Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, was livid last December when President Goodluck Jonathan, called his former boss, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha his political benefactor. The retired jurist of the International Court of Justice thought it an insult to Nigeria that the President would call an ex-convict and fugitive his benefactor.
In this interview with Vanguard, Ajibola is further incensed by the presidential pardon now granted the former governor even as he lampoons the administration's actions on the state of insecurity in the land. Ajibola debunks the president's assertion that he could not negotiate with ghosts saying the President should go out and look for the insurgents and make peace. Excerpts:
What is your response to President Jonathan's reluctance to grant amnesty to the members of the Boko Haram sect?
Let me start introductorily that whatever may be the cause and the grievances of these people, it cannot be solved by force. If you look at it, even the First World War, after fighting for so long from 1914 to 1918, it was still resolved on the table. The Second World War saw the extinction of over 70 million people and it was still a matter that was resolved.
Even there was a time that the French and English people fought the war of roses for 100 years. They are now all members of the European Union and they live harmoniously together.
So, whatever may be the disagreement and the problem with regard to Boko Haram, a good government will try to see the cause of the whole matter, then find the solution to it and then find peaceful solution to the matter. It is for the government, itself, to go all out to find out what are the grievances and how can these be resolved? That is the civilised and modern approach to solving any problem.
Civilised people do not go by war. They have learnt the truth that it is not a matter of force but a matter that could be resolved harmoniously and in the sense and spirit of give and take. These Boko Haram people we are talking about, they must have their problems; they must have their difficulties; they cannot be fighting for nothing. We have seen that done in Niger Delta. The problem was on, for many years but why did we decide to solve it that way? Why should this be an exception?
But the President is insisting he cannot negotiate with ghosts?
He should go to them! It is not for them to come to him. It is the other way round! It is the government that must find out what is wrong with any part of the country! That is the essence and obligation that the government of a country owes to its people. These people are not ruling us; the government must see to the peace, stability and security of the nation. That is what the government is there for. They, the Boko Haram people, can go on with their destruction; they are not running any government; they are not part of the government. They just have some grievances against the government, against some people in government or some people at large!
It is for that government to find out and to resolve it. That is the reason and the essence of any system calling itself a government.
Good governance will effectively do that. You do not need to go and tell them that they should come out and tell you what is wrong with them.
No. You should find out what their problems are by yourself. Even after the Second World War, they set up a court and brought all those people involved to that court and those who had wronged the whole world were dealt with there.
The government should take the pre-requisite steps in order to ensure that these things do not happen any longer and do not continue.
Cases of terrorism and disturbances will continue to erode the peace of any nation and no nation can develop under a situation of instability, under a situation of war, under a situation of civil unrest and civil disturbances. No nation can progress that way.
As I said once, we are progressing backward. That is a kind of euphemism to say that we are not going on as we should. We are just on the threshold of this chaos and we cannot continue that way. We must do something that will bring about peace. Tell me any nation in the world that one can attribute progress to while it has problems of instability on its hands. None.
Why did they go all out, like I said, to even set up a Ministry of Niger Delta in order to be able to resolve the civil unrest in the Niger Delta? Have they set up ministry now to take care of the Boko Haram worries if it is giving them that type of problem? A Ministry of Special Purpose seeking peace in the nation? Even call it a research centre where you look for the peace of the nation and try to redress mishaps. It is important. That is what you call the social contract.
It is you, who have been given that mandate to run the government that must run it properly, efficiently and without any corruption. You must run it well. Otherwise, you will continue to have such problems that will plague the nation and will not give you any peace, stability or anything that could help to develop that nation. We cannot develop this way.
Only last week or so, there was the case of six people from different nationalities killed in this country. What have they done? What is going on? Do you not think that, that is one of the serious things that the government should look into? It is the other way round.
It is the government's place to go round to see to the peace and development of a nation and ensure that social justice is maintained and sustained in every part of the nation. Not always thinking of election and corruption and ways of stealing and siphoning money from the nation.
Maintenance of social justice
You see, people now equate election to things that you win to enjoy part of the booties. It is sad. It is regrettable. It is! It is!!
What is your reaction to the pardon granted the former Governor of Bayelsa State, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha?
The implication of this is in our nation's position and status. If you leave here now on your way to say, Washington or New York, once you get there and they notice that you are a Nigerian, they will just ask you to go and sit down in some cases and you will be interrogated and interviewed for over an hour before they can possibly allow you to leave.
