REV. David Ugolor, Human Rights Activist and Social Crusader, and currently a post-graduate student of Sussex Centre for the study of corruption, University of Sussex (US), United Kingdom, is the Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ). As a corruption expert, he has clinically analysed the widespread corruption in the country and came to the conclusion that corruption has greatly affected the quality of life of Nigerians.
In this interview, with our Asst. Chief Editor, TUNDE EIGBIREMOLEN, Rev. Ugolor comments on the forthcoming presidential poll and the issues likely to determine who becomes Nigeria’s President from May 29, 2015. It’s explosive.
The Presidential election is some days away, what are the issues involved?
Very clearly, we are now in the fourth Republic, and looking back, you will have observed that Nigeria has experienced the good, the bad and ugly in terms of governance. To most average Nigerians today, they want the best and expect the best against the backdrop that our oil wealth has not brought blessings to the country. Nigeria is a classical case of a resource – curse country, that has generated so much wealth from oil, but unable to translate such wealth into opportunity for her people, and what is the major cause? It is corruption. That is why the major issue people are canvassing in the presidential election is the issue of corruption. But whether corruption will determine who becomes president of Nigeria in 2015 is another issue entirely. There are empirical evidence to suggest that governments that are corrupt are still re-elected. Why? The evidence is that corrupt governments maintain a patron – client culture; where as a patron, the man who is in power is able to use the patronage system to sustain the allegiance of people and the electorate, continually. Is this sustainable? That is another matter entirely. However, this patron-client culture that is sustained by the current governance system in some oil producing countries around the world is gradually being tackled and challenged.
At what level is it being challenged?
At different levels – at civil society level, political level, even at global level, and election provides an entry point for changing governments that want to continually remain to sustain the patron-client culture. This culture is a theory in political science that deals with issues of how corruption is growing in the countries where governance is a problem. Nigeria is today a classical illustration of such countries. You can see how politicians have been able to use constituency projects to manipulate the support of the people. Sometimes, when I see politicians speaking, that their achievements are in the number of constituency projects they have been able to execute, it gives me cause for concern, because, ordinarily this is from tax payers money. In most cases, a closer look at such projects reveal that the company that carried out the contract is owned by the same politicians, and you may discover that, too there may not have been a proper bidding process, no procurement system in place. So that brings us to the question of how the presidential election will play out. PDP has come up with its policy statements, and its campaign slogan is transformation. The APC slogan is change. These are attractive catchment phrases no doubt, but how they can be translated to reality to impact on the people’s lives is another issue entirely.
If one is to analyse either of these political parties to see if we can trust any of them, starting with the PDP, you will be shocked what the result will be. Let us start with the PDP for instance, because they are currently in government. They will be judged by what they promised to do, and what they have done. If we are to judge the PDP government by what it has done since Jonathan came on board, two issues stand out clearly. The issue of corruption and the institutions saddled with fighting corruption. How have the anti-corruption institutions, such as EFCC and ICPC functioned under Jonathan? You and I know, and will agree that the number of cases these institutions have pursued to a logical conclusion is nothing to write home about. Why is it that these institutions are not functioning optimally? It is the lack of political will of the leadership, without which the anti-corruption agencies are not able to move forward such that they are able to prosecute most of their cases. It is costly to embark on the prosecution of corrupt political elite in this country. EFCC is not properly financed. Most of the support the EFCC gets comes from the international community. One would have expected that a leadership that wants to demonstrate its will to fight corruption should put enough resources into EFCC and ICPC. Has that happened in the last four years? If you look into the budget of the EFCC for instance you will realize that they have not been able to procure the services of competent lawyers to defend their cases in court. EFCC loses most of its cases to improper funding which hamper proper investigation for enforcement of the legal process. The same applies to ICPC.
Then let’s come to NEITI – Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, which is supposed to be dealing with corruption in the Oil and Gas sector of the economy. Oil and Gas are the major source of revenue in Nigeria, and any government that wants to succeed must take the issue of tackling corruption in that sector very seriously. How serious has NEITI been considered by this government? How far has it dealt with corruption? You can see how former CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, raised an alarm about the missing N20 billion in the Central Bank. The Government decided to sack him on account of that alarm. The Federal Government Commissioned an independent accounting firm, the Price Water House, which came out with its report which the government has refused to disclosed till now. Speaking instead, the federal Government handed the report to the Auditor General, and constitutionally speaking, this is unacceptable, because you can’t be a judge in your own case. These are facts, and when you talk facts, they cannot be politicized. What the Price Water House report failed to disclose is the massive widespread corruption in the Oil and Gas sector and we all know it.
