Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, has decried the level of insecurity in Nigeria, saying it has put the country on the verge of existential threats. He also spoke on the country’s poor ratings by international agencies and other national issues.
The fight against corruption has been one of the three cardinal pillars of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration since 2015, but about five years down the line, the 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) report of the Transparency International (TI) rates Nigeria the fourth most corrupt country in West Africa. Globally, Nigeria came in 146 position out of 180 countries rated in terms of transparency in governance. What is your take on that?
The report is actually about the perception of the people at Transparency International. They have their criteria for the ranking and it is really difficult to say what they have seen and how they arrived at their conclusion that we are fourth most corrupt country in West Africa. I’m not making excuses for anybody, but the size of the economy of Nigeria compared to the other West African countries is quite big; we have the public and private sectors and our economy can swallow the economy of these other countries.
But looking at the report viz-a-viz the flagship programme of the administration which is anti-corruption, from the little I read of the report, I think the fulcrum of the reasons they arrived at their conclusion is not really that efforts are not being made to fight corruption, but because of the perceived selective prosecution of cases. If you want to fight corruption in an all-encompassing way then there should be no sacred cows. I believe some of the things that happen would have given the TI a negative impression about the sincerity of the fight against corruption. Look at the utterances and the way people in government talk, they may think that they are being clever with language, but people read the things and come to their own conclusion. You have a situation where the National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was speaking at a rally and welcoming the so- called corrupt politicians; nobody has found them guilty but he said at that event that once they join the APC, they will be sanctified. Anybody reading that will come to certain conclusion that the fight against corruption is selective, that it is only when you are not a member of a certain political party that corruption becomes an issue. There is also another case where the prosecution had concluded its case, then suddenly the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) took over the case and the next thing was that he withdrew the case. For whatever reason that, that happened it will have an impact on any foreigner looking at how we fight corruption in Nigeria and he will come to the conclusion that we are not serious. There is also the case of the current Minister of State for Petroleum who was under prosecution and immediately the present administration came to power, the case was dropped. People will perceive that to mean there is political interference in the fight against corruption. However, that does not necessarily mean that the fight against corruption is not ongoing.
Nigeria has been going up and down the TI corruption scale, which gives the impression that contending forces are at play. Could it be that corruption is fighting back?
If there is political interference. For instance, I have read that the Comptroller General of Customs said that officers under him should declare their assets, so obviously he must have declared his own so that anybody that sees anything there that is above his means will speak out; may be, that is why he has the boldness to say they should declare their assets. If you want to lead, you have to show example, and be blind to inferences that are not right whether they are tribal, ethnic or religious. A thief is a thief and a corrupt person is a corrupt person; it doesn’t matter which part of the country he comes from or which political party he belongs to. When the anti-corruption agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) do their work, they can only do their best to investigate and bring an application to prosecute; they cannot go running after the courts, if there is political interference, there is little or nothing they can do.
President Buhari has declared his assets, but there is this debate whether he should make it public or just send it to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). What do you say on that?
There are two ways of looking at it. One is from the legal point of view and the other is the moral point of view. When you talk of the legal point of view, there are two issues to consider; the declaration is not to the public, it is to the CCB. Once you declare your assets to the CCB, you have done your legal duty. But there is the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, so any Nigerian who is interested should ordinarily apply under the FoI Act to know what exactly is contained in the declaration. So, while on the one hand it is a secret between the president and the CCB, the FoI Act also provides that any citizen who is interested in what was declared can apply to get it.
On the moral point of view, if you want to lead people morally, you must show example. He has declared his assets to the CCB, but because his main focus is fighting corruption, he should be able to say I have declared my assets to the CCB; there is no secret to it, this is what I declared as a basis for providing moral leadership. Corruption is so endemic in Nigeria that fighting it requires revolutionary steps, which is not only about saying no, no. There is no law that says that after declaring your assets to the CCB you cannot show it to Nigerians. As a leader, if you are sincere, you should not hide under any law. Moreover, in 2014, Buhari said the declaration will be made open, so this is just a case of failing to keep to a promise. Look at for example Governor Makinde in Oyo State, whether rightly or wrongly, he not only declared his assets, he also published it. By publishing it, he is challenging the people of Oyo State, if you think I have done anticipatory declaration, report to the CCB.
