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Cross River Governor ought to have been impeached for constitutional breaches — Presidential Aide Okoi Obono Obla

By News Express on 14/03/2017

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 •Okoi Obono Obla, SA to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution.
•Okoi Obono Obla, SA to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution.

Barrister Okoi Obono Obla, Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution, is a human right activist and anti-corruption crusader. He spoke to Emmanuel Ado – Host of ‘Let’s Talk’ and syndicated columnist – on the anti-corruption war, continued stay in office of David Lawal, the SGF, the penchant of the Cross Rivers State Governor to travel without handing over to his deputy, and the over N15 billion bail-out fund scandal involving the governor’s brother.

Question: How much damage has the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr David Lawal’s case done to the anti-corruption war? Talk to me as a human rights activist that you are. And remember, you justified the arrest of judges.

Barrister Okoi Obono Obla: I justified the arrest of judges because a ‘sting operation’ was carried out by Directorate of State Security Services (DSS), and evidence was gathered right away. Not circumstantial evidence, but real evidence. Huge sums of money were found in their homes. The case of David Lawal, the Secretary to Government of the Federation is diametrically opposite and different. What are the facts of the SGF’s case? The fact was that he used his company to get a contract, and the matter was investigated, not by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the Directorate of State Security Services or the Police, but by the Senate. Constitutionally, the Senate is not empowered to investigate crimes. Principally, the work of the Senate is to make laws and, sometimes, carry out oversight functions in the process of its law making. Particularly, Section 88 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), says a committee of the National Assembly: House of Representatives or the Senate, can carry out oversight functions to expose corruption, inefficiency, maladministration in the process of law making, etc. So one can say that the Senate has no power to investigate crimes but in the process of law making. The Senate can carry out oversight functions of the executive in order to expose corruption, inefficiency and maladministration. Mind you only an interim report was issued and it was on that basis that the Senate demanded that Mr President should fire the SGF, which I think in my view as a lawyer, is unconstitutional. The Senate cannot direct Mr President to fire the SGF because it is not a court of law (laughter). By doing that, the Senate was presumptuous; they were already finding Mr David Lawal guilty of corruption which should not be. Why didn’t the Senate finish the investigation before putting the report, maybe before the EFCC or ICPC, for further investigation.

But considering that this is a government that came to power on an anti-corruption stance, and there were those doubts. Wouldn’t it, for the sake of the war for the SGF to have stepped aside, for the doubts to be resolved in favour of the war?

There’s no doubt at all! I see over-dramatisation of this matter, maybe to blackmail the government on this war against corruption. What I expected, if there was evidence that David Lawal was corrupt, I expected the Senate…

(Cuts-in) Not was, but if he’s corrupt… 

If he is corrupt, I mean. I expect the Senate to lodge a complaint to EFCC, ICPC or the Code of Conduct Bureau. There’s a provision in the Code of Conduct which says a public officer should not engage in any other business except farming. So, if there was evidence, why didn’t the Senate refer this matter to the appropriate organ of government for investigation before asking  President to fire David Lawal? They jumped the gun, and we have to be very, very careful. Corruption is a big thing and we should not just stigmatise somebody because we want to give an impression that the Buhari administration is not serious about fighting corruption, or is one-sided, as some people would want us to believe.

So where is the case now, dead? 

It’s not dead. The President made an allusion in his letter to the Senate that this matter is not dead. That the Senate should go ahead to investigate and come out with a final report; and also you know that the Office of the Minister of Justice is investigating the matter. So the matter is not dead and the President made that insinuation, the matter is not dead.

Let me quote Senator Shehu Sani: “When it comes to fighting corruption in the National Assembly and the Judiciary and the larger Nigerian sectors, the President uses insecticides; but when it comes to fighting corruption within the Presidency, they use deodorant". In a sense, what Senator Sani is saying is not that there is double-standard, but lack of standard in the war against corruption.

