…Says Nigeria’s worst corruption rating not unexpected
By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
General Ishola Williams retired as Commander of Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the think-tank of the Nigerian Army. Before then, he was the Chief of Training, Operation and Plans (CTOP) at the Defence Headquarters (DHQ). Since Williams retired from the military, he has been active in the anti-corruption sector, assuming, in the process, the headship of the global anti-corruption body, Transparency International, TI, Nigeria.
In this interview, the former TRADOC Commander speaks on the Service Chiefs who lost their jobs last week and Nigeria’s worst rating on Corruption Perception Index since 2015. The Service Chiefs are General Abayomi Olonisakin (CDS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai (COAS), Navy chief Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas and Air chief Sadiq Abubakar. They were appointed in 2015. They were replaced by Major Gen. Leo Irabor (CDS), Major Gen. J. Attahiru (COAS), Rear Admiral AZ Gambo (Navy chief) and AVM IO Amao (Air chief)..
On the appointment of new service chiefs, tell us how the new helmsmen can do things differently to get better results than their predecessors…
I left the army many years ago and most of these officers, I don’t even know them. At the time I was there, they were junior officers. The point is that they are coming into a situation the President described as an emergency. For the first time, he has looked at the situation and discovered that we found ourselves in a very bad situation.
Now, every sensible person who takes over a job like that would ask himself why the effort of his predecessor didn’t go far enough to succeed. What are the good things he has done? What are the gaps? How can I fill the gaps? These are questions the person should ask. It is obvious to me that the tactics they are using and the structures in fighting Boko Haram are not yielding any fruit. Therefore, there is a need to have a rethink. From what I have read, they have a good Chief of Defence Staff, who has had a good experience in the North-East.
He left the place to command the Training and Doctrine Command, which is supposed to be the think-tank of the army. When I headed the Training and Doctrine Command in 1992 and 1993, I warned them about the future, but nobody took the warning seriously in the Army. If not, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in this situation. I believe that if I were the Commander-in-Chief, I wouldn’t have appointed an infantry officer. I would have appointed a special forces officer as the Chief of Army Staff. The person should be at the rank of Brigadier-General even if I have to retire everyone above him in rank. It is so because a drastic situation requires a drastic response. It is not just appointing a general because the person appointed could have done something a long time ago, except their Chief of Army Staff wasn’t listening to them. But I was told Buratai listens.
The President could have looked for a younger service officer who had served in the North-East to be the new Chief of Army Staff. Our National Security adviser is not up to his responsibility. He has nothing new to offer. He should go because he is responsible for advising the President on the security situation in the country. He has failed also. In other places, he could have resigned. What is he doing there after five years? We need a fresh National Security Adviser.
Nigeria had its worst rating in five years on Transparency International, TI, Corruption Perception Index. In the report released, Nigeria scored 25 out of 100 points, dropping to 149 out of 183 countries surveyed. This is surprising given the Buhari administration’s posture on anti-corruption…
There are some fundamentals that we are not taking care of no matter, whose regime it is. And I don’t believe any President has come into government to say that he has got a beautiful plan and is ready to execute that plan with a clear conscience by making sure that he picks those who have the integrity to be in charge of certain positions. This has never happened in Nigeria. Therefore, if you don’t look at the structural problems, there would be a big problem.
A long time ago, Transparency International discovered that three conditions make corruption thrive. The first is, the person you appoint to a political position, is he a person of integrity? In that position, what are the accountability and transparency demanded? If the person occupies the position and fails to meet that standard, what do you do to the person? If the person does not meet up to standards and the person is not punished, there is impunity. Looking at these conditions, which one have we fulfilled in Nigeria from the Presidency to other layers of government? This shows that there are foundational problems.
When you look at our budgeting system, I have not seen any year that there is no padding. And a lot has been published by NGOs and experts to show some of the things they add to the budget. How did those things get into the budget? The amount of money the National Assembly, NASS, votes for constituency development, who checks? There was a time Independent Corrupt Practices Commission ,ICPC , was checking. They made a lot of noise but everything has gone quiet.
The NASS has made so many probes. How many people have been taken to court as a result of the probes? But some people in that NASS are as guilty as any guilty person in this country. Has anything been done to them? There are ex-governors in that NASS who are questionable. What has happened to them? Another one that makes Nigeria exceptional is the absence of accountability. People do not demand accountability from public officials. We also concentrate much on the federal government, thereby leaving the states and local governments to do whatever they like. If they are corrupt at those levels, Nigeria will be corrupt. These are structural problems.
The bodies that were set up to deal with corruption are not independent in any way. And we all know it. In the beginning, Gen Olusegun Obasanjo ,retd, wanted to protect himself by allowing the Police to run the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. That was a major mistake in the beginning. He refused to separate the position of the chairman from the Director-General of the EFCC. Where in the world is the head of an anti-corruption body also the chairman? Who is overseeing the body? You don’t appoint an executive chairman for an anti-corruption body. It is funny. You don’t make the chairman report to you.
