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One of the major problems of the current government is nepotism

By Joseph Onyekwere
25 December 2018   |   4:28 am
Babafemi Badejo, Ph.D is a lawyer, political scientist and diplomat.He has had extensive experience in academics at the University of California, Los Angeles and University of Lagos.

Dr. Babafemi Badejo

Babafemi Badejo, Ph.D is a lawyer, political scientist and diplomat.He has had extensive experience in academics at the University of California, Los Angeles and University of Lagos.For 24 years, he served the United Nations in Somalia, Kenya, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and Sudan as Chief of Staff for complex UN peace operations.He also served as Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General at the UN Political Office for Somalia and Head of Political Affairs in many UN Missions.Dr. Badejo is a Senior Adviser to two former Presidents: Olusegun Obasanjo and Nobel Peace Laureate, H.E. José Ramos-Horta of East Timor.He currently consults for the Court of the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain as well as the African Union (AU) and speaks four languages.

Forthright and pungent, Dr. Babafemi Badejo, a renowned lawyer, teacher and diplomat, in this interview, with Assistant Editor, Law and Foreign Affairs, JOSEPH ONYEKWERE , speaks on restructuring, corruption, judiciary, rule of law, Nigeria’s foreign policy and the role of lawyers in tackling corruption.

You believe that lack of respect for rule of law is the root of most conflicts in Africa, how do you rate the Nigerian government on respect for rule of law?
There are a number of cases in which the government appears determined not to respect court decisions. Two of them easily come to mind – Dasuki and El-Zakzaki, anybody’s right that is violated is a slap on all of us. If the government could not support its case before the judiciary to ensure that Dasuki is kept as they seem to want to do, then I don’t think the government should continue to defy the decision of the courts. But that’s not enough to suggest a total absence of rule of law, because it is in degrees. However, there is no doubt that our country, with Boko Haram, disrespect for decisions of the judiciary, the level of corruption, our country is being seen as a failed state. It’s amongst ourselves that we try to drink our beer and forget about what the world is saying. A friend who is very strong on Wall Street called me from the US and said he was perturbed reading in the Financial Times that Nigeria is being described as a failed state. But those are facts that have significant impact on our development prospects. If you are being seen as a failed state, who wants to come and invest? And the people who have stolen your money are also not investing. They are hiding it outside. Read the names in the Panama and Paradise papers and we are not asking questions. I don’t want to say we are all corrupt but it is getting to that stage. What is happening in the society affects all of us. For instance you want to get a licence for N6000. But they put all manner of clogs on your way and you are forced to pay extra to facilitate the process. So we are co-opted into the system and we are not doing enough to fight it.

Do you think that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is fighting graft the right way?
We need a comprehensive effort. Magu has secured some convictions. But there are fundamental cases that Magu has been silent about. Our focus should be holistic, not focus on the lawyers, judges, police. But it was not this bad and it did not start with this government. The degeneration had been on a gradual basis that today, people don’t think twice to take out of national patrimony. And we are hailing them, which is the unfortunate thing. We are no longer calling them thieves as it was before. There are fundamental cases. How did Maina return and even get promoted, and what has happened? Can he not be found to account for what he did? The Attorney-General did not give us the details of his involvement in the saga and whether his boss was involved.  The President has a style, which is to keep quiet and allow things to go on and on and he pretends that he is not listening or hearing. How many allegations about people in the current government are being handled seriously?
How many people in the ruling party have cases against them and they are pushed under the carpet? The President’s wife told us we are no longer men. She said we have all gone docile, and that two people had made all of us irrelevant. And you (the media) are not writing about it by making an analysis on who are the two people. Did we elect them? And more importantly, what can we do to halt the slide towards being a celebrated failed state?

What is your assessment of the electoral umpire, INEC?
I have not paid a lot of attention to the person of the INEC chair. But I don’t think he has the caliber of Attahiru Jega. He is already in office with his commissioners. So, there is little we can do about his appointment. But we can only build viable grassroots efforts to checkmate any attempt to affect the expression of the will of Nigerians. And I don’t want to go into this question of the will of Nigerians, because I used to say that you need to think about how you have come to think what you think you think. For most, it’s about what they will get, or about ethnic relationships and where their group would go.

