Hon Bala Ka’oje is a former minister of sports. In this interview with some journalists in Abuja, Ka’oje said only President Muhammadu Buhari can exonerate himself from corruption. SUNDAY ISUWA was there for LEADERSHIP Friday.
Sir, security, anti-corruption and revamping the economy have been President Buhari’s focus since he assumed office. Is he doing well in these areas?
The three issues you mentioned which involve fighting corruption, the economy and addressing insecurity in the nation, one would say that the president has achieved a lot in the areas of addressing insecurity, and restoring some levels of stability and removing fear amongst Nigerians. Every Nigerian is hundred percent convinced that Mr President has done very well in securing the country against Boko Haram and other security threats. But when you look at the issue of the economy, a lot needs to be done because the economic indices are not favourable to us at all, and that shows that the stagnation is still prevailing. Although the foreign reserve is growing but the growth is very epileptic because the exchange rate of Naira to other foreign currencies is heading towards a negative direction. However, one would not also fail to commend the president for he has been able to slow down the attacks on oil installations in the Niger Delta which has brought about increase in crude oil output daily. Of course, this is also helping our economic development.
On the issue of corruption, the president did not hide his stand on the issue of fighting corruption in the country but when one looks at the level at which corruption has grown in Nigeria, most of us knew that the president is going to face a herculean task. From what happened recently on the outcome of judgements on corruption cases, you can clearly see the problem Mr President is facing. It is also clear by the action of the judiciary against corrupt individuals in the country. These are issues against Mr President’s intention because corruption has become something that is embarrassed by every sector of the economy especially in the public service. What I mean by that is that; whether we come out to say it or not, majority of the public service is corrupt. Whether we come out to say it or not, there is corruption in the National Assembly, whether we come out to say it or not, the judiciary is not also cleared of corruption issues. So, if you sum up the governance (in the federal level), which is a three legged thing; the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary, each of the these three arms appears to have a serious hand in corrupt practices and that is why Mr President is actually finding it difficult to make a headway in the fight against corruption despite the good policies that are being introduced; like the “Whistle Blowing Policy.” It’s quite good but what is the end result when clear corruption cases are lost in courts and even the “corrupt persons” are also taking the government to court to claim back “their money?”
Sir, you said the public sector is corrupt. What is actually responsible?
Well, corruption is a kind of phenomenon which is very difficult to actually describe with words, it is something that moves like fire and it is something that builds up overtime. If you compare what happened during the second Republic and what has happened subsequently up to today, you will see that corruption is like a tree, it continues to grow till maturity. Now, the corruption tree in Nigeria has grown to maturity with very deep and strong roots. It is extremely difficult to reduce corruption to the barest minimum in Nigeria, it is a herculean task. This is because whenever you tend to fight corruption, it fights you back, the president himself has made that statement that corruption is fighting back. It has fought back very well and that was the aftermath of those cases that were ruled recently at the Federal High Courts. It is a clear indication that corruption is fighting back. I have told you that of all the three arms of government, none can exonerate itself of corruption, none of it. Therefore, if you are a member of any of the tiers of government, you have a safe haven, you have protection against corruption issues because members of your sector would not want you to be castigated because they would work against anything that is going to appear as punishment against you. Meaning that if somebody in the executive is corrupt, he is shielded by the executive. We have seen some cases like that in the past.
Can you mention such cases which you are referring to?
There was the case of the chief of staff to the president where he was accused of collecting bribe of over N500 million during the MTN -NCC saga, we didn’t get any proper explanation from the executive for us to know what transpired regarding that matter? Of recent, there was the case of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation where the National Assembly accused him of awarding bogus contracts to his personal company. These are issues that have to do with corruption, and we didn’t receive proper explanation from the executive to believe that they have been cleared of any wrong doing? There are issues like that and when you come to the National Assembly, it’s the same. There is no member of the National Assembly that is accused of corruption that all the members would not come out to shield the person and say no, it’s not true. They would give you all kinds of explanations just to cover the person up whether you agree or not. Then, when you come to the judiciary, it’s all the same. Look at the recent cases, all the witnesses came out to testify against the judges. At the end of the day, the presiding judges in the different cases ruled that it was a “no case submission.” With these kinds of scenarios, we are almost hitting a brick wall. This is very dangerous for our democracy and for us as a nation.
Sir, do you mean there is no impact in the fight against corruption?
Some impact is being made but that is not enough. A lot of money has been recovered from many people and whether these monies are going to be used to develop the country, we don’t know because there hasn’t been judgement against those people. These cases range from those who hide billions of Naira and millions of foreign currencies in septic tanks, starched cash in their homes and bank accounts. The cases are still on going and are being adjourned indiscriminately, only God knows when they are going to be determined. From the recent action of the court, I am afraid, we will get justice on other corruption cases before the courts.
What is the way out?
Nigerians should give Mr President the needed support that will enable him to move forward in the fight against corruption in our country. But until people are being jailed, their properties and money confiscated, that is when we can say yes, the president is winning the war against corruption but for now, there is nothing to celebrate about. The president is making a lot of effort but there are many forces working against the effort he is making.
What other approach should Buhari take in order to succeed in this fight against corruption?
I understand the president is already doing something in that regard. I also learnt that they have appealed the cases lost at the High court but I am not sure whether appealing alone can make the difference. I could remember somebody said they should get first class lawyers to handle the case and that is a very good suggestion. But I am not sure, if first class lawyers alone would be able solve the problem because of the diverse interests and the division amongst the three arms of government.