IDEAS Radio 17 July 2020

Current affairs: a three course IDEAS menu

Aghogho Oboh: Alright, a fine, fine afternoon in the city of Lagos, I’m Aghogho Oboh and you’re welcome to the Public Square.  And we talk about all the big significant developments happening across the country on Public Square.  Remember, you can join us on our different social media handles, @NigeriaInfoFM, @PublicSquareNG, @ideasradiong, @naijama, @AghoghoOboh, @RotimiSankore.  Any of these handles, you will be connected to us.

And today, we have such a big discussion.  As you know, on IDEAS first, which opens the Public Square, we have Ayo Obe already … on standby, and she will join straight away.  Today is “No Corruption Day” and SERAP and Transparency International with other groups have issued a ‘No Corruption’ challenge.  On the IDEAS segment, we’re going to look at the Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability issues raised by three corruption-related issues that have been in the news.  First up, the situation created by the party hopping in the coming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States.  Second is the ructions in the EFCC.  And then lastly, we have the accusation and counter accusation in the NDDC, with some very dramatic developments there.  Are all these a sign of failure in the war against corruption, or of success, or of neither?  These are the IDEAS issues we’re going to be looking at this afternoon.  Hello Ayo, Good afternoon.

Ayo Obe: Good afternoon Aghogho.

AgO: Excellent!  How time flies!  It was just one week and then we’re back again in one week!

AO: Honestly!

AgO: I know a number of people …

AO: Things have been happening at a rate … as they say: One day, one drama in Nigeria.

AgO: Exactly, at frenetic speed, you don’t blink otherwise you’ll be the biggest looser.  Great.  A number of people of course, wanting to hear what you think about all that’s been happening on IDEAS.  So Ayo, let’s start with the issue of party hopping as Edo and Ondo State gear up for the governorship elections.  What are the IDEAS issues here?

AO: Well Aghogho, the first thing to point out is that … I mean why I thought of it in terms of Integrity, which is one of the components of IDEAS, was this issue of party hopping, and … section 68 of the Constitution says that:

“A member of the Senate or … the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if … being a [party] whose election to the House was sponsored by a political party, he becomes a member of another political party before the expiration of the period for which that House was elected.” 

And then the exception is unless you are … it’s the result of a division in your party or faction; and they have the same thing for State Houses of Assembly.  But actually, we need to understand that even though this is a … is frowned on when it comes to legislators, there’s no actually no equivalent provision in respect of the President, Vice President, State Governor or a Deputy Governor, only for legislators.  So that in fact, Governor Obaseki and his own Deputy were free to decamp from APC to PDP in Edo State; and the Ondo State Deputy Governor, Mr. Agboola Ajayi, he was also free to decamp to the People’s Democratic Party.

But the fact is Aghogho, that decamping or carpet crossing by legislators, is actually now a feature of political life in Nigeria.  I mean, when the Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Frank Okiyi, was asked about it, he said: Oh, he hasn’t thought of resigning from the All Progressives Congress to soldiarit … to solidary … to solidarize with Governor Obaseki and his deputy, but it hardly seems to have occurred to anybody that he ought actually to have lost his seat if he were to do so.  And that just shows that nobody takes the provision seriously any more.  In fact, if we look at Ondo State, we can see that in April 2017, the (then) newly-elected Speaker decamped from the PDP to APC and his excuse was: 

“We are here today to … At the national level, they have factionalised our party. The same scenario is also at the state level.”

But then what happened?  Nothing!  And actually we saw the same thing in Imo State too, after it turned out that it was the APC’s Hope Uzodinma who was to be the Governor rather than the PDP’s Emeka Ikhedioha.  Before you could say ‘Jack Robinson!’ 23 members of the Imo State House of Assembly who had been sponsored there by the PDP, defected to the APC.  And even though the PDP demanded that since their party is not factionalised, INEC should declare those seats vacant, INEC hasn’t been … hasn’t done anything.  

Now, I should say Aghogho, that the Constitution seems to rely on the decamping member to quote and unquote “vacate his seat”, but it’s actually a question where the power of enforcement lies.  I mean, in 2015 the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly declared the seats of two members who had decamped to the APC vacant, but really, it turns out that that provision has at best been one without teeth, and at worst, it’s just another political weapon in the hands of those who have managed to seize the reins of power.  And unfortunately, from an IDEAS point of view, it turns out that a provision which relies on the Integrity of those affected to take action, seems to be a bit dead in the water.  So yes, I think that party hopping, decamping, carpet crossing or whatever you want to call it, I think it does raise issues of Integrity and Ethics, but … more by their absence, than by their implementation.

AgO: In case you’ve just joined the conversation, this is the Public Square, and Ayo Obe on IDEAS is looking at a number of issues.  If you’ve got any questions or comments on WhatsApp, 08095975805, hopefully Ayo can deal with them before we’re done with IDEAS.  But Ayo, Edo and Ondo States, just separated by … both of them bordering states and interestingly, just a month separating the elections for the  governorship in both states.  Are there any other IDEAS issues with respect to the coming gubernatorial elections?

