Is Nigeria as ‘fantastically corrupt’, legally provable?
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron recently stirred the hornet nest when he described Nigeria as ‘fantastically corrupt’. His comment expectedly attracted divided opinions among Nigerians. The question some legal pundits are asking is whether this ‘unguarded’ statement is legally provable. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, a Lagos- based senior lawyer, Bankole Kayode, against the opinions of his other legal minds, supports Cameron in his statement, arguing that there is enough evidence to prove Nigeria as a very corrupt nation.
He also examined the issue involving the fuel price hike by government and labour union’s strike against court order, among other issues. Excerpts:
What is the legal implication of embarking on strike despite subsisting court order against such?
The federal government did the right thing by going to court. But whether it is morally reprehensible is another thing. The law allows you, if you feel threatened or aggrieved to go to court. But the moral aspect of it is, when you are at the negotiation table, are you supposed to go behind the other party to obtain court injunction. That is the issue. And when you play with politicians, it is like playing with the devil.
You have to be alert. I expected the labour unions to know the kind of people they are transacting business with and station their lawyers at all National Industrial Courts. So, I blame the labour leaders. They did not play the game well.
Strike is allowed under the labour law, but there are conditions that are supposed to be fulfilled before one embarks on strike?
Strike is allowed. While strike is allowed, it does not foreclose the issue of seeking redress in the law court. That is a constitutionally granted right, which is higher than every other right. You can go to court when you feel threatened, so, government felt threatened and utilized the opportunity. In their estimation, the purpose of governance which is security and welfare of the masses was about to be jeopardized and they decided to approach the court.
Is that order still valid, giving the fact that the strike has commenced?
It depends on their prayers. I think I heard the leadership of labour saying that they did not go to court because of the hike in pump price of fuel, but that they went on strike because of the general suffering of Nigerians. They stated this on the television. Except the order said you cannot go to strike on the account of the sufferings of Nigerians, that is when they would be caught up. It is a game of hide and seek! So
let’s see who wins at the end.
Do you think this is a hike in pump price of fuel or removal of subsidy?
You will even see that Osinbajo conceded that what they did was price hike and not subsidy removal. That same week that the price was hiked, the government came out to say that there was N12 subsidy on petroleum products paid by the government and the product is sold for N86. Add N12 to N86 and you get N98. So why are we in N145? It is not subsidy removal at all. Government just fixed the price arbitrarily and it is unfortunate. The government should know that they are in the goodwill of Nigerians and I hope that they will not squander it such that people will now start viewing suspiciously everything that government says. They should not forget that Buhari came in under the picture that he is the man for the masses. But when you are not coming out to spell out the details of what you want to do, you leave them conjecturing and making them to pay far more than what you have been proposing to them. I believe that the conduct of this government leaves much to be desired.
In your assessment, how do you rate the government?
No doubt that within the last six months, the situation has become worsened, in terms of the well-being of Nigerians. The value of Naira and the exchange rate are targeting N400 to a dollar. Not many Nigerians would ever imagine this in their widest dreams. The price hike is even in the range of the black market. It is likely we are going to the filling stations to buy at the black market rate. During the black market era, you could get it at N150 and the government is selling at the same price. In terms of the economy, APC promised to create employment. We have not seen it yet. They kept saying that the past government squandered the fortunes of Nigerians and that it has brought us to where we are now. I quite agree with them to a large extent. But then, it has become like a song for the government; it sounds like a broken record.
They should give us another excuse. To me, it seems they do not have a clue to the economic problem of Nigeria.
Obasanjo has said it in one of his recent interviews that he would not rate Buhari too high in terms of economy. But then, we cannot look at that alone, we have to look at where they have made their marks because it is not negative story alone. At least, for the first time in recent times, the goodwill that this government enjoys is unequalled. In spite of these, you still see Nigerians arguing and people still believing the ability of Mr. President to deliver. I hope he values this confidence and appropriates it to make life better for Nigerians. The time it took him to appoint his cabinet, no doubt had a negative effect on governance. Most of the ministers have spent less than six months. How do you start assessing somebody who has spent six months in a four-year tenure? I think there are lots of rooms for improvement. Many people believe in him. They also believe in Osinbajo. I only appeal to them not to dash the hope of Nigerians. They should sit up and rise to the occasion. Enough of the story of how Jonathan’s government plundered the economy! Suppose they are starting the way Obasanjo started, where he met huge sums of debt and paid them off. Can they do the same instead of lamenting? The price of crude oil was around USD$40. Obasanjo never complained about the military. He was working and sailed gradually.
How do you assess the anti-corruption drive vis-à-vis the comment from the British Prime Minister?
That comment attracted a lot of attention because it came from the British Prime Minster. Our leaders have described us with worst appellations. In fact and in truth, we are seriously corrupt. For a system that allows anybody to rake in N500million every month undetected, is qualified to be called corrupt. A system where governors don’t have anything doing than flying all over the world and at the end of the day, fly to Abuja to share oil money is qualified to be described as corrupt. A system where the Police will not do anything except they are mobilized with money passing under the table, is qualified to be called corrupt. A system were even private sector believes nothing can be achieved with government without passing money under the table is qualified to be called corrupt. When you look at it in totality, it is not out of place if we are rated fantastically corrupt.
Is this government fighting corruption in your own assessment?
To me, it would be uncharitable to say that they are not fighting corruption. It is obvious that they are fighting corruption, though there is this perception that they are only prosecuting political opponents.
Is it a perception or reality?
Well, I believe it is a perception. The former governor of Adamawa State, Murtala Nyako is a member of APC. And he was among the first people to be arraigned.
But his prosecution started under the PDP?
It started and APC came in. If it were during the PDP, those charges would have been dropped. Rather, he is still being prosecuted till date. The senate president is a member of the APC. So you cannot say that it is only the opposition that is being prosecuted. My take is that if it is only the opposition that Buhari is going after, when he leaves office, then go after those he spared.
Suppose his protégée takes over from him?
You cannot predict what protégées could do. You remember how Obasanjo fought tooth and nail to bring in Yar’ Adua and he came in and reversed all Obasanjo did and went after people who served under him. The idea is that corruption should not be tied on one man’s neck. Fighting corruption should be a state policy, wherein if anybody is corrupt and he is spared, the next government comes and hunt him down.
There are those who believe this government is not sincere in its fight against corruption because of the appointment of two former governors that have allegations of corruption hanging on their necks as ministers.
These persons that are accused, are they under investigations? It is easy in Nigeria to throw accusation on anybody just to make him resign. Even Buhari himself vouched for late Sani Abacha that he was not corrupt before he came in. But he is going about collecting Abacha loot abroad. You can give it to him that probably when he got into the State House, he now realized that he got the wrong impression of Abacha. But I expected Buhari to have come out to declare that it is unfortunate that Abacha looted the treasury when he saw Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan collect part of the Abacha loots. Instead he was saying that Abacha was not a thief, probably because Abacha was close to him. That is the flip side of the battle. My take is that Fashola is not under investigation. The entire allegation we are hearing against Fashola is that he opened a website with a fantastic amount. I expected the senate to disqualify him but they did not. So he has passed the test.
There is also the issue of violation of human rights and disobedience to court orders by the government. What is your take on that?
In the case of Dasuki, it is indefensible. He is a serial offender as alleged. He committed series of offences and when you commit series of offences, because you are admitted to bail in one does not mean others would not be investigated.