…Says, corruption alive and well under Buhari
’It’s Right To Say Buhari Has Lost Control Of His Government’
’Magu: Buhari’s anti-corruption war dealt a mortal, bloody blow
Dr Junaid Mohammed, an elder statesman is a former member of the House of Representatives. The Kano-based respected public commentator spoke to The Nigerian Xpress on the recent controversies involving President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war; the probe of Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission; the war against insurgency and banditry among other issues in this interview with AKANI ALAKA.
The Presidency, in reaction to recent barrage of criticisms, especially the untidy manner of the probe of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and open disagreements among top government officials, dismissed the notion that the President has lost the control of his government. What’s your reaction to this?
First and foremost, the anti-corruption war did not start with Buhari. It started in the regimes before him and if you want to give credit to Buhari, you have to be very honest because the military governments that came before him had made the same claim about fighting corruption. At the end of the day, all those military governments fell by the wayside and there was hardly a dent on the problems of corruption with all they did.
Two, in any democracy, if you want to fight any war, whether it is against coronavirus, corruption or any of the problems in the society, one sure way you can do so and succeed and leave a lasting legacy is to ensure that what you are doing is institutionalised.
The proper approach is what Obasanjo did –to create EFCC and ICPC. So, to what extent can anybody claim credit for making the anti-corruption war real and institutionalized and suspects prosecuted in accordance with the rule of law? Not somebody with vicious high-handedness and arbitrariness.
It is Obasanjo that should claim that credit, not Buhari or this government. In all fairness, we must, however, give Buhari the credit for the presence of mind to appoint Magu.
Other leaders have appointed similar chairpersons for the EFCC. It was Obasanjo who appointed Nuhu Ribadu and by and large, people say he did a good job. It was Goodluck Jonathan who appointed Ibrahim Lamorde and, of course, Umaru Yar’Adua appointed Farida Waziri who was very controversial and did nothing.
So, nobody who has any shame can say Buhari is the mastermind of the fight against corruption. Corruption has been here before him, it is very much alive and well, most especially now and corruption will be with us until we have sincere leaders who are determined to fight corruption within the ambits of rule of law. If you don’t fight corruption with the rule of law, it will come back to haunt you. In addition,
I raised this issue with Obasanjo. Anybody who wants can go and check with Obasanjo. When the enabling Bill of the EFCC was passed by the National Assembly, I was able to get a copy. And at the next available opportunity, I raised some issues about the Act.
I told Obasanjo, ‘it seems you are determined to make the EFCC a police organization, but that will not guarantee success because the Nigerian Police have a very lousy reputation internally. They are known for asking for and taking bribes and they are known for shooting people over bribes of N100 or N200.
I said those are not the kind of people that will fight corruption honestly and diligently and in a way that will make the fight succeed. Two, I also told Obasanjo, if you want to confirm, anybody can check from him, that creating ICPC with the same mandate is nothing but duplication. And I don’t see the necessity for that duplication.
Maybe people will be looking at which of the agencies will do the job better, but that is nonsense because corruption is corruption. There is no way you can fight corruption with one mindset in one place, that you cannot also do it in other circumstances in another place. Thirdly, I also said the only way the EFCC and the ICPC can work is to make sure that they are not under the attorney-general because Nigerian attorneys-general are politicians.
Most of the ones that I have come across in my life are corrupt, though some of them are very serious, outstanding lawyers like Chief Kehinde Sofola who was the last attorney-general for Shagari. He was a very serious man, a very religious person, a man of integrity.
But how many of his likes can you mention? He was there for the last three months of the Shagari administration, but he was one of the most outstanding attorneys-general in the history of this country. How many came before or after him? You can mention the late Teslim Elias, an outstanding jurist who was attorney-general of Nigeria, he was the chief justice for this country and later became the president of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
Those are the people I can point out. The others, forget about them. And the most scandalous attorney-general in the history of this country is the one appointed by Buhari. And the appointment of this Malami fellow confirmed my fears, which I had expressed many years ago to Obasanjo, that except he made the EFCC and the ICPC directly under him, we would have a problem when we have a president who is a very weak personality, a president who can be easily misguided and who will have a manipulative and entirely reckless, manipulative attorney-general. He will render the anti-corruption war useless. And that is what is happening now.
So, what about Magu, you think he should not be probed?
As far as I am concerned with the axing of Magu, I’m not saying that Magu is an angel. There are ways the matter could have been handled, by following the law and with his position as the chairman of the EFCC.
But what happened was that they hounded him, arrested him, took him to the Presidency and brought a judge -Ayo Salami from Ilorin who left his own position at the Court of Appeal in a crisis -to come and sit in judgment, investigating Magu. And Magu’s offences were not made available to him; they were just asking him questions.