Ayo: Well, the one that struck me was this situation that you have in Edo State, and they are raised by the fact that the APC gubernatorial candidate in Edo State, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, is actually being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on a charge of money laundering the sum of seven hundred million naira: allegedly that was done during the 2015 campaign, election campaign.  But the charges were filed in 2016, and that happened to be the same year that the Edo State gubernatorial elections were to be held.  Now at that time, he was the candidate of the PDP (he too has his own history of party hopping by the way, because he was once a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria which is one of the predecessor parties to the current ruling APC, before he joined the PDP, became its gubernatorial candidate, and now he’s back to APC as its gubernatorial candidate).

But the reason why I said it raises IDEAS issues is that – and again, we always have to bear in mind that every accused person has to be deemed innocent before the law until proven guilty – but the fact is that section 308 of the Constitution provides (and I’m quoting) “no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against a person to whom this section applies during the period … his period of office (and of course, those people are President, Vice President, Governor and Deputy Governor); and a person to whom this section applies shall not be arrested or imprisoned during that period either in pursuance of the process of any court or otherwise; and that they can’t be compelled to appear in court and so on and so forth.  And of course, the limitation expires once they … if there’s a period of limitation, it doesn’t apply during the period that they’re in office.  And I also need to emphasize that if there are civil proceedings against such a person in their official capacity, then … or where they’re just a nominal party, they don’t apply.

But you can see, that this provision a confers immunity from prosecution on a Governor while he’s in office.  So I think that there are bound to be integrity issues for both the candidate and the party that presents that candidate …

AgO: Absolutely.

AO: … especially when nobody seems to be rushing to dispose of the case before election.  I mean, you might think that: Ah, if they are … I don’t want to be in office and criminal charges are pending over me, let me get my innocence shown before the … by a verdict of ‘Not Guilty’, and then I can settle down and govern in peace.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case, so I think that’s an Integrity and Ethics issue.

AgO: So let’s move to the second on our three course menu in our IDEAS café today Ayo, which has to do with the EFCC.  Now, we know that some people think that the suspension of the EFCC’s chairman shows that the war against corruption is failing.  But what IDEA … IDEAS issues does this investigation by a panel headed by Justice Ayo Salami raise?

AO: Well I’ve just said that a person is considered innocent before the law until charged and proven guilty – but here, we’re not even at the stage of ‘charge’.  But, I think it’s fair to say that it would be a bigger failure if, where allegations are made and they are in the public domain and they are of concern to every Nigerian (or they ought to be) – and that if, instead of investigating them, everything is just swept under the carpet, or as the Americans would say “swept under the rug”.  Accountability issues have to be raised by allegations that the interest on the looted funds had been re-looted, because it’s always been a … a popular method of quote and unquote “not stealing”: you collect a huge amount of money that is due to government, you put it in a bank account on fixed deposit, you collect a huge amount of interest, but you ‘return the intact sum’!  You know.  So that’s an Accountability issue.  Although the … while the … you see the point is that there had been a panel that probed Federal Government Assets recovered by the EFCC from May 2015 to May 2020, and they were the ones who said that the interest had been re-looted”, but both the Accountant-General and Magu’s lawyer have been saying that the money is domiciled at the Central Bank in the TSA: that doesn’t attract any interest.

So I would say that ordinarily issues of discrepancies in funds recovered, which as I say is an Accountability issue, should be dealt with without all this brouhaha.  But I think it’s quite interesting that the report of the earlier panel said (and I’m quoting them): “It is quite disturbing that conflicting figures are being circulated in the public space by EFCC as the amount of recovered funds,” and they ended that “those discrepancies mean that EFCC’s actual lodgement exceeded its reported recoveries by N39 billion.”  

And Aghogho, I think that this highlights another problem that we have seen more and more of with the EFCC, and that is, the amount of their business that they conduct through press statements and leaks to media organisations.  In fact, many people are going to see a little bit of irony in the complaints by Mr. Magu’s legal practitioners that he was being subjected to ‘media trial’… talking about copies in the social media platforms, flying around with prejudicial consequences.  And … because just a couple of months ago, the Rivers State Government was calling on the EFCC to stop ‘media trial’ against it.  Last year, Dr. Doyin Okupe was also making the same complaint.  But actually Aghogho, I’m going to refer to the case that was being conducted by the EFCC in 2017, before Justice Kolawole of the Federal High Court (as he was then) over a press statement that had issued by the EFCC in which they claimed that one Col. Nicholas Ashinze, who was a Military Assistant to the former NSA Col. Dasuki, had been indicted for “diverting and misappropriating N36 billion.”  And this is what the judge said: 

“It is unfair for EFCC as a complainant in this trial to resort to self-help by engaging the defendant in the media trial at the same time in the court trial.  If you want to try the defendant in the media, you have to limit yourself to the media.  You have to stop misleading the public in the fact of this trial.  Let me say it for the sake of emphasis: that EFCC must stop the use of journalists to distort proceedings in my court.  You cannot be engaging in two trials: one in the court and one in the media.  If you are not satisfied with my decision to stop this trial pending the time you retract this statement, then you can take your case to another court.”

