Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, has called for the strengthening of the anti-corruption agencies. He rejects the notion that the Attorney General of the Federation is the supervising minister. He spoke on other national issues.
What is your perception of the current state of the country?
Everything appears as if we are a rudderless ship; some people may also think that President Muhammadu Buhari is finally waking up and taking certain steps, especially, in the area of his anchor programme, the fight against corruption. The first five years of the regime have been wasted, he has only about three years to make an impression. Look at what is going on in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) for instance; all the directors have also been suspended. I am of the view that a commission like the EFCC is not made up of one man. If one man there is misbehaving, other directors in the commission should be able to stand up to him and call him to order and not enoble him. How is it possible that Magu did all they are alleging, I have to stress that alleging, we have to be careful what we read on the pages of newspapers; I don’t believe in media trial, is it possible for instance, for the chairman of EFCC to do all the things they are alleging without the knowledge or involvement of the director whose duty it is to monitor the recovered assets? It is either the director is spineless or complicit or both. That is why I said the situation may appear rudderless, but to some people, it may appear as if the president is waking up and taking tough decisions to reverse the situation. But, if he wants to do that, all the other people with corruption allegations hanging on their neck should be investigated too. In just one week, we had so many scandals; look at the one between the Minister of Niger Delta and the Acting Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). One of the allegations of the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC is not even on corruption; the allegation is that the minister is complicit in the bombing of pipelines in the Niger Delta. There is also an allegation by a director in NISTF accusing the supervising Minister of awarding contracts to his girlfriend and budget-padding. If the president is indeed waking up, he should not allow all these allegations to just be swept under the carpet. If he is removing Magu from office and suspending EFCC directors, he should do the same thing with his ministers. That all these allegations of corruption are happening under a president whose mantra is to fight against corruption leaves much to be desired. It is as if the country is being swept away by the flood of corruption. The president must show us that he has really woken up to this fight against corruption and he must show no favouritism in prosecuting the war.
A report said Magu was investigated by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) sometime in 2017 and given a clean bill of health, why are allegations coming up suddenly three years later?
I am not privy to the fact that he was investigated and cleared. I will however not be surprised by the report if it happened because our officials in Nigeria are not serious and genuine. Our anti-corruption fight is such that if you are a friend to any of those in charge of the apparatus of government, if you do something deemed to be corrupt, you may be covered, but if you are not part of them, then you are in serious trouble. It is possible that if that is true that he was cleared for political reasons, it doesn’t mean that the said clearance at that time was right; it doesn’t also mean that now that they have come back to it that what they are doing is wrong. Looking at it generally, one will wonder how some of these people were appointed to occupy public office. Didn’t they check their credentials? Some time ago, I think it was the day the EFCC opened their new office, Magu was asked during a television interview, how he will institutionalise the fight against corruption beyond his tenure and his answer was that he had built a skyscraper. He was talking about a building when he was being asked how he intends to institutionalise the fight against corruption. This year he came out to say COVID-19 was caused by corruption. Was he screened and interviewed for the job or somebody preferred him because of his religion and the part of the country he is from?
How independent can a commission like the EFCC be if it is supervised by the Attorney General of the Federation?
I don’t know where we got the impression that the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) is the supervising minister over the EFCC. I read that one of the accusations against Magu is insubordination, but I ask how can you do the job if you are not insubordinate? If for instance, the person you call the supervising minister is corrupt, how will you investigate him and bring him to justice without being insubordinate? Was Nuhu Ribadu not insubordinate when he arrested a former Inspector General of Police and brought him to court? Is the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) the supervising minister over the EFCC? He is not, go and check the law. Under the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the AGF has overall control of litigation being conducted on behalf of the Federal Government. He decides which case will go to court and which will not. The law setting up the EFCC intended it to operate outside the practical. In practice, the EFCC has its own prosecution team who are not from the Ministry of Justice and ideally, the AGF is not supposed to interfere. The constitution gives the AGF power over control of court cases but it doesn’t make him a supervising minister; the EFCC should be able to operate with a modicum of independence.
