they are the ones to put the government in power under intense pressure to deliver on its promises to the people. That was what affected PDP in the 16 years it ruled. They never had strong opposition until APC came.
You were at a point uncomfortable with PDP while it was in power to the point that you left the party. What really happened?
Yes, I was very uncomfortable because they were not sincere in their dealings. There was never internal democracy within the party. People were imposed on other people with reckless abandon. And that was the major reason that made some of us who were aggrieved then to leave. It may interest you to know that l left long before election. As a matter of fact, I joined APC in 2014, long before the election.
There were side talks that your anger with PDP was because you were not given any appointment after you were removed as minister. How true is it?
That was not true. I served as Minister close to 10 years ago and I left PDP in 2014. I don’t believe that one must have government appointment to make a remarkable contribution to national development. I was contributing to national development before I was called to serve as Minister and after my tenure, I went back to my work, contributing again to national development. I am of the opinion that people should have other addresses away from politics, so that they can remain relevant in socio-economic discussions after serving in government.
Finally, do you share the view that the South East stands a better opportunity if they join APC?
It is not about joining APC. We have a country called Nigeria. So it is imperative for us to learn to play the politics of the country gainfully. You don’t put all your eggs in one basket. So, I advise my South East brothers and sisters not to do just that in order to remain politically relevant in Nigeria.