Oghenajabor Ikimi is a Delta-based fiery lawyer, fearless human rights activist and national coordinator of the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CENTREP). He spoke with reporters recently on the implications of taking the judiciary to the cleaners, tue 2016 budget debacle, the on-going anti-corruption crusade, the new electricity tariff, the performance of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State, so far as well as the proposed scrapping of the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU), Okerenkoko, among others. Excerpts:
What’s your take on the current anti-corruption campaign by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government?
The anti-corruption war by our president is an excellent one and I commend him for doing a good job. I call on all Nigerians to support him in the quest to eradicate corruption and wastes in our public life. Our common wealth has been looted, mismanaged by previous administration and our president has taken a bold fight in this direction and it has been wonderful. I commend him for his courage to clean up the system. Nigerians should key into the fight so that Nigeria can, once again, be a great country.
It is alleged in some quarters that the anti-corruption fight has been selective and that the fundamental human rights of some of the suspects have not been respected in the process of prosecution. You are a human rights lawyer, what’s your take on this?
Yes, it is politicians at the receiving end that are sponsoring this campaign of calumny against the president. I’m not his spokesperson, but I know that those who are already receiving the heat are the ones carrying out these false campaigns. When you fight corruption, when you talk about changing a system, especially in a country where corruption is entrenched like Nigeria, a country where corruption is at an earthquaking momentum, this is what to expect. Some persons will definitely want to kick against the fight. So, that’s what we are experiencing. Those clamoring for the human rights of the suspects are being sponsored by politicians. And I say it that no weapon that is fashioned against this anti-corruption war will prevail.
Some people are drawing a correlation between the manner President Olusegun Obasanjo fought corruption and the way PMB is also doing his now. OBJ left governance amid a more corrupt Nigeria. Ain’t we headed the same direction?
Well, I don’t think the methodology PMB is using was the same methodology OBJ adopted. Those people drawing the correlation are just time-wasting. The president is saying the actual anti-corruption war has not begun. That’s what PMB said recently. So, when it begins, even the few ones we have seen, Nigerians are satisfied. We never knew that our monies could be shared by politicians in the name of security votes. In fact, when OBJ was the president, the corruption level was not as high as it was when PMB took over. I see a light at the end of the tunnel. This fight is a serious one; the president is committed and Nigerians are also committed to see that corruption is flushed away from the system.
Well, PMB also said, during one of his trips abroad that his major headache was the judiciary. And you belong to the bar. What’s your take on this?
I think that statement was an unfortunate statement. Nigeria has one of the best judiciary. When you are ranking the judiciary in Africa and the world, Nigeria ranks as one of the best. So, PMB going out to say that his headache was the judiciary is, with due respect to him, a bit reckless because we are portraying our judiciary as incompetent and corrupt. And God forbids that our judiciary be incompetent and corrupt. No president should come out and castigate another arm of government. The three arms of government must complement one another. It’s not done anywhere for a president of a country to come out and castigate another arm of government. It’s rather unfortunate on the part of PMB. No doubt that each of the three arms of government has its own fair share of bad eggs, but that is not to rubbish the entire institution. The impression PMB was giving the world is that we (our judiciary) are never-do-well and that is wrong.
Still on the judiciary, while speaking on the Suorem Court’s judgment on the Rivers State governorship election, chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC) described the judgement as compromised. And a few days ago, the APC governorship candidate in the state, Peterside Dakuku, also accused the apex court of being bribed. What’s your take on this?
These persons you have mentioned are bad losers. I think they are bad losers. Have Oyegun and Peterside taken time to read the Supreme Court’s judgement? And the reasons adduced by the apex court in arriving at their decision? You see, we just say whatever we like on the pages of newspapers to the detriment of our country. How would a national chairman of a ruling party come out and openly castigate the highest court of the land and you expect me to clap for such a person? We are destroying our judiciary – our own and by implication our nation because all these things we say end up in the Internet and this country is not an island. We are in a global village. And by implication, investors will not be interested to do business here because they’ll feel that they would not be protected by the judiciary – that the judiciary is corrupt. The international world will not have confidence in us when we destroy our judiciary. So, politicians should be very careful with their remarks. It’s unfortunate that Peterside lost, but, again, he should not have castigated the judiciary or the Supreme Court. This summarizes the fact that our politicians are bad losers. Only bad losers point accusing fingers on others.