Now, if we recall the oil subsidy protests of 2012 which led to a number of deaths in the course of protests, it was as a result of the massive corruption that took place in the oil subsidy scam. The federal government promised us that it was going to deal with the challenges arising therefrom. Uptill date nothing has happened. This government also promised that to tackle the systemic corruption in the oil and gas sector, it will ensure that the petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will be passed into law. You recognize that the PDP has the majority in both Houses in the National Assembly. This government under President Goodluck Jonathan has not been able to push to ensure that the PIB is passed into law. When you have a government that has not been able to empower anti-corruption institutions, like NEITI, EFCC and ICPC to play the role of tackling corruption, how do you classify such government. Of course, such a government is weak and doesn’t have the political will to pursue anti-corruption crusade.
Beyond that, instead of relying on Transparency International perception, Index, which most government officials will like to refer to because Nigerian Government recently improved by 2 points in the corruption Index we should be realistic. What most people don’t understand here is that it is merely perception. As corruption experts, we are moving beyond perception to reality. Corruption in Nigeria is an issue of reality, you can feel corruption in Nigeria. We can feel how corruption is impacting negatively on governance in Nigeria. You go to the hospital, you will not be able to access drugs, go through the roads you will not be able to have a smooth ride. Comrade Festus Iyayi was killed because of our bad roads, for instance. Even in education, you find out that basic facilities are not there in schools. Students are unable to learn under a conducive atmosphere. So, you can feel the corruption, and this government has not been able to demonstrate that it can fight corruption because no tangible committee has been set up to tackle the scourge. To reinforce that it has been unable to deal with corruption, you can see what this government did with Alamieyeseigha, the symbol of corruption, who was found guilty of corrupt practices and was jailed in London. The President has come out to grant him pardon and said that Alamieyeseigha is his idol. When a government encourages corrupt elite, and grants them pardon, what do you expect of such government? When Alamieyeseigha was arrested and detained in U.K, the signal the U.K government was sending to the world is that it does not tolerate corruption. If our government was reasonable, would it grant pardon to such a man? Go to Bayelsa State today, where the President comes from, you will discover that the average Ijaw man in the creeks is suffering, living in poverty and wallowing in penury. When the President visited them recently on campaign was he able to tell them what he has been able to do with all the billions of naira from that region? Rather all he could tell them was that he was only able to pardon their son, Alamieyeseigha, who stole the money that would have been used to provide infrastructure; and build schools, hospitals, roads etc. Is that what you call democracy, resource control in the Niger Delta? Is that what people like Ken Saro Wiwa fought and died for? Is that what Adaka Boro and others sacrificed their lives for? Is that why the East-West road cannot be built? No. These are evidence that this government is unable to tackle corruption; and has not shown any progressive step to deal with the issue. These are several cases of corruption that the government would have taken steps to address but it failed to do so. Nuhu Ribadu, former EFCC boss was appointed by this government to look into the institutional problems in the oil and gas sector. What did the government do with the damning report of Ribadu’s committee? NEITI’s audit report of 2009-2011 showed obvious lapses in the oil and gas sector and recommended that the Petroleum Industry Bill be passed into law to deal with conflict of the petroleum minister acting as the chairman of the Board of NNPC. If the same government commissioned an independent firm, the Price Water House and came up with an indictment of NNPC, is it not the place of the chairman of NNPC to accept responsibility? But government has refused to do anything. The minister of Aviation was sacked on allegation of corruption, why is it that what is good for the Aviation Minister is not good for the petroleum Minister? That’s so much for the PDP. Now a lot of people are asking, how is the President going to deal with the massive corruption in the country? He said he is going to use technology. What kind of technology is he going to use that he has not used? He went to the South East the other day to say that stealing in not corruption. When you now have a president who has confused the definition, or mischaracterize the issue of corruption, then it brings a huge intellectual problem to the issue of way forward in tackling corruption. That’s for PDP.
