The dangers of anti-corruption fight in Nigeria, our corruption fight against Obasanjo-Anti graft crusader, Debo Adeniran
By RAZAQ BAMIDELE
London, Jan. 26, 2019 (AltAfrica)-A renowned human rights activist, pro-democracy fighter and anti-corruption crusader, Comrade Debo Adeniran is the Executive Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) in Nigeria.
In this interview with Alternativeafrica.com, the middle age vocal educationist cum social commentator opened up on dangers associated with fighting corruption in Nigeria, his organisation’s petition against former president Olusegun Obasanjo and why every Nigerian must join the crusade to rid Nigeria of corruption
AltAfrica-What is the relationship between Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) and Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) because there seems to be mixed up and confusion in the names of the two organizations?
Well, CACOL used to be Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders. But we have rebranded. We re-branded in 2016 to Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership with a view to having a better leverage on how we can intervene in governance issues.
Hitherto it was only on corruption issues based on those that have been convicted that can be truly called corrupt leaders that our then mandate gave us. But now, we intervene on issue of good governance, intervene on human rights issues, intervene on police and several other developmental issues like economic among others. That is what the new brand allows us to do. That is open leadership. We ask for transparency, we ask for openness for participatory governance.
If we achieve that, there would be little corruption. If government is open, if government is transparent, if government is participatory, it means that nothing would be hidden and the criminals don’t like their acts be known to the general public. So, if we have open leadership, then, everything would be left in public domain that everybody can scrutinize. Everybody will see issues of economy, issues of expenditure being posted on websites or published in documents that would be made readily available to the members of the public. And in such situation, every act of corruption would be easily detected and the earlier corruption is detected, the easier it is for the agencies to deal with it. That is why we insist on open governance.
AltAfrica-When exactly did you found the organization and what actually informed it?
We started the initial CACOL in 2007, precisely September 3 when we had the conference to announce the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders. But the event that led to it started on May 27, 2007 when we reviewed the reason why child education became moribund. Hitherto we were running Child Help in Legal Defence of Rights to Education in Nigeria which we called Children Project.
Now, we observed that there was degeneracy in education sector generally, but child education was more affected. A graduate of primary school could not be employed to do anything no matter how old. The graduate of secondary school was as useless as somebody who has not attended school at all. We discovered that degree holders could not even fill their forms when they were called to serve in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). On that children day in 2007, we organised something like a colloquium where we looked into reasons there was so much degeneracy in the education sector.
We now constructed what we called Problem Tree where we looked at what were the problems confronting education. Then what were the causes of those problems that form the branches. Then what were the causes of those initial problems. Then, we now went into all of the root causes of the problems. We now saw corruption everywhere from the root, the stems, the leaflets, the leaves; everything had hand of corruption in them.
There and then, all the organizations and participants at the colloquium agreed that there should be a central coalition that would engage in research, documentation, advocacy on issues of corruption. Then, the outcome of that would be used as enlightenment tool for members of the public on how not to engage in corrupt practices whether they are in private sector or in the public sector. That was what gave birth to Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders.
We also zeroed in on leadership then because we saw that corruption issues at the lower level is as a result of corruption issues at the upper echelon especially, the government. If those in the upper echelon are not corrupt, they would have the gut to discipline their subordinates who want to engage in corruption. But if the superiors are corrupt, they would not be able to check their subordinates. They would not be able to implement the rules because they would be at the mercy of their subordinates who knew how they acquired material and non-material possession through corrupt means and they would stand as witnesses against them.
So, basically, whoever has anything to cover up at the upper level would be afraid of those who knew about it even when they are their subordinates. So, that is why corruption became pervasive everywhere. So the coalition was out to educate the public that they should not conspire with their bosses who engage in corrupt practices. They should not engage in cover up for those they discover committed corruption crimes against the population.
Then, with time, we see corruption as a crime against humanity because those who suffer the worse jeopardy are those who don’t have special influence and don’t have opportunity for special positions; they don’t have enough material resources to even prosecute their cases if in court. They are the silent majority. They are the ones suffering more. And we try to educate them on how to ostracize those that have been making their lives terrible, that those are the people who brought their ill-gotten money to their community to pollute the minds of their young ones towards making them to come to the cohort of corrupt people when they grow older.