But I remembered during a chat sometime last year that you pointed out the violence that characterized the elections in Rivers State. Do you think the Supreme Court’s judgement represents a true reflection of what actually transpired?
You see, what transpired on ground during the election is not the same thing that transpired in courts because these two are different scenarios. What we read in newspapers concerning the election, were they captured in the petition? The election petition will deal with pleadings. Were these things pleaded? And if they were pleaded, what happened to them? Were they struck out? I’m yet to get the judgement on how the election petition tribunal arrived at its judgement, how the Court of Appeal arrived at its judgement and how the Supreme Court also arrived at its judgement. So, it depends on what was appealed or issues raised from the tribunal, the court of appeal to the apex court. You see, I’m disgusted and amazed when I hear lawyers criticizing on the pages of the newspapers, like roadside mechanics, the judgement of a court when they do not even have a copy of the judgement.
The timeline given to the Nigerian Army to flush out Boko Haram insurgents was last December. This is February 2016. We keep hearing the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, saying BH has been defeated and recently no sooner he made that statement than the insurgents struck. Do you think the FG is telling us the whole truth?
You see, Lai Muhammed is a politician. What I kick against in all these is playing politics with security. The primary responsibility of the Nigerian government is clearly under Section 14 (2b) which is to ensure the welfare and security of her citizens and not to play politics with the security of the people. The truth of the matter is that the power of BH has been decimated to an extent, but not that they have totally defeated BH. It is not correct. Because who are the insurgents? They are people living in the communities, among the people. They are not marked out in the forehead. Many of them are indigenes. So, it will take time – not a fixed time, and we will totally eradicate BH when we have good governance. The level of poverty in these areas are so much that whoever brings bread to them is their god! The insurgents have money to recruit people and the people are hungry. The ordinary people see the Boko Haram insurgents and not the Nigerian government. So, it will take some time for the people to overcome this ignorance because ignorance and poverty are diseases. The latter fuels the former. If the government thinks there could be a timeframe to defeat them, then it does not know the enormity of the problem on ground.
Recently, the proposed 2016 national budget has been dotted with irregularities at the National Assembly (NA) with complaints that some parts of it has been doctored by “rats.” Is it not contradictory for a government with the toga of anti-corruption fight to have such errors in its sleeve so early?
This is why I said there was no need for us to begin to castigate ourselves before the outside world. We are in a global village. You said PMB went abroad to say his headache was the judiciary, that was an unfortunate statement. Now the National Assembly is now saying to the whole world that the 2016 budget is full of errors, it was doctored etc, but who suffers at the end of the day is the Nigerian nation. Look, each of these arms of government should complement one another. They have to work in harmony. What are all these things pointing at? It is pointing at the fact that the Nigerian nation can never be trusted; the Nigerian nation is a corrupt nation. That is what our legislators and the executive are saying. They are portraying Nigeria in bad light to the whole world. Nobody will take us serious. Now, let us assume, without conceding, that there were errors in the budget. Out of courtesy, the NA can send it back to the executive without making any fuse about it. If there were errors in the budget, why can’t they point them out, harmonize them and then send them back to the executive, so that we don’t portray ourselves as unserious?
Do you see a kind of battle of supremacy among the three arms of government?
It is because any person comes out – now the president came out the other time and said his headache is the judiciary. You know the judiciary cannot respond. That statement has gone. And when it will boomerang, it will do so to the detriment of our nation. And the legislators are saying another thing now that our budget is full of errors, it cannot be passed … Now what impression are we creating in the mind of the international world? That they are full of deceit; that they are corrupt; that they cannot be trusted; that they are not a sincere nation…these are what politicians are doing to the detriment of our nation. And how would foreigners come and invest in this kind of atmosphere? I want to appeal to our elected officers to be careful with their statements. They should stop being reckless in their utterances.