Then you want to talk of the APC. The party has taken advantage of the fact that the people are very disappointed about the ruling government and has come out to promise change. It is not that APC has come up with a clear, coherent policy of how to deal with the huge problem of corruption in the country. No. You will also agree with me that some elements that have moved from PDP to APC are the same elements that have created problems in this country in terms of corruption. So they are not as clean as we claim. The problem is that how will the APC deal with the problem of systemic corruption. Where is the change actually coming from? This raises another fundamental question. The fact that people are disappointed at what PDP is doing in tackling corruption and people want a change does not necessarily translate to the fact that APC will be the party that will actually deliver. My own take on the issue is that people need a change, and change is a kind of oil that moves the wheel of any democratic process. And if the ruling government is not able to provide that change, and waste the opportunity to effect the change, the same way this government will be voted out, that is how the new one will be kicked out. Once government realizes that people have the capacity to change governance, democracy will function and when that happens, we will get there. Like I always tell people, corruption is not restricted to Nigeria alone, it is a global issue. There is corruption in U.S.A, Britain, South Korea. But, the basic difference is that the more you are corrupt in Nigeria, the more recognition you get, and the more positions, you are rewarded with. But in the case of other countries, the moment you are caught, involved in corruption, you pay a price for it. The level of culture of impunity in Nigeria is high. So, for APC, I have not also seen a clear cut, coherent, anti-corruption policy in trying to bring about change and deal with corruption. The strategy of APC is also faulty. I think that Nigerians should also begin to ask Buhari how he intends to tackle corruption within a democratic context. It is not enough to say because he is this or that, then he should be voted into power. He needs to work within democratic institutions to bring about the change that he claims he wants to make.
The issue of immunity clause in the constitution for serving Governors and Presidents reinforces impunity which makes it impossible to probe and tackle a serving Chief Executive. So tackling corruption appears more of a constitutional issue. Do you agree?
The issue is that, like Hilary Clinton of the US said, a country deserves its own form of leadership. We make our leaders function like thin gods in Nigeria. I have had the opportunity to meet with other Presidents, Heads of State and Prime Ministers of foreign countries. The difference is there. Interestingly, when our Presidents visit those foreign Heads of State, they behave themselves, but while they are here, they act as demi-gods. They spend public resources with reckless abandon. But, you know, democracy provides us an entry point to change them. That is why at every turn during electioneering, it is an opportunity to get rid of them. Yet, there are Governors from humble background, who know that every opportunity should be used judiciously. Such governors should also be given kudos. That is why I say that as civil society, even though we do not play politics, but we can identify those who are doing well in politics, and support them. If you do not do that, the wrong ones, like Agberos, will take over the place, and it becomes more difficult to fight corruption.
As for the immunity, the argument is that it is there to provide protection for those in government. So that people don’t use frivolous litigations to drag governments to a halt and cause crisis in governance. The idea is that after your tenure, you can face justice. It is also to allow government functionaries concentrate and face challenges of governance, rather than allow them to be unnecessarily distracted. It was done in the best of interests with a good intent. But unfortunately the immunity clause has been put to negative use like the internet today where a lot of crimes and fraudulent practices are a common place. No law is perfect anywhere. That is why I say that the issue of social capital is very important; this is a situation where the people trust government so well that they willingly discharge their responsibility to make the government succeed. Example is the area of paying utility bills. Overseas, people try to measure social capital as a basis to evaluate whether people trust government or not.
In Edo State for example, prior to the coming of Governor Oshiomhole, the internally generated Revenue (IGR) was very low. When Oshiomhole came and he started constructing and building roads, and turned the whole state to a construction site, the IGR rose from hundreds of millions to billions of Naira. What was responsible? There is a direct relationship between the on-going infrastructural development and people having confidence in the system. So when people trust government they will pay their tax; because it will translate to direct impact in their lives. But people don’t trust the federal government in this country, because of the way the government has spent the resources of this nation. When that happens, it becomes a huge problem. So, in a nutshell, our constitution may not be perfect but it is not the worst in the world. Those using the constitution know how to apply it negatively. But if they choose to use it well they can do it as well. I believe there are major areas we can improve on the current situation.
