Elder statesman and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ahamba, has recommended a fair trial for the embattled ousted Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu. He said despite the perceived shortcomings of the anti-corruption Czar, the right thing must be done to uphold the rule of law. In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
The trending issue in Nigeria today is the suspension of the EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu. What are your thoughts on the development?
The president has done what he wants to do. I believe that it is right for him to leave office so that he could be investigated. I understand that he is worried about his being allowed to see his lawyer. But when he was in office, did he care about those he arrested seeing their lawyers? What was his attitude to those arrested seeing their lawyers? It is not that it was right. When he was in office, what was his attitude to those he was withholding? My position is this: even if he did not allow people to have access to their lawyers, they should allow him so that those coming after him should do the right thing and know how to behave in this country. We should move towards civilized thinking like others are doing. If Magu is liable, let them prosecute him. That is my position on the matter.
All past EFCC chairmen have always left office under controversial circumstances especially bordering on corruption. From your vantage position, how can those who hold sway in the anti-corruption body be insulated from this recurring problem of compromising their office?
It is unfortunate. Our people say that those chasing the ghost should ensure that they do not smell like the ghost. This is the point. Others have done it and escaped. If they find anything against him, I do not bother whether they detained me falsely or not. That would not affect my opinion that Magu should be given fair opportunity to defend himself. If he is to be convicted, it should be fairly done without reference to so many people he has offended. It should not matter at all. In fact, they should use his case to teach people in that position that it could be their turn tomorrow. And such people, when they go into office, they should do the right thing because they know what could come to them when they leave office. That is why our people say that those who go to the farm do not defecate on the route to the farm because you may eventually be the one to pass there and rub your legs on what you did. So, in spite of the fact that I am one of the people hurt by Magu, he should be given opportunity for a fair trial. He detained me for six days without cause; Nigerians should know that. I have challenged them to charge me to court but they did not because there was no case against me. But let them not detain Magu contrary to law. Let them teach him what he ought to have done and how he ought to have done it when he was in office. I have no malice towards him except that God has provided the opportunity to use him to correct the ills he created.
But in your honest view, what do you think are the implications of his controversial removal to the anti-corruption fight which is the unique selling point of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
Let us have hope that everybody would fall in line to the anti-corruption crusade. So far, so good. I think the issue of fighting corruption is on the front burner. But what I want to say is that if we can take politics off the fight against corruption, what we are witnessing is normal because other nations you can think about passed through what we are going through today. The difference is that they have been able to correct themselves ultimately. Look at the current COVID 19 pandemic; there are not many Nigerians you can convince that some corruption has not gone into fighting the war against COVID 19. I can say so because I do not have any proof about it. But those directly involved are complaining here and there, like how the palliatives were shared. So, what are you talking about? In my home town, they sent palliatives in which three people shared one tuber of yam. Do you honestly call that palliative? You cannot call that palliative. But those who do all these things, they have forgotten one thing; that God has a way of repaying people who do all those things; those who have denied other people what is due to them. It would happen when the time comes. I have not been part of the whole thing, so I cannot complain about anybody but the story is so rife everywhere that a lot of corruption has gone into the fight against the COVID 19 pandemic. Look at the situation, for instance, how can you be feeding children who are in their homes when the schools are closed? Who are fooling who in this country? You see pictures in the newspapers where parents are shown collecting the meals for their children. When they were feeding the children in the schools, were those children not there? Why did they not give the parents the money to feed the children? Some of these things make many people to doubt the sincerity of the government. Whatever they do, let them know that corruption is nobody’s friend; corruption can only be a temporary relief to the perpetrator because the perpetrator may one day be a victim.
Recall that the DSS earlier wrote a report indicting Magu and that was why the past National Assembly refused to confirm him but the presidency was adamant and retained him until now; does that not suggest a deficit in the leadership capacity of President Buhari to take decisions at the right time?
It is very unfortunate. It is an indictment on the Federal Government definitely. And there are more indictments for those around the president than the president himself. This is because when the issue about Magu was trending, the president was not on seat. But whatever be the case, let us know that what will be, will be. It is only temporary. You can deceive some of the people sometime but you cannot deceive the people all the time.
