HURILAWS SUPPORTS REASSESSING PROSECUTING POWERS OF THE EFCC

The Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS) applauds the call by the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, A.B. Mahmoud SAN for a debate on the efficacy of the war against corruption in Nigeria. Where corruption is endemic like in Nigeria strong institutions are critical to achieve success. It is in this context that the debate on the propriety of the EFCC investigating and prosecuting financial crimes at the same time is appropriate.

We support the position of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association. HURILAWS position is supported by international best practice and the need to build the capacity of the EFCC to deliver on its core mandate which is investigation of financial crimes. The international best practice is that one agency investigates, another prosecutes and the court adjudicates. The EFCC as currently composed is overworked and will not efficiently deliver on investigation and prosecution.

Whilst we have no objection with the EFCC investigating or the courts adjudicating, we believe the powers to prosecute should be vested in an independent highly resourced prosecuting agency. We appreciate the enormous work done by the EFCC since its establishment in 2003. 13 years on the Federal Government needs to rejig the EFCC and other crime fighting institutions to perform optimally. We support plan by the Attorney General

‘Nigeria’s Problem is Simply the Failure of Political Leaders to Rebalance the Federation’

The Buhari administration has since inception been faced with several challenges. From insurgency, militancy, corruption, economic downturn to recent agitations for restructuring the federation. In an interview with May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi, former NBA President Olisa Agbakoba SAN proffered possible solutions to the present political challenges and expounded his views on other matters of national importance.

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Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN

After nearly four decades at the Bar, an illustrious career that has earned you a reputation as one of the foremost Human Rights lawyers in Nigeria, and an expanding legal practice covering the length and breadth of a full service law firm from Arbitration to Maritime law. What is it that motivates you today and how has that changed over the various periods of your career?

I am motivated by the quest to see Nigeria attain democracy in the real sense. Nigeria at best can be said to be illiberal or a semi autocratic country with institutions heavily subverted. As you know, law plays a crucial role in deepening democracy. I have a strong interest in helping our constitutional process. Generally there is a legal failure in Nigeria and a sense of civil disorder. I think I have a role to play in the resolution of these challenges. I also get motivated to use the tools of development law for economic development.

You have made it one of your goals to speak up strongly against what you perceive to be injustices and anomalies in national politics and in the application of the law in Nigeria. What injustices and anomalies do you see as the challenges of today’s democracy?

The big challenge confronting democracy in Nigeria is the unwillingness of political leaders to grapple with the many problems confronting Nigeria. With Nigeria, in low grade civil war, from Boko Haram to Niger Delta Avengers, to pro Biafra agitation and now the Bakassi Militancy, it ought to be clear that nothing short of an honest solution by our political leaders, will resolve our problems. Nigeria’s problem is quite simply the failure of our political leaders to rebalance the Federation. The Federal Government exercises 98 items of power. 68 of these items are on the exclusive list in the Constitution, while 33 are on the concurrent list. Only the Federal Government can exercise powers on the exclusive list. The states can only exercise powers on the concurrent list if the Federal Government is not interested. This means that Nigeria is not a Federation but a unitary state. The contradictions thrown up by this process is the result of the chaos and contagion you see in Nigeria.

How should these injustices and anomalies be resolved in the interest of advancing our democracy?

There has been no lack of effort to resolve the contradictions I have highlighted. We have had series of constitutional conferences going back to General Babangida and ending with President Jonathan. Many proposals to resolve these challenges were agreed at constitutional conferences but the problem has been the lack of political will to implement. My proposal, having served as a member of the Jonathan Conference is for President Buhari to implement those cornerstone agreements reached at that conference. I suggest President Buhari sends an Executive Bill for an enactment to devolve certain powers from the federal to state governments. I have produced a bill and sent to the National Assembly which recognises sub national diversities across the six-geo-political zones. Our democracy will be strongly enhanced if, to use the political cliché common in Nigeria, the federation is ‘restructured’.

Access to Justice is one of the hallmarks of democracy and delays in the administration of justice hamper this. In your opinion what short term solutions can be introduced to improve access to Justice in Nigeria?

In my view, access to justice is a small issue in the broader policy context of Administration of Justice. Administration of Justice in Nigeria is in a very parlous state. There are a number of structural challenges. First, is an over centralised judicature. This is similar to the point made earlier about an over centralised Federal Government. At the National Conference we, in the legal and justice committee, agreed to ‘restructure’ the Judicature as the third branch of government. Restructuring will mean devolving judicial authority from the centre to the states. This in turn will impact on the speed and access to justice. A related concern is how the courts work. As a former member of the National Judicial Council, I say that the operating models of the courts in Nigeria are outmoded. We need to comprehensively review our rules of court, practice, protocols and guidelines to achieve effective management of cases. The Judge should no longer be a spectator allowing legal disputes to go in court completely unmanaged. I look forward to the automation of court infrastructure, capacity building for judges and wellbeing of judges. Let me add that our courtroom infrastructure is so dilapidated that I expect the Chief Justice of Nigeria to make a strong representation on this point. You will obviously recall I went to court to seek a declaration concerning the constitutional framework of funding the Judiciary. I am happy to say that I won the case. The case freed the Judiciary from the shackles of the Executive. But to my shock the Judiciary has done nothing to enforce the judgment. I will like to make a slightly different point about the Judiciary. We need to see a very good mix of appointments coming from the Bar to the Bench as I feel it will improve its quality. Actually, I was the first to apply to be appointed to the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Uwais. Back then, it was seen as heresy. But today the National Judicial Council has agreed in principle that SANs can be appointed. But I sense that they would like us to start from the Court of Appeal. My learned brother Tony Idigbe SAN, applied to the Supreme Court but missed out on a role there. I hope one day to see one of us on the Supreme Court bench. And many others at other levels of courts.

You are the founder of the Human Rights Law Society (HURILAWS) the NGO with particular focus on influencing and advancing Human Rights Law in Nigeria. Could you briefly evaluate the state of human rights in Nigeria?

The state of human rights in Nigeria is far from satisfactory. That’s all I need to say on this.

What is your assessment of the Government’s fight against corruption? Do you think the Rule of Law is being strictly adhered to?

The Government has shown some muscle to deal with endemic corruption in Nigeria. The rule of law has not been adhered to in this process. But it seems Nigerians are not interested in this. While I do not support bending the rule of law, I can understand why Nigerians take this view. Corrupt practices in Nigeria beggar belief, so no wonder the perception that popular justice is alright if it gets at the thieves. But I think the Government can design a more institutional process to combat corruption. This will mean major institutional changes to the work of the EFCC, for example in developing capacity. I have always felt the strong need to unbundle the EFCC into two agencies; one dealing with investigation and the other with criminal prosecution. This is the standard international best practice.

Recently, the Federal Government set up a committee led by the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute high profile cases. Is there a legal basis for the committee? And does it not amount to duplicity since we have the EFCC and ICPC?

This question has been partly answered by the preceding question. I recommend that the Attorney General of the Federation redesigns the legal and institutional framework for dealing with corruption cases. As I said earlier, separate investigation and prosecution. Agencies can and should be introduced. There is no reason why the EFCC and ICPC cannot be merged so that there is a stronger platform to prosecute crimes falling under their respective mandates.

The report of the Sovereign National Conference, of which you were a prominent member, still has not been published nor have any of its major findings been adopted by the Federal Government. What parts of that Conference’s findings do you believe to be of paramount importance and necessary for implementation?

