‘It is not the job of President Buhari to announce names of looters’
Erstwhile Head of the Nigerian Chapter of Transparency International, Major General Ishola Williams (rtd), is presently on the faculty of the Pan African Strategic and Policy Research Group, a forum he is using to espouse issues that generate conflict in Africa among other development issues. He spoke to DEBO OLADIMEJI AND TOPE MAKINDE on corruption and how APC-led government can tackle the menace, among other topical issues.
What is your assessment of the anti-graft policy of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
What I have seen is that the attention of Gen Muhammadu Buhari administration (rtd) has been focused on recovering what had been taken by politicians, civil servants anybody, the private sector, illicitly through one fraudulent means or the other.
Secondly, because he knows that most Nigerians after stealing money, they try and put it abroad. Therefore, to be able to recover most of the money, he has to find a way of getting the backing of the international community especially, the powerful countries like United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) to help trace these monies to be able to repatriate them back to Nigeria.
Especially now that we are very broke, we are looking for money for various developmental activities. The third thing that is important here is that he has come in at the very opportune time. Especially, with the United Nations Convention on Anti- Corruption (UNCAC), this is a universal convention accepted by most countries of the world in order to deal with corruption. One of the important ways is about tracing and recovering and repatriation of all monies and assets that have been sent to any particular country from one country or the other. Following some certain regulations and conditions. So most countries too have got national legislations to work along with that of UNCAC.
Also, most of the regions including Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to which we belonged and also African Union, they have also got conventions too inline with the UNCAC. So he has come in within that particular framework and within the political will which is very important, which has been missing in Nigeria, to be able to use this framework to recover all the assets, all the monies that have been taken out of Nigeria either through money laundering or business transactions that are illicit but over prizing of contracts sums and amounts. But what is important to us, apart from all these related international activities is that for the first time, we have a President who has made up his mind to be above the political and financial deals that Presidents get involved in Nigeria and therefore allowed for immune impunity. It means he doesn’t want to interfere with Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or with the any other body that is connected with anti-corruption activities in Nigeria.
The case of declaration of assets and things like that go before the Code of Tribunal.
So in assessing what Buhari has done in my own opinion is that on the part of humility and on the part of recovering of money that has been looted as we called it in Nigeria and sent abroad, he has a very big pass mark.
However, we need to do our very homework in internally, we have not dealt with the systematic problems that makes corruption endemic in Nigeria. Because if we have a direct experience with corruption from either getting a visa or from getting a passport or from even doing MoT on your car or even getting a driver’s license, you have to see one person who is cantankerous to what to get something from you for doing his or her job. This is the point.
Then he can’t do anything without three key sectors: One, the private sector, two, the civil service and related to that the whole of the public sector.
Which means politicians holding political positions are working with the civil servants because there is no way a minister can steal without the Perm Secretary for he is not the account holder. A minister does not sign any cheque. The Permanent Secretary signs the cheque. So the minister only approves. If the Permanent Secretary says there is no money and I am not going to sign the cheque, the minister cannot steal.
So you see the relationship between the political position holder and the civil service holder of that particular position. Don’t talk about the police because we already know about them or some of our security agencies. But the sector that is very key is that and in the anti-corruption summit in London they were specifically mentioned, lawyers, accountants and journalists.
Those three key people are very important and to a larger extent other professionals. Lawyers as number one, they are in the bar prosecuting and defending. They are on the bench, they make the judgment. So between the bar and the bench anything can happen. We have seen cases of judges been bribed and how they work with Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN). Then the journalist can tell you that a crocodile looks like a lizard.
The President cannot do it alone, because if he doesn’t carry the public and the institutions along if anything happens today, most of the things that have been done against corruption will stop.
The President and the Vice President must find a way of institutionalizing some of these activities that are being carried. So in terms of assessment, internally we still have a lot of work to do, and in other for us to benefit from all his international efforts, something has got to be done internally because if we don’t cover up the gaps in which people used to take money abroad, in the business deals that they do to be able to get the money and take abroad then we have a big problem. That is basically my assessment of the policy both the external and the internal factors, that are very important to be able to deal with the issue of corrupt practices in Nigeria.
