Retired Supreme Court Justice and former Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, Justice Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola, recently prescribed solutions to the nation’s troubles, when Saturday Sun sat with him at his Ibadan residence to x-ray Nigeria’s acute ailment through generations.
The Octogenarian jurist who also served as Chief Justice of The Gambia opines that Nigeria could still be restructured via legislation/constitutional amendment as canvassed by President Muhammadu Buhari in his recent national broadcast, but says the National Assembly will merely be putting on hold the peace and progress of the country, if it ignored the strident clamour to urgently do the needful, as the agitations would not go away.
Justice Ayoola also blames the country’s stagnation and floundering policies on the leadership lack of sense of history and penchant for discarding past invaluable knowledge and recommendations that can drive growth and solve its numerous problems. The anti-graft Tsar also spoke on the state of corruption, some contentious legislations including the National Grazing Bill, the killing of the ivory towers, which, he described as the nucleus of organic development, youth unemployment, persistent insurgency and upsurge of violent crimes across the nation. He spoke to YINKA OLUDAYISI FABOWALE.
Sir, the question of the unity of the country has become contentious, especially in view of happenings in the polity for some time now. More than ever before, threats of secession have come from various sections, while others suggest restructuring, fiscal federalism, etc, means of getting the nation out of the conundrum. However, the President’s declaration, on his return from London, that the nation’s unity was non- negotiable, seemed to dismiss all the suggestions, yearnings and concerns of Nigerians. Would you say that attitude was correct?
Well, let me say that every Nigerian is entitled to his own opinion as far as Nigeria is concerned. You know, we have Nigeria as a single entity called Nigeria. To a large extent, I think that the President is right in thinking that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable because as we speak, I do not think most Nigerians would support the desire to want to break Nigeria into pieces. I think the unity of Nigeria must remain, but we must distinguish between unity of Nigeria and restructuring Nigeria. Restructuring Nigeria does not disturb the unity of Nigeria. Nigeria would remain a united country, but that does not stop people from strengthening that united Nigeria by restructuring it. So, I think majority of Nigerians would want to see a united Nigeria and I very much believe that the President’s thinking, his statement is in the right direction and that direction is that most Nigerians still value a united Nigeria.
But how do you see his apparent foreclosure of independent initiatives outside the ambits of the National Assembly and the Federal Executive Council, which, he said, were the only democratic and legal institutions with mandate and to carry out any such changes, and thereby directing that grievances, especially in light of recent experience in which the National Assembly’s denial of devolution of power to states was seen as working against the aspirations of Nigerians?
Well, I don’t think the agitation will still continue if we were are to do the restructuring through the National Assembly, and the lawmakers do the needful, because if we do a holistic restructuring there is no way we can retain the present structure and it is understandable that the National Assembly members would not like this. I, personally do not see anything wrong in restructuring Nigeria and getting a referendum to support that restructuring within a united Nigeria.
So, what would be your suggestion on how practically to restructure Nigeria?
The prescription, of course, would be for legislation to permit restructuring Nigeria and defining the boundaries of such restructured entity without dissolving Nigeria. Nigeria remains a sovereign state, but restructured in different ways.
(Cuts in) That would mean through constitutional amendment?
That means it has to go through the National Assembly?
If it goes through the National Assembly, well, they may reject it, but that does not mean it would stop there, because the agitation will continue. It would be good sense, if a sizeable number of the lawmakers support it and if they reject it, the agitation will continue and things will remain as they are.
National Assembly members recently included a clause in the constitutional amendment for immunity against being prosecuted while in office. Does anything warrant this legislation?
