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Ex-ICPC Boss Justice Ayoola: Buhari is Not New in the Fight against Corruption

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Justice Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola, former Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), speaks on what he thinks President Muhammadu Buhari should do in fighting corruption. He also bares his mind on other issues such as the reason the country has yet to convict any person found guilty of corrupt practices, why the ICPC should not be merged with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and what Nigerians need to do aid the anti –corruption crusade among other things. He speaks in an interview with TOSIN OMOJOLA.

In spite of calls for life imprisonment for saboteurs of the national anti-corruption crusade, yet no culprits has got such conviction in the country irrespective of the gravity of the offence.  What do you think is wrong?

Well, many things are wrong.  Before you get conviction, first you must get information; you must get a report.  Let us assume you scale the first hurdle and you get a report of wrong doing, you must be well funded to be able to investigate.  Let us assume you are well funded, and you investigate, you must have an efficient and effective judicial system.  We must have a judicial system that will be brisk and will be able to complete the trial in a shortest time possible.  But the judicial system we have at present, against the background of the Constitution, encourages delay. Recently, the ICPC published a list of the ICPC cases that are pending in courts from 2001 to 2015 and you will be surprised that 2001 cases are still pending before the courts because of the system.  It is not because judges are lazy or things like that, the system permits you to raise an objection in the High Court.  If you are not satisfied with the ruling, you go to the Court of Appeal.  If you are not satisfied, you go to the Supreme Court.  If the Supreme Court gives its decision that you are wrong, you should go back for re-trial, and you raise another objection, you go up again to the Court of Appeal, going up and coming down again, just like that.  We should look at that and see how we can clean up the system.  We are not talking of corruption now, but the structure of the system that permits such dilatory procedure of trial.

How do you think President Buhari can fight corruption?

The President is not new in the fight against corruption.  I have come across quite a number of his lectures in which he spoke extensively about corruption even after he ceased to be military Head of State.  The fight against corruption is multi-dimensional.  So, when you asked of what can he do to fight corruption, there are many things a fighter against corruption should do.  One, of course, is investigating and arresting the corrupt.  Another which is often neglected is the education of the citizenry.  The third one is making the machinery of administration itself structured in such a way that it should be corruption-free because no matter how passionate you are about the fight against corruption, if you have poor administrative machinery, your passion will be just a day dream which will not achieve any result.  So, what I would expect the President to do is to look at and begin the sensitization from within the administration itself.  Not sanitization in terms of investigating people, but to examine the system, the procedure of doing things so that you have a clean structure, a clean machinery of administration.  When you have a clean machinery of administration, you find that corruption will be reduced considerably.  People think that what you do to fight corruption is to investigate, arrest, prosecute and jail.  But my own personal opinion is that I will rather prevent the thief from stealing than running after the thief after he has stolen because, like the old adage has it, ‘prevention is better than cure’.  If somebody has stolen N100billion and you start congratulating yourself because you recovered one billion, how about the N99billion which would have benefitted the society?  In essence, therefore, prevention should be the first issue.  So, restructure machinery of administration in such a way that it will be difficult to steal public fund.

But with the existing laws guiding the anti-corruption war in the country, would you say the penalties are stiff enough to deter the culprits?

If you are talking of penalties, I will say the penalties are not stiff enough.  In many sections, the maximum will be about seven years; I am not sure whether we have anywhere the maximum penalty will be 14 years.  It is not stiff enough.  But in the olden days, when I say olden days I am talking of when we were young, when even a week in prison is enough to deter.  That was a time when if the society knows that one has been jailed, even for a day, it is enough to tarnish his reputation or the reputation of his family forever.  But now, if you put a man in jail for 14 years, and is lucky not to die in jail, when he comes out he will still be celebrated.  We have a society now where jailing people does not have the degree of negative impact it should have on the person jailed.  If he has stolen N10billion and is sent to jail, when he comes out with N10billion in his account, may be, it has been bearing interest and has become may be N20billion, people will celebrate him and he will even get a chieftaincy.

Don’t you think it is necessary to scrap either of ICPC or EFCC, or merge both agencies because it seems as if they are performing same and overlapping functions?

No, I will not advocate that.  I will even advocate that we have more of such agencies.  The reason why people think that we should merge both is because nobody has taken the trouble to see the areas of specialization of each of the agencies.  For instance, the ICPC has multiple mandates.  It has prosecution, it has education, it has systems review; it even has mass mobilization.  EFCC has its own areas of specialization.  Of course, there are overlaps here and there.  The fact that the ICPC can prosecute corruption does not mean that the police cannot prosecute corruption because corruption is under the criminal code.  And if each agency chooses its own area of specialization, it should be followed diligently. For instance, ICPC does not get involved in financial crimes like cyber crime, 419 and such areas.  The ICPC will not involve itself in such offences.  But why can’t the various states have their own anti-corruption agencies?  If you have an anti-corruption agency, you can decide cutting your coat to your size. You can decide to limit its activities to internal monitoring of the system.  There could be, for instance, Oyo State Anti-Corruption Agency; Lagos State Anti-Corruption Agency.  But you will give each agency its area of specialization. Why can’t we have the inspectors of the system in every administration in each state?  Why must we wait for EFCC to come from Abuja or ICPC to come from Abuja to be monitoring your institutions and agencies, your Local Governments?  Why couldn’t we create state agencies at least with limited mandate, but still effective?

Finally, what is your advice for Nigerians in order to ensure that the nation’s anti-corruption crusade succeeds?

It is quite unfortunate that Nigerians don’t care.  We are very emotional about corruption.  Everybody wants to fight corruption, but how many of them actually go out to fight corruption?  They don’t go out to fight corruption.  Fighting corruption does not need guns; it does not need violence.  It needs the ability, as they will say in pidgin, ‘shine your eyes’.  See what is going on around you; follow it and have the courage to report it.  Everybody is talking about corruption in the country, but only a very few has the courage to come out to report.  And, of course, as I used to say when I was in ICPC – I left ICPC five years now – the anti-corruption agency is not a witch-catcher.  The citizens must live up to their responsibility.  We must be bold to say what we see.  We must be bold to disclose what we know.  But many of our people don’t seem to care too much.  Even though our people are passionate, we don’t act sufficiently responsibly.

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