In what way is the present government anti-corruption crusade different from that of its predecessors?
To me you cannot compare President Buhari with any of his predecessors since 1999. It is not like former President Olusegun Obasanjo says Buhari is a saint, he too has some baggage and he is also showing some limitations. Halliburton something is there. I read in one of the journals, in which some of the Abacha loots, one of the governors of one of the northern states was said to be involved to a certain amount of money. It was discovered in United States that he has some of the authorizing signatures for the money to be released, but he has refused to do so and according to the United States they are waiting for the President to tell this governor to take necessary actions so that the money can be released. We also have some of this limitations and he has to overcome them. He cannot dodge them.
We also have some ministers who have been indicted in their states through board of inquiries or we have read in the newspapers about what they did when they were governors and then nothing has happened to them and they are ministers.
These are some of the limitations. The final point is that there has always been a strategy of fighting corruption in Nigeria since the time of Obasanjo. We have never been able to implement those strategies. I am told that now they are reviewing that strategy. When the strategy is going to come out I don’t know and how we are going to make sure we implement it successfully. I don’t know. But like we always do in Nigeria, when a new government comes in we forget about all the reports and papers and activities of the past government. Even though they are good they want to start their own. And in starting their own it is because they are certain individuals who are going to benefit from the money they are going to use in starting the new ones. Instead of continuing with the old ones, saving cost and using the people who have been running the old ones very effectively.
What is your view on the government’s handling of the herdsmen’s menace, Boko Haram, Biafra and other uprisings?
If you look at the number of security agencies in Nigeria you will be surprised. But there is no synergy. For every aspect: drugs, human trafficking and so on and so forth. No synergy, we have coordinating policies, different mandate but how do you help each other? One of the important ways of helping each other is intelligence. Getting information about something that is suspicious and passing it to a particular agency that is supposed to deal with the problem. In most cases it doesn’t happen. How can a group of human beings be moving about with not one, but 10 people or more with guns following cattle all over the country and nobody seems to do anything until they attacked some people and killed them.
It has been happening for many months. Again it is not something new. It has been happening before Buhari came in. It happened when Buhari was Chairman of Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) and he gave money for this particular problem. What happened to all the reports?
One very good one was in Yobe State. One place they called Alikali. I know the place because I went there for two weeks for a project. The EU gave money 50 per cent, government brought 50 per cent for a five-year programme. What did they do? What they said is that not all the Fulani move about with cattle. There are some settled Fulani and there are some nomadic Fulanis. What that project did was this: They looked for crops, plants that both cattle and human beings can eat, like Alfafa. They told them how to grow this Alfafa and how to build water holes and they did experiment in Yobe and Borno, so what happened is that these plants can grow during the dry season, because when it is dry season there is a problem.
We don’t have enough plants to grow for the cattle to feed on in dry season. So they have to keep moving round. These plants can be cultivated all year around and they have built the water well for them all over the place. They are still there.
That was why they started the Nomadic Education Commission. The problems have solutions from the past. But like I said, when a new government comes in, they think that they have brought in some wonderful ideas. They don’t want to look at the past efforts that have been made, why they failed and why they should be brought back. Now they are talking about gracing reserves. Are you telling me that all those cattle they have no owners?
It is cheap for me if I am a cattle owner to hire Fulani people to drive the cattle. One, I don’t need to buy a piece of land and put up a ranch. Two, I don’t need to pay for their food. It is very cheap.
Out of all the debate that is going on, nobody has mentioned the cattle owners. Who hired these cattle Fulani to be carrying these cattle all over the place? Those ones are hiding behind and you are saying you are passing grazing bills! And those cattle owners will just be smiling because somebody is spending money on their behalf. Why did the President himself establish a ranch in Katsina?
There have been laws for grazing routes since the colonial days. It is not working and it will not work. People know that these Fulani people can settle down. Those of them that go to school they stopped driving cattle with the nomadic education. In other parts of Africa they are talking of cattle rustling not herdsmen destroying peoples’ farm.
What is your take on the President’s plan to announce the names of those who looted the treasury?
