The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Matthew Kukah, tells TOBI AWORINDE his issues with the modus operandi of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war
You have consistently criticised the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. Do you still doubt the anti-corruption war in view of recent developments?
Like millions of other Nigerians, you both overstate my intention and may have read too much into my text because this led the ignorant to conclude that I was against the war. I was, and still am, against the lack of vision, clarity, diagnosis, strategy and intellectual depth of what we call a fight against corruption. Conceptually, I was and am against the idea of the metaphor of war as a strategy because once we saw it as a war, the government believed it only needed to rally its army and then go to the war front. Sadly, even if we took that metaphor, we were unlikely to get the desired results because this was a war without timelines, without a proper understanding of the enemy, his strength and his landscape. The result is what we now see.
It is not enough to say we will fight the corrupt, especially when the President is still stuck in a mindset of his military days, which sees corruption as something that wicked and unpatriotic politicians and office holders are doing. Still, we believe that corruption is what the political class has done. Every day, the predicament of the government is a more visible and palpable illustration that we were right all along: an assembly led by the ruling party and the President cannot agree on the choice of the chairman (of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), the leader of this fight. What does this tell you? My contribution was made as a public intellectual, not a partisan (individual). What is more, even the President has a fair idea of where I stand on these issues and we agreed on that.
A common criticism of Buhari has been that members of his government are unaffected by the anti-corruption war, despite several strong allegations against some of them. What do you think?
The President’s wife and most of those close to him have made it clear that the President did not really know the team he assembled. Notwithstanding, it is actually not necessary for the president to appoint those he knew and it is impossible. However, given the nature of the tendencies that came together to win the elections, it is clear that, perhaps, consolidating the party, getting the buy-in of his team was important. They missed good opportunities of composing a song and rather concentrated their energies on the Peoples Democratic Party that had lost elections and was too wounded to hurt them.
The President assumed wrongly that his people necessarily were interested in a fight against corruption. After all, apart from the President and the Vice President’s mouths, where else do you hear so much talk about fighting corruption? This is Nigeria and this is Nigerian politics by Nigerians. Here, politics is a conveyor belt for opportunistic self-enrichment. Politicians might make some pretensions here and there, but the fact is that local government chairmen and (state) commissioners want to be governors; governors and ministers also want to be presidents. Servicing these ambitions require primitive accumulation and some of that is now playing out as you can see.
Are you now encouraged by the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayodele Oke?
Well, it is not a question of being encouraged. Let them have their day within the process and, hopefully, we shall know the truth, which, in turn, if really told, will set us free. As usual, people are ecstatic and showing this off as evidence of a renewed fight against corruption. As for me, I will wait and see.
Do you think the suspension is belated?
There is a time for everything. Justice has no clock.
Are there other people you would want the security and anti-corruption agencies to beam their searchlight on?
How do you want me to answer this question? Who am I to decide where the agency beams its searchlight? There are no sacred places, I assume.
How would you rate the performance of the EFCC so far?
I wish they were less preoccupied by the politics of the moment. On the whole, I believe that they will continue to do their best. However, I wish that there was less drama and theatre. I wish they would appreciate that it is better to take time, examine information and data, rather than rush to conclusions, and then face the kind of embarrassment about who owns what has been found.
Why do you think the EFCC is being dramatic?
The poor love drama, but drama is what it is; it entertains but does not resolve any problem. I recall one of my friend’s children who is a big man now. He was about two years old or so. I was in their house and playing with him when he saw a Maggi advertisement with a pot of delicious (-looking) and steaming soup. He left me and went to the television screen. By the time he got there, the advertisement had moved on and he broke into uncontrollable tears because he thought it was real soup. All these monies that our sensibilities are being assaulted with, what do they do to us? Are we supposed to salivate or what? We have been showing armed robbers on television for years. Has it reduced armed robbery?
Are you surprised that the EFCC has yet confirmed the identity of the owner of the apartment in Osborne Towers, where over N13bn cash was uncovered?
Exactly! That is what I am saying. How can you invite us for your wedding and then you turn around and say you do not know who the bride is? They have made themselves quite vulnerable in terms of what people will believe. People will get cynical and ask, ‘Was this planted or what?’ It is not professional at all. And, do we need to be assaulted with all these gory details? After all, from there, where does the money go to?
What do you make of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, laying claim to the seized N13bn cash?
Is there not something like burden of proof, as the lawyers say? This is what makes all these so sad, that our nation is being presented in this light. Where in the world can you say that amount of money is lying around and its ownership is in dispute?
Do you agree with the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) that Wike should prove ownership to be able to claim the money?
It only makes common sense.
You accused the EFCC of showing the country in a negative light. Shouldn’t looters be the ones to blame for the bad image of Nigeria?
I am not sure the word accusation is correct. My argument is still that there are many ways of dealing with these issues. Of course, there is no doubt that what we are witnessing is lamentable, but surely, we must not forget that it has long-term implications and effects on our national integrity, given the fact that we are already dealing with a negative image problem. I do not deny that those criminals have done us damage, but to merely show us all these when the search has not been concluded does not give us a real picture of the story, especially as it is still rolling.
Are you happy with the whistle-blower policy?
It is a great step and definitely one of the greatest incentives in the issues of corruption. It is yielding results and it is also one of the reasons I said we needed to be more imaginative and innovative in the issues of corruption. The challenge is to sustain it before it deteriorates to something completely different, given the nature of our society.
Do you think the anti-corruption agency would record the level of success it has recorded in the last few months without the whistle-blower policy?