I have touched on the conference report in an earlier question and I would like to deal with what I think is the best way to proceed. As you recall President Buhari has said that the Jonathan Conference report will go to the archives. I think in Nigeria, there is lot of emotion about the phrase “restructure”. “Restructure” is a more commonly accepted term, in the south than in the North. I think we can all agree, and this would ordinarily, include both President Jonathan and President Buhari, that our country faces severe political and economic problems. Proceeding from this, what President Buhari can do is leave out the emotively charged term, ‘restructure” and simply proceed to rebalance the Federation. Rebalancing the Federation involves matters as simple as transferring power to issue a driver’s license from the Federal to State governments. In my draft bill on devolution of powers, I identified 36 items that can be transferred from the Federal to the State and Local Governments. The President can initiate this process without too much fanfare and without reference to divisive issues.

The Nigerian Bar Association will in a few days’ time elect its national officers. What is your advice to Nigerian Lawyers on choosing the next NBA President, having held that office before?

Merit must be the most crucial attribute to guide Nigerian lawyers in deciding the next NBA president.

Stakeholders in the Electoral Process have raised concerns over the legal regime governing elections in Nigeria. What are your comments on the adequacy of the legal regime governing Elections in Nigeria?

The legal regime relating to the electoral process is far from satisfactory. As you probably recall I was a member of the Justice Uwais Electoral Committee and we made far reaching recommendations. Some of the recommendations have been implemented but others remain unimplemented. INEC needs to be unbundled of the responsibilities for registration, regulation and supervision of political parties. It is inconsistent with INEC’s work as a referee and umpire. INEC may be accused, of partisanship if it disqualifies a political party, even though all INEC is doing is exercising its regulatory duty. When I was being strongly considered for INEC chair, I took time to review how many parties complied with electoral regulations and to my shock, very few did. This point remains true as most parties always fail to comply with electoral laws and ought to have had their registrations withdrawn. This is why the Uwais committee recommended the Political Regulatory Agency and also the Electoral Offences Commission. I look forward to the National Assembly enacting these commissions.

You have also observed in different fora that the Nigerian Maritime Industry holds huge potential for the Federal Government in its bid to diversify the source of Public Revenue if properly harnessed. In your opinion, what should be the important components of government’s maritime policy?

Nigeria is a coastal maritime nation. The international practice is to have a Minister responsible for maritime affairs in order to bring high level policy making to the industry. The maritime industry is a huge cash cow and I do not believe that the Director of Maritime Services, in the Ministry of Transport, is senior enough to drive maritime policy. Government’s maritime policy should aim to improve Nigeria’s status as a maritime hub. Nigeria accounts for at least 80% of cargo throughput in the Central West Africa sub region. Cargo throughput is the technical name for cargo coming to a destination such as Nigeria. This should give you a sense of how big we are in the maritime sector. I will also like to see Nigeria attain the status of a Maritime International Centre, like Singapore and Dubai. We have absolutely no Nigerian vessels trading in our coastal waters neither do we have ocean going vessels. Revenue receipts in the maritime sector is estimated at 7 trillion in a year. But we need a coherent maritime policy to bring this all in.

In more recent times it has become a criticism of the Nigerian Justice System that ‘Capital Punishment’ is still being used. What are your views on Nigeria’s application of the Death Penalty?

Recall, I was the first to take 2 cases to the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the death penalty but unfortunately lost both. I have very strong views on the constitutionality of the death penalty because quantitative and anecdotal evidence suggests the death penalty does not deter crime. If it does not deter crime, I do not see the point keeping it on our statute books. Most scholars agree that not only is the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment, it is also degrading and inhuman treatment. The global trend now is to abolish it. Nigeria has in place an unofficial moratorium. I look forward to its official abolition.

What is your view about the recent change of corporate leadership at one of Nigeria’s leading banks by the CBN and what legal implications do you see in the context of a challenging economic environment?

This is a good question. The answer has policy and also legal implications. As a matter of policy I have always thought the CBN does far too much work. The international best practice is that the CBN deal with financial stabilisation of the economy and monetary policy. Monetary policy includes exchange rates, interest rates and lending rates. In addition to monetary policy, the CBN is saddled with the legal framework of supervising banking risk and ethical behaviour of Banks. This is far too much for the CBN. I was appointed chair of the legal implementation committee of the CBN in respect of reforms of the financial services sector. I strongly recommended the unbundling of the CBN into three institutions; the first, to deal with financial stabilisation of the economy and monetary policy. This is the main function of the CBN. I also recommended removing risk supervision and management from the CBN and passing it to a new Prudential Regulatory Authority. The sole function of this authority is risk management. Risk is at present managed by the Directorate of Banking Supervision. I feel there is not enough capacity in the CBN to manage banking risk. This point is important in the context of the last banking crisis and the looming risk crisis in banks. Banks are carrying a very heavy debt portfolio, technically referred to as non- performing loans. The reason I suggest a third institution out of the unbundled CBN is the extremely unethical behavior in the banking industry. I am not aware that the CBN has a strong mechanism for dealing with ethical issues. The solution is to create a Financial Conduct Authority. The legal framework to create these institutions needs to be put in place immediately, so banks will be compelled to focus on their primary business of lending. Nigeria will be the better for it.

As a pioneer of Development law in Nigeria how can this concept promote political and economic development?

Development law deals with the application of rules regulations, guidelines and laws to the social and political life of a nation. It is obvious that Nigeria is going through a difficult period. Concepts of development law help to create national order in the shape of legal pillars of a viable people’s constitution. Again Development law, been about rules and precepts, creates the necessary framework for the rule of law to thrive. Development law allows for the growth of strong national institutions that cannot be subverted by strong political personalities. Development law generates wealth. For example, the concept of a viable legal framework for the mortgage market. Our mortgage market does not work. The result is that Nigeria’s Seven Trillion Naira housing stock is dead capital. Property has two values, the physical value as represented by the physic building, and more important, the conceptual legal value, represented by legal title to the building. The mortgage market has not worked in Nigeria because the law relating to mortgages is weak. But development law can point in the direction of the proper answers to “wake” dead capital in our housing market. Many examples exist about legal failure in many sectors of our economy and how development law can resolve the problem. I am always amazed at how government’s Economic Management team excludes lawyers. Lawyers can offer a great deal using the device of Development Law. I feel this is something that should be corrected. I hope someone is listening

OLISA AGBAKOBA LEGAL LAUNCHES MARITIME MASTER CLASS

Olisa Agbakoba Legal (OAL), a leading law firm in Lagos and highly steeped in the field of maritime law and practice held its inaugural quarterlyMaritime Master Class Series (MMCS) on Tuesday, 26 July 2016. The event was attended by participants from financial institutions that were the intended target audience.

The objective of this particular MMCS was to provide an avenue for offering knowledge to financial institutions in respect of the area of maritime law and practice, with particular focus on the ‘ship arrest procedure’.

It is recognised that financial institutions provide finance to shipowners for various maritime business activities, most especially in the area of ship building, ship mortgage and ship purchase. It is also understood that conflicts could arise between both parties in respect of the loans provided. In such respect, the financial institutionconcerned would definitely be interested in how it could recover its loan facility from any defaulting shipowner. A crucial tool available to such financial institution is the possible arrest of the ship in respect of which a loan has been provided.

