Professor Femi Odekunle is a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption set up by President Muhammadu Buhari and chaired by Prof. Itse Sagay. In this interview he granted Channels TV and monitored by our correspondent, the professor of criminology sheds light on the mandate of the committee among other corruption related issues.
What actually is the mandate of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption?
Our committee covers everything, except that we are not operational. We don’t engage in execution because we are not like the EFCC and the ICPC, that arrest people but, in terms of what government should do to actually attack corruption in all its ramifications, our job is to advise the Presidency.
Specifically, we advise in the area of the laws, the operations of the EFCC, the ICPC; about certain policies concerning judges, concerning senior lawyers and how they are collaborating with corrupt people.
For example, we met with the top echelon of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, and our Chairman (Professor Itse Sagay) was telling them that whoever is collaborating with looters, they are themselves looters. These are the kinds of things that we advise government on – how do we deal with corruption?
For instance, do we not shame names? Do we not need to withdraw from these people national honours and expose those who have been found to be collaborating with those involved in corruption? Or do we not need to go round the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and some major capital cities and identify the ownership of houses and ask people whether they have been paying taxes on those houses and where they even got the money to build such houses in the first place? How can the ICPC and the EFCC actually train their staff in such a way that they will be motivated and enabled to attend to their work; or how do we enhance the prosecutorial abilities of those in the Ministry of Justice to be able to attend to the cases before them? How do we mobilise judges to deal with the cases before them more than relying on technicalities?
You appear to have packed so much?
Our job is advisory and it is not for public consumption. But in the course of our duties, we meet with agencies, whether it is CBN, Customs Service, EFCC, ICPC, and extract suggestions from them on how best to do their work and thereafter we advise government on what to do. But any agency discovered to be derelict in its responsibilities, we would inform the government and some of the activities you see in the Ministry of Education, in terms of probing certain institutions, are as a result of some of the work we have been doing.
In terms of advising the government on the operations of the EFCC and the arrest and re-arrest of people…?
We would not want a situation as was the case in the past whereby people would be arrested, they would end up getting bail and the cases would go on for years and these people will now go to the National Assembly to make laws for Nigerians. Our position is that investigations should be thorough and detailed, and, once people are arrested, the judicial process should be proceeded with swiftly and that is why the 2015 Administration of Criminal Justice Act comes in handy because it disallows unnecessary adjournment and, whenever a case of corruption or something like that comes up, it should be handled, with hardly any break in-between.
But there are those who say impunity is returning and ….?
Look, we have met the justices, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria and justices of the Supreme Court, and we laid before them these observations and they have said that they are willing to help the country fight corruption, but also it is part of the responsibility of the government to ensure the prosecutorial ability of the Ministry of Justice, and the agencies saddled with the job of prosecuting because it is whatever comes before the court that the judge will deal with, without public sentiments.
Specifically, many say if a man is out on bail, on what grounds does the EFCC re-arrest him, especially when the order is that he should not be re-arrested, and many are raising questions about the integrity of the process?
I do not think so. You see, one of the problems we have in this country is that we put the interest of the individual above the interest of the collective. As a professional criminologist, I am not for unmoderated democracy, I’m not for unmoderated rule of law in which the rights of the individual will be so hyperbolised and override those of the collective.
If a man is accused of stealing N1billion, and he goes to court and the SANs, with all their shenanigans and technicalities, using the Constitution, to say you have committed a bailable offence whereas the consequences are more than what is bailable, then you are able to get bail; then tomorrow, we find that you have stolen another billion naira, that is another offence and, therefore, you should be arrested. To me, once you get a bail for a particular offence, that does not mean you cannot be arrested for another offence. As far as I’m concerned, the government has even been very gentle and constrained in doing its job and dealing with this monster of corruption. If you know the damage that is done to us morally, psychological, socio-culturally and financially, image wise, you will not be going into this discussion about the human rights of certain people who are actually ruining us. If we don’t make examples of these characters, sooner than later, our future and that of our children are jeopardised.
Are you saying…?
Don’t get me wrong please, I’m not saying peoples’ rights should not be respected, but I’m saying that in respecting peoples’ rights, you must respect the rights of the collective.