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At the end of the day, they found nothing worth talking about. Now, with this kind of attitude, you can see that the anti-corruption war under the Buhari administration can never be won. And what they have done now -whether Buhari knew or does not know, he must accept responsibility -is that they have now dealt the anti-corruption war a mortal, bloody blow because nobody will be able to put all his best, all his energy, all his connections, devotions to the anti-corruption war because he must have seen how Ribadu was treated, Lamorde was treated and now, Magu. So, you can see clearly that the government is not sincere about fighting this war.
But the government said nobody is above the law in the anti-corruption war, including Magu…
Telling us that violating somebody’s right is fighting corruption or that nobody is above the law is an insult to 200 million Nigerians. You can do whatever you want to do, but respect those rights that have been accorded to individuals by the Constitution.
If you don’t have charges against an individual don’t arrest him and even if you have, he is deemed innocent until proven guilty. The statements coming from the Presidency are a disgrace to the rule of law. And they should never forget that even under Obasanjo, there were substantial contributions from other countries to the anti-corruption war in order for democracy to succeed in our country.
And I remember that in some of the discussions I had with Obasanjo, he told me that one of the reasons he wanted the establishment of the ICPC and the EFCC was because he would want us to get debt relief. We were indebted and the people that would write off our debt under the HIPC had insisted that without setting up the EFCC and the rest, they were not going to forgive us the debts. And we didn’t have the money to pay. That was the situation then. But now, we are in another situation whereby this government has been borrowing money from institutional and commercial money lenders and they don’t have the means to pay.
From all indications, the country is in a recession. And if you look at what the IMF, the World Bank and the UNODC –the anti-corruption agency of the UN are saying, you will see that the goodwill for Nigeria is very low. Nobody is taking us seriously again.
And when the people that are supposed to be fighting corruption for us are being publicly humiliated, you can see that we are going nowhere, no matter the statement from the Presidency. That’s why the situation is so pathetic, so sad.
This Magu fellow, I repeat, I am not saying he is without any fault. But the fact of the matter is, in any country governed by the rule of law, you don’t come out humiliate somebody who is out to do a job. The first time the President sent his name to the Senate, Bukola Saraki and other persons then being investigated for corruption refused to confirm him.
The second time, the President sent his name, the sacked DSS boss, Daura, decided to write another letter saying something contrary to what the Presidency had written in his own letter to the Senate. Though Daura has been sacked, the damage has been done. So, if somebody who should fight corruption was humiliated the way Magu was, then, nobody would want the job. There is no way you can have an attorney-general who is bankrupt and you will expect the war against corruption to be won. And I raised this issue with Obasanjo.
I said the whole idea of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, in the Office of the Attorney-General should be done away with. We should copy what the South Africans have done.
Let’s have Independent National Prosecution Authority so that all the prosecutions under the EFCC and the ICPC mandates and others being done under the DPP’s office should be all warehoused under that authority. It will be independent and will not be accountable to anybody, but that was not done. Now, the problems are coming back to bite us.
What is your reaction to insinuations by some commentators that this messy infighting between Malami and Magu was due to the void created in the Buhari administration by the death of the President’s former Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari? The insinuation was that the President can no longer hold his government together…
Let me tell you, I have no problems with people – as a result of ego, selfish interests – fighting among themselves. In any democracy where you have a group of people from different backgrounds, cultures, there are bound to be some areas of tension.
But in doing so, you must also respect the fundamental laws of the land and you must also observe common decency. The way Kyari ran the Office of the Chief of Staff was, in fact, as if he was the President.
But he was not the President. He never won an election in his life. The mandate, which he cornered, hijacked and abused was the mandate of Buhari. But Kyari behaved as the Prime Minister.
Wole Soyinka described him as the ’Prime Minister and more’- but the power he was given was not even given to the Vice-President to exercise. The position of the Chief of Staff to the President was not even mentioned in any section of our Constitution.
So, if there is confusion, you know who to hold responsible. It is the man himself. And even in the Presidency now, there are people who don’t have letters of appointment exercising power that people who have letters of appointment cannot exercise.
Now, that is not the way to run a democracy or the country. And at any rate, if these people are going to be held accountable – I bet my life, one day they are going to be held accountable – how do you now begin to hold them accountable because they have no locus being there? And how do you decide that because of the family quarrel, you now decide to come and live with your family in the presidential villa and this man doesn’t have a single letter of appointment?
So, you can see that the people saying that the man has lost control of his government are right because it is what we see that we can comment upon. We don’t know what is going on behind the door. Clearly, and I repeat this without the fear of anybody, there seems to be nobody who is in charge of this government. There seems to be nobody the Nigerian people can hold accountable. Now, even in a madhouse, there must be somebody, de facto and de jury, who you can hold accountable, but I don’t know such a person. And I repeat, the anti-corruption war is a goner.