I disagree with him, he cannot be a judge in his own court, with due respect. That is an overstatement, to say that the President is doing that. The President is very sincere in the fight against corruption and is not one-sided; and we should not fall into the temptation of just stigmatising people of being corrupt or those around Mr President ….

Why the emphasis on those around Mr President: why not general?

Yes, because of the trend that I see. People over dramatise, once those involved are close to Mr President’s convenient to deduct or conclude that the war against corruption is one-sided. This is a dangerous trend. If anybody is corrupt, for goodness sake, the law should take its course. The person should be properly investigated, charged before a court of law and if found guilty, so be it. But you cannot on circumstantial evidence find somebody guilty of corruption and on that basis ask Mr President to fire the person. Aaah! That is not right. 

Do you agree there’s no standard in the war?

There is a standard. I don’t agree with you. I’ve given you instances to buttress my position, that there is a standard…

(Cuts in) The law says you’re presumed not guilty, so why the dilly-dallying with the SGF case?

Sure! There’s no dilly-dallying there. They’ve politicised this case, maybe because there is a deliberate attempt to politicise this matter to get back at Mr President and rubbish the war against corruption. I’ve told you that this case, in the first instance, was not investigated by the appropriate institution(s).

We wait to see how the executive... 

I can assure you that there’s no sacred cow; that if at the end of the day anybody is found guilty or liable, the law will take its course. I can assure you on that.

Okay! Let’s move away from corruption. What stage is your draft bill on the Special Criminal Court you’re working on?

Well, there’s a bill that was designed by the Presidential Committee against Corruption. We have sent it to the office of the SGF. We’re still working on it and as soon as we’re done with it, it will be sent to the National Assembly.

But can you give us an idea of the shape of the court?

It is going to be an exclusive court and it will be empowered to deal with financial crimes, economic crimes, corruption, vandalism of oil and gas installations, theft of crude oil, cattle rustling, kidnappings and piracy, those very serious crimes. The court will be empowered to hear cases expeditiously. The court will have very knowledgeable judges who are committed and incorrigible. Judges who will have the courage to make pronouncement on the law as it is. Judges who can make pronouncement or give judgment against anybody without minding whose ox is gored. 

Will anything be different from what we already have in terms of the Criminal Justice Administration System?

Yes! For instance, I’ve mentioned that cases will be heard expeditiously. So there’ll be rules of practice and procedures to ensure that cases are heard expeditiously, that cases are not stalled unlike what we have now where cases are bulked down by procedural requirements of the law or technicalities, we’re not going to have that. No way!     

The National Policy on Prosecution, the Code of Conduct for Prosecutors . . . down the line has it made any difference?  

Yes! These are some of the reforms we’ve carried out for the first time in the history of Nigeria. We did a strategic plan for prosecution for 2016 – 2019. We have also put in place a National  Policy for Prosecution and we now have guidelines for prosecutors and also a Code of Conduct for them. There’s a difference and remember it has just been adopted by the Body of Attorneys- General only some few months back and it will take awhile, maybe months or one year for these reforms to really take root. But meanwhile, we think we are on the right track. 

But what are the outcomes you’re looking at, at the end of the day? 

We want prosecutors who are professionally conscientious and diligent who will prosecute not persecute. So there’s a Code of Conduct for them. If you persecute as a prosecutor then you can be held guilty of violating the rules. And also a strategic roadmap of prosecution of cases in Nigeria which we never had in the country. Part of the reforms, especially of the Criminal Justice System in Nigeria, because we have to take care of that system, if we don’t then there will be huge increase in crimes and no investor will want to come into the country.....and even indigenous investors will not want to come to invest. The law and order sector must be sorted out; if this is done, I can assure you that 60 per cent of problems confronting this country would have been solved.

Why is the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice always running into crisis?  George Uboh, MTN, and the latest being Barrister Charles Adeogun that you had to withdraw from your prosecution team. Why is it that due diligence is hardly done before you engage?

No! I disagree with you that they’re always running into problems. You know this the hub of governance.  The Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice is the only office recognised by the Constitution. 

