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Published On: Thu, Oct 30th, 2014

Why it’s difficult to fight corruption in Nigeria – Okupe

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Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan in this interaction with select newsmen explains the legal bottleneck inhibiting the expeditious prosecution of corrupt persons in the country maintaining that this administration has begun moves to amend the Criminal Procedure Act. He also gives insights into the Federal Government cease-fire negotiations with the Boko Haram raising the hope that the abducted Chibok girls will soon regain freedom. Lawrence Olaoye was there. Excerpts:

President Jonathan has declared his intention to run in 2015, what are those things you think are going for him in this contest?

Among all the people who are presently jostling for the number one position in the country come 2015, Jonathan is evidently the best suited and the most qualified. I say that with all sense of responsibility. This is a gentleman that has been in the system continuously without any break from Deputy Governor, to Governor, to Vice President, to Acting President and to a properly overwhelming elected President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. None of his co contestants can lay claim to that.

This brand (Jonathan) has been unleashed on the country for the last four years and the only thing that is attributable to that brand, besides prejudice and all disinformation, is excellent performance. There is no President that has ruled this country that has come with a clear cut advertised agenda that is being prosecuted with clinical devotion.

But Buhari recently appraised Jonathan’s programmes that they are more of downward trend than…

Was that a scientific statement? How can you say it is downward? Jonathan came in, in 2011, the generating capacity of the country was 2800 megawatt, today it is 5000 and it has a potential to be 7500. Is that downward? When Jonathan came in, we were importing 3.5 million tons of rice and today we are now importing less than 1 million tons. Is that downward? When Jonathan came in, 24 of our Airports were in a state of total disrepair and in appalling situation. Today, virtually all of them have been upgraded. Is that downward trend? When Jonathan came in, we were spending over N600 billion a year on food importation: that has been reduced to over N300 billion. Is that downward trend? When Jonathan came in, Nigeria was about third in terms of economic capabilities in Africa, today we are number one economy in Africa. Is that downward trend?

I don’t want to sound as someone bragging or boastful; the 2015 election is a no contest. The APC has been unfortunate and have not been able to present Nigerians with any candidate that can actually match President Goodluck Jonathan. Unfortunately for them, this gentleman (Jonathan) has had four years of opportunity of actually displaying his capabilities. That is why I am saying in Agriculture, he has done exceedingly well. The so called corruption that actually bedeviled that Ministry has been removed. He removed the perennial corruption in fertilizer imports. Besides that the Agriculture Transformational Agenda has produced so much result. Today, we are the largest exporter of Cassava worldwide. In the next 12 months we will be a net exporter of rice. Today we have produced more food than we have ever done in all 54 years of our independence. Today, when President Goodluck Jonathan came we had 10 NIPP Projects that were completely moribund; half of the turbines were rotten at the ports. Goodluck Jonathan has installed, established and commissioned majority of these projects and they are now working.

In the industries, there is an Industrial Master Plan. Today, Nissan is producing vehicle in Nigeria and many other companies. Today we have moved away from importer of cement we have become a net exporter of cement. How can anybody complain that we are in a downward trend?

The government recently announced ceasefire with Boko Haram insurgents, yet there are still attacks in some parts of the Northeast. How far has the negotiation with Boko Haram gone?

There is a deal on the table for a fact; but people should never forget that they are dealing with insurgency. But, by the character of insurgents there are usually different warlords. Some may not be in agreement, some may have other ulterior motives and you also know that the leadership has more or less decapitated; so internal cohesion may be a major problem.

Also there are people in this country who are within us who do not wish the country well. People who initially agreed to sponsor and encourage Boko Haram activities, if they hear and when they did hear that there is going to be a ceasefire and the girls will be returned, if the ceasefire is going to be consummated tomorrow and girls are returned, what will be the benefit to all those who have been behind Boko Haram in the past 3 years? For anybody to be naïve and think that this ceasefire agreement will come like a tea party is a joke. It is something that is expected, but we believe that the majority of the leadership are those who are engaged with the government and the thing is being put together from a very highly dependable source. We are looking at the political leadership of Chad and Chad is so important to these insurgents because that is the major route by which their ammunition, food and other supplies come to them. So, they themselves know what they are talking about.