The MMCS therefore provided an opportunity for sensitizing the legal departments of various financial institutions about the dynamics and intricacies of the ship arrest procedure. The MMCS provided detailed knowledge of the options open to the financial institution/Creditor, taking into cognisance that there could be other competing creditors. Furtherinsight was provided into where a financial institution/Creditor stood within the scheme of such competing creditors. Consideration was also given to thedue diligence measures that ought to be takenin future by financial institutions in the granting of loan facilities to shipowners, in order to ensure that such loans could be recouped, with appreciable returns.

OAL will be holding subsequent Maritime Masterclass Series on a quarterly basis which will address various topical issues in maritime law and practice.

 

Dr. Oluwole Akinyeye

Head, Maritime Unit OAL

FROM CRISIS OF ORDER TO HOPE OF CHANGE AND WHAT HAS HAPPENED

An Appraisal of President Mohammadu Buhari at 365 days

 cropped-capture-4.pngTHE CRISIS OF ORDER

There is no doubt Nigeria was in a state of utter chaos and disorder prior to the 2015 elections. Nigeriastruggled withmassive insecurity, weak political structure, empty treasury and corruption. These issues actually influenced the election ofPresident Mohammadu Buhari. How has the President handled these issues365 days after assuming office?

MASSIVE INSECURITY

The President has done well with theBoko Haram crisis. But unlike late President Yar Adua, the Niger Delta crisis is seemingly out of control.  With oil production at about 900 Bpd, this is a danger signal. The President needs to adopt a more flexible approach. This also extends to pro Biafra agitators. Part of the flexible response is set out below:

The President must go back in history and borrow a leaf from President Roosevelt who ably dealt with the shock of the great depression that ravaged the United States of America when he became the US President in the 1930s.

Nigeria is in utter chaos and disorder. This greatly affects the nation. The disease of disorder has eaten deep into our national fabric.The absence of order has badly damaged the national psyche. Love of country is absent. It is suggested that government works out a framework to reverse disorder and instil discipline.

 

The issue of national order is closely linked with a new constitutional order. It is strongly recommended that priority should be given to the national question and resolvedurgently. The Nation will not settle or move forward without solving the issue of disorder.

WEAK POLITICAL STRUCTURE

 

The most critical pillars are the political arrangements and agreements that bind Nigerians in one nation. We have not lived in peace and harmony. Nigeria is a fractured and divided nation. The Amalgamation agreement of 1914 failed. The colonial agreements in the shape of orders in council promulgated by the English crown failed us. The post-colonial constitutions and their military counterparts all failed. The result has been long years of national disorder and disharmony that has impeded economic development and political stability. This is a challenge the President must engage.

THE NEED FOR A NEW NATIONAL ORDER

The President can build a new national order by recognising our diversity and managing it in an inclusive process that would lead to an agreed constitution by all Nigerians. The president must refrain from calling yet another wasteful national conference. All that is needed is a comprehensive review of the reports of the national conferences. It will be a very difficult but not impossible task. The key in arriving at a new constitution is in isolating what Nigerians will agree to immediately. I believe Nigerians will accept the need for a balanced federation. We must strive for a balanced federation and decentralisation of powers from federal to state government. The centre is too strong and can pass responsibility out of the ninety eight items of power, under its exclusive control, to the states. This will balance up the federation. It is recommended that a graduated process of constitutional amendments should be introduced to replace failed holistic attempts to write new constitutions in one fell swoop. Creating a new national order will be very difficult but not an impossible task. The effect of a national order will be stabilization and national rebirth.

CORRUPTION

Corruption is endemic in Nigeria and to reverse it requires strong new institutions. There has to be roots and branch reform of the anti-corruption agencies if we must succeed in slowing down corruption before eventhinking of reversing it.

 

Salaries and emoluments voted to our legislators by themselves is about 25% of our national budget. This is unconstitutional because it is not approved by the Revenue Fiscal and Mobilization Commission. Stopping this outrageous conduct on the part of the legislators is, with respect the litmus test in assessing the sincerity of the anti-corruption agenda. It is strongly recommended that the NNPC be fundamentally reformed.
Corruption is also manifest in over bloated budgets for the presidential villaand government houses, corrupt/weak public procurement procedures and abuse of discretion ofministers in the award of contracts. All these have taken a major toll on our resources and encouraged corruption. The first crucial challenge is for the President to stopthese aspects of corrupt practices and introduce major spending cuts.

 

ECONOMIC GOVERNANCE – ARE WE IN RECESSION?

Experts are unable to agree on whether Nigeria is in a recession or depression. Whatever the position, 5 conservative quarterly low GDP performanceshave had a massively negative impact. From Q4 2014 to Q1 2016 Nigeria has been in terrible economic straits. The critical nuggets to turn things around must be put in place right now because they are not in place. Confusion as to whether we are liberalizing or regulating different aspects of our economy is keeping investors away. A good example is the Petroleum Industry. The only way Nigeria can grow and sustain development to attract 5-10 GDP is to have an open deregulated economy. This will bring hardship but with a robust social benefit agency to properly implement welfare package in the Budget a substantial cushion can be provided.

The priority must be to diversify the economy and make it less dependent on imports. Nigeria has long depended on crude oil as if it is the only hydrocarbon to the utter neglect of gas. The economy heavily relies on oil revenue and is vulnerable to price shocks in oil and the associated risk to national stability. The most recent volatility in oil prices suggest that we must start to diversify our revenue income streams by developing non-oil tradable sectors.

 

A clear strategy, model and plan for economic diversification both horizontally and vertically is necessary. Horizontal diversification should explore new opportunities in the same oil and gas sector. There are at least thirty-six value added products to be explored in the extraction of crude oil. Vertical diversification means a shift from the oil and gas sector to other sectors, Agriculture, Services, Maritime, Aviation/space, Manufacturing, Health, Sports etc.

 

Pursuing economic diversification will make the economy less vulnerable to the boom and bust cycles of oil and natural gas prices. A model we can follow is the United Arab Emirate that has successfully diverted out of oil into new revenue sources.

 

REVIEWING PUBLIC PRIVATE SECTOR RELATIONS

Public Sector Economy is not properly defined in Nigeria. Whilst Nigeria’s State owned Public Enterprises are often ineffective, China’s Model appears very effective. The Privatization escape route that Nigeria is often eager to employ has not been successful. In fact, none of the privatized entities in Nigeria could serve as a model. It is urgent therefore, that Nigeria reviews her Public/Private Economy. Government must control the overarching sectors of the Economy. There is need for a strong Public/Private Sector Framework. It is important that despite current challenges, Nigeria is still rated as the 20th largest economy in the world. Reviewing Nigeria’s public/Private economy would go a long way in turning potentials into reality and move the economy forward.

THE BIG ISSUE OF FOREX POLICY MANAGEMENT BY THE CBN

Nigeria’s Forex policy is unclear and uncertain. We have CBN rates, rates for fuel importers, rates at autonomous markets and rates at the parallel Market “black Market”. This breeds corruption from differentials in the 4 markets.

 

 

THE APPRAISAL

There is no doubt the absence of National Order has hampered the President from delivering on most of the issues.  This government needs to stop looking at the rear view mirror. It needs to develop a clear political and economic vision for the country. At the moment it does not exist. ThereforeI have moved from being cautiously positive to cautiously negative.