The best is to make it a public body, which submits reports to the NASS yearly. And only NASS has the power to remove them. In that case, public service is completely under the control of the anti-corruption body, but it is not happening. As seen recently, when the heat was much on the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, what did he do? He wrote to the President directly and got Ibrahim Magu removed as the Chairman of EFCC.
The President may not have listened to Magu about the AGF because the President trusts the AGF completely. Whereas the AGF knows that he just wanted to remove him. He has gone ahead to write to the NASS on how to restructure the EFCC, but it is still under his control. It should not be under his control. And the most important thing that we will continue to say is that the position of AGF and Minister of Justice be completely separated to become independent positions. What we should have in Nigeria like in other countries is the Minister of Justice and the Solicitor-General to advise the President.
We should have a public prosecutor who can even arrest the President the way it is done in South Africa. There was a time the South African prosecutor indicted the President for an issue relating to electoral funds. Can that ever happen in Nigeria? All the talks about dealing with corruption are not serious. At some point, they will say they didn’t know corruption is this endemic in Nigeria after which they give up. Our President has given up on corruption. His AGF has not helped the issue because they will never allow the anti-corruption agency to work effectively and independently. They haven’t got a clear conscience. Nigeria has a systemic integrity problem. There is no way we can rid the country of corruption.
What you said seems to have given credence to the TI report, which listed four areas Nigeria hasn’t done well in anti-corruption. They include nepotism, absence of a good legal framework for anti-corruption, corruption in the police and accountability…
In the case of security agencies, they collect bribes openly because they know the people at the top do the same too. They know that every Inspector General of Police, IGP, that leaves, goes with a lot of money. In the last few years, any time an IGP leaves, the person taking over from him complaints that he has taken so much money and nothing happens. The same thing happens to the security chiefs. The head of one of the para-military agencies who retired recently was complaining that he wanted an extension, but there was a time more than one billion naira was found in his account. Nothing was done to him. The fight against corruption in Nigeria is just lip service. The President himself has said they have not been able to live up to their campaign promises. They can’t deliver if they don’t look at the foundational problems I have just highlighted.
In what looked like an attempt to discredit the TI report, the Presidency faulted it, especially the source of the data used. It was even said that those who do not like the Buhari administration may have influenced such a damning report. What do you make of that?
Do Nigerians expect the President’s media team to have kept quiet? It appears those who handle media for government agencies in Africa have no conscience.
The only people who have come near there were the media aides of President Trump, who were made to be telling lies. All the press secretaries who couldn’t tell lies during the Trump presidency left. But that hasn’t happened in Nigeria. What is the presidency talking about? If it is sure about its data, let the data be published for the world to see. They should do it to convince the world. The truth is that they have no conscience. When you look at the civil service, in some countries, what they have done is that if a policeman takes a bribe from you and you were able to video it, you will report him to the public complaints commission.
With the video, the policeman would be traced. There is a civil court like the Code of Conduct Bureau, which the policeman would be taken to. The victim would claim the individual. If the person is caught three times, he would have to leave the service. There are so many things to do, but Nigeria doesn’t do them because we want the status quo to remain. Why do ex-governors run to the NASS when they leave office? A judge recently ruled that the amount of money ex-governor Sule Yari had in his bank account be seized. One of the accounts had N350 million while others have thousands of dollars. This is a former state governor. Many of them are sitting in the NASS and Nigerians want the country to make progress. It cannot. For instance, in the case of a former governor of Ekiti State, Sen Obanikoro said openly they used a plane to carry money to Ekiti and they counted the money. Which country would allow the persons involved to be walking freely? We are not normal people.
What TI called the absence of the right legal framework to prosecute cases, is a reminder of the Magu case, which is still dragging. He hasn’t been charged to court and much is not being heard regarding the case. There are concerns that it may go the way of other high-profile cases in Nigeria…
In the case of Magu, it is between him and the AGF. It was the case of an AGF of a country personalising his powers. It was not that Magu hasn’t abused his own powers too. He had done that with the people he wanted to get off the hook. Both of them, Magu and AGF, understand each other, but Nigeria is suffering the consequences of their actions. And the President, who is totally unaware as usual, has his position. There is a panel that never invited the AGF to come and state his own case. You cannot have systemic integrity with people like that in the system.
That is why I am saying that those defending the government on what Transparency International said are people without conscience. I have told Transparency International that every year they publish their report and people make noise, everything dies off. What we need is a new approach. The new approach should be an impunity index. America and the UK are corrupt also, but when you are caught, you are going to jail. It doesn’t matter who you are. There were cases of high-profile people being sentenced to jail. Our problem in African countries is impunity. People get away with kleptocracy. Transparency International can help African countries by publishing an impunity index.