Having said that, talking about the presidential election, we need to ask if corruption will determine who becomes the next president of Nigeria. The answer is no. On that day, it is not going to be on the basis of corruption, but the issues will be, oh he is my brother, is he a Muslim or Christian? That is why the Christian and Muslim leaders are taking advantage of the situation to advance their narrow interests. That is perhaps why somebody like governor Amaechi of Rivers State can allege that some Pastors have been given N6 billion to campaign for the PDP. All kinds of sentiments, religion, ethnicity, political are played up leaving the real issues. Religious leaders have not been able to carry their members along, Christian leaders are compounding the problems in the country. They have not been able to show leadership in the country. You find a situation where a Pastor who got all his money from tithe and offering build a university with it but his members cannot attend such a school because they cannot afford the fees. In which case, he has commercialize the spiritual work of God. We should not be swayed by the sentiments of religion, ethnicity and so on. We must vote the one who is ready and willing to tackle the issue of corruption. That is why I am asking the APC people, if they say they want to bring the change, how?
That brings us to the issue of credible politicians to look out for, at state levels, who will take development in Edo State to the next level. Can we identify some?
I am from Delta State; an Urhobo man. I was born in Ologbo, and my primary and secondary education was in Iguobazuwa before I left for the university. All my life, I have stayed in Benin. To God be the glory, I have also contributed my quota to functional civil society movement in Edo State. I don’t think you can write the history of Edo State Civil Society Movement today, without finding a place to mention my name. Like the Governor of Edo State acknowledged when I was framed up and arrested sometime ago, he wrote an open letter which he signed to say that unarguably, I am one of the key leaders of civil society in Edo State. Not just Edo State, I have played my own part internationally. Having done that successfully, I feel very strongly that sometimes people don’t know the role of civil society in Nigeria. As a civil society, we don’t play partisan politics. But we will identify any political party that is reasonable and ready to undertake a progressive policy that will impact positively on the constituency we claim to represent and support such. In the United States for instance, civil society will take an environmental justice issue and mobilize their constituency to support any political party that is ready to sponsor such an issue. It happens in Britain and everywhere. Civil society does not contest for political power, but that does not take them away from mobilizing support for any political party. The fact that you are a civil society does not mean you must see every political party or politician as an enemy. No. As civil society actors, we should not fail to recognize those who are doing well and support them. Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State is such a person doing very well in politics. We must give it to him whether we like it or not. He is one Governor who has received the highest number of protests since he became Governor. He created the enabling environment for that. That is why we say that if there is no possibility of re-electing credible people there is no incentive to behave in a way to satisfy the common man. On the basis of this conclusion, in line with the way late Gani Fawehinmi also endorsed Adams Oshiomhole, I hereby endorse Hon. Samson Osagie and urged all those who see me as their man in Edo South to vote for Samson Osagie. The same goes for Hon. Peter Akpatason. These two gentlemen have given a good account of themselves. They have been tested and trusted and are dependable and reliable. These two men stood out clearly during my persecution, along side their colleagues, they refused to be compromised in the National Assembly. Hon. Rasaq – Bello Osagie who presented the petition on the floor of the National Assembly also did very well. It’s a shame he couldn’t get his party ticket. Hon. Osahon from Ovia South Federal Constituency also stood by me during the public hearing after the court awarded me N5 million cost against the police for my unwarranted and undue arrest. On the basis of what they have done, I openly endorse the duo of Samson Osagie and Hon. Peter Akpatason who are flying their party tickets for the senate and House of Representatives respectively. If they are there in the National Assembly they will continue to represent the interest of civil society, market women, school children and interest of justice. I am a beneficiary of their legislative activism and I am testifying to it.
Finally, let’s have your take on the conduct of the presidential poll and what Nigerians generally should do or not do to make it a success
Well, there is a grand attempt by some evil forces to postpone the election. They cannot postpone the evil day. The Nigerian people will decide. Nigeria is fast developing and people are becoming increasingly aware. The level of literacy is increasing daily. People are becoming aware and realizing that there is a direct relationship between their quality of life and the kind of government they vote into power. Good roads, good schools, employment, scholarships are all a function of good governance. I advice all Edo people to collect the Permanent Voter Cards (PVC) and use it to vote their preferred candidates. If politicians bring money for you collect it, but vote your conscience. The money does not belong to them, it’s tax payer’s money. If your Pastor tells you in the church that God has told him that you should not vote Buhari or Jonathan, tell him that it is his own opinion. Go to the polling booth and vote your conscience. God will answer that Pastor. Everyday God communicates with you. He does not talk to you through your Pastor or Imam alone. Any Pastor or Imam who says God talks to you through him alone is laughable. Pray to God to direct you and vote your conscience. That is how I like to rap it up.