As a seasoned diplomat, what will you say is the thrust of Nigeria’s foreign policy today?
I would say that I am as disappointed in our foreign policy as I am disappointed in much about Nigeria. We were taken seriously on this continent at a time.  In my youth, we stood up for many things to make sure that Africa does not go down. But now we are a laughing stock in the large part because of several factors. We used to have a very strong Nigerian peacekeeping capacity. And we were respected at the international level. But the reality today is like we once had an army. Their performance outside has been radically affected by the corruption at home. You send them out there, you sit on their allowances paid for by the UN; you sit on the facilities UN had paid the country for. You are supposed to have a composite battalion that has its feeding arrangements taken care of, that has its utensils and everything, but you embezzle the money and they would go and be cutting trees to make their fire, again destroying the image of the country with respect to the environment.  I saw that in Liberia. David Mark visited as Senate President. We told him about some of that. But what happened? When you look at several indices of power, we deceive ourselves when we still continue to say that we are the giant of Africa. Imagine the brains that went into our foreign policy in the past, but today you find one or two persons sitting in their cabal and deciding our foreign policy without looking at several factors. We fill positions on the basis of nepotism and they fail at the international level. We have candidates that we could put forward and that the rest of the world will say: ‘This is formidable.’ But what have we been doing?

Now that you mentioned our military, do you also agree with Amnesty International that there is prevalence of rights violation by soldiers in this country?
If the country is doing right, it should allow independent experts to investigate the claims, not necessarily Amnesty because in my experience in Sudan, there was a particular case in which Amnesty made fabrications that were far from the truth. So, I cannot make a blanket endorsement of what Amnesty is saying. But the government can work with the UN office for human rights, throw its doors open and allow an interaction to ascertain the truth. If there are errors, which can happen in wars, accept them, apologise for them, compensate for them, and put in place measures to stop them.

What is your position on calls for restructuring
The issue of restructuring is being talked about in a way that is a little bit unclear as to what people mean. It means different things to different people. Perhaps the clearest articulation might have been by Chief Olu Falae who was more or less saying: ‘Return us back to the Republican Constitution’. The problem is whether we can go back that easily. It involves a lot of discussions as to constitutional changes that are necessary. But it’s possible to have fiscal federalism in which, like in many federations, a number of responsibilities are given to the states. I also think that restructuring may not really be the main problem facing the country. None of the 36 states and the centre is corruption free. The main thing to focus on is corruption. If you can show a state amongst the 36 that is corruption free, then I can say, maybe, if you have more resources in the hands of the states, the lot of the people would be by far better.

Do you agree with calls to revert to regional governments with autonomous constitutions to make the centre less attractive?
It’s reasonable to consider every argument that is put on the table. We had four regions before the military intervened. Now, the complexities of the country resulted in 12 states, now 36. So, if we’re going back to the regions, it should be provided that we’re not going to be talking about states under the geo-political zones. We’re not thinking about the problem of rulership in this country. In many other countries, people are much more focused on governance and what they get out of it. We need to consider what it will cost to maintain a geo-political region and states under it. You are going to have increased cost of governance by creating four levels of government – central, regional, state and local government. It’s too much. I think that our focus should be on how to minimise the cost of governance and ensure that the money that is distributed is appropriately spent. Yes, you can use fiscal federalism to reduce what is in the hands of the Federal Government and its responsibilities provided a set of potentates are not stealing the increase at other levels. There is no doubt military rule resulted in a situation where we became more centrist. But we need to address the question of quality of leadership and corruption before talking of going back to what we had before.

Should there be a return to a parliamentary system of government?
That is a good question that you have posed. But for me, the issue is not about whether it is parliamentary or presidential or monarchical, because we have gone through a number of them. The same problems have been identified with them. We have a situation in which we see people who see governance as their birthright – to receive from the people and not give service to them. Whether we go back to a parliamentary system of government or retain the presidential system, it is the overall leadership arrangement that we need to change. The successes that we had under the regional governments were situational. Sometimes I ask myself: If you wake Awolowo up and ask him to take charge of Nigeria today, he probably would run away and say we are beyond redemption. People talk as if we can just reverse all the decadence that we’ve gone through in one day through restructuring or a new system of governance.

How pervasive is corruption and how can it be tackled?
Corruption is a big issue. If you were to ask me the main problem that we face in Nigeria, I will say corruption, even though I could be forced to consider leadership. But you cannot talk about one without looking at the other. The tendency is to focus on the government. But we also have to look at what happens within the so-called private sector. When a private entity is going to the bank for a loan, and the bank manager is taking a portion of that loan, before the citizen gets the facility, which is corruption. We regularly oil the wheels for services in the private sector. Importantly for me is the addition of the social sector to our focus on corruption. Many religious institutions are worse than the government when it comes to corruption.

