Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution, Chief Okoi Obla, in this interview with ANTHONY UBONG, in Calabar, speaks on the ongoing anti-corruption war and the recent arrest and release of judges, among other emerging issues. Excerpts:
THE Anti-corruption war of the APC-led government of President Muhammadu Buhari is said to be selective and only targeted at top members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). What is your take on this?
There is absolutely nothing such as selective prosecution by President Muhammadu Buhari. That viewpoint is simply hogwash by discredited people and their supporters who looted the country dry during the locust years of [Peoples Democratic Party] PDP misrule of the country; where the country earned unprecedented revenue of more than N60 trillion but nothing was done with such humongous amount of money. That amount is more than what this country earned from 1914 to 2007. Despite the incontrovertible fact that the country earned so much revenue, the PDP-led Federal Government could not show much for it. I will use my state– Cross River State, as an illustration. There are two very strategic Federal Government-owned highways in Cross River State; namely the Calabar-Itu-Ikot Ekpene-Aba highway and the Calabar-Ugep-Ikom-Ogoja highway. Despite the fact that the people of my state consistently and persistently voted for the PDP from 1999 to 2015, the PDP did not deem it necessary to fix these two highways that have been in a state of total deterioration, dilapidation and dereliction.
The much touted East-West highway that is designed to straddle the South-West to the South-South Region is still not constructed despite that fact huge sums of money had been budgeted and appropriated for the highway, starting from 2007. In the South-East region that was also one of the strongest strongholds of the PDP, there is no single federal highway that was fixed during PDP rule. So, all these huge revenues that were earned by the country was looted and siphoned out of the country by PDP mandarins. It was not APC politicians that were in control of NNPC, Ministry of Finance, Customs Service, MIMASA, Nigeria Ports Authority and so on; they were PDP politicians. It was not an APC man that was the National Security Adviser, who was given $15 billion to buy weaponry for the Armed Forces to fight the insurgency in the North-East Region, but diverted and shared it among PDP politicians.
Remember that APC was registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on July 31, 2013. So, APC was not in government from 1999 to 2014 when the country earned unprecedented revenue from the sale of crude oil. So how does any objective person want to link APC to the large scale looting that took place in the country before now? How do you expect the Federal Government to begin to arrest and prosecute members of the APC that were not in charge of the running of the Federal Government all these years, simply because some people, out of mischief and bad blood, want the war against corruption to be even-handed?
Let me say categorically that the war against corruption is not selective. This government has shown the will to enforce the law against anybody who has gone contrary to the provisions of the law. There is no sacred cow. You can see from the present campaign to prosecute members of the judicial branch of government, which is unparalleled in the history of this country. This alone should prove to you beyond a shadow of doubt that there are no more sacred cows in this country.
I read in the newspapers where the acting chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, said that the EFCC is even probing members of the present Federal Government on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari, so what do Nigerians need again to be convinced that the Federal Government means business in this war against corruption? So, this so-called selective war against corruption is a diversionary media propaganda stratagem contrived by looters and corrupt political elite to discredit the government efforts to rid the country of corruption and graft. But it has woefully and spectacularly failed. Why is it that poor people that are arrested and prosecuted and jailed every day do not complain of selectiveness? It is only when the political and business elites are asked to render account for their conduct that we will start hearing that the government is selective.
If you say the anti-corruption war is not selective, some of those who hold the view maintain that there are concrete evidences of corruption established against some top APC members who are now serving in the Buhari administration as ministers and senators. Yet, they still walk freely without being arrested and prosecuted.
Where is the concrete evidence? Where is the proof? Is it enough to make generalisations and sweeping allegations against ministers just because you want to make a point or give a dog a bad name to hang it? Which ministers are corrupt? It is trite principle of the laws of evidence that he who asserts must prove. So, if anybody alleges that a minister in this administration is corrupt, the burden lies on such a person to prove his or her allegation with concrete facts. It is not enough to use the anonymity of the internet to level baseless allegations against members of the government just to give it a bad name. The name of the minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, is always mentioned by those who allege that the government is selective in its prosecution of the war against corruption. But where is the concrete evidence against Amaechi other than the evidence that was procured by a witch-hunting Judicial Commission of Inquiry constituted by Governor Wike of Rivers State just to get back at Amaechi. This is bad politics, vindictiveness and maliciousness and they want to drag the Federal Government into this war of attrition against Amaechi so that he would not be appointed. Rivers State is an autonomous state within the Nigerian federation; it has all the paraphernalia of a sovereign state; it has an Attorney-General that is vested with the power by the constitution to prosecute anybody that commits an offence within its territorial boundary against the law of the state. The governor of Rivers is the Chief Security Officer of the State. The Commissioner of Police takes direction from the governor. So if Amaechi is alleged to have stolen money belonging to the government of Rivers State when he was Governor of Rivers State, why has the Attorney-General of Rivers failed to prosecute him? Why are they dragging the Federal Government into this matter? Are we not practising federalism again? Who are the Senators belonging to APC that are corrupt and have not been prosecuted?
You made reference to the prosecution of the former NSA, Sambo Dasuki. But former President Goodluck Jonathan recently absolved Dasuki of culpability in that arms funds diversion case. How would you react to this?
I totally condemn such a statement coming from former President Jonathan, because this issue is before a court of competent jurisdiction. It is trite that when a matter is before a court of competent jurisdiction, nobody is required to do anything or make a commentary that will be prejudicial or jeopardise the fair hearing of such a matter. The statement of former President Jonathan is contemptuous and calculated to influence the judge who is hearing the matter. I do not expect such remark from somebody in the position of former President Jonathan. So, I align myself with the statement by the Federal Government that anybody who is saying that Dasuki did not steal anything should wait for the judgment of the court.
Talking about the economic recession currently bedevilling the country, trillions of Naira is said to have been recovered from looters but the Federal Government is still thinking of borrowing to fix the economy and fund the budget. Why borrow when these recovered funds can be ploughed back to rejig the economy and fund the budget?
Who told you that the Federal Government has recovered trillions of Naira? Where is your source of information? Why are you giving credence to rumour mongering and beer parlor gossip? The last time the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, address this issue, he told us what the Federal Government has recovered is not up to the payment of the monthly salary bill of federal civil servants, which he put at about N160 billion. Lai Mohammed said the Federal government has recovered only about N70 billion. He also said that the Federal Government has blocked some accounts belonging to looters worth about $9 billion, which it is yet to recover. So what are you talking about? You can see that the money recovered cannot be enough to rejig and revamp the economy, because is chicken feed. However, the Federal Government is working very hard and has indeed put in place policies to diversify and revamp the economy.