This Day (Lagos)

2 September 2012

Nigeria: We Need Special Courts for Corruption, Says Olowu

interview

Prince Kayode Olowu, former chairman, Lagos State Property Development Corporation, says President Jonathan needs to be more forceful in the war against corruption to curtail the menace that lies behind most of the economic difficulties and violent social reactions the country is faced with. Olowu speaks with Vincent Obia. Excerpts:

How would you assess the approach of the President Goodluck Jonathan government to corruption investigation?

I think the issue of selective investigation and prosecution, as it relates to corruption, is still a problem. We are complaining about infrastructural failure and now look at the activities of these racketeers who pose as oil marketers. The cause of all these is this issue of selective investigation.

When the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was established, during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, one senior Oba was warning Mallam Nuhu Ribadu in my presence that he should not allow himself to be used by anybody. I thought he would not. But you can see that he was used and dumped by these people, and I don't think he has learnt his lesson.

Can you expatiate on your allegation of selective prosecution?

How can we move forward under this condition? For instance, there are so many Iboris around the corner, they are more than 100. If not because of the London judgement, we might not have had anything against Ibori, despite about 160-count charges. We should try as much as possible to tell Mr. President to move forward. Himself and the Attorney General, they are not moving.

Now we have this thing they call plea bargaining. Things like this encourage people to keep stealing. The younger generation hardly have any future because some people are stealing the country blind. How can the children of these young ones even go to school? We should not deceive ourselves. There are so many of these terrible people all over the six geopolitical zones. We are not doing anything about them. They stole and they are junketing around with their private jets. After being governor for about eight years, you own a private jet and nobody is asking questions. This is criminal, even for the government.

Do you support the call for special courts for corruption cases?

We need special courts for these fraudulent practices. Without it, we cannot move an inch. And we are not moving. Look at what is happening. The oil racketeers are even threatening us, and NUPENG (National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers) is joining them, perhaps, after being given stipends out of what they have stolen.

What is your assessment of the integrity of the Nigerian judiciary?

Already, the judiciary is finished. Even in the Supreme Court that is the highest court in the land, maybe you can find about 35 per cent of upright judges. Well, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mariam Aloma Mukhtar, has promised to change the situation. Only God knows.

Do you think EFCC and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission would still be necessary if special corruption courts are established?

Let those agencies be there. But we should just have special corruption courts. In this country today, we still have judges that are upright and Nigerians know them. We can just have about three of them in the country. In such court, there will no unnecessary adjournments; they will be just go straight to the point.

Are you delighted that some of the indicted oil marketers have started returning the illegally collected funds?

Well, my opinion has been that before they are prosecuted, they should return our money to the treasury. But we should have special courts to try them, not this issue of trying corrupt people in "their courts". Imagine, one of the accused former governors was able to secure a perpetual injunction against prosecution. This is absurd.

But there appears to be too many odds against the idea of special courts for corruption cases, as even the CJN has frowned at it.

The CJN expressed her own personal opinion. You cannot tackle a drastic problem like corruption without applying a drastic solution. There is no odd against establishment of special corruption courts, except the lack of political will. We just have to move. Look at the fuel subsidy revelations. You know it was the finance minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, that started it, because Mr. President had said the oil marketers were doing their legitimate business.

Look at the "Facrook" saga. Before Obasanjo called the legislators armed robbers, he knew what they had planted. Something just has to give way - it is either the government surrenders to corruption and corrupt people or it is able to handle them. The government should even seize the property of the fraudulent marketers.

There is virtually nowhere in the system that there is no corruption. Look at the power sector; they want to sell it to those who were involved in the US$16 billion power sector scam. This problem is too much. The other time Ndi Okereke-Onyuike said, it is our money; you cannot ask us what we do with the money. Such a person should have been arrested and prosecuted the next day if we had effective EFCC, ICPC or police. But the powers that be direct them as to what to do.

Some analysts have tried to establish a link between the unremitting corruption and impunity in the system and the rising incidence of youth restiveness in the form of militancy, insurgency, etc. Do you agree with this analogy?

Yes. In fact, it's going to be worse. Look at the rate of unemployment; this is a keg of gunpowder. We are talking about insurgency, militancy; we have not seen anything yet. The fuel subsidy strike, for instance, was not really as a result of any conscious organisation, but a spontaneous action arising from accumulated grievances. We are fuelling anger with these corruption and impunity. Any little thing can spark unimaginable commotion.