It is finished unless we do something fundamental to restore order, sanity and amend the laws and make sure that they are workable. We must ensure that the kind of persons that we appoint to this dangerous but necessary jobs are the kind of persons who will do the job and who will also render proper account and will not be humiliated. Otherwise, nobody will do the job.
And because corruption is for Nigeria and Nigerians what I will call existential problem, we have to have somebody who will do the job, otherwise, the country is finished.
What is your opinion on the controversies trailing the activities of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, as somebody who has been part of such efforts before as a member of the board of the defunct OMPADEC?
I will begin this by telling a little history. I did not know about the mission OMPADEC until 1992 when I travelled to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj. And normally, when I go for the Hajj, I stay there for 40 days.
When I was in Hajj, I was told I was needed here. When I came back, I was told that there was a plan to set up OMPADEC that would take care of the areas of Niger Delta where oil was being exploited. And I was asked if I was willing to serve. And I said I would try my best if I could do the job.
Unfortunately for me and those of us who were the commissioners – one chairman, one secretary and 10 commissioners – I did not see the enabling law. It was then a decree because it was under Babangida.
So, when we started work, I noticed certain things. I discovered that the chairman had too much power.
Because the governors were asked to nominate who would represent their states -one each per state -they assumed the powers of the President himself.
But some of us who did not come from the oil-producing states -I came from Kano -were looked upon as more of a nuisance. We were openly abused. I know I was abused to my face. Kwankwaso was abused to his face and others who were sent from other states.
sought an audience and had a detailed discussion with the then Secretary to the Government. I also discussed with the Governor of the Central Bank then and the Minister who was in charge of the defunct Oil Minerals Fund, from where OMPADEC was created.
I told them that I believe we must do something to address the problems of environmental pollution, poverty and youth employment in the Niger Delta. But to address them, we did not need OMPADEC.
What we needed are good, devoted Nigerians who believe in the cause and appoint them into a commission to do the job. And as much as possible, to ensure that the commission is insulated from the oil-producing companies. Put the headquarters of the commission in Abuja.
Two, I said (Chief Albert) Horsfall (chairman of OMPADEC) has political ambition. I have a background in politics. I was a member of parliament twice. I was the leader of my party in the parliament during the Second Republic. So, I can see if an individual wants to abuse a national assignment for a political end.
And I said I was not going to take it from him. And thirdly, I said as a matter of principle, I am not going to be subservient to my boss. I can give him respect, but beyond that, he cannot threaten me, because I happened to have been born where I was I born.
Your village was not oil-producing, my own in Kano was also not oil-producing, so, what’s wrong with that? I wasn’t listened to and in the end, the problems were coming. When Abacha came, he ordered investigations into the place and they found out that everything I told them was the truth. So, Abacha had no difficulty in arresting members of the management of OMPADEC. I happened to be lucky as I was in Kano then. But all the commissioners were arrested and put in Black Maria.
Horsfall escaped, went to his house, police surrounded the house, but I think he called some people and was left alone. He was asked to come to Abuja, but when he got to Lagos, he escaped to London.
Later they appointed Eric Opia and the rest, but up till today, none of the mandates of that OMPADEC, which was changed to NDDC has been implemented and I told them that that was going to happen.
Unfortunately, when Yar’Adua became President, out of sheer political amateurishness, he decided to create a brand new ministry for the Niger Delta. And that was duplication.
If you check the principles of management, anytime you duplicate structures for the purpose of carrying out a certain job, you ended up having none of that assignment being carried out.
The Ministry of Niger Delta is now redundant. NDDC is now redundant. And they are busy stealing and fighting among themselves. I was reading that some of the people in the Niger Delta are now asking that the NDDC should be disbanded. But the damage has been done.
They have received N4 trillion and nobody is being held to account. And anytime there is an attempt to bring some accountability into the activities of the NDDC, you have all sorts of people who are paid to come and create problems for you. It’s either people are waylaid and killed.
They have even attempted to set the headquarters on fire several times in Port Harcourt. So, you can see that there is a problem. And unfortunately, Buhari is not the person with the courage, with the necessary foresight who can rectify the situation.
We need another person, another President that can confront blackmail because the problem of Niger Delta and Ministry of Niger Delta is nothing but a confrontation with blackmail. And anybody who is prepared to give in, the only way you give in is give more money, give more money.
And like Oliver Twist, the more you give, the more they come back for more. You have a ministry in the Niger Delta that is supposed to be doing projects. But all the other ministries of the Federal Government also have projects in the Niger Delta, which means that they are having double.
