The Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Mr. Debo Adeniran, is a public affairs commentator, a civil right activist and an anti-corruption crusader. In this interview with IKENNA OMEJE, he narrates how the former Nigerian President,Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, bought shares worth N2 billion naira in Transcorp; discusses the anti-corruption war by President Muhammadu Buhari, the role of the civil society in the war against corruption, the 2019 general elections and what led to the formation of CACOL. Excerpts:
What was the drive that led you to setting up CACOL?
The setting up of CACOL was a deliberate thing. It was a product of several considerations, several sociological analyses, socio-political analyses of Nigeria situation. Before CACOL, in 1990, we started what we called Gani Fawehinmi Solidarity Association with the Late Dr. Tai Solarin. And what we were doing was to look into the enormity of corruption that then military government of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida brought on Nigeria.
We started documenting issues of corruption with a view to engaging in advocacy that would lead to reduction of corruption within Nigeria polity and we couldn’t achieve much, because the military harassed everyone of us and Dr. Tai Solarin was arrested several times.
So, along the line, the efforts fizzled out and we couldn’t come out with any publication and all that. Later, I started, because I trained as a teacher and with my exposure to the situation ofNigerian school children, I discovered that they were not having adequate benefits of the educational system we are running in Nigeria. There is inadequate provision, no facilities, no materials, no equipment; even the personnel are not well motivated- that is the teachers and other school workers. So, kids were being trained under difficult circumstances; sometimes in dilapidated buildings, that sometimes cave in to injure pupils.
And we just saw that and asked why should it be like that? Why are Nigerian leaders not considering that they were once children like those that attended those schools? Would they have been proud of their alma mater, if it had been under such dilapidation? Would they have been alive to govern us if they had been killed or mortally injured , if the school had collapsed on them?
We discovered that our leaders are impervious to criticisms and they didn’t even consider the appropriateness or otherwise of their inactions or wrong actions.
So, under the Children Project on May 27, 2007, we organized a Children’s Day activity in a hotel close by to our office. This place (referring to his office building) used to be children’s centre. So, we organized that May 27 Children’s Day activity in that hotel . We invited couple of local government chairmen and other state actors, after we have analyzed the problems confronting child education in Nigeria.
By the way, CHILDREN is an acronym for Child Help in Legal Defence of Rights to Education in Nigeria . So, we did all the analyses regarding the myriads of problems that have been confronting child education in Nigeria and we constructed what we called Problem Tree. All the problems, we have different branches, then the branches lead to leaves and fruits. Fruits of it are the jeopardies that people suffer. The trunk of the tree is the problem. Then, it has branches; those branches are what you have in those schools; that is the problems confronting them- complaints of teachers, complaints of pupils, complaints of parents and even observers.
Then, the fruits we got from it is inadequate education, half-baked education and that also translated into what goes to secondary schools and what went to the universities, where university students couldn’t cope with the university curriculum. When they came out, they came out with half-baked education, except those undergraduates who take extra measures to re- educate themselves through non-conventional means like reading books from other places, attending lectures that are organized outside the school and all that. Those are the only ones who could use the degree they came out with from their university to do productive services. Some of them, it is after graduation that they have to go and do professional examination that gives the income that they get.
So, should it be like that? Because university is supposed to build a skill into every student towards providing himself with means of livelihood, through his sheer effort even without start up capital. So, because we are not getting that, we nowconstructed the whole thing, now saw, after we have seen the fruits of it as being inadequate and stagnated development or arrested development if you like in the country.
We had to looked at what are the causes of all these? That is the root. We looked at the causes of these; I mentioned earlier inadequate provision. What is the cause of it? Reluctance of state actors in releasing money and the perpetual question of the dwindling resources or inadequate or non-availability of resources. We now looked at what led to non-availability of resources? Is it that the country was not making money? We realized that the country was making money , but most of the money the country was making was channeled into private pockets . Why was it possible for people to channel governmentmoney into private pocket? Inadequate control system . Every public official doesn’t look at government work as somethingthat he has to be taken seriously.
