Renowned anti-corruption crusader, Major-Gen. Ola Ishola-Williams (retd) has justified why the South East Nigeria deserves to produce the nation’s president in 2023. He also said Nigerians must learn to rise up against bad policies including the recent hike in fuel price, and electricity tariffs by the federal government. He spoke on other national issues in this interview with TUNDE THOMAS.
Nigerians asked for deregulation of power, and fuel supplies, and now the government is doing that, which seems to be coming with periodic hike in prices, what do you say about this?
Cases of hike in fuel prices, and electricity tariff have been a recurring decimal in our national life especially since the time of former President Goodluck Jonathan. But it seems to be getting worse under Buhari’s administration, and even now that there has been a complete removal of subsidy, Nigerians should brace up for hard times ahead. But what seems to be baffling is this, despite protests, and complaints by Nigerians, the present government doesn’t seem to be bothered.
It appears the World Bank, and the IMF are behind the government’s decision. It seems they’ve told the Buhari’s administration that they won’t get the money they are asking for from the two financial institutions unless the Nigerian government carried out full deregulation, which has now led to removal of subsidy. Initially, Buhari refused their demands to remove subsidy but with the pressure from the two financial institutions he had to succumb. They further told him that he has to remove subsidy not only from petrol but also on electricity, and this is why you have the hike in electricity tariffs. But in all these, a lot of people have made money to the detriment of the people. But the question Nigerians should ask is this, is the money they are going to save from removal of subsidy going to benefit Nigerians or go into private pockets? From experience, it is likely the money will as usual go into private pockets, and the ordinary Nigerians are going to suffer for it. As we all know the moment you increase fuel price, automatically prices of other products will go up.
One again wonders why the federal government keeps on pumping billions of naira into the maintenance of refineries that are not working. Why? They either sell them or scrap them. Naturally, what I expect Nigerians to do in this kind of situation is to rise to the occasion by embarking on protests against what they consider oppressive, and unjust government policies but unfortunately people are keeping quiet, quite unlike Jonathan’s time when there was massive demonstration against fuel price hike.
Labour and civil society leaders are angling for protests over the hike, do you support their plans?
It is a welcome development, that is long overdue. For it seems this administration has been very lucky because we have seen in the past how issues or events that are not as volatile as what we have in the country now have led to more serious, and even at times violent demonstrations. But everybody appears to be keeping quiet. Some have even been lambasting the civil society groups for keeping un-usually quiet. But I don’t think they should be entirely blamed for this because we have to take the issue of funding into consideration. Some of these groups no longer have sponsors or funds, which they can use to mobilise people against any unjust government policy.
The planned protest should however not only be against removal of subsidy but also to demand for transparency, and accountability in governance. There is a lot of corruption going on in this country, and until Nigerians rise up and say capital No, that enough is enough, then the oppression will continue. Like it happened during Jonathan’s time, Nigerians should rise up and say enough is enough. But what is painful is that those people that are in the majority in Nigeria’s population, people that are under the age of 50 who are supposed to show more interest in this kind of thing hardly do so, and this is why you have older people that are over 70 still controlling Nigeria’s affairs. But this older generation of politicians including Buhari can’t take Nigeria anywhere. They have nothing to offer Nigeria again.
But if strikes or protests are called today, will you participate or even lead?
Why not? It is a familiar road I have taken before. I played a leading role in the June 12 crisis. I was also at the forefront in the protest against Abacha dictatorship. I was also part of the protest against Jonathan. At 70 plus I’m ready to lead the protest against bad policies by Buhari’s administration. Why should I be afraid of joining or leading such protest? I have nothing to fear. If Nigerians showed genuine interest, then I’m ready to volunteer myself for the struggle. This government appears to be gradually becoming totalitarian, I mean Buhari’s government, and we can’t fold our arms, and watch in silence.
