- Says Falae, Anenih, Yakassai not too old to go to jail
Ishola Williams is a retired Army General and now a reputable anti-corruption activist. In this interview with TUNDE THOMAS, he spoke on sundry national issues. Excerpts:
RECENTLY, former President Olusegun Obasanjo described the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC as a toothless bulldog. According to him, the agency has lost its bite, unlike the time when he was in government with Nuhu Ribadu in charge. What is your reaction to this?
I don’t agree with Obasanjo’s submission. Obasanjo was part of EFCC’s problem. I will even say that he made EFCC a toothless bulldog with the way the agency was set up then. When Obasanjo set up the EFCC, it was structured in such a way that the chairman of EFCC who is also the Chief Executive Officer of the body reports to nobody else the President.
Therefore what you discover was that the EFCC was no longer independent. For example the EFCC can’t investigate the President or anybody that Obasanjo wanted to shield as at that time, and this was not supposed to be so. EFCC is supposed to be an independent body vested with the power to investigate anybody including the President. So what is General Obasanjo talking about? It is him that from the beginning made EFCC a toothless bulldog.
Again, if the police could handle corrupt practices, why do you need to form EFCC? I also believe that EFCC was formed to fight corruption because there is the belief that the police is corrupt but again the irony of it was that when EFCC was formed you now put Nuhu Ribadu a police officer in charge, and most of the operatives of the agency including directors are policemen, so what is the difference between EFCC and the police? This is why you have police culture in the EFCC. There is hardly a difference between the two.
Then do you have anybody monitoring EFCC? Nobody, and this should not be so. If the National Assembly members are what they are supposed to be, they are supposed to monitor EFCC, but then most of them especially as at that time of Obasanjo, are their own hands clean? No. So with nobody to monitor the EFCC, then how do you guarantee the transparency of the anti-graft agency?
Today, EFCC is overwhelmed. EFCC can’t cope. The corruption problem in Nigeria is beyond EFCC. What the EFCC is doing now is just a tip of the iceberg. Cases of corruption in Nigeria have become monumental. It has become a big problem, and EFCC can’t cope.
Ribadu that Obasanjo was painting in glowing colour is not a saint. Ribadu’s hands are not clean. You know that somebody recently sent a petition to the National Assembly asking them to ask Ibrahim Lamorde, former EFCC boss to account for the disappearance of some missing items including properties that were seized by EFCC.
The properties and items in question were seized when Lamorde was the Director of Operations of EFCC when Ribadu was in charge. Obasanjo can’t deceive Nigerians, we are not fools. Ribadu, his boy doesn’t in any way qualify to be called a saint or super detective. He and Lamorde have questions to answer. Obasanjo didn’t lay a good foundation for the EFCC. He made EFCC a toothless bulldog from the beginning because he was afraid of being probed himself.
Again, is Obasanjo himself a saint? No. He himself has declared that he is not a saint. So if Obasanjo is not a saint, how do you expect EFCC to be run by saints during his time? From what I have seen, there is no way EFCC can be successful with policemen being put in charge. For instance, the man at the helm of affairs now, Ibrahim Magu is a policeman.
What is your assessment of the war against corruption under President Muhammadu Buhari?
It is impossible to eradicate corruption because human beings are not perfect.
But one thing I will say is that for the first time, we have somebody that has shown willingness and commitment to fight corruption. Buhari has been fighting impunity. Who would have imagined that he would have courage to move against those looters that are being exposed now including top military chiefs who looted funds meant to acquire arms to fight insurgents? We might say that we are yet to have a change but at least Buhari is making a difference. Some of the people hitherto regarded as untouchables are now being made to account for their stewardship.
Buhari is making a big difference and this has been made possible because he didn’t come to office with a lot of baggage. With these looters being exposed here and there, you can imagine what would have happened to Nigeria if Jonathan had won second term.
What would have happened?
The looting would have continued on a bigger scale, and that would have been disastrous for Nigeria. Nigeria would have been in a terrible mess. We are lucky that Buhari has come to clean the Augean stable. But he is still scratching the surface, he needs to embark on systematic elimination of corruption.
Talking about loots and looters, what should be done to these looters and the money recovered from them?
To me, those who are saying that they should just recover the loot and leave the looters alone, I say no. Looters should be punished that is apart from recovering the money from them. Although Buhari is coming into office at a difficult time, he is lucky that he is coming into office at a time when there is a universal agreement that war should be waged against money laundering – so anybody that steals public fund now will find it difficult to launder it. It will be easy to trace the money and recover it. The interpol will also easily pick any looter no matter which country of the world you run to.
To serve as deterrent, all those involved in the looting of public funds, and are being exposed by the EFCC should be jailed. To leave them alone untouched after recovering the stolen loot will set a bad example for others.
But some of these people mentioned including Chief Olu Falae, Tanko Yakassai and Tony Anenih are elder statesmen, and are old people, are you saying they should be jailed?