They should be punished. If you just collect the money, the next set of people will just say they can just collect the money and go free. Who told you that they will give out all the money they stole? We have passed a stage where if you come from one area in Nigeria and they announced your name for being a thief or you have done something bad on the radio or television as long as you have built one big house or you have given scholarship to the people in your area, they will say na good man he chop from Federal he come give us something here.
It is just a waste of time for Buhari to be announcing on May 29 that some people stole this amount and returned them when there are more serious issues. It is not the job of a President to do that. EFCC, Ministry of Finance and Information can do that.
There are some serious issues. One of the things I thought he was going to say on May 29 is to congratulate Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano that has never asked for any bailout and is paying the salaries of workers and still doing some development works.
Is it true that corruption is fighting back?
All these corruption fighting back talk is all nonsense. If I am used to a way of life and that life is easy for me and you want to disturb that way of life, I will fight back. But we need to ask ourselves what is the percentage of people that are corrupt in Nigeria? Again, we are not dealing with the issue as we should deal with it.
And this issue involved clerics especially in the religious groups, who live fat on corrupt money donated by corrupt people to the churches and mosques. If a pastor rides a private jet, what business does he do? So you find many young people now they go and become pastors and clerics, and then in the next few years they become a different person.
Government has removed the fuel subsidy and pegged the price of fuel at N145 per litre. Is this action justifiable?
The government should not peg anything. Let the market determine the price to a certain extent. But the government should have some certain regulations, because in order countries they don’t peg, therefore you can move from one filling station to the other and you see different prices.
Now that they sell petrol at N145, even if the thing was not going to cost N145, the petrol station will just put it at N145. Secondly, government needs to do their calculation. What it will cost the private sector to operate in the sector. That is why the regulatory body is very important.
Take power supply for example, the metre manufacturers say that they have enough meters in their stores. That is what they told Minister of Power Works and Housing, Mr Raji Fashola, since about two years now, I have been asking for metres for this building they can’t find metres for us. So those metres that are lying in those stores what are they using them for?
Every month they tell us to pay some estimated amount of money, apart from running our generators.
What do you think that the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) should agitate for?
The labour leaders are not sure about what they want. Every labour leader is a rich man. They are not poor. I don’t think they are fighting for the people. They don’t understand what they are doing. In other places they study policies to influence government and decision-making.
All of them will like to end up like a governor of a state.
If I can send my children to public school and I do not pay any fees, if I can get a government housing in which I am paying N500 a month, what is my problem? That is the way we deal with welfare issue it is not putting money in peoples’ pocket.
People always wonder why we don’t have problems in countries like India with their large population. If you are a poor person the government gives you a ration card. There are special shops like all these grocery shops. You go and present your card every month they give you a certain quantity of food to feed your family for the whole month.
Would you agree with Prime Minister of Britain, David Cameron that Nigeria and Afghanistan are fantastically corrupt countries?
There is no much argument about it. I very much like the action of Gen. Buhari to that one. He said that he came to London to recover the money and the assets that have been taken away from his country, which we need very badly for our development.
It is true that Buhari government’s anti-graft fight is one-sided and a mere witch-hunt of political enemies?
Many people have said that… Recently again I was reading in the newspaper that he has asked EFCC to probe Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State on the diversion of some money.
So what has been happening is that he has concentrated his attention on impunity for those who have been transferring our money abroad. But internally there are still a lot of work to be done. Along that line there are some members of his cabinet who should not be part of a cabinet of integrity and since they have no shame they have not on their own refused to be part of that cabinet.
What would you like President Buhari to do different from now till the end of his tenure?
I am happy that you use the word differently because everybody has been talking about change. Change happens everyday in any government. To make progress we need to make some changes but we need to do things differently. I think one of the things that is very important to me is that there should be a sort of system within government for people who have ideas to make suggestions.
How would you access APC as a ruling political party in the last one year?
We got to be very realistic, nobody voted for All Progressive Congress (APC). We voted for Muhammadu Buhari. APC was not prepared for power. You can see what is happening too. People are not talking of APC they are talking of Buhari.
We haven’t got political party in Nigeria yet. What we have are chop and chop politicians. We need a new generation of Nigerians who are incorruptible and competent to start a new political party in Nigeria.
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