And so, I think that this is actually the pattern, particularly under this administration.  And that may be because the EFCC is anxious to demonstrate that “The war against corruption is on and we’re really fighting it!”  But, you know, you can’t pretend that they hadn’t started that really.  But I think the point is that – as the Good Book says, there is a time to every purpose under heaven.  And the time to make the song and dance is when you have secured the conviction  not when you are still in the investigation stage.  I mean, people made unfavourable comparisons with the way that Hushpuppi, the famous …

AgO: The Instagrammer

AO: … was trailed … he didn’t know anything was happening until the arrest, and then the full case for his extradition was there.  But with us, it seems to be something else.  

AgO: You know, it’s a strong debate on perception about media trial or bringing matters into the open, which is the final one we’re looking at here Ayo, if you refer back to the answer, rather, the allegations being put out in the open, … made by a former Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Joy Nunieh, seems to raise IDEAS issues.  What would you say?

Ayo: Well, as I … I think, as you said, that we need to distinguish between media trial and bringing matters into the open.  Because I think it’s one thing for an individual to blow the whistle in public to prevent matters from being swept under the carpet: that’s a different thing from the agency which is itself supposed to be conducting the trial in court, that agency doing what Kola … Justice Kolawole spoke about … instead of prosecuting their case in court, they are … they are busy making media statements and quite often misleading and/or pre-emptory ones.  So I think that, as I said, once the matters are in the open, I don’t think that the war against corruption is helped if nobody … you know I always say that it’s one thing to say: Don’t wash your dirty linen in public, but when everybody can smell the stench of your dirty linen, then sometimes it’s best if you are seen washing it in public so that people know that the washing is being done.  And I think that … if we’re looking at the case of the Niger Delta Development Commission, there’s no doubt that Integrity issues are raised, even by the apparent attempt to arrest the acting … the ex Acting MD, Joi Nunieh, I mean, it was more like a kidnapping, and I think that the Inspector-General of Police is accountable for the behaviour of his officers, not just for the way that they went about trying to take her into custody, which – if reports are to be believed – quite astonishing levels of violence and force; but also, about the reasons why they wanted her.  Because we have to remember that she was about to testify or to make a statement at the Senate, which is perfectly in order; that’s what the National Assembly is supposed to do in its oversight functions.  So why not let her do so?  Because Aghogho, we cannot forget that another ‘difficult woman’ quote and unquote … had made allegations – in this case, allegations of rape against a public figure – she was collected by the police and though they denied that they had arrested her, by the time she stopped enjoying their hospitality, she had apparently withdrawn the allegations that she had made.  

So I think that that trust deficit of that I’ve spoken about in the past, makes it difficult to accept that that Nigeria Police Force action was done in good faith – which is to say that it was done without Integrity – unless we have a full explanation.  Because the Rivers State Commissioner of Police is saying … has called on the Governor to “hand Ms. Nunieh over”.  But for what?  We want to know.

I should say by the way, that I file all that really, under the heading “Drama”.  But for us at IDEAS, it is the Accountability issues raised as regards the huge amounts of money that have flowed through the NDDC since it was founded that are actually the most important ones.  And … if I can quote from the op ed by Segun Adeniyi in his column on Thursday, where he quoted the Minister for Niger Delta who’s at the storm of these allegations and he had said … this is Godswill Akpabio, the Minister, he said: “We currently have about 12,000 abandoned projects across the nine states of the Niger Delta.  And that “If those things had been completed, you can imagine that the area would have been an Eldorado,”

AgO: Absolutely.

AO:  He said that: Look, to construct a road in the NDDC, there’s no way it can last for even two years.  So … and he said that that conclusion tallies with the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative had … two reports that they had issued.  And … quite frankly, I mean you can look at his article for the huge amounts that were expended, but … if within those five years, according to NEITI, N963.7 billion and $6.1 billion were expended by the Commission, people are entitled to ask: Those 12,000 projects, where … why haven’t they made any difference?

AgO: Big question.  Have they made any difference?   Alright Ayo, we’ll have to leave it at that, thank you very much Ayo Obe on IDEAS this evening.

AO: Bye bye.

AgO: I’m going to run away from saying fine evening or fine afternoon …

AO: But it is actually, it’s a fine evening, fine weather.

AgO: … lest the curse of the weekend rain descend on us.  Thank you very much Ayo.

AO: Okay, bye bye.