Monday Ubani is the immediate past Ikeja Branch chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with ADEBISI ONANUGA, he speaks on the war against corruption and other national issues
The President said recently that he would soon disclose the names of those who returned stolen money. Do you think the matter should just end like that? What do you think he should do?
I don’t think what the President is saying is that he would direct Central Bank to publish the names of those who have returned stolen money. He meant that he would forgo prosecution. I think that he was making a response to the demands of those who are asking that the names of those who have been alleged to refund stolen money to be published. So, he made a specific statement to that effect that he would ask the Central Bank to publish those names. As for allowing them to go scotfree, I didn’t hear him say so. I think that those who have returned stolen money, one way or the other, they have been indicted and must be made to face the wrath of the law. Allowing them to go scotfree and then returning whatever they feel like returning out of what they have stolen, is like encouraging corruption. Because if we must put a stop to corruption, we must make corruption not to pay. We must make corruption as something not enjoyable, as something you would do and not go scotfree, we must make it something that if you eat it, you would not just vomit it, you would also pay for eating it. It is an infraction on the law. So, allowing them to go is not something I would encourage them the President to do. They must be made to face the music. It may well be that their punishment is mitigated. Maybe if they are to go for three years, they may go for six months or less than that which we called plea bargain in the system.
To end this fight against corruption, what should be the expectation from the judiciary?
The judiciary has a very great role to play. The judiciary must agree with the philosophy of the executive that we must fight corruption and nip corruption in the bud. If we have a judiciary that cue into the philosophy of the executive, then we would see a judiciary that is up and doing in effective administration of justice particularly in high profile cases. Because corruption is a bailable offence, we must fix a time line within which we must have corruption cases disposed off. The prosecution must be given evidence to present the evidences he has and the accused must be given opportunity to present his defence. So, you don’t allow all these technicalities to come into play. You don’t allow issues of stay of proceedings and interlocutory injunctions to come into play. You don’t allow interlocutory appeals anymore because the Administration of Criminal Justice 2015mhas outlawed all these processes that they were using to stall proceedings in criminal trials. So, what the judiciary should do now is to play the rule of the game by ensuring that there must be an end to criminal trials within a time so that if any one has appeal, if he doesn’t feel that he has gotten justice and then goes up to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court, all these cases must be resolved within a time line so that there won’t be prolong trials like the ones we have of 2007 cases that are still lingering even at preliminary stages. So, the judiciary must cue into this particular struggle, cue into this struggle that we must fight corruption and then, the executive can achieve its purpose of fighting corruption in the country.
Would you then support the establishment of special court to fight corruption cases so that such cases can be disposed off within a record time?
I don’t have anything against it anymore. I used to be one of those opposing it. But in the light of what is happening now in the judicial system. Not only subscribing to issue of a special court, I am also subscribing to issue of a time line just like it is done in electoral process. So we give a time line within which trial at the lower court, at the Court of Appeal level and Supreme Court must hold so that we can begin to see a quick disposal of criminal cases the way we are seeing it in election cases. So, if there are issues of injustice in our system, we can also mitigate it by amending our laws in order to ensure that there is justice. But time is of essence in such quick disposal of cases particularly in criminal and corruption cases. We must understand what corruption has done to this nation, we must understand how it has destroyed the psyche of this country.
We must understand that the road is not safe today because of corruption, that our education system has collapsed because of corruption, our health system is now in shambles because of corruption, there is high rate of unemployment because of corruption, there is no energy because of corruption, that the airspace is not safe because of corruption. A lot of things have impeded our growth because of corruption. If we know what corruption has done to us and we have all agreed that we must fight it, then we must all begin to cue into the philosophy of nipping it in the bud by assisting the present government to fight it and stop it. We must then put up a structure that would ensure there is transparency in government, hard work, honesty and transparency in governance and then, begin to teach people, even from primary school, the issue of hard work, honesty and integrity even in government offices and other places.
Against the background of the arms scandal, would you support the calls for freedom for the convicted soldiers by special martial courts?
We have been saying it that those soldiers that were convicted by special martial courts on grounds that they abandoned the war front. We have been saying that those trials were not conducted in accordance with our laws, that they have reasons for what they did because they had no ammunitions to fight the war. You don’t go to war with hoe and matchets. You go to war with guns. If they had no guns, it would have been suicidal for them to engage in that war against the insurgence. Now that these facts are coming to reality, based upon even our insinuations, even based on what we are saying, we are totally in agreement that they should not be imprisoned. They should be set free. They should be reabsorbed back into the Nigerian Army and then the spirit of those who are already there would ginger them in fighting the war. So I am totally advocating for amnesty for them because they had reasons to do what they did.
How do you react to reports that government would start removing subsidy as from next year?
Government will be making a very grave mistakes if they don’t give us the fundamentals, if there are no disclosures on why they must remove subsidy, why there is no subsidy in the first place and why our refineries are not working, how much are refining? How much are we importing? How much are we using to supplement the quantity required for the functions of Nigerians. If we don’t have all these disclosures, removing subsidies would create some level of hardship on the people. It will also not be in the interest of the present government. The government must come out clear and tell us what they intend to do in the oil sector. The oil sector is still hazy, is still opaque, is not very clear, is not transparent. We need to know how much we are buying the refined oil, how much are we importing the fuel, how much is the landing cost and all that. They need to give us all the statistics. They should tell us how much we are using to subsidize because if all these things are not disclosed, it then means that the government is as guilty as the previous government. This has been the reason why we are all up in arms against the government when they talk about removal of subsidy. What has happened to the refineries that were functioning when this government came in? What has happened to them that they are no longer functioning; and then what is government going to do with them? Are they going to privatise them? Is government going to allow them to be in limbo? What does government intend to do about them? We must have the full disclosures. When we have the full disclosures, they can then go ahead to do whatever they want to do with them. If we continue the same way of not explaining to the people and we just come up with some harsh measure that do not in any way impact positively on the economic life of the people, then it is not too healthy for us and for this present government.