So, the control system was lax. Nobody is scrutinizing the papers, nobody knows the amount of the oil that was being drawn from our land. It is those that are marketing it that told us how much our oil they have siphoned and they just give us what they like and all that. We now looked at why should they be able to do that? It is because some people tend to compromise the integrity of their own professions , that they do not discountenance all the shenanigans of oil marketers. They don’t question them on how much they sold the oil, how much they repatriated , how much have they diverted and so on. Because the system was seen not to be working. We now traced everything down to what is the tab root of all of these problems? We now saw corruption in it.
Everything was being done wrongly. From the federal government , the president didn’t care what happened. It was the days of Obasanjo. Before then, we had the military government. So, Obasanjo didn’t seem to care much, he only paid lip service to the issue of corruption. He himself was enmeshed in the crime of corruption, to the extent that he used his position to rake in almost N6 billion to construct the Presidential Library, whichhe has converted to his own estate now.
He bought about N2 million shares in Transcorp. We just saw everything that he did, that he couldn’t have been able to afford it. Because before he came to power, he confessed that he didn’t have up to N20,000 in his account. How come he has that enormous amount of wealth ?
So, we now looked at if the head is rotten, you know that the body is endangered. Everything would affect the body. Governors were also pillaging their states, then, local government, they only distribute money at the level of local government and all that. We now said that the tap root that we have seen which corruption, should be tackled. If we are able to cut the tap root, there will be less strength for the ancillary roots and the problems that all these corruptions have brought – the leaves, the branches and fruits- will wither.
It was then we now said, how do we get to the tap root and tackle it? We now saw that we needed a coalition of organizations that are interested in the fight against corruption; that will now go to the very grass-root to root out corrupt elements from different neighborhood and impact in the mind of people that corruption is not a career . That any accumulated riches, that is gotten through corruption is temporary. BY the time it is found out, that it would be like a pack of cards- collapse overnight. The integrity will go into drains, the children and the progenies of such families will not be proud of their family name.
So, we now decided that we will go to the grassroots to tackle corruption. That central organization that will chaperon the activities that will lead into the education of the grass-root elements now became Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders. That was in 2007. We had more than thirty organizations that subscribed to it.
We submitted petition against Obasdanjo. First to the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crime Commission) in November 2007 and to ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Commission) in December 2007 and we kept on monitoring the progress and all that.
So, it is the pervasive or maybe the enveloping of Nigerian polity by various act of corruption that led to the formation of CACOL. And the battle started in earnest, because it causedus a lot of materials, brain work, inconveniences and so on and so forth to get to where we are.
It was 2017 when we clocked ten years that we now decided to review, because there was dwindling membership participation and all that. We didn’t have adequate mandate to question government
about good governance and all that.
We now said okay, let us review Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders and we rebranded into Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, so that it won’t be only corrupt leaders. Because hitherto, It was only corrupt leaders that we were attacking. We were not looking at other areas of governance and even the administrative system that permits corruption crimes to be committed , is not also helping matters.
So, we came to the conclusion that we needed to bring incaution into open leadership. That if there is openness, the opportunity for people to access the adequacies in the administration acumen of their leaders; to ensure accountability and that will leave trail for probity. That’s why we rebranded to Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership.
I must tell you that right away from that 2007 , we simplified the definition of corruption to mean any act of did honesty and that is what we still hold on to; because every act of corruption is about dishonesty. Whatever you don’t want to be known to the law, is also an act of dishonesty.
So what can you say is the biggest achievement of CACOL?
The states are not acknowledging what we have done and that is why the achievements are directly not verifiable, but I can tell you that the petition we submitted against Olusegun Obasanjo , caught the attention of the EFCC when the leadership changed from Nuhu Ribadu to Farida Waziri. Farida Waziri actually setup a five-man panel to investigate the veracity of our claims and they came up with a report.
As a matter of fact, our petition was consolidated with that of Orji Uzor Kalu . They came up with a report they called Discreet Report. They didn’t release it to us, but when Obasanjopublished his book ,My Watch, we discovered that the report of that investigation was released to him, which he published in his book. And he actually tongue-lashed us seriously; first, I as Debo Adeniran , being from the same tribe with him, he abused me differently, he called Coalition Against Corruption an illegal organisation and all that.
But, we count it as an achievement that at least, the EFCC despite the influence of Obasanjo, despite the power that he wielded, despite the crockedry that he could display, he was investigated and there is a report; even when he manipulated the investigators and all of that. Because they didn’t invite us for further investigation, until the report came out. If you look at the Volume 2 of My Watch, you are going to find those things there.