I can’t understand why members of the National Assembly or even state houses of assembly want immunity. Immunity from what? It is difficult to know what they want immunity for. We have had a viable National Assembly since 1999 and, so far, nobody has really complained about having immunity or not having immunity. I don’t think it is a well thought-out position because if you are asking for immunity, over what type of crime? The position of the National Assembly members is different from the position of the headship, a single headship of a country, or of a state. Thus, we are looking at different sovereignty, but when you have a National Assembly consisting of several members, what is the necessity for immunity. Immunity from what? I think I would need a definition. Does any National Assembly member want to commit crime? And when you look at immunity of, let’s say, the president, it is not an absolute immunity, there are possibilities of impeachment, the procedure is there, you remove him first by impeaching him, before you subject him to prosecution. There is no segment of the constitution that says that the president of a country or the governor of a state has perpetual immunity. So, if we are going to talk about immunity of the legislature, it would be a time-wasting exercise.
Sir, the issue of insecurity has, rather than go away, become a hydra-headed monster. Boko Haram, insurgency, herdsmen/farmers clashes, robbery, kidnapping and other hues of crime have kept surging, making almost every inch of the country unsafe. How is this best tackled?
I think the security agencies are addressing the task efficiently and with rare wisdom and I think that is what the president means by saying that the insurgents are now attacking soft targets. The situation when there was strategy, when there was real war, is now different from the strategy now adopted by the insurgents. What is happening is not peculiar to Nigeria because even in Europe, as we speak, they have found new strategy, attacking humans. What we need to do is to develop an adequate counter-strategy, and I think to a large, extent the security agencies are alive to the task when you are looking at terrorism attacking a nation, it is not something that you can put to end as easily as people think. Were it a war or a battle, you would know where it started from and when it ends, it is like having virus in one’s system. You have to deal with it strategically as the occasion demands.
Talking about wars, the government seems to have lost the war against corruption, with its serial court defeats, inability to convict alleged treasury looters. Al we hear is seizures of humongous amount of money that people also complain, they have not felt the impact.
Well, the fight against corruption in any country is an ongoing fight. A country like Nigeria, because of our social structure, permits corruption to flourish, because every day we grow a larger number of hungry, depressed, poverty-stricken populace, and we have a social structure that refuses to cater for the citizens. Of course, the citizens, will, in great numbers, find ways of surviving and then they go into corruption. The strategy that I think will work is the preventive strategy. First, it will necessitate the state and government looking after people, that will be part of the principal strategy. Another is the supporting strategy, which is to ensure that the mechanism of government is not lax. In the fight against corruption in recent times, of course, property are being seized, money is being seized, but that is a temporary strategy. It is not a strategy that will last forever, because if you have, let’s say, President Buhari being on seat for six more years to end his two terms, there is no certainty that the next person would do the same thing as he is doing, in terms of fighting against corruption. What we need really is to have the restructuring of the system that will not rely on who comes to power, who is not in power and it is because we have not discovered the strategy of really eliminating the greed for money or the poverty disease that the nation has. The citizens themselves shout about fight against corruption, but it is difficult to see if all saying this themselves have been or remain people of integrity. The corrupt, accuses other people of being corrupt and it goes ding and dong. Until we re-create a country that is well-structured economically and well-structured socially, we can’t really fight corruption to a stop. During our younger days when poverty was not the main issue, people were honest and they had integrity. Buts now, when hunger and poverty go hand-in-hand, you can understand why people want to help themselves by being corrupt. It is not only corruption, there are rogues all over the place, dirty crimes out there and all sorts of things.
Government has accused the judiciary of not cooperating with it in the anti-graft campaign ostensibly due to the spate of discharge and acquittal of suspects dragged before the courts. Your view, sir?
I think it is ridiculous and not correct that government is talking about cooperating. It is not for the judiciary to cooperate with anybody. It is to dispense justice! It is even embarrassing if it is true that government complains about the judiciary’s cooperation. The judiciary is not established to cooperate with anybody! When people are talking about the judiciary cooperating with government that is even a dangerous statement. That means a distortion to the rule of law, to the structure of the judiciary. I don’t understand what anybody means by cooperation with the government, so, if I’m a football referee, I must cooperate with Arsenal to win and leave Chelsea? If you do, where do you leave justice? Judiciary is an institution expected to be independent, or as a judge, you may as well descend into the arena and become the prosecutor in a case. You don’t get people convicted because of their faces, you get people convicted if the law says they should be convicted. You get people acquitted if the law says people should be acquitted.
