It was meant to be a roundtable to discuss and proffer solutions on how to win the corruption war in Nigeria.
The venue was apt: The University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos, but the drama that ensued was unexpected.
The drama between reputable legal scholars and experts at the roundtable was epic.
The event, organised by the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, tagged “Winning the War Against Corruption” was also to launch the book ‘Legal Perspectives to Corruption, Money Laundering, and Assets Recovery in Nigeria.’
The occasion began with the keynote speech ‘Rule of Law and Treatment of Politically Exposed Persons in Corruption Cases’ delivered by Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. He was represented by Wahab Shittu. Falana advocated creation of special courts to handle corruption cases.
Thereafter, a verbal battle began after Femi Aribisala took to the podium to discuss Falana’s speech.
He said: “There is no fight against corruption in Nigeria. And if there’s no fight against corruption, you can’t even talk about war.” Thereafter, Aribisala launched into a 10-minute speech which attacked the global definition of corruption by Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, a former Education minister and also, a former World Bank vice president, who had earlier defined corruption as “the abuse of public space for private gains.”
“Corruption cannot be narrowly defined the way Ezekwesili defined it, only relating to public institutions. We are corrupt in Nigeria. The plumber, the tailor, the whole society is corrupt,” Aribisala said.
“And, we have not yet taken a decision, we have not yet gotten to a point where we are fed up. I mean, she (Mrs. Ezekwesili) had given an example of Hong Kong where people became fed up and said enough is enough. We have not reached that situation yet, I don’t know why not, but we certainly have not.
“The 2015 election was not an anti-corruption election. We did not have any political party that presented an anti-corruption mandate to us. The party that won the election was just a makeover of the PDP, I mean, the PDP people moved from the PDP to the APC. If they were corrupt when they were in PDP, they became clean now that they are in APC. So there is no mandate against corruption. If President Buhari was determined to fight against corruption, my feeling is that he gave up after losing election three times. Because the fourth time, he formed an alliance with people who he despised before. And they were not necessarily people who had a track record of being (sic) anti-corruption. So today, I don’t know who is anti-corruption.”
Aribisala’s speech irked Prof. Itse Sagay after students clapped in appreciation of Aribisal’s speech.
“We are not here to make students clap,” a visibly angry Sagay, who serves as the chairman of a Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption said.
“We are here on a very serious business. And students, don’t behave like American electorates who are ignorant. The appreciation of unserious people shows ignorance. How can someone come here and say there’s no war against corruption and there is clapping? ”
Sagay said the APC had a manifesto that spelt out its strategies to combat corruption, and admonished Aribisala to stop making statements devoid of facts.
“This is a very serious discussion and I want us to be serious about it. If you are anti-government, please, go and campaign against government and let your party win in 2019.
Ezekwesili pleaded for another chance at the podium, ostensibly to further drive her case against Aribisala’s argument.
“The systemic nature of corruption as a cancer against a system of governance is demonstrated in the fact that the activity of corruption begins to happen at their different levels,” Mrs. Ezekwesili began.
“For example, I wasn’t surprised that some of you were clapping. The reason you were clapping is that you are a page in your own level of corruption.
“There are many whose exam malpractice is the basis upon which they have come to school. So, when you are talking about the need to wage a war against corruption, they are completely disconnected from it. There is a complete dissonance from it.”
She urged the students to desist from applauding populist statements.
“You need to be driven by the evidence of the damage and the destruction that corruption is doing to you, at the unit level. If you think you are doing well now, you will do exceedingly better if corruption is effectively tackled in this society,” she said.
“There is no comedy session going on here. We are talking about something that can be destructive. You should be holding the gun to fight against corruption. The gun has to be intellectual, so, I need you to intelligently process everything that is said.”