I know…

Our work is the hub of governance: the hub of the war against corruption, crimes, fight for an equitable society, for good governance and the anchor of the war against corruption. So by its very nature the office is controversial. Remember, I told you it is the only office recognised by the Constitution....the minister has power to file and to terminate proceedings against anyone.....definitely there will be controversies. We trample on people in the course of work, not deliberately though, and they want to get back at us by whatever means. They also go into blackmail, for whatever reason, you mentioned George Uboh. I can assure you that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is a determined young man and a very successful lawyer before he was appointed. He is a man with conscience, a go-fearing man. George Uboh was given a brief and he went outside the scope or confines of his brief and he was fired…

(Cuts-in…) Ab initio, why were you not aware that he was a convict in the United States of America?

If that information was not given to us, how will we know? Even the police, EFCC, DSS rely on information. We can’t be here and envision where George Uboh was 20 or 10 years ago. But once the facts became known to the minister he fired him.

And you made the same mistake again with Charles Adeogun….that there were potential conflict of interest?

No. He was not forthcoming. All the lawyers who were engaged by the National Prosecution Coordinating Committee were given a form of disclosure. This was for them to disclose if they had interest. But he didn’t do that. We later discovered that he was handling cases that will conflict with the assignment he was given and he was fired. Instead of him taking it in good faith, he resorted to blackmail, because Nigerians love blackmail.  Nigerians love ethnic and religious dichotomy . . . that is why it is convenient for him to say all that he has been saying. It is a resort to blackmail and a very unprofessional conduct by a lawyer of that standing. I didn’t expect that from him . . . he trivialised this matter to a ridiculous level.

After him, five other lawyers were disengaged . . .

No, it’s not true. You’re relying on the report . . .

Well, confirm.

No, I can’t confirm it, but I don’t think it is true. You can confirm from our media department. I’m a member of that committee and I should know if five lawyers were disengaged.

Well, it’s all about your process of engagement. Having made that statement of fact that you’re in the eye of the storm, that you’ll be more diligent… 

We’ve always been diligent, but I’ve explained to you the circumstances. If you ask a lawyer to make a disclosure before taking a brief from us and he fails to do that, will you hold it against us? We don’t have the machinery to ferry out all what that lawyer’s been doing in the last three or five years.                        

Clean-up of the Judiciary: As a lawyer, is your faith restored in the judiciary now or are there still more work to be done, sting operations, to use your words?

Hahahaha! I will not use sting operations. I think we’ve carried out reforms of the justice system, so it will definitely affect the Judiciary. I cannot say we’ve finished.  We’re in the process of reforming all the institutions, including the judiciary.

Is it constitutional?

It is. Why not? The executive is the body to clean up the judicial branch of government.

And who cleans up the executive? The all-powerful arm . . .

We’re being cleaned up by the legislature and the judiciary. Members of the executive branch of the government have been charged to court. So they are the watch-dog of the executive. This is typical of a presidential of system government where the three branches of government are supposed to be independent in theory but in practice, their roles, responsibilities and functions overlap, and I can give you so many instances. For instance, the president appoints the Chief Justice of Nigeria and that appointment is subject to the confirmation of the Senate. So, you can see the executive is involved, the legislature and even the judiciary itself is involved because the National Judicial Commission (NJC), must first recommend. Let me give another instance: we’re talking about oversight functions, when a committee of the Senate or House of Representatives is investigating a matter in order to expose corruption, inefficiency, maladministration in the process of law making, that committee is normally vested with power to issue summons, and that is a typical function of the judiciary. Committees of the National Assembly are vested with quasi judicial functions, and if you disobey the summons, you can be sent to jail.  You could also be subjected to contempt if you disrespect the Senate: while you’re appearing before a committee of the Senate or you disrespect a committee of the House of Representatives while carrying out its oversight function. These are judicial functions and you can also see that when the President appoints ministers, he sends the list to the Senate for confirmation. He appoints ambassadors and sends them to the Senate why? If the branches are truly independent he shouldn’t be doing that.

Overlapping functions?