They intimidate the poor and justify taking the little they have and encourage thieves by taking from them in exchange for prayers to free them from the sense of guilt and fear of punishment of entire family that made people avoid corruption and theft in the past. I can point to many aspects of our lives that are full of corruption. There is also the problem of nepotism, which our constitution encourages through the haphazard implementation of federal character. Perhaps one of the major problems of the current government is nepotism.  To fight corruption is more than a focus on what the anti-graft agencies do. It should be fought at a holistic level and should go beyond punishment. The punitive measure is necessary but we see that it has not worked because nobody is scared. The corrupt can also settle with those with state authority to carry out the punishment. So what do we do? We need a total change of orientation. I’m not going to suggest that we go to the level of the Chinese who have been serious about fighting corruption. All they need is just a bullet aimed at the right place so as not to destroy vital organs that can be harvested and given to needy people in the society. The problem is that we are becoming more and more accepting and living with corruption and not wanting to do anything about it. So it’s a societal, cultural thing. It is beyond a focus on one man as President.

The present administration put in place a national strategy against corruption. I have confidence in Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, Executive Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, who was to be the chairman of ICPC. But what can that Presidential Advisory Committee achieve when they obviously have little or no power?  The problem is always implementation. Part of the holistic approach is the socialisation of people daily against corruption. When I was a kid, if your father was accused of being a thief, everybody turned against you. Nobody wanted to marry into your family. They would sing about your name. Today, as Fela said, we no longer call a thief a thief. We say he’s a money launderer. It doesn’t give the image of a thief. If we start shouting ‘ole’, ‘barawo’ at many of them, their children will ask them questions. When this government came to power, the President said he was not going to have in his administration anybody that is corrupt. But the money that enabled him to be president came from corrupt people. He knows it himself. We were carried away when he said ‘I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody’. But all the people who had cases at EFCC became his ministers and he smartly told us they have not been convicted. Please look at the number of people the ruling party, with the endorsement of government, has received, with unexplained wealth, just because they decided to join the ruling party from the opposition.

What role should lawyers play in defending alleged corrupt individuals?
A lawyer must be allowed to defend who he wants to defend. Rule of law means you must allow someone to be able to defend himself even when it is clear that he is a very corrupt person. But can’t the state have the best lawyers? It is obvious that there is a problem with prosecution. EFCC has secured some convictions, but how many big cases have been concluded in court?

Is it right to investigate the source of lawyers professional fees
There are many things that we need to streamline. Many of our governors feel they can spend whatever has been allocated to them as they wish. We do not implement whatever rules we have. We shut our eyes. We should blame the system that allows a governor to pay a lawyer with state resources for a private matter. Rather than focus on lawyers, we should focus on our society. A lot is wrong about it. If we raise the bar on what is propriety and integrity, which is the most important thing for leadership, even the lawyers would not want to be seen with such persons.

What are the most profound insights or lessons you have learnt in your peacekeeping engagements with the UN in Africa concerning conflict and peace?
I should point out that a lot of effort has gone into handling conflicts in Africa. When I joined the United Nations, there were so many conflicts on the continent. That was when Sierra Leone was raging; Liberia was raging, Cote D’Ivoire joined, as well as Somalia, Mozambique and others. But there is reasonable reduction. There are a number of efforts in trying to ensure that causes and drivers of conflict are understood and addressed. Everybody understands the importance of rule of law as being very crucial in reducing conflict. We have also gotten to know that conflict is also a developmental problem. When there is inequality in the distribution of wealth, people are more likely to engage in conflicts. The process of negotiations has resulted in building the capacity of nation states and regional organisations, such as ECOWAS, which added protocols to address governance issues in their operations. So these efforts have helped.