 OLISA AGBAKOBA SAN

Moving the Nigeria Economy Forward: Talking Points

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Dr. Olisa Agbakoba addressing the press at Ikoyi

Conceptual Background
Government of Nigeria’s (GON) Economic Policy is still developing, but there are critical Milestones:
• GON is running a very stringent economic policy (strict monetarism). The highlight so far seems to be plugging leaks and cutting budget in order to boost the anti-corruption campaign.
• Treasury Single Account (TSA) is another definitive Milestone. Over 3 Trillion Naira has been saved SO FAR
The challenge is how to move from austerity to stimulus.
Anti-corruption is yielding results as huge monies are being returned; TSA has led to massive saving of over 3 Trillion Naira, but the question remains how do we use these milestones to stimulate the economy?
Critical Nuggets
1. Getting Financial Services Sector (FSS) right: This would involve limiting the role of CBN and creating a Financial Services Agency (FSA). CBN is currently overburdened. CBN should focus on lending, interest rate and exchange.

Quantitative Easing (QE): Tied to FSS is the role of CBN is keeping inflation in check. Nigeria is technically in recession with her 10% growth rate dramatically reduced to 3%. To carry out QE, central banks create money by buying securities, such as government bonds, from banks, with electronic cash that did not exist before. The new money swells the size of bank reserves in the economy by the quantity of assets purchased—hence “quantitative” easing. Like lowering interest rates, QE is supposed to stimulate the economy by encouraging banks to make more loans. The idea is that banks take the new money and buy assets to replace the ones they have sold to the central bank. That raises stock prices and lowers interest rates, which in turn boosts investment.

2. Job Creation and Stimulating Small Businesses
If we get the FSS right, as highlighted above, job creation and stimulating small businesses would naturally fall in place. Jobs can only be created when we have a vibrant manufacturing and real sector. Currently, the manufactory sector is in a comatose state with the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria constantly complaining of the need to reduce the cost of doing business. Small Businesses are hindered because of absence of capital: they cannot easily access loans from banks. Interest rates are high and banks are shy to lend because of the problem of bad debts, exacerbated by inefficient regulatory environment.

3. Reviewing Public/Private Sector Economy
Public Sector Economy is not properly defined in Nigeria. Whilst Nigeria’s State owned Public Enterprises are often ineffective, China’s Model appears very effective. The Privatization escape route that Nigeria is often eager to employ has not been successful. In fact, none of the privatized entities in Nigeria could serve as a model. It is urgent therefore, that Nigeria reviews her Public/Private Economy. Government must control the overarching sectors of the Economy. There is need for a strong Public/Private Sector Framework. It is important that despite current challenges, Nigeria is still rated as the 20th largest economy in the world. Reviewing Nigeria’s public/Private economy would go a long a way in turning potentials into reality and move the economy forward.

4. Meeting the Funding Gap
(a) Devaluation: The choice here is between regulation and deregulation.
The Regulation logic would encourage the CBN to dictate the exchange value, in this case devalue it. This is the position favoured by IMF. The contrary view, which I feel is more reasonable, is to deregulate the environment and allow market forces to determine the exchange value. Also tied to this is that the CBN should allow free flow of forex. CBN should expand the space and allow all Nigerians to participate in this. Currently, the centralized system on this issue excludes critical stakeholders from Dangote to the ‘Mallam’ on the Street. The problem with Forex is that CBN does not have enough, but if we expand the space, we would be surprised that many Nigerians can participate and increase the stock. All that is needed is to create a legal framework to encourage this participation, subject to Money laundering Rules.
b) Diversification: This is already notorious in the face of the post oil economy that we are witnessing. The roadblock, however, is the massive infrastructural deficit to serve as a backbone. We must return to ‘Receivable Financing Option. The proposal that Nigeria pledges her oil to receive loan from countries like China, should be revisited. We need to fill our huge deficit gap by receivable financing. It is only such huge receipt of funds that could plug the serious infrastructural deficit that impede diversification in Nigeria.

A new federal system will kill Biafra –Olisa Agbakoba

Former President of the Nigerian Bar Associa­tion, NBA, and leading pro- democracy activist, Mr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, in this interview with Chidi Obineche  x-rays the Nige­rian federal structure, the new government of president Mu­hammadu Buhari, the Biafran Independence agitation, the political parties, among other national issues.

Excerpts.

Why do you think the new government under President Buhari is finding it difficult to settle down quickly?

I have decided to use the opportunity of this end of the year to reflect on how far our new government has settled down. We all know that there has been this state of anomie; nothing is really working in the mind of everybody. The President has finally set up the cabinet made up of basically technical people, who in my view have the strong mandate to deliver on the infrastructure, economy, and other important institutions. So, what we now need to see, as they settle down in office, is the agenda of gov­ernment in key areas. There has already been a supplemen­tary budget and the 2016 bud­get is the highest budget ever, in the history of Nigeria, which is between six and eight tril­lion naira. Government says it will favour social democratic issues that promote pro-people policies. We have already got a chunk of issues that deal with benefits. For instance, giving money to the disadvantaged members of society, youth corps members, people who are unemployed, even though it is difficult to say how it is going to be aggregated- who and who will be the 25 million beneficia­ries that are being targeted is left to be seen.

At this stage of national development , do you think the policies being proposed in the budget, which are largely pro- people are nec­essary?

I think, one can then say that apart from Chief Awolowo, that’s my personal view, I am not saying that I am right. Apart from Chief Awolowo, this is the first time I have seen a govern­ment based on ideology. Nigeria is essentially a corporate coun­try. It runs a corporatist policy. Government favours the rich. But the departure here is that government has identified itself as left of centre. This is the first time we are having that. Anyone who is familiar with what left of centre party do, will know that it delivers benefits at the bottom. I have heard Vice President Yemi Osinbajo repeatedly say that government will legalize Chap­ter Two of the constitution. It is those bundles of objectives and rights that deal with social welfare, education, fighting cor­ruption, health, etc. It has not happened before. I think those are very fantastic and lofty ide­als that need to be supported. The war on corruption, though not very clarified, in my view, is perhaps the most serious at­tempt to deal with people who have stolen public funds. Even though it can still be institution­alized, I think it represents the most far-reaching attempt to tackle it. In order to then shift the programme of government from right of centre to left of centre, you will have people who will oppose it. And that is my major concern. It is not the common people that will op­pose it, it’s the elite. So, I have classified those people as con­spirators; those people who would want business to con­tinue as usual.

And I might say that I am an elite and that I suffer the impact of the tight foreign exchange re­strictions; our law firms cannot remit funds, etc, but that is the sacrifice that we are willing to pay. People have abused the system, and what they want is business as usual. I think, if you summarize what this govern­ment is going to do; mark you it hasn’t not done it, the jury is still out. I make no judgment as to whether the government has succeeded. I am simply making comments as to say if you re­view where they are and com­pare it with the government of the past, what are we likely to say? I will say without any equivocation, whilst I am happy to have money, I am not happy to have it to the exclusion of 180 million Nigerians who are hun­gry. Why should I be a rich man and everybody around me is poor? It makes no sense. So, if there is a process of equalizing our natural resources, which is what the present government intends to do, then I am sup­posed to support it because it makes a lot of sense. But these conspirators will not want such a thing. You will find them both in the PDP and APC.

So why do we have people opposing every government in Nigeria?

And I can assure you if it is possible for PDP to return to power, 70 percent of the people in the APC will cross over; that is how non-ideological our po­litical parties are. So, when you have parties that are not driven by their conviction or ideology, but by their pockets, when they then see that what this govern­ment wants to do shuts them out from the usual largesse, patronage and the ‘chop-chop’ they are used to, they are not going to be happy. So, they are the ones that are making the president feel bad. That is not to say that the President couldn’t have done things better. For in­stance, the delay in appointing his ministers which ought to have been done earlier, the lack of clarification of what he is do­ing, and that’s why I don’t see why he should have two press secretaries- Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu; what are they do­ing? It doesn’t happen anywhere else.

