LEADING human rights crusader and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr Olisa Agbakoba (SAN) spoke to Vanguard on the structure of Nigeria as a country, the worthiness of the forthcoming centenary celebrations, the crusade against graft among other issues. Excerpts:
On Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal’s comment that the executive arm of government does not have the capacity to fight corruption
It is a very weighty statement coming from the fourth man of government. I can’t verify or vouch for the statement and its accuracy but if I were the president, I will take it extremely seriously. And I think I will be concerned about whether or not the anti corruption strategy or policy is working. From the time of being the NBA president I have always advised that the anti corruption strategy is weak, and the reason why I felt it was weak is I feel the EFCC is very weak.
Apart from budgeting, capacity, there is nowhere in the world that the EFCC is saddled with three functions: investigate, prosecute and to recover asset.
In the UK, the National Center for Serious Crimes does the investigation, the Criminal Prosecution Service does the prosecution, and then the Assets Recovery agency deals with the asset recovery.
From the day EFCC was set up to date how much has been recovered? Why are all these governors who are facing trials sitting in the Senate? It is now like their retiring place. The next thing now all the retiring governors will go to the Senate.
So whether or not the speaker is right is not the issue. The truth is that we have not seen strong anti-corruption measures come out because we don’t see anybody being convicted and that I think is the issue. The President Goodluck Jonathan government needs to take the anti-corruption programme a lot more seriously.
On PDP crisis and defection of G-5 governors to APC and implications for the polity
Nigeria has never had the opportunity to settle its constitutional arrangement. We have had three great eras: the colonial era, which amalgamated us in 1914, the independence era and the military era.
Now, we have a pseudo-democratic era. We have to construct a paradigm that will galvanise Nigerians to fully believe in the political entity called Nigeria. The failure of that is that people look up for themselves.
So it is difficult to say we have any political party in Nigeria in the context we understand Democratic Party in the US or Labour Party in UK. So, it is very easy for people to cross carpet because they have no political conviction or ideology. I am not interested in whether a politician crossed from PDP to APC when I know they are one side of the same coin.
I am interested in what will come out of the new national conference and hopefully the elements that will pervade the discussion are first of all, everybody must talk-inclusion. Secondly, after the talks, the outcome shall be subject to no authority other than the National Assembly endorsing it. And before National Assembly endorses it, it ought to have legitimacy because what has been lacking in Nigeria constitution is legitimacy.
When all this is done and a new constitution emerges, you are likely to have those who want to seek political power doing so from political conviction. That will deal with the issue you raised. If I go into your question, I will be going into cause and effect scenario. The effect of cross-carpeting is weak political system. The effect of corruption is weak political system.
The effect of ASUU fighting is weak political system. So I am more interested in a constructive and structural solution.
My approach to Nigeria’s development challenge is well expressed in Kingsley Moghalu’s new book, that unless we have a world view of where we want to go and how we want to go, we will never get it right. Once you get it right, the question of whether a political party is losing members will not arise.
On how to make national confab successful and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu single term clamour
History has not produced this type of moment in a long time. Therefore, we must take it very seriously. I thought that the people who should be invited should be the ethnic nationalities, they make up Nigeria. And that it should not be a talk shop, we should have six geo-political mini conferences. So that as an Onitsha man, the challenge of an Onitsha man being governor of Anambra State is localised in the South-East and that is where we will discuss it.
But the challenge of South-East having equal states with the other zones is a matter for the national conference.
So the mini-conference gives opportunity for the ethnic nationalities in the zone to shape out their problems, present their report and nominate 15 people to move forward. The other zones will also nominate 15 people each. At the national conference level, the representation should be equal.
If the presidency wishes to nominate 120 representatives is nothing wrong with it. He is the executive president, he has a view. There is nothing wrong with the National Assembly sending their representatives because you cannot exclude anybody. So let’s go there and talk. The important thing is the discussion should not be altered. If it says we should return to parliamentary system or Westminster model so be it.
If it says let’s retain presidential system or go for single tenure, which Senator Ike Ekweremadu irrelevantly brought in so be it. Even though he has a point, Ekweremadu brought it in wrongly. Every system has its political value. The way Ekweremadu’s point sounds, it is as if there is going to be mago mago or as if the National Assembly will receive the constitution and put a clause in it.
I wish he had not said that because I actually believe in that because Nigeria is in political evolution and one of the problems is succession. If that is the problem and we spend billions and trillions of naira then let people go for one term. I wish Ekweremadu had kept his powder dry and allowed it to be a common agreement. I hope that all these issues will be discussed at the conference.
On 100 years of amalgamation
Amalgamation is a big error. It was in the interest of the British. It has happened and so we should not cry over spilt milk.
We should not celebrate it. We should not honour it. It should be a sober reflection. We should say look, ‘here is what the British did to us, what can we do to overcome it and move forward because we want to be part of the comity of nations that expresses Nigeria’s greatness to be at the peak.
So, I do not lament it, I am sad about it, not just Nigeria but also how they sat at their Berlin Conference and tore the whole of Africa apart. Part of what you see in DRC, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zimbabwe, etc is all down to that conference. But I am not going to lament it because those men are dead. The issue is how do we put the disastrous consequences behind us and move forward.
And all the elements of how to move forward are discussed in Kingsley Moghalu’s new book: Emerging Africa. I agree totally with it.
Africa cannot grow; Nigeria cannot grow without that context. It cannot happen if Boko Haram is on and we have ethnicisation of everything. Once we do so Nigeria will explode.
On opposition to Jonathan seeking re-election in 2015
It is his right to go. Clearly, he has the constitutional right to go because the constitution says two terms. The period of his acting president is not part of the two terms unless we amend the constitution to say the period of acting will count.
The problem about Jonathan going is the fact that power must rotate according to what the politicians have decided. The question of whether or not that rotation affects the people on the ground is secondary.
Jonathan is entitled constitutionally to go. Will he win? I don’t know. If he is going to win, he has to be seen to be doing the kind of things we have seen with Nelson Mandela’s death, where we can see that the feelings of South Africans for Mandela is genuine.
Politics in 2015, hopefully will be decided by the person who best understands Nigerians and gives them what they want.
No Nigerian president can win a free and fair election if he ignores the poverty of the common man. 2015 is not about Jonathan, it is about what any of the presidential candidates can do for the people that elected him.
We should be careful to avoid politicians creating tension that will make them beneficiaries of the situation. The media overplays and overemphasizes these quarrels. Meanwhile, Okonjo-Iweala is creating a micro finance bank that can give loans to people for 20 years; no one is talking about it. The media is crushing Nigeria with bad news.