As a major voice in the Southern part of the country, why do you think that the EFCC chairman are always recruited from the North?
What do you expect me to say about that when even the past Southern presidents appointed them from the North? I take it that those people are the ones qualified to take it and they took it. I do not relate it to the geographical area now because some of them were appointed when Southerners were presidents.
As a SAN, do you think a law can be used to strengthen the EFCC to make it more effective?
If you go making the constitution favouring the performance of a particular office, you make a mistake. That is the type of mistake the National Assembly made when they enacted the administration of the Criminal Justice Act. They were targeting the supposed looters and institutionalized injustice in the country. Injustice and looting, both are bad. In trying to solve the problem of looting, you do not institutionalize injustice to the point of giving magistrates powers that the constitution says they should not exercise. So, we have to make laws for all times and for all purposes and make events log into the law and not law plug into the events. So, if we are going to rewrite our constitution, I do not believe it can be legally amended. If you want to rewrite our constitution which I think we can (because it has been so criticized that we need to look at it again), then we have to have a constitutional conference or a constituent assembly to give us a draft of a new constitution. The National Assembly should make a law that would accommodate a referendum; there is no law in Nigeria accommodating a referendum except in the case of boundary adjustment. We need a law that would make it possible for that act to contain provisions for the Constituent Assembly to recommend a law, an act that would give us a new constitution and not a National Assembly that would be changing the constitution they operate; that is very dangerous. It should not be allowed to happen that the National Assembly should change the constitution which they are applying. That is not right; I do not know of any country where it has happened before; not even the United States. So, let the National Assembly make a Constituent Assembly law that would provide for a new proposal of a constitution. There should be a provision in that law that the constitution should be subjected to a referendum. And that referendum once made, the National Assembly can only talk about commencement. That would be completely removed from creating the constitution. It is wrong for them to create a constitution which they can use because legislative dictatorship can arise therefrom.
There is a conspiracy theory that the dissolution of the NWC of the APC and the current travails of the EFCC chairman are all part of the power game ahead of 2023 general elections. Some stretch the theory further that they are meant to clip the wings of former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu who is being speculated that he is eyeing the presidential seat. Can you see through the web of permutations?
All I can say is that all these conspiracy theories you talked about are speculative. And in any case, I am not a member of the APC. I do not want to be a meddlesome interloper in APC affairs at all.
Ahead of 2023, what is your position on Igbo presidency especially in view of the fact that the North and South West are also pushing for the same seat despite having occupied the position before?
The bell has not been rung for candidates to come out. Let us see whether candidates would not come out from the South East. What I want to tell this country is that anybody who loves Nigeria, and prays for peace, should in the interest of that peace allow the presidency to go to the South East. But I keep saying it is not an Igbo presidency but the presidency of Nigeria occupied by a person of Igbo extraction. So, the rest of Nigeria should look at it as an avenue of peace in this country, and not to isolate a particular section of this country from holding a particular position in the country. If Nigerians think that they love this country, and they want peace and unity, they should quietly allow the presidency to go to the South East depending on who they should bring from the South East. This is because I would not support anybody that would not rule Nigeria well. It must be a competent candidate acceptable to all Nigerians from all parts of the country.
The wrong narrative being pushed by politicians from other regions is that Ndigbo cannot speak with one voice. In that light, what message should you leave for people of the South East with regards to their quest for Igbo presidency?
Tell me which other region speak with one voice. Do you know that when two people are discussing a thing and they always agree, it means that only one person is thinking. In the South East, only one person does not think for the whole. People must express their views and come to a synergy. So, I do not see anything wrong with people not speaking with one voice. I do not subscribe to everybody thinking with one voice all the time. Even ahead of 2023, no part of Nigeria is saying the same thing. Some are saying it should go to the South East, some are saying it should still remain in the North, some are saying South West and so on. So, why are we identifying only the South East? It is the same thing everywhere but eventually, only one person would be president of Nigeria and would be elected after rational selection and voting. This is what I wish would happen in my country in 2023.