Now look at the pension scheme, after working for all their active years, the old people are denied their entitlements. Some of them die while on the queue waiting for the pension that is being stolen by some people. Imagine finding N2 billion in somebody's house. The story is the same for the police, Customs, and Armed Forces pensions. Look at the petrol subsidy, about N2.6 trillion being claimed as subsidy payment, when this year's budget is N4.7 billion. About 200 people taking half of the budget! The whole thing is now like a bazaar.

It is corruption that is causing the Boko Haram issue, nothing more. Will they say they don't know themselves? The Bokos know the Harams.

But some have argued that due to its size, Nigeria needs to adopt the core principles of federalism involving extensive devolution of power and fiscal federalism for the country to be efficiently administered.

We need true federalism, no doubt, but that is not the reason for the alarming corruption in the system. The government is not just ready to fight corruption. And for the issue of state police, the governors would certainly abuse it. It would turn to their tool against opponents. We don't have state police and they are using them, you can imagine what would happen if they now have to be the ones to employ members of the force.

Even the talk about sovereign national conference, for me, is not the problem. The advocates are only seeking their own opportunity to steal public funds. Is the corruption menace confronting us being caused by lack of such a conference? If we cannot tackle corruption as we are, there is no guarantee that we can deal with it after the so-called sovereign conference. Look at the complicity of NUPENG, is that also caused by lack of sovereign conference?

Do you think the rights of citizens to basic amenities should be made justiceable as a way of putting the leaders on their toes and checking corruption in the system?

To be fair, President Goodluck Jonathan wants to do a lot of things, but he has his limits. He has tasked the ministers with benchmarks, but can they achieve them given their own selfish inclinations? This is the question. So even if we make the right to amenities and other social rights justiceable, if the system remains corrupt, there would be little guarantee of the practical exercise of such rights.

But do you believe there are some governors in the country who are really working?

I agree, there are some governors that are working. We must mention those who are working, and then, the rest should go and search their conscience and see what they are doing. In Lagos State, we have Governor Babatunde Fashola. He is doing a fantastic job and Lagos is moving. Governor Ojusegun Mimiko in Ondo State is doing wonderfully well. That is in the South-west. Go to the South-east, and you look at Governor Peter Obi in Anambra State, and how controversial he has been perceived, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State. In the South-south, we have Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State. Governor Lyel Imoke of Cross River State is also doing well, but he has the power sector yoke on his head. In the North-west, Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State has been a fantastic leader. Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State has also done wonderfully well.

Forget the Boko Haramic side, where violence is the only achievement of the governors. Look at the way they are killing Christians and Muslims, then you ask yourself, who are they fighting, and who are they fighting for? During the Moshood Abiola and Babagana Kingibe time, we voted a Muslim/Muslim ticket. All the violence we see now is just to cover up corruption, nothing more.

Then at the federal level, Jonathan is a jolly good fellow, but that is not enough. He has to change gear.

How would you evaluate the role of the opposition in the current political dispensation?

We see them bouncing around everyday, but they are not credible. We don't have credible opposition. We should just forget them and advise the president to check himself, to move and work. It was good luck before, but we are talking of hard work now. It should be hard work and hard work. We need to support him, pray for him, and push him to move.

How can somebody steal and say, I have stolen, but if you don't give me what I have stolen I will ground the country. For God's sake, the government should handle these fraudulent oil marketers and nothing will happen.

Again, somebody who took bribe was allowed to go to hajj, to do what? What about the man who gave him, he is walking the streets as a free man. Are they not birds of the same feather?

How do you see the human capacity around the president?

Some are working but some do not even know exactly what they have been called to do.

It is because Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala is moving that we are having these revelations. Others should also move; they should not just go and sit down and be allocating assets to themselves and gallivanting about as minister of this and that. We should reorder our priorities and make the common people our development focus.

If you are to meet President Jonathan now, what would you tell him?

I will tell him, "My dearest brother, I know that you mean well for this country. But your push is not good enough to move this country forward. You should get people to help you. Not only the ministers - ministers that are selected by some of these non-performing governors and their backers."

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