There is this perception that the target of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has always been African leaders. For instance, America has refused to subject itself to the jurisdiction of the ICC. Is that not enough justification for the claims?
The reality of world politics is that America is able to say: ‘That is for the rest of you,’ because of the level of power that they have, and the lack of similar power that we have. That is the reality of the arrangement of the world today. Russia and US can get away with it. Britain and France can hang on to the US. China can get away with it. They can go into alliance with Russia. As Fela said, there is nothing united about United Nations. But we have to do our own soul-searching and admit that many of the people carrying out atrocities against their people are Africans.  Whether you talk about the guys who were being fingered in Central African Republic or Yaya Jammeh of The Gambia and what have you. Some of the other continents have shown that they can deal with their internal conflicts by people resigning. But in own situation, they don’t resign but they fight to the last. If you recall, there are people who were brought to account at the ICC following the breakup of Yugoslavia.  So, I would say that the cases that are throwing themselves up are those from Africa and few from Europe. We have not had similar situations of late in Latin America or in Asia. Of course, every country has the right to decide which of the treaties it is going to ratify. So if under pressure you ratify a treaty and the country, which pressurized you, declines to ratify, that is your problem.  
Do you think the Federal Government has adequately responded to the various allegations of human rights abuses against the military?
I would answer this question with a different focus: that of the constitutional and treaty obligations of the Federal Government of Nigeria to protect the lives, property and well being of all Nigerians. The President sought office to ensure the respect of the fundamental rights of all Nigerians. The buck stops on the table of President Muhammadu Buhari. Has he creditably discharged this duty? My answer is that he has not done enough, especially in the North Central geo-political zone. Farmers and herders have been having eternal fights over land, water and pastures. It is for the President, in representing the will of all, to devise means of ensuring that such conflicts are minimized. We do not need Amnesty International to tell us that our government has not done enough. I visited the graveside of the people massacred on the outskirts of Makurdi at the very beginning of this year.

As Amnesty International rightly pointed out in its report: “Harvest of Death”, many Nigerians have unnecessarily lost their lives with a weak Federal Government doing very little to halt the worsening of an age-long  problem under its watch. Whether the weapons and those carrying them are Nigerians or not are unnecessary excuses. The protection of the lives, property and well being of all Nigerians or put another way, the upholding of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians is non-negotiable. The Nigerian military is a mere instrument in the hands of President Buhari to carry out his responsibility. So, I would rather focus on having the President carry out his responsibilities rather than waste time on the military who are still behaving as if we were under military rule. It is not for the military to express desire to close offices of inter-governmental bodies or international civil society organisations. These are serious issues that require deep deliberations and decisions taken by the President or Ministers to whom he has delegated authorities.

Having said that, I will like to repeat that Amnesty International is not necessarily always impartial in spite of the laudable vision of its founding fathers. Even UN officials, a few times, do stray away from the goals they are imbued with. Nonetheless, the Federal Government of Nigeria should be above board in explicitly allowing an examination of the extent to which it is faithfully upholding the fundamental human rights of Nigerians.

You had previously written about Bahrain, what’s your role with the Arabian Kingdom?
You are right. I shared my experience when I accompanied H.E. José Ramos-Horta, former President of East Timor and Nobel Peace Laureate as his Senior Adviser at a meeting of Nobel Laureates from September 9-13, 2018. I subsequently served as an Adviser to the Kingdom of Bahrain at the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations. The Kingdom of Bahrain had successfully used the opportunities of the General Assembly to carry out a highly successful event: the Bahrain Vision Forum. This dialogue had been worked on by the Court of the Prime Minister of Bahrain and Jonathan Grannof, President of the Global Security Institute. 

I joined the event with Prof. Anna Tibaijuka of Tanzania as Advisers from Africa towards the end of the planning. This decision widened the attendance of the forum by principal Africans. Prof Tibaijuka and I also made interventions at the gathering, which attracted many Foreign Ministers and Chaired by Nigeria’s Amina Mohammed, the UN Deputy Secretary-General. This event showcased two things: The President of the Court of the Prime Minister of Bahrain, Sheikh Hussam Isa Al Khalifa, announced the award of the fourth Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa Sustainable Development Award to no other personality than the immediate past UN Secretary-General H.E. Ban Ki-moon.

He has since been presented the award in Manama, last month. This announcement at the United Nations, was a boost on the efforts of the Prime Minister of Bahrain, Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa on sustainable development and peace in his country and the world. Two awards had earlier been given to two organisations to foster peace and development in Burkina Faso and Brazil. The third was to Prof. Anna Tibaijuka. Secondly, as I earlier noted, we also held the first Bahrain Vision Forum at the event. My hope is that this forum that represents the power of a small state at the world level will grow into the diplomatic equivalent of Davos on economic dialogue in the world.

I would say that I am as disappointed in our foreign policy as I am disappointed in much about Nigeria. We were taken serious on this continent at a time.  In my youth, we stood up for many things to make show that Africa does not go down. But now we are a laughing stock in the large part because of several factors
There is also the problem of nepotism, which our constitution encourages through the haphazard implementation of federal character. Perhaps one of the major problems of the current government is nepotism

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