Exactly! So why can’t we probe the judiciary? Of course, some people will say that probing the judiciary is tantamount to interference in the functions of the judiciary; it’s not true.

Well, the case is in the court, its . . .

It is … 

We won’t go into it?  

No, we’re not going into it.  

We’re just following what is happening . . .

We’re just discussing the basic principles of constitutional law which some Nigerians are ignorant of. 

You’ll like to see some reforms of the National Judicial Council?

Yes! I’ve always advocated for the reforms of the NJC, based on the principle of law of natural justice: you cannot be a judge in your own court. The National Judicial Council should be reformed. If you look at the composition of NJC, it is faulty: a situation where judges only judge judges. For instance, the chairman of the NJC is the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Assuming there’s a petition against the Chief Justice of Nigeria and that petition is to be investigated by NJC, can that body do that? Is that proper? That’s why many judges were shielded by the body and the DSS had to intervene on behalf of Nigerians; because there were credible evidence of petitions filed against certain categories of judges; but they were never investigated and the other ones that are not privileged were investigated, because the NJC is made up of only lawyers and judges. So the constitutional amendments I would want to see is to have people from the civil society in the NJC.  The chairman of NJC should not be the Chief Justice of Nigeria; and if we’re going to have judges, they should be two or three but not overwhelming, as it is now six judges from the State High Courts. The next ranking senior judge to Chief Justice of Nigeria, president of the Court of Appeal and so on; so there’s preponderance of judges and then lawyers too. I think two to be appointed by the CJN, and then some to represent the NBA. It’s wrong. So let’s have a reform of the NJC, if we do not have a reform we’ll have a repeat of the sting operation, because cases against some judges would never be investigated.

Is anything in the pipeline towards ensuring . . . 

Well, it is left for all Nigerians to clamour for that reform, everything must not start and end with the executive arm of government. The National Assembly too should look at the possibility of reforming the NJC. The civil society should clamour for it, everybody should clamour for it because constitutional reform is not the prerogative of the executive alone, it has to be supported by at least 24 states’ Houses of Assembly before a constitutional proposal to amend the Constitution can scale through. And then the National Assembly too will support it, so it’s not only the work or business of the executive arm of government.  But I think, as executive, we will encourage Nigerians to begin to demand that there should be a constitutional review of the composition of the NJC. 

Would you do a special report on all that has happened after the court case, the sting operation, what led to it and after judgments have been delivered; a template which you can send to the National Assembly . . .

Well, they have ears. There’s a Committee on Judiciary in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I will look into that. Anything that will further justice.

And you’re interfacing with them? 

We’re interfacing; look all the branches of government, their functions overlap. We work and cooperate…

But are they on the same page with you?

(Laughter) Well, I will not say so. I will reserve my comment on that issue. But I think they should so that this war against corruption, this war to reform the government, to reform Nigeria should not be the work of Mr President alone. All of us, the civil society, National Assembly, all segments of the society must be in the forefront in the war to reform Nigeria.                 

Critics of your war on corruption are mocking the government over its failure to secure any convictions so far . . . 

Well, they’re totally misplaced. War against corruption should not be assessed on the basis of convictions. Even in established constitutional democracies taking anybody to court takes a while. Even in UK and America, it will take you an average of one to two years to secure a conviction talk less of a country like Nigeria, a third world country with lots of infrastructural deficit or challenges. When we came on board everything was wrong. The system was very slow we had to carry out lots of reforms, which I’ve told you to ensure that cases were expeditiously heard, that Judges are conscientious and diligent. Because our work as executive is to charge people to court, it is the duty of the courts to ensure that the cases are heard and decisions reached. Secondly, the war against corruption as earlier pointed out should not be all about convictions. What of systematic change which we have carried out? We have carried out lots of structural changes to block the loopholes that has allowed corruption to thrive, the TSA: we’re recovered almost N5 trillion. Formerly the FG did not know the number of accounts that it had. There were numerous accounts running into thousands that the FG was not aware of. There are monies in these accounts and people have been coming to give us information concerning those accounts, is that not an institutional change? Let us go to the pension funds. It has reduced drastically. The amount we used to pay pensioners has reduced drastically by almost N40 billion. We have brought some order to the chaotic pension system that has existed in the past 50 years through which trillions of Naira was siphoned. What about the salary wage bill . . . information from the Ministry of Finance shows that the salary wage bill has dropped by N40 billion since we came into office and it’s a continuous process to weed out ghost workers. Is that not an institutional change? I can tell you that the impunity that existed in the federal bureaucracy through which billions of naira used to be siphoned out of the system has drastically reduced.