A section of the federation is taking a swipe at PMB for traveling abroad too often instead of facing the business of governance and the present economic challenges bedeviling the nation. What’s your take on this?
Our leaders have always been traveling even right from OBJ’s government. Remember he got the title: “Ajala travel all over the world!” Jonathan was not better off. Then, our present president has also taken a cue from them. Some of these places our president is going, can’t a minister or a representative of the president go to all these places? Why do we need to spend our money this way? You know the retinue of a traveling president and the expenses involved. Nigerian leaders of late would come tops in ranking as highest traveling leaders in the world. If they have a birthday party abroad, they will run down there, they run up and down. He should send representatives or even the ambassadors. Why were they appointed, anyway? Is it not to represent the country and her leader over there? We know that there are some high level engagements that would demand the presence of the president, but it’s surely not in all cases. There are some levels of bilateral talks that would require a minister or an ambassador to handle on behalf of the president. We need to conserve funds.
In a nutshell, would you say Nigeria is progressing?
Well, for me, I’ll tell you that President Buhari, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, I’m a slow walker, but I have never looked back or I’ll never look back. Since PMB took over the reins of power in May 29, 2015, Nigeria has been walking on a slow pace, but the good thing is that he has never looked back as president; so let him continue to work and as long as he is not looking back, Nigeria will continue to progress.
Beyond all odds, former President Goodluck Jonathan convoked a national conference in which erudite Nigerians participated and good proposals as regards how the nation can move forward were made including a return to regionalism. Some people are of the opinion that PMB should implement some of the proposals which perhaps could help douse the tension generated by some agitators who are clamoring for secession. What’s your view on this?
Well, I don’t think the national conference has anything to do with the issue of the present Biafra agitation. I initially supported the convocation of the conference, but what we later saw was a conference of politicians, where the president hand-picked the people who graced the conference.
But they were men and women of integrity; we are talking of the likes of Pastor Tunde Bakare….?
Yes. But how many Tunde Bakares were at the conference? How many? Why don’t you allow a system whereby you allow a free hand, let the people evolve by themselves. But the president handpicked people, such as old men who had no business with the new Nigeria. So, many old people of over 70 and 80 years old, what were they doing there? Conference for whom? For a future Nigerians? That was my quarrel with the conference.
Many of them actually failed their generations. I don’t think the output can sustain this country. The conference did not solve any problem. The conference did not support the regionalism you talked about. It kicked against. It was raised, but was knocked off because of the quantum of politicians that were there. They gave reasons like “so, you want us to go back to regionalism where we would be going back to Ibadan as our capital? Or Enugu or Kaduna etc? We can’t do that.” You can see the level of reasonings. The quantum of the politicians doused the quality of the outcome of the conference. So, why can’t we have a conference without all these politicians who destroyed the country?
On the issue of Biafra, not only Biafra, we have some in South West (Oduduwa Republic), Niger Delta Republic, Arewa Republic and so on. But why all these? This is not the solution to problems in those regions. Today, we hear of Biafra, they have a right to go there own way, to demand their own republic, but my quarrel with them is that why are drawing those who are not Biafra to join them? For instance, Delta, Rivers, Cross River and Akwa-Ibom states are not Biafra. They said they have 25 regions in Biafra and they are conscripting all these people. The real Biafra itself, form my own point of view, died long ago. It was just the Igbo nation and it is landlocked! They are conscripting all these states in the Niger Delta because they want an outlet to the world. If you look at the five states of the South East, they are landlocked states.
What do you mean by landlocked states…?
It means they have no seaports. So, Biafra is still within the Nigerian nation. The Igbo nation – Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Eboyin, and Abia – they are landlocked, that is located within Nigeria. So, even they are asked for independence, and in the unlikely event that they are granted autonomy, they will still be inside Nigeria. So, what they are looking for is outlets – seaports – that’s why they are conscripting Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Delta, Cross River and Bayelsa states. These people are not Biafrans. The Biafran concept is rooted in fraud! It’s fraud.
How do you mean?
