Chief Mike Ozekhome is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a constitutional Lawyer. He was among prominent Nigerians who participated actively in the just concluded national summit on security jointly organized by Vanguard Newspapers and the Nigeria Police Force. In this interview, he described the National Assembly as drain pipe arguing that the country does not need bicameral legislature. Excerpts:
What are your views on the summit?
My views as expressed in this summit today were very strong. That Nigeria is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. There is no doubt about that. Going by the Transparency International Corruption index in 1999, Nigeria actually carried the gold medal, we won the gold cup, by 2000 we won the silver medal, by 2001 we took the little because we took only bronze medal, meaning the most corrupt country in the world, the second corrupt country in the world and the third corrupt country in the world.
Only two months ago the latest release by the Transparency International, Nigeria came 40th in the world. In fact, I can describe corruption as the 37th state of Nigeria, there are 36 states and FCT and of course corruption is the wealthiest state because other states deal in billions when you see their budgets, some have N40bn, N60bn, N100bn, but corruption in Nigeria has graduated to the trillion mark as we could find from the petroleum subsidy brouhaha.
I remember that some years ago Adolphus Wabara was removed as a Senate President because they alleged that he was involved in a N55 million corruption charge, I remember that Chief SM Afolabi the then minister was removed from office because they said he was involved in N50 million corruption case, but today we don't even hear of millions, we don't hear hundreds of millions what we hear are billions.
If an assistant director should be involved in corruption of N8.5 billion, the deputy director was involved in corruption of N4.4 billion and just when I thought I was recovering from the shock, the petroleum subsidy saga graduated to trillions that makes Nigeria one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
No country can develop if corruption is so strong and so deeply embedded and that is why Foreign Direct Investment is difficult in Nigeria. I was in South Africa last time and we were talking about investment, one of them told me the problem you have in your country is that you cannot say this is how much an investment will cost because along the line bobby traps are set up which will demand more money from you than you even expected, where as in other countries if your business is going to take $1 billion you know already because everything had been programmed in.
But in Nigeria you may come to a little clerk who may make it impossible for that business to go further except you pay some amount, to me no country can develop socially, economically, culturally if corruption is not rooted out, and that is the bane of Nigeria. With corruption you cannot have good governance, without good governance you cannot have democracy dividends, without democracy dividends, poverty and abject penury are enthroned, with abject penury and poverty enthroned, the people will be angry, with the anger of the people the society becomes ungovernable so it is a vicious circle that goes round like the sun rises and sets.
Fighting corruption through attitudinal change
The fundamental way of fighting corruption is through attitudinal change, there must be a total reversion of our societal ethos and values which have been so debased. We no longer have shame don't you know that in the society of the past you hear someone say 'old boy I dey shame oo' , right now, nobody knows shame people who are being tried are winning elections or stealing their ways through elections and they are in the national assembly, some are in government house.
Tackling corruption with kid gloves
A former governor could not be indicted here he was cleared of 187 charges but by the time he got to Dubai and London he was captured and was proved guilty, meaning that we are fighting corruption with kid gloves, you don't fight corruption with kid gloves, so there is the need for total over- hauling of our value system. As at 2010, Nigerians were said to be the country in the world that had private jet because they were only 50, so between 2010 and today there are 210 private jets in Nigeria, people are now buying jets like they buy generators.
National Assembly a drain pipe
Less than one percent of the populace is eating the entire wealth meant for over 156. 5 million people and that is why Nigeria is not developing. When you use 85 percent of your national budget on recurrent expenditure rather than on capital project how can you develop, because a lot of the money is meant to massage the egos of people in power. What is the business of a minister going with convoy of 12 to 15 cars? In America you call them Secretaries you will see them driving themselves.
In America Senators drive themselves bent with age some of them Septuagenarians and Octogenarians because they have been there for over 40 years, here you see a Senator moving and they clear the road with siren with about 15 vehicles, all those vehicles have drivers, they all buy fuel and that is why I continue to recommend that Nigeria is saddled with bicameral legislature that is not necessary, we need the unicameral legislature.
In National Assembly we don't have business with the House of Representatives of 360 members, we have 109 Senators, what are they doing?
I believe that two to three representatives from a state should be adopted because a lot of the national budget goes down the drain in the National Assembly with each legislature taking home 10 to 15 million naira per month multiply that by 109 and 360 that is about 469 so you find out that we are over spending beyond our budget and that is why we are getting to a state where we may be broke, the synopsis and the prognosis are not that Nigeria may be broke and when Nigeria is broke then there will be trouble because it will affect not only Nigeria but the entire West African sub-region, the entire African region and by the law of multiply effect the world.
So Nigeria owes herself, the black man and Africa to get it right, we cannot continue to say we are learning, how long are going to learn, that was why the late MKO Abiola said if it takes a man 20 years to learn madness, how many years will he take to practice it. How long are we going to learn?
Prosecution of those found guilty
Attitudinal change is one, the second one is that you must prosecute arrested offenders; a law is not a law until it is executed, until it is enforced.
If a person is involved in corruption and he knows he will not go scot free, that he can be dealt with and all his ill gotten wealth confiscated then he will be careful, he will no longer go into it but what we are doing is, we give them chieftaincy title, doctorate degree, honorary causa after discussing he will say what is there let me steal after that we can do little bargain, so we are encouraging corruption even in our body language.