The pioneer Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Justice Mustapha Akanbi (retd.) tells SUCCESS NWOGU what strategies President Muhammadu Buhari must deploy to boost the anti-corruption war
To truly fight corruption in Nigeria, what do you think is the first thing that should be done?
Anybody arrested for corruption must be tried and the court must appreciate that unless they cooperate in fighting corruption, or have the spirit that those who are corrupt do not go scot-free – and that they must try them and convict them (if found culpable) – the fight against corruption will not be effective. Judicial officers must be above board; what we hear happening in the judiciary concerning corruption is ear-tingling. In the days of our seniors on the bench, we did not hear of such. The aspiration of a judge then was to be a good judge. I think the best thing to do is: anybody involved in corruption must be tried and convicted (if found guilty).
Secondly, when a man was arrested for corruption or any other crime, in the old order, the person was suspended automatically. But this time, you know people who are corrupt, who are members of the House (of Representatives/Assembly), and nothing is done to apprehend them. Therefore, they (allegedly corrupt individuals) can vent their anger on those who have arrested them. Thirdly, corruption cannot be fought by President Muhammadu Buhari alone. Even the anti-corruption agencies can’t do it alone. It has to be a national affair.
Imagine people celebrating a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, who was released after serving his jail term, following his conviction by a court in the United Kingdom. People were just praising him. In our days, when a man is corrupt or a thief is arrested, people do not want to hobnob with him. They do not want to have anything to do with him. It appears that in modern-day Nigeria, the more corrupt you are, the more famous you will become – not notorious.
Are you saying that those who celebrated and even took pictures with James Ibori after his release did a wrong thing?
What they did was bad. Now, we tried him in this country and he was exonerated. He went to UK, they applied the law and he was convicted. People who are celebrating Ibori should bury their heads in shame. Ordinarily, you will not want to be associated with such a man. Another sad thing is that while he was in prison in Britain, it was said that he influenced the nomination and appointment of people in the (Delta State) House (of Assembly). What message are we sending to our children and grandchildren by that? It means there is no harm in stealing and there is no harm in corruption. I do not know whether Nigerians believe that we should fight corruption. If they really believe that we should fight corruption, they should be fighting them openly and not being afraid of whatever may happen.
Are you suggesting that people who are being prosecuted should step aside from whatever public offices they hold?
Yes. There was a man in Benin in Edo State; when we arrested him, he used to go to court with his loyalists. I had to order that he should not be allowed to come with those loyalists until the case was determined. With the support of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, we were able to do that to stop his loyalists from coming with him to court. And quite a few people in government, we would write them and say these people should not continue (to remain in office) until they prove their innocence.
What role should national re-orientation play in fighting corruption, especially in the public sector?
The National Orientation Agency; I do not even know if they exist. If you read the book of Chinua Achebe on ‘The trouble with Nigeria’, he described us as people who have no principle, who are not patriotic, and are not nationalistic. In fact, I now understand why he refused to receive national honours after reading the book. I feel sad. Even though I am sick, it makes me feel worse. NOA is supposed to come out in the open and tell people the ills of corruption; the need for us to change our orientation; to be incorruptible; the need to stop stealing; and that it does not pay to go the way we are going. But if they are really re-orientating Nigerians, then we would have been better. Everybody is now afraid that if you criticise government, then you are the enemy of government.
They are afraid. We have quite a number of good people that Buhari can rely on to change the orientation. I am sure if he insists that the National Orientation Agency must do its work as it should be done, things will be done properly. They (NOA) must go to schools, universities and the towns and talk to people about what is bad (corruption). If all of us work together to fight corruption, we can kill corruption. Buhari is doing it the way he knows best but he needs to do more. Buhari should fight corruption to the tilt. He must be seen to be giving us information about those who are corrupt. It is not enough to tell us, ‘look, we have collected this and that from corrupt people.’ Who are the culprits? Let their names be mentioned. After all, he is the Commander-in-Chief and the President. There will be no problem for him. Maybe, if somebody like me talks I can be attacked.
What suggestions would you give to security agencies in tackling corruption?
You know security agents themselves must do their work with the fear of God. They must make sure that they are above board. If they are above board, Nigerians will respect them. If they are not above board, Nigerians will feel that they are being selective in their approach to the issue. They must do everything possible to ensure that this regime does not fail. This regime must not fail. It must live up to its ideals and the promises of the President that he is going to fight corruption. We are happy that it has been able to deal with Boko Haram. The soldiers have done well. We commend them. But people are complaining of hunger. Today, only God knows the number of people that have come to ask me for help. I told them that things are not easy for me because having gone through the trouble of ill-health for almost 11 months in a hospital in the United Kingdom; it is not easy to survive.
How do you think the judiciary can help the government to fight corruption meaningfully?
The judiciary can help. I remember I told the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed, that any judge that is corrupt should be dismissed by the National Judicial Council. Instead of retiring a judge for gross misconduct, the indicted judge should be dismissed. When you retire him, you are giving him the opportunity to even earn more salary than myself. I am glad that towards the end, he started being more active. Once you accept to be a judge, you want to prove yourself as an honest man; a man of integrity. I have heard people say that since Justice Bolarinwa Babalakin left office as the CJN, the NJC had not been its usual self. But I want to believe that the new Acting CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, will also do very well. It is unfortunate that he is now an acting CJN. But whatever is the case, I want to believe that when he is eventually confirmed, he will do well.
The Federal Government has talked about rewarding whistleblowers. What more can be done to prevent or discourage systemic corruption?
What the government should to do is to ensure that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the ICPC and the police give account of how many corruption cases they have handled every four months to the nation. They should go to the mass media and announce their efforts. The President must also announce the number of people that have been nabbed for corrupt practices. Then, once we hear that, it is (something) positive. Some of the heads of the anti-corruption bodies do not believe in prosecuting corrupt people. They say, ‘Oh, we have to educate them over a period.’ If Nigerians do not see the (corrupt) man in jail, they won’t know that you have arrested anybody. When I was in the ICPC, we were paying more salaries to those who worked with us. But when I left, they said they wanted to focus more on education. They reduced the salaries of the workers. The reason why we were paying them more is that we wanted them to feel confident. They will not take bribe; not even from the complainant. They will do their work as they should. People in ICPC can testify to that. But when I left, they reduced it. When you don’t motivate workers, how can they perform effectively? They should pay them well and not owe them salaries. The president should also tell us how he is going to encourage them.