Some of these corrupt leaders have manipulated the mind of the younger ones to believing that corruption is a career that there is hardly anything you can do with honesty and decency that does not have hand of corruption. They make the younger ones to believe that you cannot get rich and get material possession if you are not corrupt. And that is reason some of the upcoming youths don’t even want to engage in honest economic activities. If they are in school they engage in cultism, if outside the school they engage in brigandage. Those who learned trades do not want to practice the trades. They want big money from small job. As a matter of fact, when you see some of them pray in religious homes, they would say they want small job with big reward which is euphemism for stealing and reaping from where you didn’t sow. Basically, that is what the corrupt elements had taught those who are coming up.
Unlike in the days of yore when integrity was the order of the day when our forefathers taught people how not to steal. Stealing was an anathema and taboo in several communities.
AltAfrica)-How is the organization Succeeding in this daunting exercise?
The success of an activity is difficult to calculate especially when you do not possess the power to drive home your agitation completely. What we believe we are successful about is that we have popularised the issues of corruption in Nigeria. Before then, people did not seem to realise the enormity of corruption problems in Nigeria. But since we have launched CACOL on September 3, 2007, a lot of people have started talking about corruption. We engage in a number of protest marches with which we protested the suspected corrupt practices by the then leaders especially in the administration of the then former President Olusegun Obasanjo. And people didn’t know much about it until we popularised it.
Aftermath of it led to setting up of several probe panels. As a matter of fact, the then Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) boss, Nuhu Ribadu claimed that they started investigation. But we didn’t see any sign that investigation was going on until Ribadu was changed and Madam Farida Waziri took over. When Madam Waziri came, she said she didn’t see the petition we submitted in November, 2007. She said the record available to her at the EFCC didn’t show that there was a petition. So, promptly, we took a copy of the petition and submitted it to the EFCC at its Lagos zonal office. And coincidentally, it was the same person who collected the original petition that collected the subsequent one. And a day or two after the submission, Madam Farida Waziri confirmed and acknowledged receipt of the petition and promised that the petition would see the light of the day. A week after, she said she has set up a 5-man panel to look into the veracity of our allegations in the petition and that investigation continued.
AltAfrica)-Were you invited during the said investigation?
Of course we were invited but not to bear witnesses to what we alleged but to provide more evidence and information about the petition during the investigation. That continued and by the time the investigation concluded, they just claimed to have concluded investigation. We were checking on them to know the outcome of the investigation. But they did not confess that they have exonerated the former President until we read it in the book the formal President Obasanjo wrote entitled; My Watch, that was when we knew.
They told us earlier that they had concluded investigation and that they had a discreet report and we told them that as the petitioners, we should be given a copy of that discreet report. But they said they wouldn’t release it. We didn’t know that the discreet report could be released. But it wasn’t until we read it in Obasanjo’s book; My Watch. We didn’t have the benefit of even objecting to some of the claims. We didn’t know how he was interrogated if he was ever interrogated. We didn’t know about what defense he put forward against the allegations we leveled against him. We only saw that Obasanjo published the so called discreet report in his book.
And we were agashed and we went back to EFCC, we wrote a protest letter to the commission saying, why should you release the report of your investigation to the subject of our petition without putting us into confidence and without giving us a copy of the report? The EFCC has not had any answer for us up till now.
So, one of the successes of our engagement was that the former President, as much as he was influential and as much as he was powerful, our petition led to the questioning of him by an agency he set up by himself. And definitely, he answered those questions. All the details are in that book, My Watch. He actually tongue lashed us in that book.
AltAfrica-Was that the only success recorded?
No, that was just one of the successes recorded. There have been several others where our petitions led to investigations, prosecution and all that. Let me fast forward to the latest in 2018. We submitted a petition with a protest march against the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Deziani Alison Madueke in 2013. EFCC did not show us that they were doing anything until later in 2018 when we learnt that the case has been reopened and that she would be extradited and prosecuted. It was the petition written by the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) in 2013 that we submitted with a protest march to the EFCC Lagos zonal office that led to the present efforts to get Deziani to answer questions.