Are you then saying that the gov­ernment is not properly reported? What is lacking in communication, in your own view?

I would rather like to see either Femi or Garba, one is the press secretary, report­ing the president’s diaries, but the other one will be reporting government activi­ties. If for instance, government makes us believe that it has recovered a lot of loots running into about N10 trillions, why don’t we know about it? Why must we, those of us who are informed, not have access to information that ought to be in the public domain? So, government is not communicating enough. It is that failure to communicate that gives the im­pression that people are not clear where the president is going. But because I am in trouble, I do know where the presi­dent intends to go and I have made up my mind that we need to assist him in reminding him of the need to communi­cate what he wants to do in a strategic way, create alliances to overcome the conspirators. Barack Obama was faced with this challenge when the conspiracy of the Republican party wanted to pre­vent him from doing something so ba­sic- that I can’t understand who will not want it- allow 17 to 20 million Americans access cheap, free health. Why was it op­posed? It was opposed by a group who wanted medical cost to remain high; they didn’t want socialised medicine. So, here, we told the president ‘remove subsidy’; economically, it makes sense, in the context of wastage it makes sense, because if you remove it you are likely to check the leakage, the waste and the stealing that have been going on. But must we throw the baby and the bath water away together?

To remove subsidy will have a multi­plier effect in the economy. Immediately you do that, the pepper seller in the mar­ket will increase price. So, those that will be ultimately affected will be the very people the president swore an oath of office to protect. So, while I with my eco­nomic sense will say that subsidy should go, with my social service sense I will op­pose it. But there’s a third way, and that is to make sure that it is done well. Is it difficult for government to say, why not give every Nigerian a subsidy of fuel of N30, and ensure that it is actually deliv­ered. It is easy. So, the fact that there is corruption in the subsidy process is not the reason for the neo-liberal argument that the World Bank is proposing to say subsidy should go. Rather let us find a way; why can’t they tell us ‘let’s find a way to eliminate the corruption?’ I am sure that we have economic eggheads that can deal with that problem. If the problem is that it is mired in corrup­tion, why not encourage the president to reform the subsidy regime in a way that makes it possible to deliver it to the people.

So, I don’t accept the argument that the way to go is to remove subsidy be­cause it is full of corruption. So, it is time for Nigerians to understand that they are entitled to benefit from government; that’s why they pay tax. But Nigerians must understand that the ones who ben­efit from government policies are the conspirators who want the subsidy to go so that they can turn to the refineries.

The government has announced a few policies which are basically harsh and anti- people. Do you not think that will make a lot of people oppose the government?

It is important to queue behind this president and see whether he will de­liver, if he fails to deliver, that’s when we will challenge him. If he hasn’t even started and the conspiracy of the elite is saying to him, devalue the currency, allow us to trade in forex, let us do the thing as usual, then we will all be broke. Meanwhile, I have seen a few things that excite me, but I remain cautiously op­timistic. I will not say I am overtly sold because many governments of the third world are known to disappoint, but let’s back this man who has said ‘ I am for the people’. If a president says, ‘I am for you’, the other one comes to you and say, ‘I am for the rich’, who among them would you back? Of course, you’ll back the one who says ‘I am for you’. We must also hold him accountable for all his cam­paign promises.

What is your comment on the rag­ing social media legislation?

I was very happy to see a very vigorous lobby in the National Assembly. Some­times, the media do not understand their power. Don’t underestimate the impact of what you say or what you write. They have serious impact. I think this issue of the cracked political foundation needs to be addressed by President Buhari and finally resolved, because it started with the British giving us a cracked po­litical structure. By 1966 the republic col­lapsed.

Attempts by successive governments-beginning with Murtala Mohammed up till the Jonathan administration- to tinker with it have failed. So, what I will challenge Buhari with is to resolve Nigeria’s logjam. I think it is straightfor­ward. Today Boko Haram, now Biafra. All those Biafra agitation is because they feel excluded. There has to be a policy to include everybody in the discussion. Show me my room in the house is what I want to know.

Show me where I will stay. If I am a polygamous father with fifty something children; there will be a fight if all of us live in one room. Show me my room, that is Biafra agitation, no more, no less, and they are being manipulated again by the conspiracy of the elite. Any time you see a demonstration that is well-planned, somebody is behind it.

Who is funding this Biafra agita­tion and to what end?

What President Buhari needs to do is exactly what the late President Yar’Adua did. And I think that has been the most political master stroke ever in Nigeria’s history. He resolved the Niger Delta crisis so easily and unbelievably. He reached out; he developed a number of confidence-building measures to get those involved to the discussion table. That can be done with Boko Haram and the Biafra agitation. But it cannot be done in the context of a centripetal fed­eral system where Abuja is the only land­lord and local government chairpersons have to wait for the governors to come back from Abuja and give them their handouts. You wait for another month. That cannot happen. You first of all free the system which is in a logjam. The fed­eral system is so constricted like a boa constrictor; nothing can happen at the state level.

A situation where it has been patterned in such a way that nothing can happen at the state government or local govern­ment level is not ideal. So, we need to see a new federal system. In doing so, we need to have a final conclusion to this process. My recommendation is that the president should propose a bill for an act or set up a small technical committee on national order. The first and urgent task of this committee will be to work on a Bill for an Act of the Union of Peoples and Nationalities of Nigeria. The bill must resolve the Nigerian fault lines and contradictions. We may consider adopt­ing a new name the ‘Union of Nigeria’.

You talked about the late Yar’Adua’s approach to addressing the Niger Delta crisis; are you recommending some form of amnesty for the Biafra agitators, or financial inducement or what?

If that is what needs to be done, yes, because in putting down insurrection you consider certain realities. Oil price at that time has dropped by almost 50 percent and therefore you have to rec­ognize that the insurgents have a lot of power and they knew it. In negotiation, you’ve got to look at the balance of pow­er. Boko Haram has a lot of power. If Boko Haram transforms into an interna­tional movement, we’ll have a new crisis that we can’t deal with. We haven’t got­ten to that point.

So, it makes sense to consider wheth­er settlement helps the process. I don’t know if that would help, but if I were to take that decision and I know that financial settlement can help the pro­cess I would do that and that’s what Yar’Adua did and it worked perfectly. In fact, Yar’Adua told the Niger Delta mili­tants that, “look I am not your problem, your problem are all your governors” and he gave them all the figures that showed that the governors had collected so much without developing the place which led to the establishment of the Ministry of the Niger Delta. That formula is on; if you go to the East it is clear that the place is war-torn and no employ­ment takes place. So, you’ve got to know what you can do there. And this is not a new thing; America did it in the Mar­shal Plan to get Europe off the ground. So, we must do all we can to preserve Nigeria. I don’t know how many of you understand what will happen if Nigeria is balkanized. If you will have a war the type we had in Biafra today, Nigeria will cease to exist. If it would take some bil­lions of naira, that the elite are stealing anyway, to resolve the problem, what’s the big deal? What is the problem with giving money to the poor people; mon­ey that the elite are stealing; there’s no problem about that; after all, the country belongs to everybody.

You said you commend govern­ment on the TSA policy, but that it needs a little bit modification. But some people complain that it is al­ready crippling the economy; starv­ing government agencies and private operators of the needed funds to do business?