We are very optimistic, in spite of this skirmishes that we are seeing. You will recall in Ukraine, between the separatist and the government of Ukraine ceasefire was declared and for the upward of five days I am aware that people were still being killed and being shot at but today there is a perfect peace in the place. Insurgents have been fighting since 2009; to just have a break just like that may not be that easily achievable.

Are we sure that that the government is discussing with the right faction that has the Chibok girls?

In Nigeria, everybody is an expert in everything. On Ebola everybody is an expert in medicine, public health, in epidemiology. On Boko Haram, everybody is a security agent thinking that everybody in government is a numbskull; that is not true. Why people think it is people with cotton wool in their brains that are running government I can’t understand; there is nothing on ground to prove that, some of the best brains in this country are in this government.

I want to tell you that the average intelligence in this administration is by far ahead of the average in the community. It is ridiculous for people to be thinking that they are smart and that the government is dull or stupid; it doesn’t make sense. Coming to your question, if something is being overseen by the political leadership of government of Chad, there are a lot of other things that I know that I cannot say publicly. And that is also another thing, when you are on the other side ignorance is bliss when you know less you can feel free and relax because your knowledge is limited. But the more you know, the more careful you will be. We know who we are dealing with and we are not talking about third party anymore now. We’re talking of fact to face negotiations with leadership of the Boko Haram.

Before we leave this issue on Boko Haram, I want you to briefly comment on this recently slip from Audu Ogbe where he said. . .

It was not a slip, you are making a mistake. I know Chief Audu Ogbe very well. He is an extremely very well celebrated human being. He did not make a slip. He spoke the truth. He said, “We thank the leadership of the Bring Back Our Girls who are members of our party.” That is a fact! He went further to say that if they are taken to court, the whole of the party will march with them. Audu Ogbe was a minister in this country 35 years, he was one of the most brilliant in the administration. He has demonstrated fantastic acumen. He may feel embarrassed that he said so, but he spoke the truth and it has been confirmed. Mrs Hadiza issued a statement and said, “I have always been a politician and I have always been an APC person.” So which error did Audu Ogbe make? And Hadiza is the initiator of the Bring Back Our Girls, excuse me.

The problem here is that we just hate the truth and we just dwell on and feed on prejudice and bias and satanic disinformation. The truth of the matter is that the Bring Back Our Girls abroad are genuine they are motivated by empathy for the girls, the campaigners abroad and the Nigerian government are on the same page. But the campaigners of BBOG in Nigeria have ulterior motive and that is what we have said all along and people insulted and shouted at me.

Some of the critics of this government are saying that President Jonathan is not doing enough to fight corruption, how would you react to this?

That is another major misinformation that people spread in this country. Number one, corruption is an English word. It is not a Yoruba, an Ijaw word or a Hausa word. What it means is that corruption is an English word. If they don’t have it in their place, they will not have that nomenclature. Corruption is a global matter. In under-developed countries because of lack of infrastructure and institutions that are strong, it becomes a major problem. Not in Nigeria alone, but everywhere in underdeveloped world, go and check, corruption is a major issue. President Jonathan did not bring corruption into Nigeria, no matter what he does, when he leaves office there will still be issue of corruption because there is still corruption in America, there is still corruption in Britain, there is still corruption in Germany. Bankers of repute have been jailed in America and in England because of corruption. So let’s come back home is Jonathan doing enough?

People do not understand. How can you deal with corruption? There are 3 or so ways you can deal with corruption. First, you will have laws that make it difficult for people to be corrupt or that you punish people when they are corrupt. Second, you will establish institutions that will pursue corrupt people and third, you will strengthen the judicial process to ensure that people who are brought to justice get justice. If these are the parameters, and we are not being sentimental, that is the only way you can judge Jonathan. Those are the only 3 criteria you can use any other thing is unacceptable. Because some of the people who make noise about corruption, majority of them are APC members and I can tell you now that in Lagos State, this FOI Bill is a major instrument in fighting corruption because once people have freedom of information corrupt practices will be difficult.

