28 July, 2008


'Yar'Adua should declare emergency on corruption, not power'

Published: Monday, 28 Jul 2008

Nigeria's image seemed to have improved with former President Olusegun Obasanjo's claim to fight corruption during his administration. Do you think with all the revelations now, the country's image outside would not have worsened?

click to expand imageGen. Ishola Williams, TI boss

The corruption drive that started during the era of former President Olusegun Obasanjo gained some momentum. It showed that we were ready to expose to the world, some of our corrupt practices. We can call that washing our dirty linen in the open. But this is something that is necessary in order to be able to minimise corruption in our country. At least, that is good for our image. On the negative side, what is important is this: It is not the probe as such; but whether those who are found to have committed what I will call crime against poor Nigerians by taking out contracts, collecting money and not doing anything; that is what I call crime against poor Nigerians and therefore, they should be like crimes against humanity. Because it is a very serious problem, it is a very serious issue. If they are not punished, that is very bad. Secondly too, not only should they be punished, but they should have all their assets forfeited and I want to see a situation in which like the election tribunal, that will judge their cases within three months and there should be a situation in which once it has been proven from the probe and the National Assembly members have visited the sites (contracts) and there is nothing on those sites, then it is assumed that those people are guilty. So it is left for them now to prove to the world that they are not guilty, and if they cannot, all their assets should be seized and they should send them to jail for forty years, minimum. That is what the world is looking for now. If they can do that, I am assuring you that our image will skyrocket. We do not even need to publicise ourselves on CNN. But at the very moment, we are not the envy of any investor that comes to Nigeria. Any investor that comes to the country is investing in corruption, which is the way I can describe the present situation.

What was the involvement of TI in Obasanjo's battle against corruption?

To a certain extent, it is not the business of TI to help Nigeria to fight against corruption. There are 51 nations that are members of TI; it has no capacity to stop corruption in any of those countries. It is our own responsibility as TI in Nigeria because we understand the conditions better. The issue is that it is not only TI, it has to be the will of Nigerians to take the matter up, accountants, judges- must have the will to be able to do what they are expected to do. Just like the case of Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, the press will not allow us to rest, every single day it was Ribadu, Ribadu. How did the gentleman get N40-60m to buy house in Abuja? And the man said his father-in-law got a loan from the bank for him. So if he were caught in that kind of situation, what about his subordinates, and right now Mrs. Farida Waziri got there and she is saying, I am not going to probe him, it is all because they are policemen and women. As long as we continue to have policemen and women investigating corruption in our country, then we are wasting our time.

What is Nigeria's rating in TI at the moment?

The point is that we have just moved on to the stage. We are making effort, we are exposing all the cases of corruption and this had never happened before and if we want to move up that stage, we should be seen to be punishing all those who have been found to be wanting by the court. Secondly there are so many numbers of people who have stolen money and are sitting down in the Senate. Even from the leadership of the Senate to members of the House of Assembly who are alleged to have gone to Port Harcourt to collect N200m, the hunters are now being hunted. The issue is very straight forward, punish those who have been found wanting. All those former governors and the rest of them who are running around the place and they are giving them back their passport, and now we have a very serious situation today in the country. Most of those governors who have stolen public money are establishing newspapers, buying big shares in television houses, they want to control the media, and that is dangerous. If they do that, journalists cannot do their job because they will be looking down their back, if not they would not get paid. In any case, how many journalists get paid? So, if you look at all these things, the average policeman collects N20, and you see that the Inspector-Generals, one after the other, they are so corrupt. One of them was even buying the official quarters of his position. So, you see, it is the system that is so rotten. We are talking about '2020', how can you talk about building a skyscraper when you have not put in the foundation. It will collapse. Therefore, what the President should do is to declare a state of emergency against corruption, not on power. Electricity is not a big deal; it is just the supply of electricity. Lagos State wanted to do it, it was the Federal Government that stopped them. If not, everybody would have been having electricity in Lagos. Power is not our problem, what our problem is, is corruption. Until Yar'Adua does that, we would know that he is a very serious person. After all, who is supplying water to all the states? Are they not supplying their own water? So let electricity, just like water, be handled by individual states.

Who would you blame for some of the amazing discoveries over contracts awards in the various institutions?

The whole thing is that; let us assume that the system is so bad that even if they put you there, it is like putting honey on the tip of your tongue. Would you swallow it or spit it out? So in most cases, they will swallow the honey. When ministers, permanent secretaries get there, they meet our contract system that is bad. What we need to do is this; no ministry should be allowed to award contracts. We should have government procurement agency. During the time of the British, there used to be what they called the 'crown agent.' The tasks were given to them (crown agent) and they in turn will order what you want for you; from pencil to paper to everything that you want in your ministry. That was the only contract point of the government. That allows us now to be able to monitor that particular agency where contracts emanate. But where you have all the ministries in the world that are doing contracts, then you have a problem. That is why we have this very bad system, and of course the ministers, permanent secretaries and civil servants would like that kind of system to remain. One of the areas where we are having corruption cases in Nigeria and why it is very fundamental is that, one, the derivation system that we use in sharing money, is corrupting itself. How would the mobilisation and allocation commission that is distributing salary for everybody, when they do not mobilise any revenue. It is very bad. People should be paid according to what they can generate in their local government in their states. Not somebody sitting down in Abuja, and telling people what to be paid in remote areas of this country. We do not need all those ministries that we have at the federal level. What are the states there for? They should reduce the number of ministries (federal) to twelve, let the states do their job, as well as the local governments. That is why we have three tiers of government. In Nigeria, it is only one tier that seems to be working; the others are just spending money.

In all of this, where do you put Obasanjo?

Right from the beginning, I knew that Obasanjo was a hypocrite. I never accepted that, one, Obasanjo could fight corruption, because of his character and he has not disappointed me at all, from the investigations that are going on now. Two, it is stupid for anyone to think that politicians can fight corruption. Political system all over the world is corrupt. It is the people, and the people must work with the mass media so that there would be constant investigative journalism in the press and the judiciary. And then, we must have lawyers and accountants with conscience. Our lawyers and accountants do not have any conscience; they follow money.

Of what use would the ongoing probes be to the country?

These probes are very useful. There have been rumours and the probes are now there to confirm the rumour. Therefore what is EFCC waiting for, what is the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission waiting for? Once people have written petition to EFCC and ICPC, these probes would now make them to act because many people had written petition before about their governors, local government chairmen, contractors, ministers and so on. There are some that are still being kept under the carpet, there are rumours about the one of fertilizers in the agriculture ministry, we have not heard anything about that. The former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, is running around the whole world. There are some other governors who are sitting down in the village, while others are being arrested. So this is the issue. But the media would not bring this out, because they are their friends or if a journalist goes ahead to do the story, the editor may not publish them. Look at the way journalists are doing their election, they are not different from the politicians. It is because everyone wants to be the president of the Guild of Editors.

How do you situate the National Assembly in all these cases of corruption, especially with their attitude to the Freedom of Information bill?

I know people are making a big issue about this FOI bill. There is no doubt that it is very important, but as long as you continue to push the National Assembly, they would say there is a hidden agenda, and therefore they would continue to resist it. Now, the Senate may want to prove that it supports, but they know that as long as the House of Representatives does not pass it, it would not have any value, even if the President is ready to sign it. It is like the Yoruba saying that there are many ways of killing a chicken; either by putting the knife on its neck or in other places.

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