Former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC), Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, in this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE dissects some national issues including governance, current probe of the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC), the antigraft war and sundry matters
Recently, President Buhari chided service chiefs over insecurity, but chose to retain them in office, despite acknowledging that their performance makes a mockery of his campaign promises in 2015. How do you see this?
If you can make sense of it, you tell me. These Service Chiefs (with the exception of the Inspector-General of Police) have been in office for over five years. During that period, they have presided over the growth of the footprint or political geography of our deadly violence from the one geo-political zone in the North (North-East) to all three geo-political zones in the north.
They have destroyed the succession chain in the armed forces and demoralised our forces. The Commander-in-Chief clearly is not concerned about this. I don’t know what it means to chide Service Chiefs. Do you? How does that exact accountability of begin to redress the abject failures under their command? Every person in Nigeria has said they are no longer fit for purpose.
The only person who sees them as fit for purpose is the Commander-In-Chief. I wish I could say they all deserve one another but the reality is it’s ordinary Nigerians that suffer from their dereliction and incompetence.
What are the dangers associated with this, especially in the face of disturbing cases of banditry, herdsmen and Boko Haram attacks in recent times?
The situation is what it is and it is abject. Every Nigerian sees and feels it. The failure of these Service Chiefs and the consequences of those failures are two things on which Nigerians on all sides of our legendary divides all agree.
The Chief or Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai said if Nigerians want the banditry and terrorist’s attacks to stop; it would. Does this not amount to buck passing?
The one thing Nigerians want is to see the back of him. He can be sensible about it and just resign his command. That’s easy. That way, Nigerians can at least say we have got one thing that we all desired from this government. No?
How would you react to the recent disclosures in the probe of NDDC that most of the contracts of the commission were awarded to lawmakers?
Where do you want me to begin? What do you mean by how do I react?
I don’t want to respond to episodes. What I know is that since 2015 when this regime came in, we have had five Managing Directors of the NDDC and as many boards under various guises and names. Indeed, in the last year, we have had three MDs.
There is a suggestion now that we may get another one called a sole administrator. Nigerians have already passed a popular verdict – we now call it Na Dem Dem Commission in popular lore.
The sum total of everything is the NDDC is now part of the problem and not part of the solution of the Niger Delta. I could go on to tell you the deeper story of how this rot set in but that is a story for another day. Let the people in power do their work.
How, in your opinion, can we clean the Augean stable?
How many Augean stables do you want cleaned, please?
There is only one way to clean any of these stables – run a government in which there are consequences for malfeasance. That doesn’t happen under General Muhammadu Buhari. It is a government of anything goes. And this is happening under the President whose body language, we were promised, could boil and egg and deliver a pregnant woman of her baby. The level of disorganisation and strife and directionlessness in the regime in mind-destroying.
How do you see the manner the Minster of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio has exercised his supervisory role over the NDDC?
Sorry, my grand-mother told me that when you don’t have a kind word to say of a person you know, you keep quiet. Senator Akpabio was my class-mate in the Nigerian Law School (and our children were also classmates). All I can say is that a lot of the things I hear him say these days and for long (to be sure) are not things they taught us in the classes he and I attended together.
What is your impression about the disclosure that 60 per cent of the projects centres around health, thus justifying the appointment of a medical doctor, Dr. Cairo Ojougboh as Director of Projects as against an engineer as the NDDC Act reportedly stipulates?
Well, two days after the Minister made that claim, he is said to have retracted it, right? He now says that he was misquoted or mis-understood. What do I know? Three things are clear: The Minister said it, the chairman tried to stop him with “it’s ok!” and then wanted them to “off the mic.”
The people have already drawn their conclusions. They don’t need me for that. About Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, someone was asking me the other day what Cairo as a medical doctor is doing in NDDC rather than helping us sort out Coronavirus?
I explained to the person that you see, someone may mistakenly swallow a lot of money in the NDDC and begin to choke on it and you may need Cairo’s skills as a lawyer to save the person from choking on stolen money!
In this entirety, how do you assess the performance of NDDC since the days of OMPADEC to date?
Why does anyone need me to assess the performance of NDDC from OMPADEC? Go to the Niger Delta and determine for yourself.
How do you see the nocturnal attempt to arrest former MD of the Commission, Ms. Joi Nunieh?
I have known Joi for a long time from our days in the trenches. She is a fighter and doesn’t suffer fools gladly whether they are common-sense ministers or anything.
So, I am not surprised that she slapped a higher-up on a mis-guided misadventure. That is the Joi I know. I am surprised that the people who gave the order to have her abducted and the police officers who ran an operation at her home that only armed robbers could have run have not yet been brought to book. I hope they will.