The EFCC has been under Ibrahim Magu as acting chairman for more than four years now. How has that impacted on the war against corruption?
My worry is not how long he has acted. The time he was presented to the Senate in 2015, even though the Senate was controlled by the same party as the executive, they were treated like an opposition. It was as if the National Assembly and the executive were on opposing sides whereas majority of both chambers of the legislature were in the same party as the executive. Since the 2019 elections and even after the Senate President said that whatever the president brings to the National Assembly is deemed to be good for Nigeria, why have they not sent Magu’s name for confirmation? The whole thing looks fishy to me; it seems that some people don’t want Magu in that place. Don’t forget that when President Buhari nominated Magu in 2015, it wasn’t the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that opposed him; it was the Department of State Services (DSS) that wrote a report against him and the head of the DSS was also appointed by the president. If Magu’s name is sent to the Senate today, I’m sure he will be cleared given what the Senate president said. I think the media should interrogate why Magu’s name is not being sent for confirmation. This is also part of the reasons why TI is suspicious about the war against corruption. If somebody is in acting capacity and hopes to be confirmed, there is a limit to which he can actually go all out to fight.
The EFCC, ICPC and other anti-corruption agencies sometimes work at cross purposes. Why is the problem?
I think the problem is with the operators; each of these agencies has its own functions. The problem we have now is that the EFCC goes into so many things they are not supposed to be involved in, which may be why their fight is also ineffective because they are trying to get involved in everything rather than focus on their specific mandate. Why should the EFCC for instance be getting involved in land matters? The problem is not whether we have laws or what the law says, it is the operators of the law that made it seem everything is confused and confusing. The people at the management level of these anti-corruption agencies must understand what their core mandate are and stick to it. You don’t hear of the police doing anything again because many of their duties are what the EFCC has dabbled into. The leadership of the EFCC should supervise the lower carder to make sure they don’t turn their office into something else. The EFCC also now has offices all over the place which is not supposed to be. By opening all these offices, control, quality and competence have become an issue, the expertise needed to concentrate on their core mandate has thinned out.
Security is another cardinal pillar of the Buhari-led administration. Yet, the 2019 Global Terrorism Index (GTI) rated Nigeria the third most volatile country in the world behind Afghanistan and Iraq. How did we get to this level?
During the President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, I granted an interview where I noted that every move the government made towards fighting terrorism was politicised; it was as if the opposition must criticise whatever the government does in order to be relevant. I warned then that prior to the Second World War, there was a worldwide struggle between two ideologies, Marxism / socialism on one hand and free enterprise / capitalism on the other. These two ideologies were actually in real combat but when Adolf Hitler took over in Germany and both sides saw what he was doing, they knew it was an existential struggle and that if they don’t stop him, the fate of humanity will be in danger. That was the reason the two ideological enemies formed an alliance to defeat Nazism. I pointed out that we are facing an existential threat in Nigeria and we should be careful not to politicise it; now, the people in government then are out and the ones then criticising are in government now. I don’t know why we can’t see that our country is in danger of going out of existence and it requires all of us whether in the private or public sector, no matter the tribe, religion, ideological lining or political party to come together and save Nigeria from falling to that danger. It is a reality that we are not okay. I don’t want it to look as if I’m criticising the government, I also don’t want the government to think as if it is being criticised. It is in our interest to save our country whether you are in government or out of it. If the GTI ranking is correct, it is nothing to be happy about, it is also nothing to jeer the government about that it has failed. It is a call to duty for us to realise that we are not doing as well as we should do.
There are ongoing calls for the overhaul of the security apparatuses and sack of the security chiefs. Would that help?
I am neither a soldier nor part of the security architecture, but all I can say is that we should put competent people where they will be effective. If you remove the current security chiefs, who will you put there? It will still be based on tribe, religion and so many other considerations. By law, these people have actually over-stayed but I don’t want this knee-jack reaction. The impression should not be given that the reason we are in this problem is because Mr. A or Mr. B is there. We need to bring people who can do the job but unfortunately, that is not what we do in this country. When you are faced with existential threats, people that have the competence to tackle the problems should be the most important thing to consider. We have competent people from all over Nigeria, we should go for the best of these people to lead these institutions.