It is common knowledge that corruption has eaten deep into the Nigerian system, but given your vantage position, how easy or difficult has your job been?
It is extremely difficult. I didn’t know that our people were so steeped in corruption to the extent that I have now seen. More tragically, at a more senior level, that of some high profile people is not just being steeped in it, but they are even ready to do anything under the sun to defend it at any cost. That is what is more disturbing. They would move the earth to make sure the status quo is maintained and a few of them share the wealth of this country and allow millions to live in poverty and misery. Their determination is frightening. They have lawyers who live on the corrupt loot, by getting their shares of it as counsel and those ones are also engaged in defending these criminals at any cost. It is frightening.
The refusal of the Senate to confirm Mr. Ibrahim Magu as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has caused some discord between the executive and the legislature. It seems you took it personal by saying the acting chairman could continue to act. Why did you insist on Magu?You can look at it from two perspectives. First, justice; in the sense that if a man has done nothing wrong, why do you want to give an impression that there is something wrong with him and then want him removed. It would be unjust. I believe in justice and I believe in fighting for justice. Trace my history; I’ve always stood for justice. The second perspective is that he’s the best. In a country that is like a cesspool, smelling and rotten with corruption, this is one of the best we could pick out. And it will not be easy to get another person like Magu. It’s not impossible but it won’t be easy. And why do we have to do that when he’s available, just because a few people are uncomfortable with him. Nigeria was not made for those few people, so they can afford to be uncomfortable. What is best for Nigeria has to be insisted upon.
The Department of State Services submitted the report that allegedly indicted Magu. Are you saying that the DSS report lacks credibility and shouldn’t be taken seriously?
I must say that one, for me, is an unsettling issue. First the DSS should not even be writing directly to the Senate, they should have written to the President, so that the President would decide whether he has reason to forward Magu’s name or not. That’s the first point. Secondly, having done that, the President caused an enquiry to be made into the issue and asked the Attorney General of the Federation to investigate and write a report. Magu was asked to make a statement on the issue. When the AGF went through it, he (Magu) was asked questions, I’m sure he backed his responses with statements and documents and at the end of the day, the Attorney General wrote a report exonerating him. This report was passed through the Vice President, who confirmed it. So, there is nothing the DSS can ever say after this that I personally would consider important enough to obstruct Magu’s appointment.
For the head of an anticorruption agency to have corruption allegations hanging on his neck having been indicted by another prominent agency of government, one would expect that should be enough reason for him to step aside because when the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, was newly charged at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, people called for his resignation, on mere allegation why is Magu’s case different?That is what I’m saying. The matter has been investigated by the Attorney General, who has not found any substance on the issue. On the one that I know about, which is on the issue of the house he is staying, which was supposed to have been let for a certain sum and furnished. He knew nothing about it. It is the agency that is in charge of housing high profile executives like that that got the house and put him there. Why should he now be accused of any wrongdoing in that regard, even if the rent is considered high? So, what I’m saying is that it seems as if the DSS did not really investigate properly to see how he got there. And I would have thought that matter would have been cleared when he said he was put there by a Federal Government agency that is in charge, because he didn’t put himself there. That should have ended the matter, and that is why I feel that we ought to put this behind us and allow the man do a very thorough, credible, dedicated and committed job that he has been doing.
If Magu is to continue to act for as long as the President wants, it jettisons the input of the Senate. Don’t you think you have simply advised the President to play down on the principle of separation of powers?
In fact, we have rather played down on the powers of the executive, rather than the powers of the legislature. If you read Section 171 of the constitution carefully, the President has the power to appoint heads of non-ministerial agencies as chairman, substantively, not even acting. So, technically, the President can appoint Magu without clearance from Senate. That is what Section 171 of the constitution says. So, what we are doing now is trying to manage the process, not to say things or act in a way that would tend to belittle the authority of those who think they have power. But when they decide to be unjust, oppressive and dismiss the interest of this country with levity and contempt, because Magu stands for the interest of this country, then we have to put our feet down too. But I’m telling you, from my reading of Section 171, there is even no need for the President to seek clearance from the Senate to make a person the head of any of those agencies. That is what the constitution says. I know the EFCC Act says the contrary, but when the two clash, the EFCC Act, of course, bows out.
The ripple caused by the rejection, the issue that arose from the customs boss’ refusal to appear in uniform and summoning you to appear before it, would you say the senate is biting more than it can chew?
I think the senate is diverting attention from the real issues that matter. When you take affront at criticism in a democratic society and invite those who criticise you so that you can talk down at them and insult them, because that is the whole purpose of the summons, and you then leave main issues which concern you, it’s like they are trying to make the senate irrelevant. Saying someone must wear uniform to appear before you, is he a schoolboy? He’s not a schoolboy. You can’t order him that way. That’s insulting. No self-respecting man would obey that type of instruction; that you go and wear uniform and appear before me. Or like the old man of above 80 who was going to be made an ambassador that was told to recite the national anthem during screening. That was very insulting. It seems as if this senate sees itself as presiding over a kindergarten, so they developed kindergarten mentality. All these are irrelevant.
There are insinuations that the President seems to be shielding his men, like the issue of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Why is it that when there are issues surrounding people who work with the President, the Presidency would be the judge in the matter and that would be the end?
That, for me, is a rather complex issue, because I don’t know all the details, but my impression is that this matter is still being looked into. He’s a very highly placed official and I don’t think the President would suddenly tell him to go without proper findings of wrongdoing. I think the process is still on, but as a general statement, I believe that anybody who is found wanting in the area of corruption in this administration cannot be retained. But whether it applies to him or not, I cannot say.