What I said is that in my mind, I don’t work for government; government has introduced the method to stop the bleed­ing. If you are in business or you are ap­pointed to run a company and you are given a mandate; you checked and found out that you have about 100 accounts belonging to the company; you say, no I can’t have this, I must streamline things. But the problem I think that is giving rise to seeming criticism, not just of the TSA, but of the entire process is that government has not been as responsive to avoid pain. It needs to be very quick, but it is not. You are doing TSA and you are depriving all government agencies funds to run their activities. They must make sure that the ultimate purpose of government is not defeated which is that they can run; once that is done, then the problem is solved.

But you can’t tell me that, like in Ogun State where you have about 500 different accounts that it is useful; this is accord­ing to Kemi Adeosun, the finance minis­ter. What TSA has done, and that’s the point I don’t understand why this same government cannot make it very clear, that we were net borrowers from the banks. So, what was happening was that, I am the President of Nigeria and you are my ministers, all of you have done deals and put money in different accounts, taking bribes from interests from them. We come to the cabinet meeting and we say we need to borrow money from the banks. We go back and borrow the very money that is our own at 15 to 20 per­cent.

So, TSA has centralised the money to something like 12 trillion; the next thing I thought the government should have done, which it has not is to now drop the lending rate. The work of the Cen­tral Bank is to control the lending rate; so now that government has money, it should say, as a matter of social policy, we are capping the lending rate to three percent. That is the rate at which they lend to commercial banks and the com­mercial banks will in turn lend to cus­tomers at a determined rate by the CBN.

Federal character is the answer given by the elite conspirators to deceive those outside the room that they are entitled to be in the room -Dr Olisa Agbakoba

Aside from human rights, his work in maritime law in Nigeria has been profound, he is the founder and first president of the Nigerian Shipping Chamber of Commerce (NCS).

Dolapo Aina had an exclusive interview with him. Do read the excerpts from the Youtube Interview.

 

Dolapo Aina: With the staggering amount being mentioned as being siphoned and the unrelenting approach of the Federal Government; how would you assess the Buhari Administration’s fight against this scourge?

Olisa Agbakoba: First, is to congratulate the government for at least recognising the blatant endemic corruption in Nigeria. I think this is the first government to go this length in attacking it; that is by saying something. That is to be saluted. But so did President Obasanjo and actually President Jonathan. So, I am not sure that there is to be a special prize to be given or awarded because the President said “I would tackle corruption.” Why do you elect the President in the first place? That is the job he has come to do.

Don’t forget that Presidents come on the platforms and this President came on a platform of change. I expect that what he is doing is what he should do. Where I hope to see him go is the practical demonstration, measured by how much money is recovered and bought back into the coffers and ploughed into development of roads, infrastructure, jobs and re-creating our national infrastructure, so that Nigeria can gain her prominent place. That coherent policy is still not very sharp. And I pray that, that is where he wants to go. All what he has said, as been said by past Presidents. Kudos to him but there is a long way to go to convince me, that there is some hard-biting to be done.

For instance, I want Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be recalled because around her name circulates a lot of the potential corrupt practices. I don’t by this say that she has done anything wrong, but like Sepp Blatter, she needs to tell us her story. The only way she can tell us her story, is not by sitting in some fancy desk in the World Bank but by coming here.

The way the corruption process would go, the law would be no respecter of persons. There would be brutal attack on all those who have stolen money. And if that is done, it is going to have a root and branch reform process and people would feel the hurricane. Right now, there is a drizzle. It is when the hurricane comes; that I can say, Mr President, you’ve done well.

Dolapo Aina: Do you think this present administration is different from previous governments, i.e. is the ideology different?

Olisa Agbakoba: I would expand it a bit. Do I think this administration is different from the previous ones? Yes. Because being a man on the left, this is the first government that says “we are on the left.” So, ideologically, I have a government that agrees with what I say. Never before (mark it) in the history of Nigeria as a leftist government being in office. What a leftist government does is social reforms and social recognition. Leftist governments take on the elite conspiracy, those who want things to remain as they are. And their pope is referred to as The Washington Consensus; neo-liberal economic policies, driven by the IMF and The World Bank.

So, this government is taking the opposite view-standing for Nigerians. The National Bureau of Statistics has reported that 100 million Nigerians are unemployed-that isn’t acceptable. That is why the social part of my brain supports keep the oil subsidy; the economic part of my brain says remove it. But to remove it would make the market efficient. It would send a hardship signal down the road. So, for corruption, people need money but if money is in the hands of 1% of Nigerians, we would get it.

Dolapo Aina: While it looks like this administration is people-focused; do you think the administration can really maintain her people driven centric policies? Or is it just a flash in the pan?

Olisa Agbakoba: I hope it is not a flash in the pan. I don’t know but I just pray it is not; because for too long; Nigerians get deceived by lofty campaign promises. They get into office and nothing is delivered. So, I really hope that, this time around President Buhari’s leftist ideology would be implemented to the latter. Not in any way to drive away or put aside market efficiency. Both can go together. And that is why it is called social democracy. When you have social regulation and market efficiency working together, it is called social democracy and that is probably what they have in the UK. For all the pretence of The Conservatives in the UK to be a monetarist centre right party; it is also a social democratic party. They are supporting the National Health Service. They are supporting back to work programme for youth, supporting first-time mortgage loans for first time buyers (£20Billion for the programme). So indeed, even the UK is pushing a lot of social programmes in the context of being a centre right party. That is the model, I want to see here.

Dolapo Aina: People say that the President makes some important announcements at international summits overseas. Why so? And is this proper?

Olisa Agbakoba: I think there is something wrong with the communications strategy, not only of this President but of many other Presidents

Dolapo Aina: Really?

Olisa Agbakoba: Absolutely. After all, President Jonathan gave the indication about the nature of the INEC Chair in Paris. I don’t know why they do that to be quite honest with you but it ought to stop. I don’t want to call it colonial mentality but I think there is something that makes us feel that we must please the international community without defining our own national agenda.

Dolapo Aina: The coconut syndrome?

Olisa Agbakoba: That is possibly it, which is not correct. I do hope they stop it. But quite recently, I did say that the current president had a very important ideological message to convey. But because he has two press secretaries doing the same thing, the message is cluttered. One man should concentrate on the “diariation” of his work and the other man should be the one dealing with communicating government’s larger agenda; dealing with the perception of government between people and the governed. And the third man is the information minister. And you also have the National Orientation Officer. There are far too many information mechanisms in the government that requires to be modernised and brought to speed, so that at each point in time; Nigerians would be clear about what their governors and leaders are doing. a lot needs to be done in the area of information management and strategy.

Dolapo Aina: How would you rate Nigeria’s human rights record? Any improvements?

Olisa Agbakoba: Yes and it depends on what you mean. Going back to the Ibrahim Badamosi Babaginda and Sani Abacha military days, of course, there has been massive improvement. It is not that we have democracy even though our democracy is illiberal. We have the vote but not the rule of law. It is not really a democracy. But clearly, it is different to what it was in those days. But there is still some ways to go. If Nigeria, were to apply to jin the European Union; we would not qualify.

Dolapo Aina: Why won’t Nigeria qualify?

