‘Buhari should lead social, ethical revolution in Nigeria’
On March 24, 2016, the Ben Nwabueze Centre for Studies in Constitutional Law and Related Subjects will hold its inaugural conference in Lagos. The topic will centre on the Code of Conduct for public servants as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. At the conference, one item will feature prominently in the discussion. The item is ‘verification’ of assets as declared by public servants.
Discussants will be asking the Code of Conduct Bureau why assets declared in the forms by public servants are hardly verified by the Bureau for over 37 years now. To Professor Ben Nwabueze, (SAN), the convener of the conference, the non-verification of the assets declared is the beginning of corruption as the practice hides accurate information of what is and what should be. In this interview with IBE UWALEKE and GODWIN DUNIA, the octogenarian explains the implication of this practice and also talks on other related issues. Excerpts:
You had a dream to reach 100 years on earth. Tell us more on this dream as you clock 85 years by June 9, 2016.
Events that occurred two years ago made me to doubt, if that is achievable. I had what they call domestic accident right in the bathroom of my bedroom. I had a fall. I don’t really know how it happened that I did not knock my head on the bath-ceramic floor. But I knocked my back-side which led to the broken of three bones in the spine. I spent several weeks and months in the hospitals here in LUTH and later in London for surgery of what they called medical cement of the broken bones.
I did not believe I could live up to today because it left almost a permanent effect on me. I cannot stand erect or walk. I can only walk short distances from my bedroom to my studies. I cannot come down stairs to my library, but with the prayers of people I have managed to be alive today and maybe I will get to 90-100 years. Even somebody telephoned me and said: Prof. you will leave up to 120. I think that is too much to look for.
What is this Ben Nwabueze Centre for Studies in Constitutional Law and other Related Subjects about?
The event of the accident has quickened the need for the announcement I want to make to you today. And that is the establishment of Ben Nwabueze Centre for Studies in Constitutional Law and Related Subjects, as a lasting legacy of my life.
The Centre will try to preserve the little I have achieved in life and publicized and bring it to the attention of Nigerians.
The Centre is going to have its inaugural conference on the 24th of March 2016, with the topic: The Code of Conduct Enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria and its Crucial Importance in the Fight against Corruption. And we are asking for the support of you gentlemen of the press to make the conference a success and to bring it to the attention of many Nigerians as much as possible. The press in this country has a vital role to play in the development of Nigeria.
When was the Code of Conduct for public servants born?
The idea of a Code of Conduct for the civil servants was born 37 years ago, in 1976 and I originated it. The Constitutional Drafting Committee was set up by the Federal Military Government and I was one of the members. The 49-wise men, as the members were called then. Awolowo was supposed to be among, but he declined to be a member. So we were 49 members and were supposed to be wise, but I don’t know if the facts will justify this.
The committee tried its best with seven sub-committees and I was the chairman of one of the sub-committees. And it was in my capacity as chairman that I brought the idea of a Code of Conduct for public servants together with the Directive Principles of State’s Policy. Both ideas were incorporated into the Constitution of 1979.
The directive principles of state policy became chapter Two of both the 1979 and 1999 constitutions. The Code of Conduct was embodied in a schedule 5 and 6 of the Constitution and the purpose is to instill probity, honesty and accountability in public service.
Have we achieved the purpose of setting up Code of Conduct?
The fact is how many Nigerians of over 160 million population know about it? Very few must have read it and be aware of it for over 37 years it has come into existence. Those who governed us have done nothing about it. Check the Directive State Policy in Chapter Two, out of all the successive governments in the country, only one had tried to implement it. They all campaigned, spent four, eight years and went.
Who will head the Ben Nwabueze Centre?
My daughter, Adaeze Nwabueze will be the Executive Director of the Centre and the first thing the Centre will do is to organise a conference on the Code of Conduct, bring it to as much Nigerians as possible and to also instill it in the minds and consciousness of the people and those who governs us.
This is the purpose of the conference that will take place this March because it is a pity that there is a code of this kind with laudable objectives on the pages of the constitution without any serious efforts to implement it. Happily, the Saraki case has brought it out to the attention of the people and the conference will try to do a case study of that Saraki’s case.
