How would you react to the latest ranking of Nigeria as the 39th most corrupt nation in the world by the Transparency International (TI), considering the fact that you were once the Nigeria chapter chairman of TI?
As far as I’m concerned, nothing has changed about Nigeria regarding corruption. It is sad that the situation is getting worse. The latest ranking by TI is an indictment on the leadership. Our leaders need to do more to fight corruption.
As it is today in Nigeria, war against corruption is dead. The situation is getting worse, and the leadership has not shown enough will to tackle corruption. Nothing has changed.
But the Presidency has come out to say that Jonathan’s administration is indeed winning war against corruption, how do you see this development against your own position?
You make me laugh – that is what you expect government to say. If you look at some of the cases against corruption where people have been crying out that Jonathan should act decisively, especially the alleged missing 20 billion dollars in NNPC account, which was raised by the then Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who is now the Emir of Kano, the Federal Government accepted that some money was missing, and promised to carry out forensic auditing of NNPC accounts, and make the report available by November, but up till now and the year is coming to an end, but that report is yet to be released. I’m sure the report has not been released because Federal Government might have been indicted, and with 2015 general elections fast approaching, Federal Government might be afraid of releasing such report especially if it had been indicted.
The other important thing to notice is, if the report is out and it is carried out through forensic auditing, it will pin-point exactly those that are responsible for the missing fund. You know some people will contribute money for the president’s election campaign and if those people are among those indicted by the forensic auditing, do you think government will have the courage to release the report. Therefore one can see some of the reasons why Jonathan is handicapped in fighting corruption. The key issue is this: corruption has become a hydra-headed monster in Nigeria, and every sector, including civil service, has become polluted. Nigeria has never had it so bad. In fact, if Jonathan is not careful, corruption will consume his government.
It is sad that in Nigeria today, we are gradually developing a culture of you chop and I chop, which is being embedded as part of our normal national life. This is a dangerous trend for our nation. Today, we have some members of the National Assembly that have been indicted for corruption but has any action been taken against them?
Today, both ICPC and EFCC, the anti-corruption agencies set up to fight corruption are dead. EFCC can’t fight corruption again, Ibrahim Lamorde, the man in charge, knows this, except if he doesn’t have conscience. Even within EFCC there is corruption.
Are you saying that the President has not been making serious efforts to tackle corruption?
Yes. He has not made any serious efforts to fight corruption. Jonathan rarely speaks about corruption. What I see about Jonathan is that he wants to be seen as a good Christian, and therefore he finds it difficult to talk about corruption. It is sad that those who surround Jonathan are corrupt. What can Jonathan do about corruption? He can’t do anything. Jonathan is in a trap, and is being held hostage by those benefitting from the corrupt system.
What is the way out for the president?
I doubt if he can get out of the trap. Jonathan lacks the courage to tackle corruption. In Ghana, within six months, any case involving corruption is decided, and punishment meted out to those indicted, but what do you see here? Both EFCC and ICPC have been prosecuting some corruption-related cases for several years without conclusion. Does this show any seriousness on our part as a nation?
Some people have noted that the government alone can’t fight corruption, and that members of the civil society that are supposed to serve as watchdogs are no longer vibrant again, what is your view on this sir?
You must remember that these people are Nigerians too. People tend to forget that for most people who run civil societies, it is also their livelihood. It is from these organisations they run that they pick their bills, except some of them that are lucky to be working for international NGOs, this is why some of them often compromise. It is not easy to run these NGOs, especially when you want to live above board.
What is your opinion on the assertion that our brand of democracy is too expensive, for example, the salaries and sundry takes of our legislators are just out of the ordinary?
In most countries of the world, lawmaking is a part-time business. Parliamentarians are only paid sitting allowances. Parliamentarians are paid sitting allowances, accommodation and seating allowances when the house or parliament is in session. If we can do that in Nigeria, we will save billions of naira. If we can do this, we will be able to know those who are genuinely interested in serving the people. Why do we have so many people showing interest in politics? It is because of the huge money involved. Too much money is involved in Nigerian politics, and our politicians are engaged in or practise do-or-die politics.
Now back to the issue of how to tackle corruption, I believe that he should adopt a system I will call Impunity Index. This means that periodically you publish cases of corruption, the level of how it is being investigated, what is affecting prosecution of the cases, etc. When people know that all the details and facts relating to corruption cases are being published or put in public domain, there will be gradual sanity, and impunity will reduce.
