Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) is the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Chairman, Steering Committee of Zero Corruption Coalition, and Acting General Secretary of the West African Civil Society forum (WACSOF). In this interview with Sahara TV, he discusses extensively on corruption in Nigeria with the difficulty of stemming the tide. Excerpts.
Reports have revealed recurring and unchecked corrupt allegations in the country. For instance, the Minister of Aviation, Stella Odua’s N255m bulletproof car scandal; Farouk Lawal’s fuel subsidy bribery scandal; Diepreye Alamieyeseigha’s state pardon after spending just two years in prison for money laundering in 2005 to 2007; James Ibori’s Jail term for money laundering in the UK; among others cases. Sir, in your view, why is the country faced with endemic corruption at all levels?
Thank you very much. We have been experiencing a very new and challenging environment that promotes, tolerates and encourages corruption in Nigeria. We have always had the problem of corruption in Nigeria, but this time around, the multiple faces of corruption with state promoting corrupt practices and corrupt tendencies and that is why we are seeing the impunity in corruption as against what it used to be in the past, where there was some level of concern by those in power. But this time around, the present administration of Goodluck Jonathan encourages, supports as well as promotes corruption. It is a very unfortunate situation we found ourselves. This is why corruption cases are increasing instead of declining, because the environment is actually promoting it and nobody gets punished. The recent cars scandal that bridges the law of the land—that is, Public Procurement, was really a criminal offence committed by the Minister of Aviation. Instead to allow the law to take its course, a political committee was set up just to water-down the public outcry against the illegality. In a decent society, it is expected that, Mr. President would not only play game on this. But to our greatest surprise, he continues to travel alongside the same Minister, who has been accused of bridging Public Procurement Law, abuse of office by inflating contracts, spending money not appropriated by the law of the land. So this is a criminal offence. Because Mr. President is comfortable with these people around him, he travels with her. This shows that even the committee that was set up will give a political submission. As far as we are concerned, the EFCC and ICPC are the appropriate government agencies that should investigate and take action, not an administrative committee that will be set to water down whatever the recommendation that may have come. So we are concerned that the committee is not going to come up with anything tangible. Otherwise, if Mr. President was sincere, he would have encouraged EFCC and ICPC to move in because it was a clear bridge of Public Procurement law. The Bureau of Public Procurement has to come out to testify that the Public procurement Act has been abused and violated in this process. Clearly, the National Assembly has come out to say they have never appropriated this. So, whatever you spent that was appropriated is a criminal offence. So this is a criminal action that the Minister has engaged in, but because she is part of the president’s thieving cabinet, whatever she does, he will not give a damn. That is why corruption cases are rather increasing in the country because of the impunity and lack of concern.
Nigeria and Nigerians have suffered a lot from corruption and mal-administration.
Nigerians have been denied development because of corruption. Nigerians have been denied education, healthcare facilities, and infrastructural development because of corruption. Every society is battling with one issue or the other, but in our case, there is a huge political, economic and social corruption that is being promoted and encouraged by the government and his refusal to declare his assets shows clearly that this government is out there to encourage corruption. We have a law which states that every public official must declare his or her assets, but Mr. President has refused to do that. It shows that he is not interested in transparency. Next week there is going to be a conference on Government Openness. Nigeria is not admitted because the President refused to comply with asset declaration which is within the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which requires a public official to declare and be verified. But in fact, the President thinks corruption is not a problem in Nigeria, while everybody knows that corruption is the cankerworm that has denied Nigeria meaningful development and progress.
Your organisation works closely with Transparency International in Nigeria. How do you hope to bridge this disconnect, how are you advocating to the lawmakers, educating them to bridge apparent disconnect between the people and their lawmakers?
One of the ways which we try to bridge disconnect among electorates, the lawmakers and government officials generally is mobilization, sensitization, and civic education to electorates. Because we have discovered that the government agency that is saddled with the responsibilities of providing civic education on tenets of democracy, human rights and transparency and accountability has now turned to a campaign machinery of the government. That is, the National Orientation Agency. So, they have become an arm of Mr. President’s campaign machinery which is unfortunate. But we as civil society, we have the duty and responsibility to continue to mobilise, sensitize and educate Nigerians to continue to demand for accountability and make sure that they behave in a very responsible and responsive way. So, CISLAC and other organisations in Nigeria have been working to educate Nigerians to know their rights, to know the constitutional provisions, to know the limit of public officers, and demand accountability from their elected officials. For example, the legislators are supposed to be accountable to the electorates but hardly you see them going back to their constituency to discuss legislative matters so they end up representing themselves rather than the people. My organisation focuses largely on the grass root level, educating people about the tenets of democracy, about the legislative duties and responsibilities of the legislators and their own responsibilities as electorates who vote this people. We have been doing this training at different levels.