If the AGF can take over cases, where is the power of EFCC to prosecute?
The EFCC can file cases against anybody, they don’t need the permission of the AGF, but if the AGF believes there is a public interest issue in any case and that the EFCC cannot give credence to that public interest, he can take over the case, but he cannot tell the EFCC not to file cases, he cannot decide who the EFCC will charge or who they will not. If the AGF goes to court, takes over a case and decide to withdraw it, it is left for the public to determine whether his action was in the overriding public interest, his personal interest or in the interest of a political group.
Do you think separating the office of AGF and Minister of Justice will help?
If we separate the offices, would we bring angels to occupy them? It is still Nigerians that will be there. With due respect to those canvassing for the separation, I don’t think that is our problem. If an AGF knows what his office denotes, and is a person of integrity, there should be no problem. I really have no preference on whether the two offices should be separated. If you separate the office and now put a ‘yes man’ there, will it solve anything? The people agitating for the separation are canvassing for the independence of the office of the AGF, in other words, he must not be a politician. But, if you put somebody that is not independent-minded or somebody without integrity there, what then? We inherited this creation and it is working for those we borrowed it from; why is it not working for us? Our problem is not lack of laws, it is the competence of those manning the offices and their moral standing and ability to stand for the public.
Between strong men and strong institutions, what do you think we need in public service?
The dichotomy between strong men and strong institutions is neither here nor there; we need strong men and strong institutions. The problem we have in Nigeria is that our strong men think only about themselves not about the public or the institution they head, but abroad, strong men build institutions. When you are a strong man and the institution is weak, your strength comes from subverting the institution,;that is the problem we have in Nigeria, we have strong men who subvert the institution they head.
How would you differentiate the allegations of vote-rigging in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and that in national elections?
I will not react to allegations that I have no proof of, but I know there may be challenges that may escalate to something else. For instance, I am a SAN by God’s grace. However, in our coming election, my name was on the first list of those qualified to vote, but when the final list came out, my name had disappeared and nobody can explain to me what happened. I have gone through all the processes to correct the omission, sending emails and all that but my complaint has not even been acknowledged. However, I will not say it is because somebody wants to rig the election. It is a reflection of the careless way we do things in Nigeria. We have a system that has not worked as effectively as it ought to.
The NBA elections are done electronically, do you think Nigeria can cope with electronic voting for national and state elections?
It is only when we try it that we will know whether we are ripe for it. When you try something for the first time, you will have teething problems. For instance, we have been holding zoom court sessions but because of the state of our infrastructure in Nigeria, sometimes the thing will break off or the voice will be muffled. We can’t say it is not worth trying because of this problem. We now do bank transactions online. We know that there are some elements whose job in life is to look for how to cheat the system. But we can’t because of the risk of that say electronic banking is bad. We can also set up electronic voting the way the banks have done their own. It will help us do things the right way. Look at what happened during the last election in Lagos State where thugs scattered the process in one local government because they said the powers that be in the state were afraid they will lose the election there based on the ethnic configuration there. If we were voting electronically from our homes, that will not happen; we should not be afraid of relying on technology because at the end of the day, it delivers better than human beings can.
Going forward, what do you advise Nigerians to do?
There is nothing new in what is going on in Nigeria now. If there is anything, I will say it is the level of disappointment Nigerians have. Insecurity, corruption and all the problems we see today didn’t start with the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration. There was a massive shift, people voted Buhari because they felt suffocated by insecurity and corruption and they felt that given Buhari’s pedigree, he will be tough on all these things. When he first came in, there were some changes and people said it was body language; this might have been true, but when they saw that it is all the same, they went back to their usual ways. Nigerians have always been disappointed by the government, but with this one, our hopes were raised so high only for us to see that nothing has changed; this one is even worse.