Well, I’ll still come back to that. We cannot run away, considering that you’re SA Prosecution . . .

(Laughter)  We’re also prosecuting, we’ve had convictions. We’re going to have convictions, for instance, one of the cases against one of the judges was closed yesterday. So, I’m very certain in the next two, three we should have convictions.

(Cuts-in) No, you won’t have conviction, but judgment . . .

I’m sorry, I withdraw. We’ll have judgment, because you were talking about convictions. Because the essence of prosecution is not just conviction as I said earlier. When at the end of the day the person is not found guilty, I think you should say fighting these cases from commencement to judgment. The law says a prosecutor must not secure conviction at all cost.

But that is one of the charges against the EFCC . . . 

It is ignorance, with due respect, for people to begin to argue that the war against corruption has not been successful because we’ve not secured lots of convictions. The essence of criminal law process is deterrence. If I charge you to court and I fight you at the end of the day if you’re win, if the court sets you free, you must have suffered lots of inconveniences, stigma and stress, so next time you’ll be more careful.   

Still the on the APC-led government and its anti-corruption posture: the recent governors forum case, of about the N19 billion, is it something that is embarrassing? 

Well, the law should take its course. I’m not saying anybody is guilty. But, if at the end of day some governors misappropriated monies that came into their treasuries from the Paris debts negotiation, then the law should take its course.  It’s also an indication that the law against corruption is not selective. If APC governors can be investigated (laughter).

Have you been officially briefed . . .

Well, it’s not our responsibility, ours is to prosecute; It is for the EFCC to investigate . . .

But the EFCC is . . . 

Yes, the EFCC is under our supervision, but we don’t interfere. EFCC is independent. It is administratively placed under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Justice, but that doesn’t mean that we interfere in its day-to-day working. We don’t interfere with their investigations and that’s one of the achievements of this government – that we do not interfere with police, EFCC, ICPC investigations – we allow these institutions to function properly, unlike what we used to have. What we used to have is that if EFCC is investigating a governor that is powerful, there’ll be a phone-call from somewhere, don’t investigate this man, shield him. We’re not doing that and that’s why our own governors are being investigated . . . it’s now left for EFCC to investigate and after that then we’ll know.

But immunity . . .        

Well, immunity does not stop EFCC, ICPC and even Code of Conduct from investigating any governor. They can be investigated and at the end of their tenure charged to court, there’s no time bound against crime. Anybody can be charged to court for a crime committed even 60 years ago. Recently, I read in a newspaper about the case in America . . . a man who murdered a woman about fifty years ago he was arrested some couple of months ago and charged to court, so there is no time bound.

Okay! Talk to me not as government official now. Andy Uba just decamped from PDP . . .

(Cuts in) What’s wrong with that? (Laughter).

Hold on, I’m asking you. From corrupt PDP, I know the constitution guarantees right of association and movement; but you have so demonised PDP as corruption incorporated. Dariye has also moved over . . .

Yes! But he’s facing trial and trial has not ended, but we cannot stop him from coming into APC because a political . . . 

Hold on, let me ask you . . .

Yes, ask me 

Ibori is convicted, if he decides to come to APC tomorrow, will he be welcome?

So you’ve agreed with me that anyone who has not been convicted cannot be adjudged guilty? 

Hold on, he has a right to free association . . .

I’ll answer your question. But I don’t want to answer a hypothetical question, let us get to the bridge then we’ll cross it. 

