Comrade Debo Adeniran, a human rights activist, is the Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL). In This interview with Correspondent, TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he speaks on federal government’s fight against corrupt practices, the agitation for a Sovereign National Conference, 14 years of democratic journey and the battle for 2015.
Nigeria celebrated 14 years of Democracy on May 29. How will you assess the journey so far?
The experience of the last 14 years is like that of a vehicle that is moving backwards, reversing everything that is actually good within the polity. People expected that during the democratic experience, they would live better lives. They would be able to earn decent living for themselves and their children would be able to go to good schools while the education they acquire in these schools will be useful to create jobs for themselves. Graduates will have jobs, industries will flourish, power supply and other infrastructure will be available for such industries to thrive. There will be micro credit for people to begin their own trade and there will be incentives from government to attract foreign investors and the level of insecurity of lives and property in the country will be reduced to the barest minimum. But what have we seen? Everything is going deeper down the abyss of nothingness, to the extent that even the parties that were operating before the civilians took over had to fold up, power generating had to diminish, the number of admission into our tertiary institutions has dipped, the percentage of eligible students that are supposed to transit from primary school to secondary school have reduced and even primary school graduates today are not even useful to themselves. So, if they are not properly trained, then they have not the skilled labour that is expected of them and that mean that nobody will require their services. Look at the issue of infrastructure for instance. Electricity has been a scarce commodity. If you don’t provide your own power, water, even roads, you cannot live a successful life because most of our roads are dilapidated, despite the fact that billions of naira are being appropriated for them year in year out.
Nigerian democracy is fashioned after the American democratic system. Why do you think democracy is working in this and other developed countries of the world and seem not to be working in Nigeria?
Truth is, there is discipline in those other countries, there is party supremacy as well as discipline. Citizens of those countries are enlightened unlike Nigerians where many are mis-educated or undereducated. Those countries the leaders don’t give false information to deceive the citizens. They give state of the state address on regular basis. Here, leaders are not accountable to the people. Leaders of those developed countries don’t see themselves as the lord of the citizenry, rather they see themselves as servants and part of the citizenry. Here, rulers want to lord it over the citizenry. Here, you cannot even recall your representatives if he is under performing because of the cumbersomeness of recalling them. Obviously, they saw this coming and have thus made it impossible for people that voted them in to remove them except through the barrel of the gun. Even those who can use the barrel of gun are not ready because they themselves can be compromised. The Almajiri culture is what developed into what is now Boko Haram because they see those who are ruling them living big while they are living below poverty line. They now believed that maybe it was because those rulers acquire western education that is why they are oppressing them so much and that the only thing they understood is the religious education that they were given, and that is why they say ‘if western education is giving us leaders that are considering us unworthy of living a decent, happy life, then we should attack the western education these so-called leaders have acquired. That if everybody have acquired Islamic education, everybody will see the same things the same way and from the same perspective and that there will be no oppression of the poor by the rich. That is the principle that one can read into the agitation by the Boko Haram people. But Nigerian leaders don’t learn from lessons and that explains why we are moving from one crisis to another. The insurgency in the North is also a precursor to insurgency in other parts of the country. The militancy in the Niger Delta did not just come up one day. It arose as a result of the degradation of that environment.
As an anti–corruption crusader, how would you describe the federal government’s fight against corrupt practices? Can you really say they are winning the war?
It has not been effective and the machinery they put in motion has not been efficient. So, the fight cannot be effective. They set up the anti-corruption agencies in order to bamboozle people but somehow, they discover that they made a mistake because the head of such organization seems to be more committed to the anti-corruption drive. But instead of strengthening those anti-corruption agencies, they reduce their powers and ensure they are not adequately funded. Even if they manage to get some cases to court, they do everything to frustrate those cases. So, basically the government does not have the political will to ensure that the anti-corruption agencies function effectively. For example, EFCC has only 1,500 staff across the nation, while ICPC has less. These agencies are supposed to have a desk in all the ministries and MDAs, but they are unable to because they are underfunded. It is because the government does not wish them well. They do not want them to succeed and that is why they are not provided with adequate funds, personnel, equipment and training. They don’t build their capacity, no insurance, no security against attacks from those that they are investigating and that is why many of them have fallen prey to hired assassins. So, they are not ready to commit their energy into the task because they know the government will not come to their aid if they run into problem. You saw the way they threw out Nuhu Ribadu despite the achievements he has. Even look at the way they threw out Farida Waziri even with the little she was able to achieve. That didn’t encourage others to want to work with their hearts and minds when they get into that office. And that is why the fight against corruption in Nigeria has become a sham. Look at the way people are being pardoned with reckless abandon and that is not the way to run anti-corruption drive and that explains why our rating is going down year in, year out.
So what solution can you proffer to the fight against corruption?
The anti-corruption agencies should be made independent. I don’t mind the establishment of special courts to try corruption cases. That will make it faster. Also, time frame should be set for corruption cases to go through. Civil servants should not be made heads of anti-corruption agencies. They should come from professionals who have achieved an enviable pedigree, who will not want to soil the good name they have acquired for themselves. If these anti-corruption agencies are headed by people with good and incorruptible pedigree, they will be able to act without blemish. Then also, the funding of these agencies should come from the federation accounts directly, not through the ministry of justice. The ministry of justice has been virtually frustrating most of the cases that the anti-corruption agencies wanted to do because the ministry brought out a gazette saying that any corruption matter that involves N50million should be brought to the ministry of justice for prosecution. That is the not the way things should be done. The anti-corruption agencies should be given the freedom and liberty to prosecute anyone they have suspected. But in a situation where you bring a Lamorde. He is a fine police officer, no doubt, but because he has several ogas at the top mounting pressure on him, he will be handicapped to the job effectively.
If the government is really serious about fighting corruption, why are they finding it difficult to partner with anti-corruption organizations like CACOL?
They will not partner with CACOL because they believe that CACOL is an organization that will turn the searchlight on them. They believe that they have skeletons in their cupboard and so will do everything to frustrate us. If they have nothing to hide, it wouldn’t have cost them anything to give grants to anti-corruption organization with a view to investigating any MDA that is suspected to be involved in corrupt practices. When you look at governmental structure, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, they, instead of fighting corruption, are actually protecting it and that is what you discover when you go to courts, most cases will continue unending. If you go to the legislature, because most of them are elected through malpractices, they will not want to make any law that will ensure that any corrupt persons are punished. And when you also look at it, most of them have one corruption case or another hanging on them. Definitely, they will not want to do their oversight function. If they have performed their oversight function, there won’t be monumental corruption that was discovered in the ‘oil sector, power sector, pension fund and also in the Securities and Exchange Commission. So, this is why things are degenerating day in day out. So, they will not want organization like CACOL to be a part of such measures because they know they will expose them.