There were cheers, fireworks, and reprimands as scholars and legal experts gathered on Thursday, May 31, 201 in Lagos to discuss the war against corruption by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
The roundtable was organised by the Department of Jurispudence and International Law of the University of Lagos was themed “Winning the War Against Corruption” and keynote speakers included the head of Buhari’s anti-corruption committee, Prof Itse Sagay, a vibrant columnist and intellectual, Dr. Femi Aribisala, human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN) who was represented by Wahab Shittu, and a co-founder of #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili.
Falana Calls For Establishment of Special Corruption Court
Mr. Femi Falana opened the floor with a keynote speech titled, Rule of Law and Treatment of Politically Exposed Persons in Corruption Cases’. The Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was represented by Wahab Shittu, and in his speech he called for the establishment of special courts to try corruption cases in the country.
Femi Aribisala Rocks The Boat
When controversial cleric and scholar, Dr. Femi Aribisala took the podium, things became heated as he took to the podium and carpeted President Muhammadu Buhari and his anti-corruption campaign branding it as a politically motivated attack on the main opposition party in the country, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
“There is no fight against corruption in Nigeria. And if there’s no fight against corruption, you can’t even talk about war,” Aribisala opened his speech with salvo with unsettled Professor Sagay.
In his 10-minute presentation, Aribisala disagreed with an earlier definition of corruption presented by Dr. Oby Ezekwesili in which she defined corruption as “the abuse of public space for private gains”.
“Corruption cannot be narrowly defined the way Dr. Ezekwesili defined it, only relating to public institutions. We are corrupt in Nigeria. The plumber, the tailor, the whole society is corrupt,” said Mr. Aribisala.
“And we have not yet taken a decision, we have not yet gotten to a point where we are fed up. I mean, she (Mrs. Ezekwesili) had given an example of Hong Kong where people became fed up and said enough is enough. We have not reached that situation yet, I don’t know why not, but we certainly have not.
“The 2015 election was not an anti-corruption election. We did not have any political party that presented an anti-corruption mandate to us. The party that won the election was just a makeover of the PDP, I mean the PDP people moved from the PDP to the APC. If they were corrupt when they were in PDP, they became clean when they were in APC.
“So there is no mandate against corruption. If President Buhari was determined to fight against corruption, my feeling is that he gave up after losing election three times.
“Because the fourth time, he formed an alliance with people who he despised before. And they were not necessarily people who had a track record of being ‘anti-corruption’. So today, I don’t know who is ‘anti-corruption’,” he said, taking a swipe at chieftains of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Aribisala directly accused President Buhari of hiding under the cover of a war against corruption to fight the PDP and said that Nigerians had a responsibility to lead in the war against corruption. He stressed that Buhari has not put any structure in place to fight corruption and all the institutions and processed Buhari is using were creations of the PDP.
“We have to make up our minds if we really want to deal with the question of corruption. If we want to deal with the question of corruption, Nigerians themselves must insist on it and we have to deal with it at the institutional level.
“The institutional fight against corruption that has taken place to the extent that it has, took place under PDP. The institutional structures, even the ones that the present government is relying on, are PDP structures. Whether it is EFCC, ICPC, TSA, all these came under PDP.
“In ten months of Buhari’s government, there has been no institutional structure that has been laid against corruption. We have simple had media circuses accusing people of corruption.
“You cannot fight corruption with corruption. And corruption is more than just the stealing of money. If you disobey the rule of law, you have corrupted the system. If you create an avenue where you have a big margin between the official foreign exchange rate and the parallel market rate, there’s gonna be corruption. If you have children of the rich getting into the CBN on nepotistic grounds, the corruption is still with you.
“If you have a budget that is padded left right and centre, and after this was revealed you passed it and say only a small amount changed in it, and we do not know what is in the new budget, you can’t say you are against corruption. There is no transparency in any of these things.”
Aribisala also accused Buhari of a selective war against corruption which ignored corruption cases against members of the president’s party, the APC.
“Because the last 16 years was not just PDP government. The legacy parties of the APC were also in power. In fact when the PDP was ostensibly dealing with corruption, it addressed people in its own party. We are not having that now,” he said.
Aribisala questioned the practicality of Falana’s suggestion for the establishment of special corruption courts and said they would be used as a tool to “decimate” the PDP.
“And that’s why I can’t trust Falana’s prescription that we are going to establish special courts. I don’t trust this government to establish those courts. They will simply establish courts to decimate the opposition.
“People like Orubebe will be arrested, and they will file cases against him and several months later they will drop the charges against him. And they will have pronounced him guilty in the newspapers on charges that will later on be dropped. That is not a fight against corruption.”
The Crowd Cheers and Ezekwesili, Sagay Screamed
Dr. Aribisala’s speech received a thunderous ovation from the guests, mostly students, drawing the anger of Professor Sagay who was the chairperson of the roundtable.
“We are not here to make students clap,” said the law professor, visibly angry at the crowd’s reaction to Aribisala’s salvos at Buhari, whom he advises on corruption.
“We are here on a very serious business. And students, don’t behave like American electorates who are ignorant. Donald Trump. The appreciation of unserious people shows ignorance. How can someone come here and say there’s no war against corruption and there is clapping? ”
“Obasanjo created ICPC, EFCC, they are doing well we don’t need to create new institutions. You do not win a war by just creating multiplicity of institutions everywhere, that’s irresponsible. We will work with the institutions that we have.
“You don’t dilute the meaning of corruption to a point that it is meaningless. This is a very serious discussion and I want us to be serious about it. If you are anti-government, please go and campaign against government and let your party win in 2019.
“This is not a venue for PDP campaign. Most inappropriate comment. We are here on serious business. Let’s maintain that seriousness,” he said.
Aribisala remained unmoved by Sagay’s outburst. But, Ezekwesili pleaded for one more chance to speak, apparently her ego had been bruised by Aribisala’s comments. Instead of sticking to the points raised, she decided to chide the audience for appreciating Aribisala’s remarks.
“The systemic nature of corruption as a cancer against a system of governance is demonstrated in the fact that the activity of corruption begins to happen at their different levels,” she began.
“So for example, I wasn’t surprised that some of you were clapping. The reason you were clapping is that you are a page in your own level of corruption.
“There are many whose exam malpractice is the basis upon which they have come to school. So when you are talking about the need to wage a war against corruption, they are completely disconnected from it. There is a complete dissonance from it.”
Then, she decided to play some kind of regulator to what the audience should applaud.
“You need to be driven by the evidence of the damage and the destruction that corruption is doing to you, at the unit level. If you think you are doing well now, you will do exceedingly better if corruption is effectively tackled in this society,” she said.
“There is no comedy session going on here. We are talking about something that can be destructive. You should be holding the gun to fight against corruption. The gun has to be intellectual, so I need you to intelligently process everything that is said.”