A prominent member of the Human Rights Violations Investigations Commission (HRVIC) and Bishop of Sokoto Diocese of Catholic Church, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, has said President Muhammadu Bihari is only fighting the symptom of corruption, rather than tackling the menace from the root.
He spoke on Tuesday as the 2016 guest of the Book Readers’ Club of the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), on his book entitled: Witness of Justice.
The event attracted eminent academicians such as Professor Akin Mabogunje and Professor Bolanle Awe, as well as members of the civil society organisations and the media.
Kukah used the occasion to give a detailed insight into how the commission, set up by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to investigate human rights abuse from 1966 to 1999, carried out the assignment.
The chairman of the commission generally referred to as Oputa panel was the late Justice Chukwudifu Optua.
Kukah said the current war against corruption appeared only aimed at “corrupt people,” as those structures that promoted unbridled corruption in the land still subsisted.
He recalled how the Oputa panel was confronted with the stark reality about corruption in the country, when its budget of N300 million at inception was taken to the National Assembly for necessary appropriation.
He said the budget was never considered by the lawmakers as they played hide and seek because it was not padded.
He observed that most of the former public officers like governors and minister had taken cynical stance about fighting corruption, pointing out that the task of “fighting corruption cannot be the job of one man.”
While advising the president to be “more modest in his claims” over the success of the war, the cleric said it was sad that corruption had become a way of life in the country.
He did not believe in the option of capital punishment as being canvassed in some quarters, just as he noted that most of the politicians that were convicted and jailed for a large numbers of years had since returned to the political arena.
Kukah, who revealed how he came under pressure from different individuals and groupings from parts who believed he could use his membership of the commission to redress perceived age-long injustice and marginalisation, said the commission achieved its aim contrary to insinuations in certain quarters.
He explained that if members of the commission had not taken certain realistic steps at the inception, the assignment would have died on arrival.
Citing the case of the refusal of former military leaders to honour invitation to appear before the panel, he noted that it ought to have been made a campaign matter if Nigerians were passionate about the issue, coupled with the fact that democracy was about making choices.
He challenged Nigerians if there was any leader they elected that they did not turn around to express indignation.
Kukah said what many perceived as division among the various ethnic groups that make up the federation was mere manipulation of a few greedy people for their self-interest and hegemony.
Kukah, who said all Nigerians were “wounded, though it is only a matter of degree,” however, noted that the country had the tradition of making more mistakes while trying to address a major one.
He frowned on the tendency for people to diminish their leader, stressing that the leaders, including President Buhari, deserved respect of all at all times.
He said the work of the Oputa panel was better appreciated by other countries than by Nigerians, as he was often invited to speak on the assignment abroad by individuals and institutions.
He said he had a lot of respect for Obasanjo because he remained one individual that would give you an assignment and stand by it.
Earlier, the chairman on the occasion, Professor Mabogunje, had lauded the choice of Kukah as the guest speaker, just as he underlined the aim of establishing ISGPP, which is, among other things, to promote reading culture in the country.
In his opening remark, another erudite scholar, Dr Tunji Olaopa, said the mission of the organisation was to use the outreach programme to “unearth deeply researched and documented facts about the Nigerian history,” while, at the same time, “leveraging in relevant conversation that will impact on policy and the Nigerian project.”
Meanwhile, a former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has said the ongoing fight against corruption by President Buhari is neither sectional nor selective as some Nigerians are claiming.
Abubakar, speaking at the Association of Professional Bodies of Nigeria (APBN) 2016 Summit of Professionals, held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, said Nigerians were not sincere, adding that “there is nothing sectional or selective in the current fight against corruption.”
The former head of state, who was the chairperson at the summit, with a theme: “GDP Growth and Diversification-Present Day Realities,” was represented by the president of Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Alhaji Ahmed Yakassai.
He pointed out that a lot of things were going wrong in the country because Nigerians placed ethnicity, tribalism and sectionalism far ahead of the unity of the country and national interest, adding that Nigerians must rather think about the unity of the country and the unborn children.
On the criticism that the fight against corruption by the current administration is one sided, General Abubakar said “I cannot see it as sectional as some people think. For one thousand miles, we have to start with a step. If someone is found to be corrupt, definitely he has to be handled that way.
“But diversity, that is the problem of Nigeria. If I am found to be corrupt, I run to my people and will say this Yoruba man is dealing with me. If I am a Yoruba, I will say this Igbo man is dealing with me. It is wrong, we are not sincere. Nothing sectional or selective in the current fight against corruption. That is why we see a lot of things going wrong.”
He, therefore, challenged the APBN to play its role and assist the government in the fight against corruption, adding that “you are expected to be above board, you are expected to bring solution to the problem, not to be part of the problem.”
On the economic front, he said Nigeria found itself where it was because the country had, for long, been a mono-product country, relying solely on oil, adding that “that is a bad situation, we have to diversify, we have to think out of the box.”