Talking of the Code of Conduct, it prescribes rules of conduct for civil servants and sanctions for breaches and contraventions. Above all, it sets up machinery for the enforcement of the code.
It also sets up two agencies: Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal.
However, the Saraki’s case has underscored the shortcomings of the CCT.
What the CCT is doing is in the Constitution, and what you have there, in the Constitution was drafted by me in my own words.
The intention of the draftsman is not the final. We still have to interpret them. What is happening was not what I have in mind when I drafted those provisions in the Schedule.
Among the Important provisions of the code is on assets declaration, which clearly set out that every public servant at the beginning of office must declare his assets and also after office.
One would have thought that if these provisions are strictly adhered to, they will go a long way to check corruption, such that at the expiration of the tenure, we would be able to compare assets at when assuming and leaving office.
There is an important element in the assets declaration that has been deliberately omitted, and it has led to the ineffectiveness of the assets declaration regime. And that is ‘verification’.
So the conference of the 24th of this month will talk about all these and how the code of conduct will be made more effective instrument in the governance of the country.
Our problem in this country is not lack of ideas, but implementation. We will also examine the statutes law on corruption, the EFCC Acts enacted in 2004.We all remember during Ribadu era and how he took over the duty of the Police. EFCC needs to be reorganized and overhauled, they were constituted by law to catch thieves, but they have become thieves themselves. They recovered billions, but where are the billions?
Why do you think the element, ‘verification’ in asset declaration was omitted?
Verification in assets declaration has been neglected for 37 years now, nobody is talking of it. Even you pressmen may not know what it entails. It is confirming what the declarant actually has as against what he has declared. If there is no balance, the declarant can be taken up from there. That is the beginning of asset declaration when the form is examined against what is actually on the ground.
The Saraki case has again brought to public glare if what he declared is false or not. The bureau is there receiving and compiling files every year on assets declaration without verifying them. And the third schedule says: ‘it has to receive forms and examine them, which means verification’. That is the word the code used. But every year we go on in corruption and it continues to increase its intensity and most successive governments keep telling us that they are waging war against corruption.
How do you assess the war against corruption by Buhari’s administration?
Except recently, with the advent of the administration of President Buhari that some ‘teeth’ has been giving to the war on corruption. In fairness to him, if previous administrations had done half of what he is doing, we may not be where we are today, where corruption is eating up us all. And that of course, is why I subscribed to the idea that corruption is one and the only problem we have in the country. So let us fight corruption.
I have always thought of the CCT as a disciplinary committee. It was never thought as a code of criminal law, it was the code of civil servants in the fashion of civil servant rules.
What do you think about the Supreme Court’s decision on the Saraki’s case?
It is not what one expects from an apex court, which I have criticised and published by The Guardian and other papers. The last sitting of the CCT last week, 66 lawyers were in Court, which has not happened before. The next sitting I enjoin the press to still be there to monitor happenings. Most especially, the presence of Justice Danladi Umar, despite allegations of corruption made against him.
He should not be there again to preside over Saraki’s case under a regime that is fighting corruption. You mean those allegations are not enough for him to take an honourable exit from the court. We expect that the sentinel of justice is sacred sanctuary. We expect him to say: ‘let me step aside, until investigations are over’. With all these allegations, how can we expect him to continue to preside over Saraki’s case of alleged false assets declaration. You are alleged to have committed corruption and at the same time trying somebody of corruption charges under a regime fighting corruption.
Of course we must applaud the efforts of Buhari compared with the efforts of his predecessor, he is doing well, but how can he justify this? The Supreme Court as the final court or President Buhari, ought to have directed the man to step aside. I think it is up to you the press to ask questions on why Justice Umar is still there in spite of criminal charges against him and his personal assistant. Why is it that Umar is being dropped from the charges.
You pressmen must ask questions and not lose hope in Nigeria, you have a better role to play to correct misdeeds in this country. Let us not lose hope, together we will salvage the country and bring sanity to this country. I don’t know how many more years I have, but I hope to be alive to see the change mantra.