What I want to say, as a crusader I’m asking you . . .

Yes! I’ve answered you. You’re just being hypothetical. Let us just wait till when Ibori would want to cross over then I’ll answer your question. Most importantly, what I want to say is that the right to freedom of association is guaranteed by the Constitution, it is guaranteed by international law. So APC as a believer in the rule of law, and a party that has respect for the Constitution; APC as a party that campaigned on respecting the rule of law, cannot stop Dariye or Andy Uba, under the guise of being allegedly corrupt, from crossing over. A political party is like a church or Mosque, you cannot drive people from coming to church because they’re sinners, even Christ in the Bible said: no, allow them to come . . .

So, APC now will whitewash them . . . ?

No! We’re not whitewashing them. If your hands are soiled and you come into APC you’ll carry your can, we cannot shield you from the law and we’ve not done that.  Even those who came and have cases against them, they’re still facing their trials and I can assure you nobody will shield them. So anybody who comes into APC with tainted hands will carry his own cross. But to ask APC to make a policy that all allegedly corrupt or tainted people should not be admitted, is asking for too much. We will not do that because it will amount to a violation of the Constitution. Let me tell you, the current President is an island of integrity and I was in his old party, the CPC and we campaigned on ….. and we didn’t succeed, because you cannot practice political puritanism. 

So you merged with the bad guys? No, no let’s admit it: until you merged with them, the good, the bad and ugly, that was when you won . . . 

What I’m saying is that the good, the bad and the ugly are in APC; it is the same with all political parties even in America. Yes, because every political party has a tendency, even in the UK, in the Labour Party, you find those tendencies. APC as a big political party has those tendencies, even in PDP you have good people. I will not make a blanket condemnation of PDP, you have good people that’s how a political party is supposed to be (Laughter)

Let’s leave the war on corruption. On Sambo Dasuki, you’re still studying the ECOWAS judgment? You said it is advisory?

Yes, I stand by my statement that it is advisory. Have you ever heard that the United States obeyed the judgment of International Court of Justice? You are aware that the US refused to join the International Criminal Court. Every country has its national interest which it strives to safeguard. I’ll give you an instance. Prisoners were captured during the Afghan war and taken to Quantanamo Bay, and they were subjected to torture and inhuman treatment and so on; they were arraigned before military tribunals and some human rights groups went to court and fought what they considered a violation of the prisoners’ rights . . . up to the Supreme Court. The argument was that capturing people from Afghanistan was unconstitutional and an infringement of their human rights. The Supreme Court said no because it’s a matter bordering on the security of America. Please, there is no human right that is absolute. So if he took us to ECOWAS Court, it has no jurisdiction to hear a matter concerning the Sovereignty of Nigeria.

Fundamental human right…the difference is that . . .

Have we violated his fundamental human right?

He has secured three bails . . .

No, it’s a misinformation. Ask me and I’ll tell you.

Tell me, that’s why I’m asking you, he has three pending bails?

Three pending bails have been cancelled by the fresh charges filed by the DSS, EFCC in different courts. When these charges were filed, it canceled out all the previous bails granted him. But it’s convenient for him to blackmail the FG and distort this information. There are two cases pending against him in the FCT High Court; another in the Federal High Court, so these three new cases that were filed after his previous arraignment have cancelled out the bails granted to him. And a Federal High Court ruled that the Federal Government was not in contempt of any court order. Because if I commit murder and I’m taken to court and the court grants me bail, but I had committed another murder five years ago and the police now filed another charge of murder against me. Automatically, the initial bail granted is nullified by the new case. That is what happened in the Dasuki cases; he was first arrested and charged for unlawful possession of firearms. And after perfecting the bail condition the DSS on the same day before he was released from prison filed fresh charges against him, which is normal and is done everywhere. So that is the truth of the matter. All these propaganda that the FG is disobeying court orders is misplaced.

What’s so special that you must keep him in a dungeon?

Nobody is keeping him . . . let him go to court and apply for bail in respect of the fresh charges, which he has not done.