We are not hearing anything about Transparency International, Nigeria chapter again, what is happening?
What happened is that it is difficult to work with other Nigerians fighting corruption. It is very, very difficult, and if you want to break up any organisation in Nigeria, just push money into it, either from Nigeria or abroad, you will see how people will scramble for money and forget principles, and integrity.
Was TI Nigeria infiltrated?
It is not a matter of infiltration, but our members lacked discipline over money.
Where was the money coming from?
Money was coming from abroad to execute projects by the organisation. When I saw this dangerous signal that members were more interested in money than working on these projects, I told them the organisation was going to collapse. The Secretary General then was not happy with me – that I was sort of checking everything they were doing. At a point, I left the organisation and travelled abroad for other engagements.
There is one thing many people believe that is right in Nigeria but which is sad, that is they have never bothered to find out why most of the big companies in Nigeria, their chief financial officers are not Nigerians, they are foreigners. Most of them, their MD’s are also foreigners. So, something is wrong with us. What is so bad about Nigerian workers is that they don’t think about how to help you make the money, but only think on how to loot or spend it.
How do we then fight corruption successfully, do we adopt death penalty like in China as some people have canvassed?
No. Death penalty will not solve corruption problem. We need to put men and women who have integrity in positions of authority. We also need to change our attitude and orientation about public office. Public office should rather be seen as an avenue to serve and not to loot public treasury.
As a retired Army General, what is your advice on how to end the Boko Haram insurgency?
We first have to get them out of those territories they are occupying and then contain them. Unfortunately, it has been impossible for the army to do it alone.
If you look at examples of other countries where you have cases of insurgencies, terrorism problems are limited to a part of the country, either at the state or local government level, so your first line of defence is at the state and local government levels. Therefore, the community where terrorism is taking place must have a sort of defence and resilience system to be able to contain insurgency at the rudimentary stage.
Before, you have a situation in Nigeria where insurgents enter a village and people run away, but today with the setting up of JTF local vigilante force, people are able to detect on time the advance of these terrorists and that makes things to improve. It is good that the JTF local vigilance force is working with the army to contain these terrorists.
How do you react to the criticism of the army by some people, especially at a point when soldiers were reported to be running away from battlefront?
To a certain extent, those criticizing the army have been fair because the army was not prepared for the war they are fighting. Our army was not a thinking army. A thinking army is the one that look not at the war that had been fought in the past, but that which look at the future war, and the lessons learnt from the past war that can be used in preventing future war. We had Maitatsine riots in the past, and series of other civil disturbances, but what lessons did we learn from all these past unrests?
The mobile police is set up as paramilitary force, and it is set up to contain acts of insurgency. Mobile police are supposed to be the first line of defence against insurgencies, not the army. When I read reports about Nigerian soldiers running away from the battlefront while I was in New York, I was ashamed of myself. It was disgraceful. I had to come back to Nigeria and offer advise on how to get a solution to the problem. To solve Boko Haram problem, we must adopt the right approach.
The army should not have been involved in Boko Haram issue at all. Army should not have interfered. It is not the business of the army. Police and mobile police should have been given adequate training on how to deal with insurgency. The army should have been the last resort. Now that we have made the army to get involved without exhausting mobile police and conventional police ability to deal with the crisis, it is the reason the army has found itself in this situation.
What is important in winning the war against Boko Haram is for our troops to continue to collaborate with the local JTF. Groups like that exist in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan and the government soldiers are collaborating with them.
Even though insurgency is a global problem, we must find a local solution. Although if we had a culture of people at the top accepting blames for failures, the service chiefs would have thrown in the towel, but then this is Nigeria, a country where anything goes. The service chiefs believed that they have tried their best so they won’t resign unless the political authorities that appointed them ask them to go.
To find a lasting solution to Boko Haram problem, some have suggested negotiating with the terrorists, while others said the army should crush them. What do you think?
Do you know how very difficult it is to kill mosquitoes? You hear their hum, you strike and you think you have killed the mosquitoes, but the next moment, they are back and swoop on you. That is how insurgency is like. Insurgents are like mosquitoes; you kill some now, others come back in large numbers and become more ferocious. Insurgents are difficult to defeat.
You can’t crush insurgency. It is a stupid talk to say you want to crush them. Various forms of approaches must be embraced leading to negotiation, but when you are negotiating, you negotiate with the right group.