Then, James Ibori, was also another project that is also verifiable. It came to fore when the former Attorney General of the Federation, Michael Aondoakaa, came up and said that three former governors : Bola Tinubu, Joshua Dariye and James Ibori, have been cleared of culpability in cases of corruption. We also staged a protest march to the EFCC , saying why should it be like that?
By that time, baton has changed from Nuhu Rbadu to FaridaWaziri. So, when we got to EFCC, Farida Waziri promised that within three weeks that Ibori’s case would be back in court. That the statement that the Attorney-General made didn’t emanate from the EFCC and true to her words within three weeks to the time we met her, she charged Ibori to the AsabaDivision of Federal High Court. And we actually watched the briefing throughout the period.
While the trial was going on , we wrote about four petitions to the NJC (National Judicial Council). Three of those petitions led to queries for the trial judge, Marcelleus Awokulehin; that was the reason why he had to delay his ruling on Ibori’s case for about two or three times. When he said that he wanted to erron the side of caution. It was published in the papers and we also have responses from the NJC in those cases, until our petition was dismissed by the NJC for lacking in merit. That was when Awokulehin was able to dismiss all the 170 count charge against Ibori. Ten of which, he pleaded guity to in the United Kingdom. The rest they say is history. So, that is another achievement.
Recently, you will hear that effort to repatriate, DezianiMadueke , is going on. It is our protest that we did in 2013 or thereabout that led to the revisiting of the petition against her.
If you also look at what happened when Fashola was governor of Lagos State, we were his albatross, because every project he claimed that he executed, we examined it and put probe to it. Because most of the projects were more in the media than onthe ground and now said that with the proportion of the money that was available to Lagos State Government, he supposed to achieve more.
When he ended his tenure and was being considered for a minister by the Buhari administration, we wrote a petition that he should not be considered. So, he responded and we were the ones who broke he using N78 million to upgrade his website. So, that hit below the belt and he was forced to respond that our organization was chasing shadows and we are pigs; that when you fight with the pig, the pig gets happier. And we told him that well, we don’t mind fighting a pig as long as we can get the pork. The pork is what we need and that is accountability. That there is no way you will want to kill a pig that you will not wrestle with it; that we want to kill this pig, so that we can get the pork. So a couple of other things have influenced decision here and there.
Let’s look at the anti-corruption war by the Buhariadministration. How would you rate it?
The thing is that, if there is no upper limit, it will be difficult to say this is the score on it for now. Because if you are writing an exam , if you don’t say that this is hundred, if you don’t even have a limit, you cannot say he has scored up to this level.
But, we can only do comparative analyses with what we witnessed before the advent of Buhari’s administration and we can say without any favour that the Buhari administration has done far above any of his predecessors, even from the creation of Nigeria. To the extent that this is the first time that government is detached from the ruling class; from the elite, who perpetrate corruption.
The government of today has put in place some legal instruments that make corruption crime difficult to commit, if not impossible- difficult to commit and that is prevention . And prevention they say is better than cure. It’s even cheaper than cure. Now, these instruments: BVN (Bank Verification Number) for example, harmonizes any amount that anybody has in every bank in the whole world. So, it can be traced to you no matter where you lodge it, except your name is not the one used to open the bank account. And the person whose name is used, will also be located.
The second one is TSA (Treasury Single Account) , before the operationalization of this, he didn’t create those instruments, but he operationalized them. It takes a lot of political will to be able to do that. If a leader is not daring, he would not be able to operationalise them. So, the TSA now, makes it difficult for MDAs (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) that are fond of creating frivolous accounts , amorphous accounts everywhere, the same ministry. All the leaders in the ministry or a few of them or the ministry, can decide to create an account. Since he has all the instruments to create an account, he will be the only signatory to sign with his close associates . Whatever goes into that account, will not get to the federation account. So, they were able to open several accounts for the same ministry or the same MDA. That has stopped with the TSA. So, every payment that is accruing to the federal government , goes through Treasury Single Account. So, that plugged some other channels of economic drain.