If you are not too old to steal money or loot public funds, then you should not be too old to be sent to the prison if your hands are not clean. Nobody is too old to go jail. Look at somebody like Falae, he gave all manners of excuses for receiving N100 million from Dasuki. Few days ago, another N100 million was traced to him making it a total of N200 million, public fund that he collected. We need to make scapegoats of some people in order to instill discipline into Nigerians.
Now for the loot being recovered, they should be put into public use, part of it can also be used to cover up the deficit in the budget. Even luckily for us, it is not only within the country that funds are being recovered, looted funds stashed away abroad are also being repatriated to Nigeria.
Can we say that is part of the gains of President Buhari’s numerous trips abroad because some Nigerians are saying that the President’s trips are becoming too frequent?
Obviously, it is one of the gains of those foreign shuttles by the President that you now have these looted funds being returned from abroad. Some of those trips are good for the country especially those ones where the President will meet one-on-one with the President of host countries. But those trips that are merely summits involving several nations may not be necessary for the President to be attending all the time. He can send delegations.
With the people being arrested over looted public funds claiming that former President Goodluck Jonathan gave them approval to collect or take the money, some are saying that Jonathan should be invited for questioning, while others are saying, doing that will amount to humiliation, what is your take on this?
I personally believe that Jonathan should have spoken out, but he will never do so unless they invite him and show him some documents linking him with the scandal. But I believe that heaven will not fall if Jonathan is picked or invited for questioning. Jonathan is not bigger than Nigeria. Look at what is happening now in Brazil, the former President, Lula has been arrested and is being investigated for corruption. It had happened in Zambia and Tanzania before where you had former presidents being put on trial for corrupt practices. But again, I believe that if you are going to probe Jonathan, you must also probe Obasanjo, but will Buhari have the will to do this?
Don’t forget that Obasanjo helped Buhari to get elected, and not only that, at a time when Obasanjo was in power, some people urged his government to probe the defunct PTF which was then headed by Buhari when Gen. Abacha was in power. But instead of Obasanjo to agree to the demand he just dismissed the call for probe of PTF activities under Buhari, saying it was unnecessary. Where do you think Buhari will have the courage or the will to probe Obasanjo? It is a case of I rub your back you also rub mine. But honestly speaking, I believe that it would be unfair to probe Jonathan and leave Obasanjo alone. The two of them should be probed. The second term of Obasanjo’s government to me had what I will call K leg.
There were many things that were not transparent during his second term in office. Even some of those people that worked under him like the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala believe he has questions to answer. In fact, all the former governors of Central Bank of Nigeria, Group Managing Director of NNPC and ministers for Finance between 1999 and now should be probed.
Again, those who think or believe that Jonathan should speak will be disappointed. He won’t like to speak, I said it earlier that unless he is invited and confronted with weighty evidence.
I’m disappointed with Okonjo- Iweala because she didn’t live up to expectation considering the fact that she had worked with the World Bank. The impression that she used to give us was that she had done her best for Nigeria, but with all these shocking revelations including Dasukigate and how her name has been featuring prominently in some of these exposures, I will say that I’m disappointed with her. She should have resigned her appointment if she discovered that some people wanted her to compromise the ethics of her profession.
Senior civil servants and some members of the National Assembly should be probed because they are too corrupt and also need to be probed.
You mean civil servants …?
Yes. Are they not part of the system? Look at the recent budget padding controversy. It is not a new development. It is civil servants that are mostly responsible for adding this extra money to the budget, what happens is that these government workers and members of some committees in the National Assembly end up sharing the money. But this time around, knowing fully well the kind of person in charge, people have to be extra-careful because they know the consequences of being exposed. We should also commend members of the National Assembly, this time around, they did well by being vigilant.
Christian Association of Nigeria, and some other eminent Nigerians have voiced concerns over President Buhari’s alleged pro-Islamic actions like taking Nigeria into the Coalition of Islamic Nations, fighting terrorism and his frequent trips to Islamic countries, what is your view?
So far I have not seen any of the president’s actions that tilts towards Islamisation of Nigeria or that violates the secularity of the country. As regards Nigeria joining the Coalition Against Terror, there is nothing alarming about it – the aim is to join other nations who have the same objective of fighting global terrorism, and with what Boko Haram is doing to Nigeria , I believe membership of the coalition will help our cause against the insurgents.
There are also claims that some of the president’s actions bear the hallmarks of dictatorship?
Do you know what is called dictatorship? We are very free in Nigeria. Go to those countries where you have dictatorship, you don’t need anybody to tell you that a dictator is in charge.
May be except for Dasuki’s case where the man has not been allowed to go after he had been granted bail on several occasions is what baffles me. But again, government will have its reasons. May be Dasuki is considered a security risk and if that is so, he can’t be allowed to be roaming about. If anything untoward happens to him, it may affect the case the state has against him. But generally speaking, I don’t think Buhari has veered towards the path of dictatorship.