It’s fraud because the real Biafra, the people who talked about Biafra, they are the Igbo people from the five states of the South East. Even if they are given autonomy, there will still be troubles among them. So, Biafra is not a solution. Why I said it’s a fraudulent one is why do you conscript all those Niger Delta states just because you want an outlet? It’s a complete fraud.
Let’s talk on the new electricity tariff bringing a face-off between the Federal Government and labour unions. Fashola is insisting the new tariff has commenced and no going back. Is this right in the face of the prevailing unstable power supply?
To increase electricity tariff by 45 per cent is a total declaration of war against the masses of this country. It’s war. And like I said, it’s the primary responsibility of the Nigerian government- it’s a constitutional provision – to ensure the welfare and security of her citizens. Electricity tariff with 45 per cent increase and you know that this is what Nigerians uses both in the formal and informal sectors to carry out economic activities. The welder needs it; the tailors need it; the hairdressers need it; so why increase this tariff? By the way, what is the minimum wage? Is it not still N18,000? Has it increased? And we are talking about developing our economy when electricity supply is still epileptic. I wouldn’t have quarreled about the 45 per cent increase tariff if there was constant power. And I know that Nigerians would not have risen an eyebrow. But the thing is not constant and our economy depends on it and you are increasing it. I commend the NLC and TUC – the labour and the civil society group – that are mobilizing to protest this oppressive action. It is oppressive and anti-people. We condemn it in all its entirety.
But Fashola has said there is no going back….
Yes, Fashola said there is no going back because he’s a minister today, but will he be minister tomorrow? So, when he says there is no going back and the Nigerian people say we must revisit this issue – you see, this is what politicians don’t know – popular sovereignty belongs to the people. If the people say this is what we want, it’s final. The will of the Nigerian people will prevail over that of the Fasholas of this world.
The chairman of the senate committee on the interior, Bayero Nafada, said recently that about N130 is spent per meal on each inmate in Nigerian prisons. Is this not dehumanizing?
That amount is even distorted. It is less than that. I visit prisons. The state of prisoners is reminiscent of the Gas Chambers of Hitler. In fact, the fact that they are even alive there …. They’ve gone to the level of starvation at the prisons. Definitely, even if it’s N130, it is not even enough to feed a full-grown adult for just a meal, let alone a whole day! What they are feeding them with per meal is about N40. But the figure is even distorted. It’s lower than that. The prison is supposed to be a reformatory centre. So, what kind of human beings are we now reforming or producing at the end of the day? The place is supposed to be a reformatory centre, but you starve these people. And you expect them to change? What kind of people are you recycling? That’s the problem. That’s why they are worst off when they come out than when they came in. You read in newspapers where robbery and kidnapping gangs are formed right in the prisons! So, the prisons that should be reformatory centres have now become recruiting centres for criminal gangs! We have a lot to do in our prisons. And the government is not even doing anything. They are just folding their hands akimbo. Let’s hope that with the ongoing fight against corruption, PMB has started on a good note because in a nutshell, everything circles round corruption. By the time we are able to nail corruption, many of these challenges we have would be addressed.
Kidnapping is on the increase again in the country, especially Delta State to the extent that royal fathers are now prime targets. Can we ever win the fight against the scourge?
Kidnapping is a problem, not just in Delta State, but all over the nation. But the level of unemployment among the youth is also a problem. We have over 60 million Nigerian youths unemployed. Again, are these people really royal fathers? Because a royal father – the one that was kidnapped recently – was abducted in a pool house! What has royalty got to do with a pool house? We now have monarchs who attend birthday parties and struggle drinks with their subjects! They look for contracts like their subjects. They even fight over girlfriends with their subjects. These are people who are supposed to be backed by authority – both physical and spiritual. When they gave a word, it’s a decree, but because they have usurped their position and authority and they have mingled with their subjects to the point that they now do what they are not supposed to do, the sacredness, the scantity and the royalty are gone. Kidnappers are going after them because of lack of job and the monarchs have money – tips from government, oil multinationals, etc and rather than restrict themselves to their domains, they play about.
Can you access the performance of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State, so far?