With the NDDC, they are doing treble and enormous funds are being pumped in and everything is being stolen. You can imagine the situation where the acting managing director of NDDC is claiming that the minister wanted to sleep with her and she slapped him. Imagine that in a country of this nature. And if people say nobody is in charge in Abuja or in the Presidency, they are absolutely right. If you say somebody is in charge, show us the evidence. If you don’t show us the evidence, forget about it.
The President recently gave a marching order to the military chiefs to brace up to their responsibilities. But do you think such a charge is enough to gear up the military chiefs to tackle the problems of insecurity in the country?
Let me be honest with you – if Buratai (Chief of Army Staff) and co are the ones in charge of prosecuting the war against insurgents in the North-east, there will be no success. This thing (insurgency) started in 2009 under Yar’Adua and today, we are in the year 2020 and there is no appreciable progress in the war.
We have heard the military and the Presidency telling us that Boko Haram is finished and that they are going to finish them off with a little mop up here and there.
But the fact is Boko Haram is now controlling more territories, especially in the rural areas than the Nigerian armed forces.
Secondly is the statement which emanated from one of the spokespersons of the Presidency that the President has no intention of changing the theatre commanders and the service chiefs because you do not ‘change Generals who are prosecuting the war or the leader of the Armed Forces in the middle of the war.’
In fact, the reverse is true. Whoever wrote that statement and ascribed it to the President is talking nonsense and is a liar. During a war situation, there is no time to waste. If a theatre commander or whatever name you call him is not delivering, you remove him.
But Buhari is not doing that. He even promoted these service chiefs. I think their stay had been extended three times beyond their normal tenure and he now starts telling them that ‘you have done your best, but your best is not good enough.’
But he should have said that to them when they were first given extension of tenure. Everything we now have is deceit and propaganda – to imagine that what they have not been able to achieve for the past five years can be achieved through statements from the Presidency. You cannot win a war by propaganda.
You have to go in with your men and do your best. When Boko Haram extended their rascality and attacked the Republic of Chad, the President who is also a retired General like our own, put on his uniform and took the battle right inside Nigeria and cleared them off.
That, to me, is the true meaning of commander-in-chief. And since then, there has not been any major clash between the Shekau army and the others.
In Nigeria, our police have a bad reputation. Can you believe that anytime you send Nigerian Police to the theatre of war or to maintain peace, we have done that in Cambodia, Tanzania, Cyprus, Lebanon, they always come back with flying colours.
That’s because they are immediately paid their allowances. But the Nigerian Army, particularly under Buratai, you can see that they are not being paid their allowances. Sometimes there can be delays and the amount they are being paid is not commensurate to the amount budgeted for them, approved by Buhari himself.
About a year ago or so, the soldiers mutinied because they are not being paid their dues. The little amounts they are being paid, which is peanuts, were not paid. There was a time the soldiers went to confront one of the Generals in Maiduguri.
Another General was removed some weeks ago and they said they are going to court-martial him, that he is involved in corruption.
Tell me, who among the Generals fighting insurgency is not involved in corruption? When you come to the issue of banditry in the North-west, you will discover that big men are involved. Permutations about the 2023 elections are involved. Many governors, retired Generals are involved.
Tell me, if Obasanjo was the President, would any retired General be involved in domestic insurgency warfare? They dare not! So, a lot hangs on the personality of the commander-in-chief as the chief security officer of the country and the head of the executive branch.
But do you think the amnesty deal of some of the governors in the North-west for bandits like the offer of two cows for one gun in Zamfara can help eliminate banditry?
First, it is not going to work. Secondly, it shows you the real intent of the bandits and those who are negotiating with them. My mother is from Zamfara, but I can tell you that Zamfara on its own dare not be involved in this kind of high profile and high tension politics without the involvement of the security agencies in the country and in Zamfara State.
The security of the state is not something for the state government it is something from the nation and the President. Now some lousy governors are engaging with people who are direct threats to our security.
Where does he get the money and what will he do with the guns? So, you can see that the whole thing is funny. Of course, in Nigeria, everything is possible. But who is the Governor of Zamfara? Who authorizes him to start negotiating with bandits? Why do we discuss with Boko Haram and their allies? It’s a mantra of all democratic governments that they do not negotiate with terrorists.
Why is the governor of Zamfara allowed to go and negotiate with terrorists? In the same Zamfara, some village chiefs and elders were implicated in banditry. They were arrested and they are to be taken to court. But a retired General came and said these people are his people, they should not be taken to court, Go and find out.
If Obasanjo had been President, would this happen? The traditional rulers, the General and all other persons around him, he would have sent them to jail.
So, Nigeria is being taken for granted because we have the wrong people in the right positions – people who cannot do the job but like to be called the President, Attorney General, Governor, Chief of Staff and so on. Until we clear this rubbish, Nigeria will continue to ungovernable.