That charge may have come due to alleged corruption on the bench itself and fear that judges were probably siding with some of their colleagues charged with graft as a kind of face saving measure
When you talk about suspicion it is not a good people that will rely on judgment through suspicion. That is why the criminal Justice system insists on proof beyond reasonable doubt. You must prove beyond reasonable doubt. The second part is?… Yes, corruption, on which bench? You know Nigerians, we do not apply much knowledge or thinking into what we say, what is the proof that makes you suspicious of corruption on the bench? Everybody is entitled to his own suspicion. You know, majority of Nigerians are suspicion-driven human beings. We’re very speculative as a people. No one dies of disease, there is always a witch who killed him! And that is the pity of it all. Nigerians do want any other person to be convicted or acquitted on the basis of suspicion. If it can be established, beyond reasonable doubt that a judge is corrupt, a system should be there to deal with that judge! But for people…we have seen occasions we invite people to let us know the facts on which they rely even for suspicion and they can’t even establish it. To many people, you know in Nigeria, everybody is corrupt in their own thinking. But the person who’s making the allegation that everybody is corrupt also has another person pointing at him that he is corrupt. So where do we stand? The only way we can deal with all these is to tidy up the system by encouraging people to come forward. When I was Chairman of the ICPC, We set up the National Anti-Corruption Volunteer Corps as the foot-soldiers of the anti-corruption effort. We used strategies, unleashing the people into the streets, into the system to strike fear into the hearts of corrupt people. We did all that, but there was no response from the people. People hid and said “X is corrupt”. Ask them to come and support it they dissolve and disappear. So, everybody accuses everybody of being corrupt and we begin to see corruption as a ghost. Just as every Nigerian says of his fellow human being as being a witch or a murderer or anything. Nigerian enjoys stating facts that are insulting to the person. Giving the other person title, running the other person down without any physical source.
How would you assess the attempt at solving the Fulani herdsmen/farmers clashes in communities in various parts of the country with the proposed establishment of grazing reserves?
I think having ranches is a good idea and those should be truly commercial ranches. If there is land and X wants to have a ranch, nothing stops X from building a ranch. Any other system is faulty! When you have a nationwide grazing policy, if I am a cattle-herder and you say that enables me to roam other people’s land and destroy their crops… I don’t think government would want that. We should establish ranches, if we like, commercial ranches! But to have a cattle herdsman going on another man’s land and destroying his land, where do you put the farmer? Maybe it is peculiar to Nigeria because in other countries that we know, people breeding cattle in Mexico, people breeding cattle in Australia, all over the world there are ranches. Why is ours different?
(cuts in) Perhaps our level of development and culture?
How can it be our level of development? Is it our level of development that I should go to Osun State to build a factory and I should come to another’s land, a factory, and you challenge me and I say maybe it our level of development? I think we should live in terms of live and let’s live. There are people, prosperous enough to build ranches all over Nigeria. It works even if you are not the owner of the animals, because even people who go from place to place herding the cattle are not owners of the animals. There are many ranches in South West Nigeria, in Osun State for instance, owned by citizens of that state, there are several. The people who graze cattle are doing their work, but they are not the owners. I think it is even stressful for the cattle-herders to have to move from place to place, I think it is quite unfortunate that it is happening. You said it’s probably because it’s their culture as nomads, but even at that, which culture will encourage you to destroy other people’s property as well their farmlands? But, then when I was in Gambia, I remember the Nigerian government spent a lot of money bringing in the N’dama cattle, ( a breed favoured because it’s meatier, produces more quality milk and immune to tse-tsefly disease. They brought the animals in in aeroplanes at night, what became of them? But, they must have been kept in ranches.