How is he sure that you’ll not spring another fresh case against him? 

(Laughter) Let him do it, and not blackmail the Federal Government. 

You won’t come up with something new to keep him . . .?

No, no, no. When we get to the bridge we’ll cross it.

You talked about America, but let me correct something: America can get away with blue murder; they’re not looking for investors. European Union spoke out against El-Zakzaky’s case, that is also in one of your dungeons.

That case is not our business but that of Kaduna State Government. El-Zakzaky did not violate any federal law. He violated a local law of Kaduna State. Let the Attorney-General of Kaduna State charge him to court. They should not pass the buck to the Federal Government, because we’re in a federal system of government. When it suits some people they will demand for true federalism and when it is convenient they will heap or push the problem to the Federal Government. True federalism should not only be in financial matters, it should also extend to law and order; because most times the Federal Government is blackmailed over local issues, herdsmen fight. Those issues are local and let the state governments take care of them. If we have governors that are up and doing, it should not be the business of the Federal Government to dabble into local issues. So, the Federal Government has nothing to do with El-Zakzaky, the government of Kaduna State should prosecute him. 

So you’re seeing buck-passing?

There is lots of buck-passing in Nigeria and because people do not understand constitutional democracy. They don’t know the functions of the state, local council and that of the federal government. So, there is lots of buck-passing blackmail, and they drag the Federal Government into a lot of local issues that is not its business. And the same Nigerians demand for true federalism, quote and unquote.

Before I come to your state, because you seem to have some certain problems in your state, your governor’s travels and all that; you’re angry about the propensity of Nigerians to take laws into their hands, is it because the laws are not strong enough or lack of political will to enforce the law?

And that is what we’re doing. I agree with you. Hitherto, there has been a glaring and consistent lack of political will to fight crimes, particularly against the elite, but we have shown in this government that we have the will to fight crimes against the poor people and the elites.   

Except the SGF. . . 

And that’s why when you mentioned Dasuki, oh Dasuki is under custody, what of the poor people? If you go to our prisons, they’re filled to the brim with people who have allegedly stolen just N5,000 and then if a big man steals money or purported to have stolen money and then he’s arrested and charged to court, the FG is blackmailed, it is selective. When a poor man is arrested and prosecuted, it is not selective. But the big man will say, I’m Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Christian or Muslim – that’s why I’m being punished. They don’t want to be accountable and they begin to divert attention and deceive Nigerians. We cannot have two standards of justice in one country, one for the rich and one for the poor. When the rich people are arrested, everybody clamours for their release. What of the poor people? Some of them are held in prison for stealing N5,000? And he’s given heavy punishment, and nobody will say this man is punished because he’s Tiv, Hausa, Southern Kaduna, Kanuri or Fulani? That cannot be a good country and it is because the previous governments have not shown the will to fight crimes committed by the elites that’s why we’re having these problems. But this government will not tolerate that; we’ll prosecute both the poor and the rich equally, because everybody is equal before the law.

If you have the power, your Governor Senator Ben Ayade, he’ll be history by now . . . 

I’ll impeach him. If I am the House of Assembly or I can initiate his impeachment, because he has committed numerous constitutional breaches. Last year he travelled for almost twenty weeks without complying with the constitutional provision that he should transmit a letter to them...telling the House that he’s going on vacation and that he will not be able to perform the functions of his office, and would hand over to the Deputy Governor. This year as soon as he collected N11billion bailout fund from the Federal Government, he has travelled out now for almost fifteen weeks. So is that not a breach of the Constitution?

Now let me come to… I’ve established the fact that if you have the power he’ll be history. Like you’ve rightly observed, the State Houses of Assembly are unfortunately appendages to the governors. Has it got to do with financial autonomy, will that be a way out of this?

