How Buhari can win the anti-corruption war – Prof Oyebode

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Akin Oyebode is a public affairs analyst, social commentator and professor of International Law and Jurisprudence at the University of Lagos. In this interview with Daily Trust, he spoke on the fight against corruption, the report of the last national conference, among other issues. Excerpts:

There are insinuations that there is little action in respect of President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war. What is your take?

I’m on the same page with Buhari on fighting corruption because as he had said, if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. His stance on corruption reflects his personal antecedent in terms of being nationalistic, patriotic and his role as military head of state for about 30 month. We are all human beings, so, he cannot be an angel. People have to forget and overlook one or two lapses that occurred in his administration as military head of state. I believe he has a pan-Nigerian mind to govern. Don’t forget, during the election, he enjoyed the support and confidence of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians who voted for him to reinvent, refurbish, rediscover, re-orientate and reconfigure the Nigerian body polity.

Do you think he is being selective in the war against corruption as alleged in some quarters?

Let’s wait for war to commence. He has not started the war, he’s still making preparations. He has set up the Itsay Sagay advisory committee made up of eminent and credible Nigerians to proffer suggestions on how to combat corruption. The war has not started yet. The cases that are being investigated by the anti-corruption agencies are old cases, cases that commenced before Buhari came on board. These are cases being handled by ICPC, EFCC and the Code of Conduct Bureau. The Buhari war against corruption has not commenced. We have to wait for it to commence before we can accuse him of being partisan or not. The wolf-cry in some quarters now is just political grandstanding.

The president is proposing establishment of special courts to handle corruption cases. Is this right?

Special courts are not new in the country. We have special courts for election petition cases. Even in the existing judiciary, we have divisions; family law division, criminal division, civil division, probate division and before now, ICPC under the leadership of Justice Mustapha Akanbi defined a system under which the chief judges could nominate particular judges to handle corruption cases.

But if President Buhari now wants to set up special tribunals to try politicians accused of corruption, he might have to amend the constitution and that is a convoluted process. To amend the constitution, it will take almost forever because you will need two-third majority of the National Assembly and three-quarter majority of all the state houses of assembly. What he has to do now would be to ensure that divisions are created within the judiciary to handle corruption cases; that will be easy administratively instead of going about it legislatively. By this, we would not need constitutional amendment.

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Some have even said that since we already have the EFCC, ICPC and other anti-graft agencies, there was no need for setting up the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption…?

For me, I will say kudos to President Buhari for setting up the committee because he’s an apostle of change. He came with the promise that he would change things. Anybody that wants to change things would have to reinvent the process and the way to begin is to set up a committee of experts to advise him on how to proceed.

Also, we might have to merge the ICPC and EFCC. We might also have to overhaul our criminal justice system. The criminal justice system that we operate came from the British; it is the adversarial system whereby the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. There is a presumption of innocence under the banner of fair hearing. We might have to examine the French system which is inquisitorial, whereby the accused is presumed guilty until he proves his innocence. We have to shift the onus of proof on the accused rather than on the prosecution. If you are found to be living beyond your means, you have to disclose how you got the funds to own those properties. So, we might have to amend or overhaul our criminal justice system, to create a new system because a drastic situation warrants a drastic remedy.

Do you subscribe to death penalty as punishment for proven cases of corruption, as recently canvassed by the Nigerian Labour Congress?

I have said that a drastic situation warrants a drastic remedy. If the state wants to make an example of corrupt public office holders, then we might have to be very drastic. I don’t know if death penalty will be acceptable to most Nigerians, although we still have death penalty in our statute book. But if we are not going for death penalty, the least we can do is life imprisonment coupled with confiscation of properties acquired illegitimately. We have to compel those who have run away with public funds to disgorge their wealth. Example is better than precept; once you make an example of a highly placed public official, then everybody would adjust.

There are reports that the present administration may have dumped the report of the last national conference of which you were a member. What is your take on this?

It would be injudicious to throw away the report of the confab even though it was allegedly convened to promote and project the second term agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. But when you look at the personalities that attended that conference, it will be difficult to have an election to throw off such an assembly. It’s true that many pro-Jonathan personalities were at the confab, that PDP dominated the confab but there were also people like us there who were never card-carrying members of PDP and we expressed our positions.

The confab produced more than 600 recommendations. I served on the Foreign Affairs and Diasporas committee with about 15 former ambassadors; very high-powered committee. There were many other committees like that which presented their reports which were then aggregated. At the end of the confab, the final report was massive. I will not advise Buhari to jettison the report; you don’t throw away the baby with the bath water. He can set up a small committee just like the Itsay Sagay Committee to go through the report and synthesise; as well as extract from the report things that are doable. Why should we spend so much money and throw the report in trash bin? It would be injudicious and unwise to throw away the report of the confab.

Do you think the current state of the nation’s judiciary can match the change mantra that the Buhari administration is championing?

The judiciary is the third arm of government, but it is the most important arm of government because if you pass a law, that law is law only to the extent the judges say so. It is judges who declare what is the law; they can overrule, they can extinguish and nullify any action which is considered arbitrary and illegal. So, the judiciary is very powerful.

I believe our judiciary can rise to the occasion because the judiciary would interpret any law that is passed and interpret it accordingly. I am not saying that judges are angels; there are rotten apples in every pack and such rotten apples should be removed from the judiciary. The National Judicial Council should sanitise the judiciary in this regard. Sure, there are some bad cases involving the judiciary but I will say by and large, our judges try to live above board. They can be relied upon to do the needful when the time comes.

Do you support financial autonomy for the judiciary and what would the nation derive from it?

The whole notion of autonomy for the judiciary comes from the concept of separation of power. I believe that the judiciary should not be held to ransom by the executive. If the executive funds the judiciary, then it can manipulate the judiciary through the power of the pouch because whoever wields the power of the pouch controls everything. What people have said is that judicial expenses should be a first line charge on the consolidated revenue of the federal government which has a lot of merit. We don’t want judges to go cap in hand to the president or the governor to run the judiciary.

Definitely, I am in support of letting the judiciary be in charge of its affairs, especially its financial affairs but that does not mean that judges should fix their own salary. The Fiscal Revenue Mobilization Commission should ensure that our judges are well paid in order to insulate them from temptation and from litigants.

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