Having seen it all over generations, aren’t you worried that the nation seems not to be working any longer?
No, I’m not worried! There is no cause for any worry. What we should apply our hearts to is the determination to make Nigeria better. We don’t achieve that by worrying. I think we should put ideas at the forefront and make ideas work. For instance, we keep talking about restructuring and nobody talks about what we are restructuring. People concentrate on what I would call political restructuring, they want one area to be South West, another to be South East and whatever. Those are political restructuring, but I think we should look at other alternatives. We could even look at social restructuring that will open the door of good living to ordinary citizens who may be poor. There is economic restructuring, which will enable Nigeria to produce as much as possible wherever. So if we concentrate on talking about restructuring, restructuring, it could be aimless! In my own opinion, whatever we do we should complement it with viable, long-standing economic restructuring in the sense that we should open doors for some people to produce commodities, open doors for economic opportunities in diverse ways. I think we do a lot of grumbling and less of action. That’s why we keep repeating development plans that don’t function; fake policies that don’t last. We lack continuity; a government comes and goes, and another takes over. That’s why our development is very much stunted. Still, we do not have any real permanent development strategy or sense. I think it all boils down to our lack of sense of history and strategy. We have archives full of reports, numerous reports. But we neglect them, we don’t implement recommendations, and all we do is start all over again. What we should do now is to get government to go back to the archives, set up maybe an agency or a special committee that will bring out all the reports, not that we are always reinventing the wheel, let people go into the archives and dig out, you will find wonderful reports there waiting for implementation which hasn’t come. If we really want to move forward let us go to the archives get people together to study the reports and extract what is beneficial that will be implemented for a very long time. It is as simple as that. One great deficiency that we have is our failure to apply knowledge. For instance, when I was chairman of the presidential action committee on violent crimes set up by former President Obasanjo, we submitted a report dealing with all aspects of criminality and violence and so on. And then, he did admire it and passed it for action to be taken on it, ie., white paper and implementation…and that was the end of the matter. A few months later, another committee was set up and I suppose they submitted their reports and nothing came out of them. So, we really have reports upon reports, I think currently governance has also shifted from preparation of reports because for a long time we have not heard of committees submitting reports, we do have very few. In our own submitted report, we put in there that there should be a security system that would link all security agencies together so that it would be a holistic system. The essence of the holistic system is that there should be intelligence sharing. It should be mandatory and a structure of the system. That was in 2005, that is close to about 12 years ago. I was surprised when I read sometimes ago that Americans were complaining that among the security agencies there was no intelligence sharing. Then, I recollected we’d observed this weakness and made appropriate recommendation to take care of the problem about 12 years ago. And here are the Americans just pointing it out now in 2017. The inability to counter insurgency is because they don’t share intelligence, there is no synergy. And even in that report, if my recollection is correct, we suggested a home-grown system of community policing. I watched in the news yesterday, I think, the Inspector General speaking of community policing and that the police officers would be educated to begin to implement community policing. But, I’m not sure, the idea is exactly the one we recommended! I have not seen what their community policing consisted of. But even if we have community police, which is a good idea, how do you have community policing without educating the community? We used to have military police, then later we had local government police, and finally we have the Nigeria Police Force., several layers of policing, if you take the trouble to go back to the past, you’d find systems that can effectively help. So if I were to advise government, I won’t say set up any committee anymore, all the ones in the past amount to wasting money, wasting knowledge and wasting time, all these development plans not implemented. At 30 something years of age, like Macron in France, I can rule the country. All I need is study the past, the mine of knowledge stored there.
Sometime ago you hinted of a plan to establish a think- tank to think through and proffer solutions to sectoral problems facing the country. What is this idea specifically all about and how far have gone actualising it?
The desire is there, but we have not gone very far. The idea is to create an opportunity for, like you said, Think-Tank in every sector in the society- medical, education and in other sectors. We are still working on it and by end of the year, we would have prepared to start it full-time.