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‘Doubts mount over capacity of courts to handle increased corruption cases’

Agbakoba

Agbakoba

There are mounting doubts on the capacity of the courts to meet the demands of the increasing cases of corruption following the spate of arrests, arraignments and trial of suspects by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other graft agencies in line with the present government’s resolve to fight corruption and recover what was stolen in the past. This move is already putting the courts under pressure with the same personnel and infrastructure. In this interview with a former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president, human rights advocate and senior advocate of Nigeria, (SAN), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, he expresses concern over the situation and proffers solution on how to deal with the issue. He spoke to Godwin Dunia.

IN your own assessment, do you think the courts as presently constituted have the capacity to handle corruption cases?
No! Firstly, the courts are too slow apart from the issue of whether judges are corrupt or not. And I think the issue of corruption on the part of the judicial sector is over rated. It is a scheme to give the judges a bad name. The issue why the judiciary is slow is that we have not aggressively attacked the problem of the judiciary.

Our leaders are not driving at developmental agenda and vision and this failure on the part of our government or leaders has affected mostly all sectors. What is happening in the judiciary is one of the consequences of leadership failure in Nigeria. For instance, look at the situation of Apapa, where the government gets major revenue. The roads are in comatose. So the question of whether the court has the capacity to handle corruption cases is just a little in the larger context of the Nigerian poverty inflicted by our leaders due to their failure.

National Bureau of statistics revealed recently that one hundred million Nigerians are destitute.
If you talk about judiciary to a common man, he will ask you what is judiciary in the face of the hunger and deprivations we face daily. To me, the question on the capacity of the judiciary to handle corruption cases in the context of transformation agenda of Nigeria, is actually not relevant.

I tried to expand the question to enable you understand that nobody will be ready to want to know if the judicial sector will work or not, if other relevant sectors are not working. We don’t have oil, light, water, no employment etc, these are the concerns of the average Nigerian. How many Nigerians can even access the judicial services or what happens there?
So the current discussion on corruption of people like Dasuki, Dokpesi and others, if it is true that they are actually involved, are elites’ discussion. It does not really affect the man on the street.

What a national order would do is to say the people cannot continue to live under one strong federal system that allocates power only to Abuja with the power to exercise ninety-eight functions excluding the states. So there is need to balance the power such that issues like Boko Haram, Biafra-movement, Niger-Delta and others will naturally find their place in the scheme of things because they are all symptoms of lack of national order. Once there is national order, then Nigeria has laid the solid foundation for a viable country.

I think it is when we begin to attack problems of the poor, ignorant, illiterate and the dispossessed Nigerians, then we will begin to solve the problems.
As you know, the story of stolen public funds does not interest me because I don’t see any result and very soon this whole excitement of the moment will die. Where are those accused of corruption some years ago? They are walking as freemen today.

How will you react to the demand by the PDP for a truth commission?
The PDP has lost power and the best they should do now is to go and develop an ideological agenda to make the APC sit up to their responsibility. When did they discover this? When they were in power why didn’t they see the need for such commission? In the context of Nigerian politics, there is no engagement, who is the PDP engaging or impressing in this discussion about truth commission? What they need to do now is to develop their own ideological agenda.
President Buhari has defined his own ideological agenda, even if he had not communicated it properly, which is ‘change’ and the PDP agenda as I understand it ‘is a corporate society whereby few derived benefit by getting patronage from the government’.

As a Nigerian, I will like to see what the PDP can do to hold Buhari accountable on the agenda of change he has made. For example, he has promised to identify with unemployed Nigerians by paying them five thousand naira which I supported, but this has not been approved.

These are issues they should engaged with the ruling party, APC. The APC is a leftist party and the PDP is a rightist party, they should engage in ideological contest for the mind of Nigerians.
The situation of the country indicates the level with which we have lost our sense of shame and grief. No matter what happens in the country, nobody cares. Look at the rate people die in the North and it all looks as if nothing has happened.

What APC needs to do now is to manifest their ‘change’ agenda because I as a person identify with this agenda as a leftist, and failure to do this, then I will want to see the PDP engaging them to account for failure to meet up with their agenda. These are what I think should be happening among the parties and not calling for truth commission.
What do you think is driving EFCC now to have made several arrests within weeks unlike before when there was a lull at agency?