There is a lot of rot in the system, and until we clear the mess, Nigeria will continue to be in trouble. Every time they release different figures as amount being paid as subsidy, but when are we going to get the right figures? When Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was there as Minister of Finance, and Sanusi Lamido was there as the Governor of the Central Bank, there was a lot of discussion and controversies about missing money here and there, and also different figures about the actual amount being paid as subsidy by the federal government. They set up a forensic audit to look into the accounts but till today we are yet to see the report of the audit. It is also here that you have lawyers that will sign contracts that will be against the nation’s interests like you have in the recent P&ID case. In countries like China, people that do that kind of thing will be shot. When you have people like that in your system, how can the country run very well? There is a lot of rot in the system, and we can’t continue this way if we want to make progress as a nation.
Do you foresee the possibility of a revolution if we continue this way?
It is a waste of time talking about revolution. Revolution tends to consume people who start the revolution. Go and find out that in history, and you will understand what I’m saying. It is not revolution that we need, what we need is to restructure the country. It is even surprising that the President, and his party All Progressives Congress, APC who promised to restructure the country are no longer saying anything about it. Or what has happened to the report of the El-Rufai committee set up by the APC, which recommended restructuring, and yet the Buhari’s administration is not showing interest in the committee’s report.
The Nigerian Customs has raised the alarm that Boko Haram is massing around Abuja, what comes to your mind when you heard about this? Are they the appropriate agency to have raised the alarm, or do you smell hidden agenda?
To me, that’s nothing new. They’ve raised alarm like that in Lagos before but the Defence headquarters quickly re-assured people about their safety. But the point is this, why should it be the Customs that should be telling us this? Why not the DSS who are supposed to be the agency saddled with this kind of issue. Customs are supposed to be monitoring smugglers but raising this kind of alarm is beyond their mandate. This shows the kind of confusion we have in the nation’s security structure. It is surprising that the President who has been promising on several occasions to rejig the nation’s security architecture has failed to do anything about it.
However, I don’t suspect Customs having any hidden agenda for raising the alarm. Having hidden agenda for what? Customs as an agency is supposed to be involved with collection of revenue apart from being on the track of smugglers. Their own intelligence is not to worry about Boko Haram, their own intelligence is to worry about smugglers. If they have any intelligence report about Boko Haram, their duty is to pass such information to the Police or the DSS. But since it seems the DSS is not doing its job, we thank Customs for raising this alarm.
If this alarm is to be taken seriously, can we say Abuja, and indeed Aso Rock are in danger?
I don’t see any danger. Aso Rock is well fortified, and protected. It is difficult for anybody to penetrate Aso Rock. It will take hundreds, and hundreds of people to invade Aso Rock, and even at that the President will easily escape any invasion with the way the place was built. Concerning Abuja, the Defence headquarters has given assurance that residents should not panic. But the point is this, if Boko Haram wants to strike, they will easily do so.
So much fraud in billions is daily reported from probes into the NDDC, Amnesty programme, and EFCC, what do you make out of all these?
I remember many years ago when a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori was accused of being corrupt, some people instead of calling for action to be taken were saying that it was nobody’s business that it was Niger-Delta money that was being stolen, until the situation gradually became worse, and now you have the humongous corruption taking place in the Niger-Delta today including the rot in the NDDC, and the Amnesty Office. Look at the fraud in the Amnesty Office, over 700 billion naira has been looted between the time of Goodluck Jonathan, and now. That’s a lot of money. Another old man from Niger-Delta collected contracts worth over four billion naira without doing anything. There were also cases of many Senators, and House of Representatives members who collected contracts running into billions of naira from the NDDC without executing any contract. These people pretend as if they are looking after the interests of Niger-Delta, whereas they are just looking after their own interests, and that of their families. When Jonathan was there, he made many militants so rich up to the point that two or three of them were able to buy private jets. Some people believe that money that comes from oil is their own, and they can throw it anyhow. Although they have promised to carry out a forensic audit of the NDDC, good, but what is going to come out of that? Are we going to see any report? Is any action going to be taken? But you can be sure nothing will come out of all these.
Look at the case of the EFCC, Magu is facing the Justice Ayo Salami panel but he has requested that the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami should also be made to appear before the panel to explain what he has done that made him to write petition against him so that Magu will now have the opportunity to face him. I believe in what Magu has done, if Malami is a man of integrity let him appear before the panel. Malami has no immunity so let him appear before Salami panel. But now Malami has accepted to honour the invitation if the panel invited him so my take is that he should be invited by the panel. Let all those Magu has challenged appear before the panel, if they are people of integrity. Even if the Vice-President is said to be involved, he should appear before the panel, he should not just be clearing his name in the newspapers.