Five years ago, there was a move to amend the Constitution to make the State Houses of Assembly financially autonomous, they refused. Members of the Cross River House of Assembly voted against that constitutional proposal. So I think it has to do with the quality of people we have as governors. Because, if a governor is enlightened and exposed, I wouldn’t know why a governor would want to control a House of Assembly, the Judiciary, Local Government councils; control the political party. That is what we see in Nigeria. The governors are so powerful that they want to control every state institution, and that’s responsible for what we’re seeing in the Houses of Assembly that cannot function as constitutional watchdogs. And most governors are behaving anyhow, and it reflects on the FG. For instance, bail-out funds have twice been given to states. The one given in June 2015, my governor was given N8 billion to pay salaries of workers; he took about N4 billion and paid into the account of Frank Ayade, his junior brother. The matter is under EFCC investigation. And the latest bail-out, Cross River got N11 billion; that was in December, he has not paid workers, civil servants and pensioners. Today, a retired Permanent Secretary called to inform me that he had not received his pension in the past one year.  So the governors are not performing their constitutional responsibilities because the Houses of Assembly are weak and it is intentional, a carry-over of the legacy of PDP; because people you find in the Houses of Assembly, some of them do not have the capacity, the ability, the temperament and the know-how to be legislators. Legislative work is a very serious business, you have to be intelligent and have the capacity and ability and both is lacking in our state legislators. 

I’ll just take you up on one more issue and then we go to the Abacha loot. The northern governors at their last meeting admitted that the terrorists are Fulanis, but that they are foreigners. Is that not an indictment on the Nigerian government? 

Yes, to a large extent. I have to be honest with you, and I’ve told you this country was run down particularly in the last sixteen years; terribly run down, so it’s dialectical consequences of years of bad governance which this government is working hard to correct. Some Nigerians do not appreciate this fact......they try to blackmail the government that there is so much hardship. What we met on ground was a country that was completely run down so that is a consequence, a tactical consequence of years of bad governance and it will take more than two years for this government to solve all these multifarious problems and issues. Why do we have porous borders, is it that our security architecture failed? I will agree to a large extent that it failed completely and that’s why we have Boko Haram and we’ve the evidence that most of the terrorists are not  Nigerians. It is because the security architecture failed, despite the huge sums of money that were budgeted. For instance, one of those people who is on trial now . . . $15 billion was voted and given to him to fight the terrorists, and that money was mismanaged. If the $15 billion was judiciously managed, I’m sure we’ll not have the challenge of people coming into the country to begin to kill our people. So these are some of the consequences of bad governance which will take us a long while to resolve.

Finally, Sani Abacha loot: take a look at this paper (handed over a paper to the interviewee).  Nigeria was not represented in the case and Nigeria has forfeited about $400 million to the United States Government. I will give you the whole court process . . . 

Yes, this case was filed 8 June 2014; we were not in power then . . .

You’re now in power, government is a continuity…. 

It is but when it was filed . . .

Now, I’m bringing this to your notice . . .

Didn’t you hear the President complaining that the Jonathan government bluntly refused to work with the Transitional Committee. The then President bluntly refused, saying there was only one Presidency, that Buhari should wait until he takes over. If there was a proper transition this document would have been part of it, because it’s a very important document …this money is huge. It would have been one of the documents the former president ought to have handed over to President Buhari and say this is an outstanding issue.

Okay, now I’m bringing it to your knowledge. Nigeria has lost that money due to the failure of the Federal Ministry of Justice to enter appearance . . . 

It’s not a blanket statement, is continuity so . . . This is dated 6 August 2014, we were yet to take over. So, you cannot hold us to account.

So you don’t know about this?

Well, I wouldn’t say I knew about it. I’m just hearing from you for the first time. I’m seeing this court order for the first time and I’ve seen that this court order was issued 6 August 2014. We took over governance of this country on 29 May, 2015, we should not be held accountable for everything . . .

For everything . . .

No, no this one. We cannot take responsibility because we were not there.

Okay, moving forward now that this is brought to your attention . . .

I can assure you that we’re a very responsible government and focused administration. If you give me all the documents on this matter, it will be taken up and we’ll get back our money. I can assure you on that.

Source News Express

Posted 14/03/2017 1:50:08 PM


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