To jail these people they have invited. I don’t care if it is selective or not, because I don’t think you can be invited if you have not stolen. I learnt that people are saying it is subjective and selective, but they should ask them how come the names of these people are involved in the list if they have not stolen? I can only listen to them if they are able to prove their constitutional rights against why their names were on the list, otherwise they should go and face the music.
With the present state of congestion at the prisons, do you think there are rooms to accommodate these new convicts?
I have been talking about prison congestion since 1985, when we organized Civil Liberty Organisation (CLO). We talked about the state of Ikoyi prison, went to court and the rights of prisoners, talked about those on death roll for too long if the state can still execute them, and the way criminals were being executed. But no single party ever responded. Even when the PDP was in power for sixteen years what did it do to the problem of congestion at the prisons? Yet all the parties adopt as part of their agenda Chapter two of the Nigerian Constitution, which talks about social and economic objectives.

So let them go to court and if found guilty, they will go to prison to have first hand experience of what is there, probably when next they have opportunity in government they will know how to fix the problem of prison congestion.

What is your concept of national order?
So simple! Take for instance, I have a wife and three children, if I failed to establish rules of engagement there is bound to be conflict in the family. Rules of engagement will make things work out in an orderly manner without conflicts. Therefore, the concept of national order as it relates to country like Nigeria, is simply rules of engagement that bounds a nation together. So if there are no rules we have conflict, abuse, imbalance and all forms of misuse of power. National order ensures that there is equilibrium and balance such that everybody has a sense of participation, most especially in a situation like Nigeria where there are diverse background in religion, ethnic groups.

This concept was introduced by the Europeans a very long time ago after series of war. Thereafter, the political leaders came together and agreed on how they would be governed. That was what brought about the ‘Treaty of Westphalia’, it was the order that established the basis of ‘one nation one God’. It is regarded as International order that governs the world till date.

The order was later expanded to International order and the United Nations was established on that order too, even though the Western world that perfected it reserved the veto power in the Security Council. And there are calls for review of the International order, to enable African states to participate in the decision making body.

Coming down to Nigeria, we all know that the problem with Nigeria started since Independence. From 1960 to 1965, there was crisis. In 1966, there was a coup and counter coup, followed by civil war and then long period of military rule with different military leaders who never cared about what happened to our economy and we were later bequeathed to a shaky constitutional foundation.

Ever since, we have tried to find a national order through the various discussions we have had, called by General Babangida, Abacha, Obasanjo and Jonathan.
As you know, not a single national conference has produced the desired result because each of these leaders had their private agenda.

What a national order would do is to say the people cannot continue to live under one strong federal system that allocates power only to Abuja with the power to exercise ninety-eight functions excluding the states.

So there is need to balance the power such that issues like Boko Haram, Biafra-movement, Niger-Delta and others will naturally find their place in the scheme of things because they are all symptoms of lack of national order. Once there is national order, then Nigeria has laid the solid foundation for a viable country.

How do describe the current Biafran movement?
It is one of the symptoms of failure of the national order, because the war ended in the 1970s, then General Yakubu Gowon came up with proclamation of reconstruction. But the failure of this is lack of a national order which would have helped to understand the position of the minority, the majority to allocate them necessary privileges and duties.
Biafran soldiers who were mangled during the civil war are still sitting around the places till today with the pains, these are some of the failures of our leaders.
The only leader who understood how to resolve conflict is the late President Musa Yar’Adua, who effectively resolved the Niger-Delta crisis.

The problem of all these movements and associations is exclusion. Because nobody would want to go and die the way I see in the radicalization of the Boko Haram fanatics. They only became ready instruments because they have no choice. The burn-fire of discontentment is everywhere and the country is ready to explode going by the level of grievances all over. We are grateful that Nigeria is not a place where there are much social movements otherwise, it would have long exploded.

If all these issues like Boko Haram are not taking seriously and it finds a link with the ISIS and internationalized, then we are in for a bigger trouble. Our leaders should be absolutely conscious of what they are doing now. The country needs a total surgical operation with proper emphasis on each of these problems and establish a national order and not all these promises by political parties and their leaders which will only scratch the surface.

That was why I put my support behind President Buhari, because he is a social movement person, but he needs to be aware that the elites of this country will not allow him to succeed because they know that they have something to lose. President Buhari needs to construct a grand alliance of civil societies, genuine religious leaders and build a collision around them like Obama did in America.

Buhari has to be very careful not to be trapped by the elites movements and discussions. He should go under the elites movements and speak to the millions of Nigerians. By so doing the fortune of the country will change.
You can imagined that Nigeria has abdicated all our visions such that some West African countries now refer to Nigeria as their market. Look at what Dangote is doing with his business expansion policies. That is what the government should be doing so that we begin to see other countries as our market.

What all the PDP and APC are after is personal agenda, about how they can get power, become senators and so on. Have you had any of them raising issues on how to capture ECOWAS market? No. Because they have no vision that can really move the country forward.

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