We have also been educating the legislators on key legislative responsibilities that they are supposed to be performing which is lawmaking, representation, oversight and constituency outreach, which is constituency accountability. We have been doing that but the reality is that one or two NGO cannot meet the expectation of over 150 million Nigerians and unfortunately we are not having the enabling support in terms of the connection or the enabling human resources that is required to be able to engage every constituency in Nigeria because many donors do not see the value in mobilising and educating the electorates but rather support government agencies that do not even require their money. For example, you will see DFID duplicating and giving money to government agencies that do not need the money. You will see most of the donor agencies especially the bi-lateral dashing money to government agencies that do not even need their money. Nigerian governments are not desperate for financial help from the international community or donors. Nigeria has enough resources, only that they are judiciously utilized. The Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are the groups that need support of the international community. Unfortunately, very few international communities are supporting the good work that the CSOs are doing.
CISLAC, Transparency International, CITAD, and other organisations like CDD and Media Rights Agenda are doing their best to ensure that the mobilise people to understand democracy, demand accountability by partnering with other relevant organisations like the media; otherwise, it would be a difficult time especially as political parties in Nigeria are not doing enough to educate and sensitize their party members. They have left everything in the hands of the civil society who do not have all the supports. However, all hope is not lost, the civil society in Nigeria are working with or without money because it is a process. For me, it is a passion, commitment and patriotism. I must continue to sensitise, mobilise and liberate Nigerians from this poverty, corruption that corrupt officials have plunged Nigeria into. Nigeria has no reason to be roaming in poverty and violence. We will continue to demand accountability and make sure that government officials carry out their duties and responsibilities as it were.
You educate Nigerian people at the grassroot level and you also try to hold lawmakers accountable, educating them on how to go about their duties in the appropriate manner. Recently, a member of the National Assembly told activists during a brief interview that the National Assembly was using 3% of the budget and Nigerians shouldn’t be concerned with this. Meanwhile, it has been noted that the Nigerian lawmakers are some of the highest paid in the world. How do you engage and ensure successive education if they are not willing to listen?
It was in realisation of the cost of governance in Nigeria that CISLAC organised a meeting involving different stakeholders to look at the cost of governance in Nigeria and we got some analysis that we are spending over 25% on just overhead without really putting reasonable amount of money into capital projects. When you do the analysis, you will find that less than 10 to 15% are actually put in place for capital projects. So, all the rest are just money that are being wasted by government officials at the legislative, executive and even the judiciary level. So, CISLAC was concerned with this huge cost of running government so we organised a meeting and drew the attention of the lawmakers, executive and other concerned Nigerians to discuss and dialogue about the cost of running government. The media gave a lot of publicity to that which made NASS and some of the executive arm of the government to be cautious about the fact that Nigerians are watching and it is unfair to be looting public funds without putting them in the development work. That’s one.
Secondly, some of the legislators are keen and committed to reforming and getting things done but unfortunately it is only few of them that are worried or show concern about the level of looting and cost of governance that is going on in Nigeria. But like I said, they are willing to listen and learn, many legislators are visiting our office. We are getting a lot of calls and even invitation from different committees of NASS and State Houses of Assembly trying to leverage on the work of CISLAC and other organisations in Nigeria. Unfortunately because of the way and manner which election is conducted in Nigeria, almost 70 to 75% will not come back. So, in every election, you have a new set of legislators and before they learn the rudiment of legislative work, their term would have expired. It’s a continuous thing, and we will continue to do that. I know that many legislators are happy and willing to partner with civil society and CISLAC in particular to be able to have a better understanding and assert their legislative powers to checkmate the excesses of the government. But we also have some lawmakers who just use the platform of NASS to make money through their influence as legislators. I am not surprised that you see some legislators who do not make any contribution because some of them are only looking for relevance in the country. You also have those who are very familiar and competent with legislative work but the system has deprived them from voicing out. If they notice that you have a view that can scandalise them, the leadership will never recognise you to speak.
Legislators that we have had personal encounter with have told us their own difficulty. But I think we are making progress because a lot of them are yielding to public pressure. I believe that the type of situation we had during Bankole saga, we cannot have a repeat of it with the current NASS leadership. If it were as before, Farouk Lawan who was fingered as collecting bribe from Otedola, they would have just done cover-up to avoid exposing their colleague. But this time around, the NASS leadership has actually sanctioned him. So this is the type of thing we expect from the National Assembly. They should lead by example. Not a situation where their colleague would commit a crime and offence and they would attempt to cover up. So clearly you can see that the civil society is working to see that the National Assembly does not do cover up and we are hoping that the Executive arm will also learn to do that. Unfortunately, they are very arrogant