Nobody should hide under the cover of immunity not to appear before the panel, and of course Malami doesn’t enjoy any immunity so he should appear before the panel if he has no skeleton in his cupboard. The problem with Nigeria is that we are not running a system based on integrity, and of course government itself doesn’t have integrity, and that’s why some of these things are happening. In other climes where integrity is the watchword, some of these strange things happening in Nigeria will never occur, and if ever they take place at all perpetrators will not escape punishment. There will be no cover up.
Since corruption is so much entrenched in the system, many Nigerians have been suggesting different ways to tackle the vice including death penalty….
Cuts in…I don’t support death penalty but if we genuinely want to fight corruption, we should set up Special Tribunals dedicated to corruption cases, and anybody found to be guilty should be given appropriate jail sentences. But the irony of it is that the federal government has been very reluctant in doing this. But this is the best way to go about it. If you say you want to fight corruption through the normal courts it is going be a waste of time because there would be so many delays, and deliberate acts of frustration to ensure that the whole process is not made to work.
But where there is a will, there will always be a way so these Special Tribunals can be set up through an Act of the National Assembly. Then again if you want to fight corruption, declaration of assets by public office holders should be made open like the late President Umaru Musa Yar’adua did. This should however be done before a public office holder assumes office, and after the completion of his tenure of office.
Federal government should also give the EFCC the independence it requires. Government should not appoint the Director-General for the EFCC, and the Attorney-General should not have any say in the EFCC affairs, and they should create a separate board, and a separate management for the EFCC and the EFCC management should be made to report not to the President or the Attorney-General but to the National Assembly, and members of the Board of the EFCC will not be nominated or approved by the President. There should be an open recruitment for the DG of the EFCC, and also the same for the ICPC. They should even merge both the EFCC, and the ICPC in order to make the fight against corruption stronger. The recruitment should be an open one in the newspapers. As of today, we have no independent anti-corruption body in Nigeria. We have none, and there is no way you can fight corruption if the anti-graft agencies are being controlled by the government.
There appears to be contention between the South-East, and the South-West over who should have the 2023 presidency if it is zoned to the South. Which of the two zones do you think should have it?
My position is that it should go to the South-East. Even most people in the North have agreed that the presidency should be zoned to the South in 2023. Even a former national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party, Audu Ogbeh said it. My reason for supporting it going to the South-East is very simple. A Yoruba man Olusegun Obasanjo was there for 8 years as President whether people like him or not, and now another Yoruba man, Yemi Osinbajo is there as the Vice-President, and by the time he will complete his tenure in 2023 he would have spent 8 years there. So, what does another Yoruba man want in 2023, except such a person is a greedy fellow? Tinubu or any other person reported to be showing interest from the Southwest are greedy. They should go and sit down. For equity, and justice I believe the Southeast, and the Middle-Belt should have it in 2023. What has the people of the South-east done wrong that they should not be given the opportunity to contribute their own quota to the national development? The South-east should have the Presidency while the Middle-Belt should produce the Vice -President. I fully support zoning, and since Buhari a northerner is there as the President today then it should be the turn of the South in 2023, and when it comes to the South, the South-east should have it. Anybody with conscience will agree that the South-east should have it in 2023.
What’s your position on the controversy trailing the Water Resources Bill?
They should kill that bill. The sponsors have a hidden agenda, and moreover the bill is another attempt to perpetuate unitary system of government. That bill must be killed. What kind of nonsense is that in a federal system? I’m even surprised that the House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila who was initially against the bill is the one now promoting it, and this is why I said earlier that I suspect a hidden agenda. Why must everything be centralized when everybody is clamouring for restructuring? Look also at the issue of community policing, and how the federal government now wants to centralise it. This is wrong. Neither the federal government nor the Inspector-General of Police should have anything to do with it. Community policing should be the business of the state governments.