This freedom of information was passed before the administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan there is no other further proof and evidence of commitment to fighting corruption than to sign that, it is like signing your death warrant. You are saying that you are free to say anything about my administration and about myself. He signed it upon assumption of office as President. Other President did not sign it even though it was available, but how many state governments have domesticated that Freedom of Information Bill? I can tell you for a fact that majority of the APC’s States have domesticated and they come to Abuja and talk about corruption.

In Lagos State, somebody took the government to court that they wanted information on some projects (SERAP), the government of Lagos State’s pleading was that ‘we are not bound to give that information because we did not sign or domestic the FOI Bill’. So, who is corrupt and who is giving political leverage to fight corruption? Corruption is not grandstanding, corruption is not what you go to roof top because you are not the President and start to pontificate about. If you want to assess a government, those are the 3 things you assess the government with. Are there existing legislation? Yes. Even new ones this government has done and one of them is the FOI Bill. Are there institutions to fight the scourge? Correct. When the government came, the first thing it did was to remove the heads of these institutions because they were looking moribund and put new people to give new impetus and new bite. But what people are misunderstanding here is that we have endemic problems that spread to major issues.

Look at the problems in the courts. A regular case in any court in Nigeria will take 5, 6 or 7 years and our lawyers have perfected the art of gerrymandering and manipulation of criminal cases to the extent that even the judge will be tired. And we have inherent legal problems. For instance, the Criminal Procedure Act has not been visited for the last 50 years. So what happens? When an accused person is taken to court for instance, you have gone for about 3 years they now change the judge. The law says that when the new judge comes, you begin the case again. Nigerians are not aware; it is a fact. This government has gone to the Attorney General’s Office. They are in the process of reviewing such obnoxious laws and you say they are not fighting corruption. Are we going to use sticks, machete or guns to fight corruption?

You cannot take a man from the street and throw him in jail saying he is corrupt. The law does not allow that. The President is not the Chief Justice of Nigeria; the President’s own job is to provide the environment and let the law take its course.

Have you ever heard Goodluck Jonathan has written or has called somebody in the night to say ‘EFCC the people that have case with you withdraw their case?’ Even the Chairman of the PDP, his son is under trial. Have they done that in Lagos, Osun or in Kano States? The former Chairman of PDP Amadu Ali, his son is standing trial. The former Chairman of PDP (Vincent) Ogbulafor is standing trial. A PDP Senator has just been recently discharged. How many people from opposition has the opposition government reported and for them to have been taken to trial? None! Dimeji Bankole, PDP (former) Speaker was prosecuted. What record does the opposition has and what other proof do we need of commitment and political will to try corruption?

Ban is yet to be lifted on campaigns; critics are saying the President men are flouting the law. . .

We are not campaigning. If you look at TAN, all it is doing is asking that a good man who has done well should be supported and convinced to run again. That is not campaign. That is exercising citizen’s right; right to gather and right to come together for a purpose. They are not saying vote for Jonathan; they are saying let’s unite together and agree to approach Goodluck Jonathan and convince him that in spite of everything that is in Nigeria today, you have done so well come and run again. That is not a political campaign.

The PDP has adopted President Jonathan as its sole candidate. People are saying that this is undemocratic and shutting the door against some other people who may want to contest. . .

That is pure mischief or ignorance. A political party exists for the purpose of being able to win election. If the party now sits down and analyses its political situation and sees that it is Mr. A that will do us best, and sees that this is the best way if we are going to compete and win, this is the man that can help them and they now convince themselves, various levels: BOT, Governors Forum, National Executive of the party and so on. When you are talking about undemocratic, these are institutions that maintain internal democracy within the party itself and if they all come together and say this are the person that we want, of course any fool can say that he wants to be President, but we don’t have time for fools. That is the truth, we want to win election.

Also go and check it anywhere, where there is an election and there is a sitting President and he expresses interest in running for that election, he takes precedence. Finally on this matter, the same people who are saying it is undemocratic to adopt somebody are now singing a new song that they want consensus. Is consensus democratic? When you sit down in one room and a few people just agree and say this is the candidate, how is that democratic?

We are a democratic organisation; we have democratic institutions within us; we employ consistent means of selecting our candidates and we have consistently won and we will continue to win. Unfortunately for our opponents, they are bringing us as I have told you before serial losers, people whose penchant is to contest and to lose elections. It is not going to change.

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