The same thing, our petition also led to prosecution of James Ibori, former Governor of Delta State if you remember. We observed that case and we followed it up from Kaduna to Asaba. Every time that we noticed there was likelihood of perversion of justice, we raised questions. It was due to questions we were raising against the adjudication in the way the trial was going on that the trial Judge was queried by the NJC. We wrote about four petitions. The trial Judge was queried three times. And because of such queries, he had to delay the ruling for so long until maybe the NJC gave him go ahead to deliver the ruling. It was stated that it was because of our petitions when he now said that he preferred to err on the side of caution.
Every allegation that we leveled were quashed by the NJC including the attempt to bribe the then EFCC chairman with $15m which the Central Bank affirmed was with them. The trial Judge did not even allow Ibori to answer any question in court on that attempted bribery allegation,
But what happened in London afterwards has vindicated us where he was jailed for the same offence he was said to have allegedly committed in Nigeria.
We also have a couple of other cases we cannot list here.
AltAfrica-Was there any threat to life during the course of the cases?
I don’t like talking about threats to life. Our lives are perpetually threatened. As a matter of fact, life of every Nigerian is being threatened by those leaders who don’t do what is necessary to secure the life of an average Nigerian. So, if your life is not threatened on the street, it will be threatened in your house by armed robbers, by hunger, by starvation, by ignorance and all of those that government ought to have provided but they didn’t provide.
Talking about direct threats, we were attacked when we went to observe James Ibori’s case in Kaduna. We were also attacked when the case of The True Face of Lagos broke out. They thought we engineered it, they came to our office. We were attacked at the Nigeria Institute of International Afairs (NIIA), Lagos where Ibori wanted to pontificate on issue of corruption and one of our members was stabbed in the head. Men of the State Security Service (SSS) were sent to our office and we welcome them. We told them we had nothing in secret and that our books are all open. They invited us a couple of times when we had to write statements on nothing.
One thing I always say is that whether you run away from death, one day you will die anyway. And again, whether somebody kills you or you die naturally, you will still die one way or the other. You can die in accident because the roads are badly fixed. The roads are death traps on themselves. Our houses have been raided several times by known and unknown faces.
When we also intervened in Osun State in the case of gubernatorial mandate when Rauf Aregbesola complained that he was cheated out of the race and we saw it as electoral corruption. During our intervention, we were raided, arrested and taken to Ilesha prison where we spent a couple of months. There were times security people were detailed to eliminate us. But thank God we were able to survive all of that.
Basically, we have already made up our mind that whether we run away from it, whatever will happen, will happen. We are not fatalist to that extent. But we know that if one has to die from the barrel of gun, there is no way of escaping it. There are several people who were not activists like us who had been killed through the barrel of gun, the gun of armed robbers, gun of political thugs at campaign ground and so on.
We are not afraid of anything. As a matter of fact, we have told whoever cares to listen among them that it is better to kill us for what we believe in than for us to die for something that we don’t believe in. We have made up our mind that whatever it costs doesn’t matter. We live everyday as if it is extra and as if we had died already.
AltAfrica-Has there been any attempt at influencing you towards dropping some cases?
Well, there had been several attempts at doing so. In fact, there is hardly any of the cases we handled that there was no attempt to influence us except the case of Obasanjo. Nobody came up to attempt influencing us maybe they thought they could ignore us.
Even when the case of Olujobi and Adegeye, two Lagos State legislators who were alleged to have forged their West African Examination Council (WAEC) certificates came up, by the time we were handling the case, especially in 2010 when my father died, attempts were made to influence me by wanting to give me money to bury my father. I just told them since the case was already in court that they should wait for the outcome. I however assured them that if the court said we were wrong, we would not appeal the ruling because there was no vested interest. There were also several other cases of attempts to influence us. Even in the case of Deziani, a couple of influential people came around to appeal to us to hands off the case. I told them that the satisfaction for us would be to see those causing our problems brought to book. I mean those who denied us good governance and portraying themselves as if they are super heroes. That is enough for us as satisfaction.
The statement we are trying to make is that we don’t have permanent friend or permanent enemy.