So, when a man has the resources to hire the best lawyers and is released on bail and he uses his resources to sabotage the evidence, to deal with witnesses…
That’s an assumption or can you give us any specific instance of what you’re saying…
That is the time they are always sick. Immediately you arrest a man, that is when he is sick and that is the time he wants to go for medical attention abroad. This type of nonsense has to stop. I believe President Buhari and his government have been very gentle in dealing with these characters. I get emotional when I talk about corruption.
Some people say this fight against corruption has been one-sided and it is as if it is only members of the last administration that are corrupt and have been interrogated?
I’m sorry…hehe…sorry for that appearance, but I do not think the President will be purposely go after those who served in the last administration. What I think has been happening is that what we call the low-hanging fruits of corruption is what is coming for attention.
Remember he said he will not go as far back as…. Okay, somebody like me, I will not go as far back as 1986, but he says that the problem is so enormous and so extensive that let him start with the last administration, the most obvious, that is what I call low-hanging fruits and that is why it appears as if the other party seems to be at the end of the fight. I do not think the government is purposely going after the last administration, I do not think so. The government is going against officials who have stolen money and, to me, from what I am seeing and hearing, he has not even gone after 1% of those people who are responsible for our position.
Okay, what is unique about the year 1986?
As a social scientist and criminologist who has been studying corruption since the early 1980s, that was the watershed in Nigeria’s regression into corrupt disposition. At that point in time, we had had a government that was trying to get rid of the problem created in the Second Republic, the Shagari government; and that was Buhari, in which he used extraordinary measures to try to tackle the problem of corruption.
But immediately the next government came in, in order to get popular with the elites and the lawyers, they released all those who had been found guilty of corruption, systematically, they returned their properties to them, systematically, settlement became the engine of government; in fact, somebody used to say that before that regime, the average civil servant was a petty thief, but that immediately after that regime, the average civil servant became an armed robber.
Now, that situation regressed so much so that as of the time of Jonathan, the Nigerian government had become a racket, a mafia racket, in which a few people, using their offices, actually fleeced the country to penury, to a state of economic kwashiokor.
That is why I, personally, in order to make everybody feel confident about our fight against corruption, we should go back as far back as 1986 in a systematic manner, in an orderly fashion – it may take us five years, it may take us 10 years, but there must be a systematic approach to this fight against corruption because what we are hearing now about Dokpesi, about Dasuki or whoever, is just a tip of the iceberg. What happens daily in every MDA, in every bank and in the private sector is ruining the economy.
Government is not just attacking ABCD, it is about the low-hanging fruits, the immediate ones confronting government.
We hear the military say we follow the rules of engagement but in a democracy, there’s got to be rule of law and a presumption of innocence. By all means, whoever is found guilty should face the music but there are rules to be followed. If people go to jail for contract splitting, why should an agency of government be involved in splitting charges because if you say if somebody released on bail is discovered to be involved in another offence, then he should be picked up and arrested, as if you just discovered the charge. It gives the impression that they are presuming them guilty even before trial?
If you understood what I said, i didn’t say they were splitting charges.
I got what you said. Is it at the point of the person being released that the new charges were suddenly found? That is the issue here prof?
Going by law, you may be arrested for burglary. And if later it was discovered that you were involved in armed robbery, that is another offence and, if you are arrested for that, you would be charged accordingly but separately. So, I do not think they were suddenly splitting charges. I believe what is happening is that they charge as they discover.
But why is it that they keep discovering these charges whenever they are released on bail. It’s not the first, second or third and one wonders how would those judges feel when they’ve given an order that on no grounds should the person be re-arrested and is granted on bail because he has to come and face the charges against him…?
Why I agree to some of the points you raised, while admitting that this is not a classroom, you must understand the nature of bourgeois law, it is meant to protect the interest of those who have economic or political power. But what we are trying to say is that this kind of approach will eventually ruin the collective; therefore, those who have conscience should use the loopholes to also deal with the offenders.
Why not amend the laws because nobody knows those who would occupy the office tomorrow and then cite these unlawful precedents to do damage?
In 1997/1998, I as a victim of the violation of my human rights, so I am not against the respect of human rights, but I am saying the interest of the nation must be paramount. The interest of the nation must come first just as government has nipped the issue of the South East in the bud and that of El-Zakzakky and those who are criticising the government should commend government and not criticise.