Olisa Agbakoba: Because there is a European Union standard and we are below that. African countries are generally below that standard because they have set up themselves a lot of lofty national mechanisms which people in the chapters 2 and 4 of the constitution, the African Union’s charter and the African court. We are not adhering to it. The recent brutalisation of Nigerians in Zaria is a case in point. Yes, they may be doing the wrong thing but every Nigerian has the right to demonstrate. And a demonstration is not answered by shooting (if it were, everyone would be dead.) That shows you that whilst we have come a long way, we have still not attained the minimum standards. What about the men in prisons without due process?

Dolapo Aina: How come government prosecution teams always mishandle their cases? It appears they always go to court without being prepared. Why so?

Olisa Agbakoba: There are many factors involved. First, is the political will on the part of government to absolutely prosecute a case? Using the football analogy; Abrahamovic was not happy that Mourinho’s team was sliding to relegation. He fired him. In Nigeria, what is the objective of government in prosecuting cases? Is it to say to the Attorney-General; here are 10 crooks. I want them to be in jail within a year? What is the objective and what do we want from what we do? We call this “Management by Objective”. Now, if there is nothing that you want, you don’t set yourself a goal, there would be a drift. The biggest problem is the fact that the political will is not there to really attack corruption.

How is it that ISIS occupies territory, raises about $20billion a year and uses it t bomb places? It is the very complicit nature of the West, because money that they make from oil passes through the international system. Some days ago, the international community under the auspices of the United Nations has declared they are going to shut down all the avenues through which ISIS can evacuate and transfer money. That shows that finally, giving the Paris bombing and how ISIS is taking the war to America. The resolve is now to say, no more, enough is enough.

Now, have we got to that point in Nigeria? No, it now goes back to one of the early questions. is there a President and is this President prepared to say ”if I do nothing else; I am going to run out every corrupt person in Nigeria.”To the point that if you go to the smallest village; they would ask, what is going on? They would know about it (it would shake Nigeria). If the will isn’t there; then you would have lazy prosecutors who draft poor charges and who aren’t well paid.

To fight corruption is to assemble a formidable team of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. You can’t fight corruption with ill-qualified lawyers. You can not win the World Cup with a third-rate team. You want to fight corruption? You have to have the best. I do hope that the talk about constituting a national prosecution council would be announced soon, so that the best legal minds are given the assignment of going after these people. We can not use second or third rate people to get it.

Now, to the judges, if you have what I call legal failure; the sped of justice is not working (i.e. it takes 20 years to finish a case) and nobody has really sat down to say, lets re-draft the rules of procedure. If you’ve a road that was built 100 years ago and you’re surprised there is a traffic jam? Why should you be surprised? You need to open the road of justice, so that a lot of traffic can go through it. There are a lot of reasons why the question you asked is happening.

Dolapo Aina: How best can lawyers help citizens get justice from previous administrations who misappropriated funds that affect service delivery and lead to loss of lives?

Olisa Agbakoba: Lawyers can play no role. Lawyers are not government. First, you need to construct the state apparatus to deal with the problem. What can a lawyer do? A lawyer goes to court; handicapped by the snail pace of justice, handicapped by a lack of interest on the part of the prosecutor; handicapped by lack of interest or political will. He can not do anything; he is only earning his income. The correct question is; how can the state construct the system in a way that motivates lawyers to assist in the process of fighting the anti-corruption crusade?

Dolapo Aina: When funds meant for a country’s military are diverted; thereby affecting the military’s efficiency. Isn’t that what is known as sabotage and treason?

Olisa Agbakoba: If referring to Colonel Dasuki and if true; that would rank as one of the most despicable acts of treasonable felony I have ever seen. If true, because he is entitled to a day in court. But if what is coming out is true, I would call on the President to take the strongest possible measures against anybody found to be associated (directly or indirectly) with this process. Because it is time that we stenched the slide of Nigeria into the abyss. A friend of mine, Larry Diamond-one of the world’s leading scholars on anti-corruption made a very profound statement. At the time, he made it; I did not quite appreciate what he was saying. He said that “when corruption is endemic and it has so eaten into the system; just reversing it, constitute a major challenge.” The President’s every energy must be focused on that cause. Now, when the President’s energy is focused on the cause, there is a positive association that Nigerians pick up. Nigerians are not corrupt people; it is just a few people giving us a bad name. I hope that the President’s every energy in whatever he is going to do, whether it s in water, roads, fuel subsidy, that the overriding policy of the President is to tackle this issue of corruption. When it is tackled, it would allow development to rear its head. Development has been smothered and of course as development is smothered, so is meritocracy and down the line, you have many rippling effects. You would be shocked what is happening. Quality of lawyers, doctors, journalists, aircrafts (mixing kerosene with aviation fuel and not caring that the likely consequence could be the death of passengers-remember the Sosoliso plane crash.) Nobody cares. It is all about what somebody wants to get from it because the system becomes overtaken by evil. That is what turning around this mess will assist Nigeria to come out of. Otherwise, Nigeria would continue to slide.

Dolapo Aina: Would you be willing to lead a class action lawsuit on behalf of citizens on any burning issue?  

Olisa Agbakoba: Yes. I have done it before and I would do it again. I have done so many across the flied; on housing (when the military administration broke down Maroko), soldiers who were been court-martialled (Femi Falana went to court). Death penalty questions, prisoners’ rights, fair trial, education (and the fact that you cannot discriminate against one set of people in one part of the country as against the other. e.g. giving a part of the country a different cut-off University entrance examination marks.) The issue of my right to my passport. There is a lot to be said for what I call Strategic Impact Litigation; where you use strategic cases to push public causes. This is what we have been doing for the last 40 years. Late Chief Gani Fawehinmi was the pass master of this.

Dolapo Aina: What do you think would be the burning issues for 2016?

Olisa Agbakoba: Stability.

Dolapo Aina: Why do you say so? The country isn’t stable?

Olisa Agbakoba: The country isn’t stable and it is falling apart. Isn’t it obvious to you? If an earthquake occurs in Guatemala; you would not feel it except those who are there. Nigeria is too big that the systemic shocks it has been taken isn’t felt. But it is doing damage. Doing damage to the political stability of Nigeria. Nigeria is a very fragile country. I have been watching the ASI on the stock market; which is down by 50%. There is no confidence in investing here because there is nothing to invest in. Therefore, stability is what needs to be achieved. Stability is caused by all kinds of social unrest-Boko Haram being number one. I don’t know how the Shii’te thing would play out. The Biafra agitation has just commenced. I hear rumblings in the Niger-Delta. These rumblings mentioned knock out 40% of Nigeria. That is instability. We are at what I call low-grade war without realising it.

You can’t go to many place. NYSC-National Youth Service Corps; cant post youth corps members to the North East. If rumblings continue in the South East, it would be difficult to go there when they can not secure the corps members’ safety. If that is the situation now and nothing happens to build confidence in the next few weeks and it continues to into 2016, then 2016 would be sign-posted by instability. The only way to attack it is to do 2 things.

First, the anti-corruption crusade must be on top of the agenda. Second, is to ask the underlying causes of instability (to do with the failed federal structure we have and also inherited.) it is time for President Buhari to step up to the plate, end this nonsense of past Presidents, who use it for political gain. There have been 5 Presidents who held political confidences. It is time to say, we don’t need further talk, we need to have a President who would get behind a popular crusade espoused by every Nigerian for a new nation that would have peace and stability built on equity and inclusion. Every Nigerian must be shown his or her role in the house.