A Federal High Court and the ECOWAS Court have said former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, should be granted bail, yet the government has continued to defy that order. How do you justify that flagrant disobedience of court order by a government that says it is fighting corruption?
I believe court orders should be obeyed. That is a central issue and principle in the rule of law. That is my belief. But again, many of us are only at the periphery of what is happening. I don’t know the details of what this man must have done to make the government so determined to hold him. I don’t know and I don’t want to judge what the government is doing on the basis of half knowledge or ignorance. I must presume that there must be something very serious that is making the government hesitate in carrying out these court orders, but I don’t know.
Before (James) Ibori returned to Nigeria, you said he could not be tried again since he was already convicted in a court in the United Kingdom. But there is a pending judgment of the Appeal Court saying he had case to answer after Justice Awokulehin discharged him. How do you reconcile the two?
Let me put it broadly; to my knowledge, the EFCC alone is handling about 100 high-profile cases, where people were being charged, indicted or investigated for billions of naira and hundreds of millions in dollars. Some have progressed far, some have not gone anywhere and there is a middle bulk. Maybe we are looking at the next three to five years. In the case of James Ibori, he was arrested in Dubai and taken to London. He was tried, pleaded guilty and spent five years in prison. His assets are presently being compiled; there is a move by the British Court to assess in totality, gather them and freeze the properties, even seize them. In my view, we have finished with James Ibori. You would find that what the Court of Appeal did and what the Federal High Court did is about the same property. In law, no matter how you term the charge, whether money laundering or stealing, it’s about the substance. If it’s the same thing, you do not try a person twice. We have two principles called autrefois convict and autrefois acquit. In Ibori’s case, he is autrefois convict. He has been convicted. He spent five years. For me, it would be very vindictive to leave those 100 people whose cases have not gone far and zero in on a man who has paid the price for whatever wrong he did and spent five years in prison. His resources have been taken away and going to be seized and returned to Nigeria at a certain stage. That’s my argument. The law should not be vindictive. We don’t want to kill him. So, we should concentrate on those who have paid no price for what they have accumulated and are still enjoying the loot, and in fact giving lawyers money to continue to drag the case on forever until everybody dies and they would keep the loot. Those are the ones we should concentrate on. Ibori’s case is over. That is my argument.
Also many persons who worked with former President Goodluck Jonathan had been invited for questioning over the $2.1bn arms scandal. And you once said the idea of arresting Jonathan himself is sensitive. Since he no longer has immunity, what is sensitive about it, or is the law now sentimental?
First, a lot of people think my committee is involved in things we are not involved in. We are mainly an advisory committee. We advise, basically. We don’t have executive powers, we don’t prosecute and we don’t investigate. Most of the information we get are from the agencies that investigate. I don’t know exactly what the EFCC, ICPC or DSS have as far as the former President is concerned. But as you said, when this issue was raised with me, I’m a bit sentimental about it. Some countries are prepared to disgrace their former Heads of State, but I feel a little bit reluctant. Rather, I would prefer something quietly done behind, where whatever might have been taken would be returned quietly and without public embarrassment, if indeed anything was taken. That is my view, because I won’t be too comfortable to see a former Head of State on trial.
With no reference to Jonathan, why should a former Head of State also take money that does not belong to him?
You are right, in terms of justice, logic and so on. It’s just my sentiment. I would feel Nigeria somehow is on trial. I would be very uncomfortable when somebody who had been the embodiment of our statehood is standing in the dock. I feel a bit uncomfortable. I would rather whatever reparation should be made should be done discreetly, without creating undue public embarrassment. If you apply the principle strictly without bias, yes, that is the way it should be. I admit that I’m wrong and I agree with you; my sentiment is controlling me here. That’s the way I feel and I’m not going to dispute with anyone who says I’m wrong. It’s a personal thing.
In response to the delay in corruption cases and the crowded courts and prisons full of persons awaiting trial, there was a time the idea of creating special court for corruption cases was muted. What happened to that plan?
There is a bill before the National Assembly now to set up a special crimes court, which would include not only corruption, financial and economic offences, but also kidnapping, terrorism and money laundering. They are about six offences. In the special court, the judges would be specialised. It’s been proposed. And if the National Assembly sees it fit to pass it, then, I’m sure the President would sign it and it would become law.
Your colleagues and some judges have the large share of the blame as to why the courts are crowded. What is your committee’s recommendation on the best way to check this issue?You are right and I feel strongly about that. Some of my colleagues at the bar are also living off the proceeds of crime with their clients, and will therefore defend them with the last drop of their blood because what they are doing now enriches them so much that they are almost at the same level with their clients. These people are steeped into this thing, and I’ll call the people involved accomplices after the act. That is the way I see them. So they are stalling cases. Cases used to go back to the Supreme Court and back on the issue of jurisdiction alone and preliminary objections have no end. But, luckily, with the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, there has been a change, like in tempo. Now, a court can no longer adjourn for more than two weeks at a time and cannot adjourn any case for more than five times.
The ICPC seems to be too passive for comfort while all eyes have been on the EFCC. Is this deliberate?
The ICPC may not have achieved many results like the EFCC, but it is working quietly too. EFCC is a more dynamic and aggressive body. I think the ICPC has gone into an area the EFCC has not gone into extensively, which is the area of trying to build up a culture of anti-corruption in schools and agencies. For example, I know they have units in virtually every ministry to monitor things. So, they have a more quiet approach to it. They are achieving results in their own way too and I think the two agencies complement each other and they should continue to work the way they are working.