That is a problem of being a pariah from a rogue state. They subject you to all sorts of questioning: What are you here to do? Where are you going to get the money? What are you spending the money for? Who are you and what is your status?
What is your position? Are you going to buy property here? Are you going to live here? How long are you going to stay? When are you leaving back to your place?
These are the things that people do face when they get out. Wole Soyinka was exposed to this type of thing too. You see what I mean? What nation will encourage stealing? What nation will encourage corruption? What nation will encourage siphoning the money of the state into another place in order to use it personally for one's benefit?
What state is that, that will keep people in squalor, ruined, impoverished, and penniless and then you are enjoying these illegal benefits all around the world?
You see what I mean? Ibori is still serving his prison term over there. The next thing that will happen will be that when he gets here, he will be pardoned. Are we so reckless? Are we so irresponsible? Are we so endemic in our attitude towards bad, illegal, immoral acts? Why are we dong that? It is very, very pathetic because an individual needs a name in his country and outside that country. An individual needs respect in his country and outside the country. What is the worth of anybody who is a man of prestige, who is a man of integrity here being regarded as rogue or someone from a rogue state outside the country?
I have just told you the story of Wole Soyinka, who was disgraced, rough-handled at the airport all because he happened to be a Nigerian. So, we have to take all the international content into consideration before we take any action or any step here. It is important that we should not be only satisfied with our political and national interests but we also must take care of our international status, international position, international integrity. We must get a good name for Nigeria. We need that good name for Nigeria.
You see, the consequences of it will be our being disregarded and put to shame in most of those countries all around the world.
It is sad. It is really, really, really sad and we must work out our way. Actions are still pending left, right and centre in many parts of the world: South Africa, Britain and so many other countries and yet here we are granting pardon.
Before the pardon you flayed the President for calling Chief Alamieyeseigha his political benefactor...
(cuts in) You see, the connotation is very clear at this time. It is true that we have a person within a nation granted pardon and one has to look at the procedure before it is done. One must look into the law.
Now, the law itself must not be abused and it must not be misused. If a man has been incarcerated, imprisoned, sanctioned because of what happened politically like the cases of people like General Oladipo Diya, General Tajudeen Olanrewaju and others, that is quite understandable. They were not accused of any heinous impropriety like stealing, siphoning our money out of this country.
But to equate that with Alamieyeseigha, who is still wanted as a criminal, as an accused person in places like Great Britain, South Africa and in so many other countries of the world, what are the benefits or the consequences of such pardon being granted here?
You now say Alamieyeseigha has been granted pardon here, you can say that again when he gets on his way to South Africa or to any part of the world for that matter.
Extradition could take place immediately and he will be found in the right place for being accused of corruption, siphoning money or money laundering.
That is the chaotic situation that we have created for ourselves. That is the embarrassment that we have now, not only, given to Alamieyeseigha but also to our nation, Nigeria.
The Presidency says the pardon is to enable him fully contribute to national life. But how did you handle issues of pardon during your time in government?
You see, to say it broadly and generally, we had a procedure then that was established by setting up a committee for pardon in which each and every case was looked into.
And if there was adequate evidence to show that it was just a matter of political sanction that had no element of being a culprit in any way, such people were in most cases granted the pardon and amnesty granted to them.
Misappropriation of money
But not cases of misappropriation of money; not cases of being accused in many countries outside Nigeria of this type of stealing, siphoning, misappropriation, money laundering and things of that nature.
It does not happen at all. Those are cases that are beyond pardon. That was exactly the position in our time, regardless of the length of time involved.
So, this is a case that will put us in dilemma and in more time to come will put us in very bad light not only in Nigeria but outside Nigeria. I was once asked in Paris, France to give a lecture and at that time we happened to be one of the pariahs in the world.
Introduction was made about me and what I had been doing and all that. But at the end of the whole story, once they were told that I am a Nigerian, they all walked out. That is the nature of this type of thing.
Nobody will be interested listening to you or hearing anything from you, a Nigerian, because of their perception of citizens of a rogue state. Once we turn ourselves into a rogue state, all of us will bear the consequences of it.
It will not be a matter restricted to even officials alone but even the ordinary citizens of the state. that is the problem.