Do you say the verification issue you raised was deleted or downplayed?
No, it is there, it was not applied. Chapter two itself of the Directive of State’s Policy has not been addressed and you ask those who govern us why does the CCB not insist on verification. They are the ones to examine, that is what the constitution says in assets declaration forms submitted to them. The code is to set up the functions of the Bureau. The code in 5th Schedule specifically uses the word verify. Why have they not been doing this?
If this had been done a lot of things would have been discovered. Verification is on the spot assessment or examination by experts of what is stated in the assets declaration form.
Given the pivotal role you played in the enactment of this code, one would have expected that you would have raised alarm on non-verification of assets declaration?
What alarm, have you examined my writings, in all my books? What else do you want me to do, to raise a gun?
Maybe like calling press conference.
How many press conferences have I called under the Patriots, Igbo-leaders of thoughts, and I have talked about all these? Maybe you never attended them and I think this is the first you have just attended.
If the Bureau fails to verify assets declared, how does it arrive at the conclusion that somebody has made a false declaration?
I don’t know. But you can look at some documents without proper verification. It is easy to say or arrive at the conclusion that this is false declaration.
Is non-verification corruption?
Of course, when you have something to hide, it is corruption.
How do they categorize some people as having made the false declaration and free others?
One of the newspapers wrote that the Chairman of CCB said this was the declaration made by Saraki in 2010, when he was governor and he did not find it then, until now 11 years after. The Chairman of CCB should be tried for corruption.
Are you calling for an overhaul of EFCC, CCB and CCT, these three institutions?
To overhaul does not mean to disband. We can reform them and appoint new people to oversee the affairs of the institutions.
So what will now happen to the trials going on?
They should go on. EFCC does not conduct trial, it investigates. A new Chairman has just been appointed and he is doing a good job.
He is recovering loot and we are not seeing the loot?
I don’t know. Some of the loot they are re-looting them. But the new Chairman of EFCC, Magu seem to be doing a good job, he has recovered close to 700 million dollars and Abachas loot will come in soon.
What is your advice to President Buhari’ in relation to trying corrupt people and recovery of loot?
I don’t think we can do away with judicial process. I don’t buy the idea that they (those caught) should be shot. Jerry Rawlings did that in Ghana and maybe it helped there but I don’t think it is in accordance with the idea of justice. We can’t do away with trial and the rule of law. The day you try to do away with the Constitution, you are inviting anarchy.
The constitution is the glue that hold us together, don’t forget we have over 329 nationalities in this country, attempt to throw away the constitution…. well I don’t know what will happen.
Don’t you think the way the trials are conducted it has shown that the Constitution is partially thrown away?
Yes! partially you said. But the day it is completely thrown away, then you see what happens. Everybody will be at each other throat.
Do you have confidence in the present judiciary?
I am a member and indeed the most Senior Advocate of Nigeria of the legal profession. I and Richard Akinjide are the few surviving senior members of the SAN title. I will not like to make a sweeping statement on the legal profession.
I asked you the question in view of the recent revelation and trial of some members of the profession.
Yes, I know. That was why I said the whole system is socked in corruption. Every institution, agencies are corrupt. That is all
I can say as a senior member of the legal profession.
Five years ago you called for a revolution, are you still making the same call today?
I still stand by what I meant five years ago. But let me reaffirm. that I did not mean a bloody revolution. What I meant was a social and ethical revolution which must be led by the President. Such must start by mobilizing the people. It is not something you do sitting in an office, it should be led by the president. The point is, is the president capable of mobilizing the people to come out and say: ‘this society of ours is rotten, corruption is everywhere’.
It is not by probing and handcuffing people that is the revolution I am talking about. Revolution is ethical, that is change of attitude.
The way to change attitude is by bringing about a change in attitude in outlook. That is what social revolution means. We need a leader who can lead us through, and not all these things we are doing now.
Are you saying you are not seeing any change coming from this administration?
It depends on what you mean by change. The present administration is doing something and that is change.