Then, there are several other several ones like Special Control Unit Against Money Laundering. Every registered civil society organization, registered NGOs, professions and the rest of them like accountants and the rest of them, have been made to obtainSCUML registration. It resides with the EFCC. Under SCUML, if an individual is spending more than N1 million, he has to report it. If corporate organization is spending up to N5 million ,it has to report again. So, that if you are sending anything out in excess of the limit given to you , you have to , if you don’t do that , you have violated the law.
Meaning that if somebody stole big, you can no longer launder it through civil society organization, you can no longer launder it through accountants, you no longer launder it through insurance companies, you no longer launder it through professionals. Meaning that the money is likely to be useless and whatever you spend money on, will be recorded. So, that is why loads of money are being orphanized here and there. You find Osborn Towers huge foreign exchange, in Kaduna Airport, so much money was abandoned; Falomo Shopping Complex, money being abandoned here and there, because it cannot be spent without questioning. That is because the instrument is working.
Also, NFIU, now NFIA (Nigeria Financial IntelligenceAgency), meaning that any money you deposit in any financial institution that is up to N1 million will be reported. It doesn’t mean that you have committed an offence, but NFIA will process it to be sure that the money was legitimate. The same thing; N1million for individual, N5 million for corporate organization.
Then, there is Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria. It resides with the Central Bank of Nigeria, where the powers of the Bureau De Change are curtailed. Any amount that you transact business with, is reported to FRCN and several other instruments like that, that makes it difficult for people to steal money, to launder money, and even to spend money recklessly have been put in place. That was why during the last election , the use of money was limited. It became difficult and people are very careful when they want to use money. So, that is why the buying and selling of votes was minimal and cannot be directly done.
When you look at the number of those that have been prosecuted, for the first time you have number three man in the country, that is the Senate President, actually tried for corruption , even when he wriggled out through technicalities not through merit of the case.
Several people in government, the number three man in the cabinet, is also under prosecution now, Babachair Lawal, the Secretary to the government . Then, two former governors: Joshua Dariye and Johnny Nyame, have been convicted fornothing less than twelve years imprisonment. That is the first time it is happening. Hitherto…
(Cut in) Sir, but these cases didn’t start with the Buhariadministration.
No! It didn’t start with his administration, but it ended here. What we expected is that the previous administrations could have started and ended it. But because they allowed the judicial gymnastics and know that a number of judicial officers are also under investigation and trial as we speak. And that means that judicial officers, judges, justices, will be too cautious to commit corruption crimes . Of course, the number one judicial officer, Onnoghen, is under trial right now. It has never happened like that before. People say witch-hunt, if you are not a witch, you cannot be hunted. One, if he didn’t have all those five domiciliary accounts into which several foreign currencies have been traced to , nobody can witch-hunt him that he had foreign account. If he didn’t abandon his salary account for three years, nobody would suspect him that he had other means of taking care of himself. So, if it is a witch-hunt , you have allowed yourself to be hunted.
So, several other cases like that are still going on. It is only this administration that has done such a thing. Remember during the electioneering, the President said that nobody should dip his hand into state coffers to finance campaign even for him. Meaning that this is a man who didn’t bother so much about his own interest in the fight against corruption; and he has challenged anybody that has any lead to anything he acquired through corruption to say it. Nobody has been able to come up with anything up till now. Because if there has been anything starting from contesting election, he would have been brought to the fore.
So basically, we believe that the administration has performed far beyond what we have ever witnessed. The reason why we cannot rate him it that it is sixty per cent , we don’t know that in the future there could be other leaders who can do better. Because there is always room to do better, but when we compare with the predecessors, if we take it from Buhari’s Military Administration; we have a Babangida that democratized corruption. After Babangida, we had Shonekan, then we had an Abacha. All of these, perpetrated different level of corruption. Before we got to Abdulsalami, who within three short month, did a lot of damage to Nigeria’s economy and acquired so much for himself according to sources.
Then, Obasanjo came, Obasanjo now let the whole thing loose. On one breath he claimed to be fighting corruption, in another breath he is acquiring so much for himself and now presidesover an estate he cannot justify. He acquired so much landed property, so much money, so much institutions. So , basically that .