I’ve been trying to crack my brain in order to be fair to him. What has he achieved? To be very frank, I’ve not seen anything. But, all I’ve been seeing is just a display of that TV soap opera series titled: That is what is being played by the Okowa administration. He has over 300 aides. He has 25 civil commissioners, special advisers in the region of 300 or over. What’s the income of the state? We can barely pay civil servants, local government workers are being owed, teachers are owed.. What is he doing with over 300 aides? And these aides have their aides too…
Maybe because of the litigations at the tribunal which has ended now in his favour, that’s why he has not performed well….
What’s the litigation about? Over election? That’s the beauty of democracy. If they lose and they are not satisfied, they go to the election petition tribunal.
The truth is that he has no focus. If he had a blueprint… You see many of our politicians have no focus; no blueprint of what the society should attain at every particular time. I challenge governor Okowa to come out – I like him as a person – I challenge him to come out and give us his blueprint for the state – how he intends to develop the state from the present quagmire to a higher level in another four years. Recently, I wrote to the Accountant General of the state to furnish me with the details, under the Freedom of Information Act, the actual debt profile of the state because there are conflicting figures bandied around by politicians. The man refused to give me and directed me to the commissioner of finance and I told him he (the commissioner) is not the accounting officer, but a politician. I also met the clerk of the state’s House of Assembly to furnish me with the amount of money that they used in sending 29 lawmakers for training abroad because there was rumour everywhere that N1 billion or N700 million was spent on the trip. How much was actually spent? The registry at the House received the letter and told me that the Freedom of Information Act is not applicable to Delta State! So, we have, in Delta State, a government that is not transparent, not accountable, there is no probity; it is business as usual; that is what we have. What we have in Delta State is “Fuji House of Commotion” – that’s the summary of what we have in the state.
What’s your take on the proposed scrapping of the Nigerian Maritime University (NMU), Okerenkoko, by Minister of Transport and Aviation, Mr Rotimi Amaechi, who is supposed to be in support of it being a Niger Deltan?
As for Amaechi, he has a penchant for closing down public institutions. When he was governor of Rivers State, you remember he virtually closed down the state’s high courts for a better part of his government until Mr Nyesom Wike came in as governor to open the high courts. So, he’s known for that. Now, as for the proposed closing down of the university, he said he was scrapping the maritime university because there are no projects on ground. That is to tell you that the man did not even go there. So, I’m inviting him to come and see things for himself – those infrastructure on ground for the take-off. The Federal Government has spent over a billion naira there.mThe hostels are ready; the offices and classroom blocks are ready and you said there is no project on ground…so what are those mighty edifices doing there? You are scrapping it? He said the place is insecure, but it is not insecure for oil exploration because Okerenkoko is the oil bed of the nation. Even if you want to scrap it because the place is not good for learning, but oil exploration alone, why have you not scrapped the University of Maiduguri, University of Jos, Ado Bayero University, Kano, since those areas are centers of violence!
So, you see that what the government is doing is anti-Niger Delta and the Ijaws are making things difficult for themselves. They are seeing it as an Ijaw fight; it is not. It is the fight of all Niger Deltans. The oppression is against the Niger Delta, not Ijaws as a tribe. You cannot locate a maritime university in a desert. That is where it supposed to be and all the infrastructure are already laid, on ground for take-off. That’s is why the Centre for the Vulnerable and the Underprivileged (CENTREP) has concluded taking the matter to the ECOWAS court, not because we do not have confidence in the Nigerian courts, but we want it at the ECOWAS court where we have a combination of all judges. We are signatories to ECOWAS treaties – Nigeria is a signatory so we are taking it there so we can have a wholistic view of the matter. If they failed to rescind their oppressive decision, then we’ll know that they are declaring war on the Niger Delta people. I know if it was something they could set up in the north, they would have done so long ago. So, I appeal to the FG to take a second look at that decision; let the president come and see things for himself. Because if we are talking of change, it should be positive change, and not negative one, in line with the constitution. I also appeal to Niger Deltans to calm their nerves because I know that the scrapping will not work. It will not work. End