But this is the kind of madness that this current Buhari dispensation has set upon the country. Nothing is too sacrosanct for them to destroy and no amount of impunity is too egregious for them to perpetrate.
Still talking about corruption, what is your view on the current probe of the Acting EFCC Chairman and do you think the agency is adequately positioned to win the war on corruption?
I don’t have the full facts. I am happy to wait for the report of the Justice Ayo Salami panel. My grouse is not with symptom but with cause. What do I mean? Mr. Magu was sent up to the Senate twice for confirmation as required by law. Twice he was rejected.
They tried to by-pass the Senate rejection by appointing him in an acting capacity to a position that required Senate consent. Then they kept him acting in that position for much longer than the statutorily prescribed tenure for a person who had been appointed substantively as required by law.
What that meant was that he was given an incentive for lack of independence and for unlawful enterprise. I am I therefore surprised at the allegations that are now dogging him, absolutely not.
The incentives he was given through the walk-around they created to keep him in office were utterly perverse. He has sadly been consumed by those perverse incentives and the outbreak of bureaucratic fisticuffs over them.
You once said that EFCC is notorious for filing phantasmagoric cases against accused persons, what do you think should be done to the Commission Head of Legal Department, who is now placed on suspension?
I am not going to teach the experts their jobs. They know what to do. You mean the EFCC and its leaders and personnel don’t know that media trial is a bad thing?
If they didn’t know what did Mr. Magu complain when he started suffering it while in detention? They all know what to do. I don’t waste my time telling people what they know. Sorry.
How do you think Nigeria’s anti-graft war should be carried out in order to guarantee accountability and national development?
There is no anti-graft war, please. When there is one, come back and ask me what should be carried out in order to guarantee accountability and national development. Thank you!
Do you think the current legal and criminal justice systems are adequately positioned to ensure the war on corruption is won?
You are asking me to write a Ph.D. dissertation in a newspaper interview. How do you want me to do that? You have a heady mix of issues. One, lack of political commitment and leadership is the biggest obstacle.
Two, you have a complex of overlapping and confusing claims of institutional responsibility and turf-wars that undermine everything. The Federal Ministry of Justice; ICPC; EFCC all claim remits. The Police do too.
Then you remember the EFCC went to beat up judges in 2016 in their houses claiming they were corrupt, right? So, when we began looking for the recovered loot, no one could account for them because everyone was recovering and relooting.
There was the Presidential Asset Recovery Panel of my good friend, Okoi Obono-Obla, for instance. It was also an anti-corruption agency. But Okoi was himself also accused of re-looting, stealing, and retaining Marabous to help him stay in his position.
So, to know how well positioned this thing is, look at it this way: The Chairman of the Presidential Asset Recovery Panel is himself on bail, facing investigations on serious allegations of re-looting the loot. The Acting Chairman of EFCC is on bail, himself facing serious allegations of re-looting the loot. When you have goats guarding the barn, you cannot be asking questions about the adequacy of the yam, can you?
Sometimes lawyers reportedly frustrate the intent of the law by exploiting technicalities to get their clients of the hook even. What role do you think judges can play to reverse this trend?
You don’t want me to start on lawyers and the NBA and the legal profession. Please let’s leave that now. If you want us to cover that, it’ll have to be in another interview
Where do you want me to start?
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has been taken over by a bank and its elections are rigged to order. The bank is the sole banker of the NBA which is a multi-billionaire customer. The President of the NBA is a director of the bank. The election that installed him as NBA President was rigged in 2018, brazenly.
The EFCC has just filed charges against the people accused of rigging it. The NBA president is himself facing serious criminal charges connected with financial crime. So, how can such an association have anything sensible or credible to say or do about corruption?
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the decay in our health sector. Don’t you think a state of emergency should be declared in the sector, especially following the funds currently available to PTF and CBN’s release of N20billion for medical research?
No one runs a country by declaring emergency over everything. Nigeria doesn’t have one pandemic. Everything in Nigeria is a pandemic. Look, in June alone, atrocity violence in Nigeria killed more than COVID-19 has been said officially to have killed since the first fatality from the disease. Between April and June, the same period coinciding with COVID-19 intensity in Nigeria, atrocity violence killed about 2,732 people.
Look, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to under-estimate the impact of the virus. But I think we need to get things in perspective – the Mass massacre taking place in Southern Kaduna has killed and displaced more people than COVID-19.
But no one is reporting about it and the government is surely not interested in it because the wrong people are being killed. No?