Yar’dua could have done better, because he started this returning of unspent budget; to be returned to the national coffers. Remember what happened to Professor Adenike Grange and a few ministers under him. He would have been able to push through, but he died; before the laissez faire leader came, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, he seemed not to know what was going on under his nose. His wife acquired so much money; returning billions of money in foreign exchange.
So, what do you think should be the role of civil society organizations in the fight against corrup-tion?
The role of the civil society is like that of the media, remaining the watchdog of the administration. But the civil society will move a little farther by engaging in direct advocacy. Advocacy by writing to duty-bearers, state actors on the areas of their deficiencies; pointing it out and mobilizing the society towards mounting pressure on their various governments into succumbing to the dictate of the people.
To this end, we are suggesting that democracy should be redefined to reflect the fact that democracy should be the government that provides, that ensures that the needs of the majority of the people are met. That is more explicable to an average citizen than government of the people , by the people and for the people. It is nebulous. That is the Lincolniandefinition. Let it be the government that satisfies the needs of the majority of the people. Because, there is no governance where there is no people. And if the people are not satisfied, the governance is in vacuum. If that happens, the civil societies are the institutions that can mobilize the populace towards achieving greater end. How to carry out researches, how to disseminate information, how to educate and enlighten the society, how to advocate for the needs of the society, how to pressure government to meet the needs of the society , that is our objectives and that is what we are pursuing.
What is your assessment of the 2019 general election?
I have told people that the 2019 general election is significantly different from the elections before it, except that the number of political parties that participated in it, was too enormous than what the INEC itself envisaged. And that made the administrative system difficult for them to manage.
Part from the management of the administration of that election, the violence that was envisaged was not as widespread , was not as fatal as was envisaged.
Then, the political education was inadequate, the electoral education was inadequate, the voter education was inadequate. So, to that end, the National Orientation Agency didn’t do enough work. The political parties themselves didn’t do enough work, INEC didn’t do enough work in educating , enlightening and leading people -simulating voting system that will explain what it’s meant to achieve, how to do it and when to do it. For example, if people have enough political education, they will know how to intervene in the electioneering and how to interrogate their leaders on programmes and projects they intend to execute.
They will be able to ask smart questions, making them to be specific, insisting to prove that it is achievable. They have to ask for the measure of the project they want to put in place- the size, the height, the depth, the quality of it. Then, it has to be realistic. They have to prove that what they are saying is realistic. It is not that you want to build castle in air. You have to prove that this can be achieved and can be done. It’s doable.
Then, you have to talk about the funding. How do you raise the fund? That ‘s about making it realistic. Then, it has to be time-bound. When are you going to do it? You only have four years, what part of the fours, when are you starting? When are you continuing, when are you ending?
So, all of that, if there is enough political education, people will be able to ask these critical questions. Then, electoral education, they should convince people to believe that it is their civic duty- responsibility for them to participate in electoral system, even if it is only casting their ballot. It is the citizenship responsibility to do that. And the benefits of it to the people and the negative effects of not doing it.
Then, voters’ education is how exactly you want voters to behave on the day of the election, where their polling units are, how to verify their name, how to be orderly and how to actually access the polling officials.
Then, when you get the ballot papers; because what we expected was that the specimen of the ballot papers would have been everywhere. That everybody would be familiar with it and how to deal with it. What we suggested then was that they should have asked a voter to fold the paper to reflect only the logo of the party they want to vote for, before they put their hands in ink and thumb print and use the left hand to drop it in the box without necessarily have to process it after they have concluded. Many of the ballot became voided during the process of folding .Breeze may carry it and the already inked finger will also touch another box and the ballot will be voided.
So, if adequate voter education had been done, they would have avoided the wastage. Then, of course, the behavior of an average voter after election. Do you wait at the polling unit for the result to be announced? Or do you go home and come back? What do you do? So, all of that would have nipped the disruption in the bud.
Then, a voter would have been educated on what to do if brigands come, those who want to disrupt the electoral process. Whether to see how they can safeguard their ballot boxes or at least protect their ballot during that period and how to secure themselves during the balloting system. So, all of that would have been done during that period, but that was not done. And that is the reason why we had many voided votes and voter apathy, especially during the gubernatorial election and so on and so forth.
So basically, giving the circumstances under which INEC operated, we should score them up to sixty per cent for balloting, but the run up to the election, logistics arrangement, if you add that, it brings down the rating