There is no perfect system. Perhaps other innovations could have equally yielded results, but the overall issue should be to make us all whistle-blowers, as opposed to merely feeding on the selfish motivations of individuals. Had the policy not been self-serving, would these individuals not have kept quiet? The ultimate goal is to make us all whistle-blowers for justice and equity, and that is why I keep saying that how the government deploys the proceeds of the corruption fight will determine how all citizens buy in. We must all see that we have much to gain if we succeed. So far, citizens are made to think it is only a business of government and that some of the money will equally be stolen again.
What other policies do you think will further the Federal Government’s anti-corruption agenda?
No policy is perfect. I would have loved to see government involve the academic community, especially those in the social sciences. We need the other arm of science that will ultimately move us away from this primitive way of moving so much money around in bags and so openly. It is scientific innovations that bring out change, not mere moral persuasion and open threats especially against the backdrop of weak institutions.
The Federal Government has not been able to secure a conviction of any of its corruption-related prosecutions. Do you think it is doing something wrong?
Again, this was why some of us felt that we needed to do more than merely focusing on law as a way out. I believe that if the security agencies and the banks are serious, it would not have been impossible to confront citizens with the huge resources that are managed through the banking system. I warned that the corrupt have better lawyers and have the capacity to corrupt the system. This is what we mean when we speak of the corruption in the judiciary. It is also a measure of the quality of legal advice and services available to the government and its agencies.
Do you think the failure to secure a conviction is tied to the alleged corruption in the judiciary?
I feel that the president could have engaged the judiciary in a more collaborative manner. He has one of the finest legal minds in the country as his deputy. I believe that even before launching this fight, he could have taken the judiciary into confidence, appreciating their independence, but enlisting their support and asking for suggestions, while respecting them as an independent arm of government. There is corruption everywhere in this country. Everywhere! There are no sacred grounds and this is because of the malfunctioning nature of the state.
The bureaucracy, the conveyor belt of public services, is immersed in corruption and an awareness of all these would have ensured that the president appreciates that this is not a war he can win on his own. This is how we got to be where we are. The hero worshippers created the impression that the president would fight corruption based on his credentials and this may have led to the feeling of alienation by other important arms like the judiciary. They have not been accorded their respect and they should be.
Do you agree with the argument that the legislature is using strong-arm tactics against the executive, especially in the light of corruption cases bedevilling several federal lawmakers?
I am not sure I know what you mean by ‘strong-arm.’ The President of the Senate and the Speaker are not controlling any agencies such as the army and police, so which ‘strong-arm’ can they use against the Commander-in-Chief? Again, both the Senate President and the Speaker are All Progressives Congress members. How is it that they have not been able to deal with all these issues through the means of simple breakfasts and so on? This war should be theirs as a party, but sadly, there is no unanimity in orientation; everyone is fighting (in) their corner to defend what they have.
It has been observed that the EFCC’s approach seems to be: arrest suspects, recover loot, publicise efforts, prosecute and search for incriminating evidence. Is that the way you see it too?
You said so, not me. I am sure you know better than me.
It would appear that the EFCC’s effectiveness is tied to the president’s desire or political will to fight corruption. What do you think?
Again, I do not understand why they would make an individual the issue and it is also a measure of the lack of behind-the-scenes diplomacy that this government does not seem to appreciate. It is a great pity and it accounts for why so many simple things continue to fester for a long time.
Do you agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo on his view on corruption in churches?
You are a journalist and you don’t need (ex-) President (Olusegun) Obasanjo to remind you of corruption in the churches. Are some church men and women not in prison today? Have you not followed stories of criminals who masquerade as pastors and so on? Corruption is everywhere and that is why I think it is a great mistake that we do not have a holistic conversation but merely an ad hoc obsession, defining corruption as what politicians and people in public life do. The religious institutions are made up of Nigerians, not angels and no one should be allowed to use an institution to cover themselves and that is why Nigerians are crying for the removal of the immunity clause in our constitution, especially as too many people are using this as a cover.
How do you feel about the payment of N42m by a man as tithe to a church in Benue State?
This is chicken feed compared to what contractors and businessmen and women are paying to corrupt church men, who are largely partners in crime and claim to be praying for rich people. So, it is important to check and cross-check your facts. You should educate us by telling us what really happened now that the right hand knows what the left is doing.
Do you think concerned religious bodies, like the Christian Association of Nigeria, should swoop in?
Swoop in to take away the money or to ask for its own tithe? Does CAN have an EFCC wing?
The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, reportedly said he offered money to herdsmen to stop the killings in Southern Kaduna. What is your reaction to this?
Well, if it is true that the governor paid money to those whose family members were purported to have been killed in 2011, and if the decision was to stop them from killing our people, then someone should explain to our people why they took the money and the killings of our people has not stopped. Surely, the truth of the story is trapped in the cracks, but God knows.
Some believe the unrest in Kaduna should not be linked to religion. What do you think?
The crisis in Southern Kaduna is (about) religion only to the extent that there are those who say that there is no difference between religion and politics. Even if it were about religion, does being of a particular religion necessarily diminish my humanity? The crisis in Southern Kaduna is the unravelling of a structure of oppression and exclusion, the seeds of which were sown even before independence. It is true we have always lived in peace, but this peace is not because of what successive governments in Kaduna have done, but largely in spite of what they have failed to do.
I am convinced that for the people of Southern Kaduna, it is a new dawn. Despite deliberate policies of exclusion, they have broken their nails to climb out of the dark tunnel of exclusion constructed by the invidious members of the Kaduna mafia. Change began to come only during the administration of Obasanjo. I believe there is a future to hope for and we must not surrender to despair. If anyone thinks that terror, intimidation and blackmail are substitutes for justice, they should do well to read history and read it properly. For now, Southern Kaduna is a theatre for the politics of both today and the future of Nigeria.