Presently, 100 million Nigerians are outside. Why won’t they fight? They have nothing to lose. Then, few Nigerians (the 1 percenters) occupy 90% of the rooms in the Nigerian house (those outside the house are not going to give them peace). Unless you deal with the federal inequity, then the 1 percenters who I call “the elite conspirators” would continue to dominate the Nigerian space to the exclusion of the rest who would cause problems. Boko Haram and Biafra issues are economic problems. If you resolve it by re-dressing and re-structuring the federation, create a new constitution, then I think you would see more progress.

The President should send a bill to the National Assembly styled a bill for an Act of Union of the Peoples and Nationalities of Nigeria. And make it pass in 3 months. You would be surprised by the energy that this country would release.

Dolapo Aina: Do you believe in Federal Character?

Olisa Agbakoba: Federal character is the answer given by the elite conspirators to deceive those outside the room that they are entitled to be in the room. Those who are in the room are not there by virtue of ethnicity or tribe. They are there by shooting their way to power. But they know that it would be unsettling if they are all from one place. They tell themselves, let’s pretend that in the Supreme Court we have a spread, so that it looks Federal. The answer to the problem is to say, why do we need to have just one Supreme Court? We need to have one Supreme Court on issues touching Nigeria. in the USA, you have 9 Supreme Court judges dealing with issues touching on United States. But not on local matters affecting California. If I dispute someone’s claim to inheritance of my village customs; I should go to the Supreme Court of Anambra State and deal with it there (and that is final).

I find my redress in the context of my locality. If I have a problem with Federal System, then I go to the centres in which case, I am not too bothered who sits in the centre. My life is determined by local circumstances; so is Sharia. If Sharia were not a national religion has it has been made; then if we were all pleased to make themselves a Sharia State in the context of a Nigerian Constitution, no one is going to bother. If I decided as Governor of Anambra State and I put it to referendum; that the people said Catholicism shall be the religion of the state; that is their choice. It does not affect anybody. But it is because every single policy affects the whole country.

Whether it is on education, on refuse bins, basic health etc; we fight and solve it by saying “federal character”. Since I see that you’ve not been included, bring your own (whether good or bad). Federal character promotes mediocrity. But the real problem of federal character is that it pretends to be the answer to the centripetal federal structure which is a pyramid. Remove the pyramid and there would be no means of federal character because the Supreme Court Justices of Eastern region would simply be the people from there. That question really strikes at this need for decomposing the Nigerian state and building a new one.

Dolapo Aina: What books are you reading?

Olisa Agbakoba: I am reading about ten books.

Dolapo Aina: 10 books simultaneously?

Olisa Agbakoba: Yes. I just concluded one titled; the fifth gospel by Ian Caldwell. It is about a conspiracy between the Eastern and Western Orthodox Catholics. I am also reading Henry Kissinger on China. I just finished a book titled “How to manage wealth.” Also, just concluded Sir Alex Ferguson’s Leadership-a fantastic book (where I learnt a lot about strategy.)

Dolapo Aina: Do you read the books simultaneously or one after the other?

Olisa Agbakoba: No, i can read them at the same time. I have a book in my car, on my table, on my bedside. Sometimes, I am taken in to follow through on one like when I read a brief history of time by Steven Hawkins also, when I read a brief history of the world which took me from antiquity to modern day. I have my speed and stamina with different books but basically, I read heavy books. I don’t read fiction. I like books on auto-biographies, religion, leadership and ideas.

Confront the ‘conspiracy of the elite’ now; Agbakoba urges Pres. Buhari

SAMSUNG CSC

Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SA addressing the press at Ikoyi

President Muhammadu Buhari has been urged to prepare and confront those described as “the conspirators” who are bent on pulling his government down and making it look horrible before the public.

Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba in a letter he addressed to the President, and made available to newsmen in Lagos, said “the conspirators” are scared that the hard stance of the Buhari administration is taking governance away from the hands of the few who for decades have milked the country to incapacitation.

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria said that though the government has been slow and unclear in its communication procedure, it has shown signs of making indiscriminate extravagance in governance a thing of the past.

Mr. Agbakoba highlighted an area of pressure coming from “the conspirators” to be the conflict of the Social and Economic interest in the Petrol Subsidy arrangement.

“I don’t accept the argument saying that subsidy should be removed because it is filled with corruption; that is a stupid one.  A sincere thought would have been to eliminate corruption and deliver good governance to the people.”

The civil rights lawyer urged President Buhari to quickly resolve the Nigerian logjam.  Mr. Agbakoba argued that the tension and agitations accross the country is the struggle for due recognition and accommodation within the scheme of things.

“Today it is Boko Haram, tomorrow it’s Biafra. They are all the question of ‘show me my room’. That is what the recent Biafra agitation is all about though it was highjacked by the same elite who are the real conspirators.”

Mr. Agbakoba proposed the review of the communication process of government in order to be more strategic in informing the public about the activities of government. He also charged the President to form an alliance with the masses in order to preserve his achievements, overcome and withstand the storm that will be thrown at him by those who are only interested in sustaining the ‘business as usual’ syndrome.

See the letter b elow:

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My letter of 21 April, 2015 about ‘Giving Nigeria a New Deal’ refers. I drew a parallel between the American Great Depression of 1930s and the challenges faced in Nigeria in 2015. I am satisfied that you understand the challenges.

I write again to warn about the conspiracy of the elite and its resolve to frustrate your reform agenda. The ‘elite’, includes people in high position in the churches, traditional institutions, professions and businesses, etc.

They represent a small percent of Nigerians but exert tremendous influence, with a view to state capture. This class is very dissatisfied about the ideological change of your government. They see new agenda as a threat to their privileges. As set out below, they are the greatest roadblocks to your economic and political policy agenda.

Economic Policy

Credit must be given to your government for what I consider an economic policy correction. Clearly, this government has created an ideological shift to the left (pro-people).I am not sure that this shift has been well communicated. Nigeria can now be classified as a country advancing towards social democracy. This is the first time in the history of our country that such a major shift has occurred. Evidence of this shift includes:

•    Treasury Single Account (but needs redefinition)

•    Quality of ministers, generally

•    Blocking finance leaks

•    Social regulations

•    Benefits and stimulus strategy, like paying employment benefits

•    keeping the oil subsidy, at least in the short term

•    Zero tolerance to corruption

Political Policy

On political governance, it is clear that Nigeria’s political landscape is very problematic. We are still not a nation. Many Nigerians feel alienated and disconnected. The consequences are all too clear. The situation is made worse by the powerful elite class, controlling the system.

The Way Forward:  Confronting the elite

Historically, the Nigerian elite have never been confronted. You need to do so, by entering into an alliance with Civil Society and the Nigerian people. There is, also an urgent need to develop strategic communication policies. Government must avoid communication lethargy in 2016. People need to be carried along to inspire hope, followership, confidence and patience.

I suggest that government create an Office for Strategic Communication to link government with the people. There is no need to have two Press Secretaries. One may be assigned to the Office of Strategic Communication.

On political governance, I suggest that you build a grand alliance of pro-people institutions, like CSOs and labor Unions.

I also suggest that you set up a small technical committee on National Order. The first and urgent task of this Committee is to work on a Bill for An Act of the Union of Peoples and Nationalities of Nigeria. The Bill must resolve the Nigerian fault lines and contradictions. We may consider adopting a new name the ‘Union of Nigeria’.

In conclusion, I endorse the change agenda represented by the ideological shift in creation of structures for Social Benefits and inclusive political architecture.

Wishing you the very best.

Sincerely,
Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, OON

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