Against the background of raging corruption in the polity, Mallam Yusuf Olaolu Alli, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Suggests death penalty for proven cases of graft involving public officers. In this interview with ABDULLAHI OLESIN he also disagrees with views that the courts are promoting or encouraging corruption in the country. He further speaks on various topical issues including state police creation, Faroukgate, et cetera.
What is your reaction to the allegation that judiciary is slowing down the war against corruption in the country?
First and foremost, we must appreciate that under our laws and our constitution, anybody accused of committing any crime is presumed to be innocent. You must also appreciate the fact that all the organs created by constitution have specific roles under the constitution. Judiciary has its own role; likewise the executive and the legislature with their own roles.
The constitution guarantees every citizen right of access to the court when you feel that your right has been infringed or about to be infringed or threatened or about to be threatened. And that is the hallmark of the operation and beauty of the rule of law. The interplay of the various organs is what brings out the best in the society.
Mob justice is no justice. ‘Oh, somebody stole money or he kills somebody, let’s go after him’. From my experience in this country, so many innocent souls were lost when lynching was the thing for people who were caught for stealing or robbing.
Scores were settled with people because all it takes is just for some people to shout ‘ole, thief, barawo, onyeoshi’, and the person will be dead. People will not ask questions. No civilized society will progress that way.
Now, to your question; as a person and as a lawyer, I have never agreed that the court should be used to stop constitutionally created institutions from performing their duties. What am I saying? For example, I won’t support a situation where there is a piece of proposal from the House of Assembly and you go to court to say don’t do it.
It is when they do it. It is when they do it and they go outside the purview of their powers that you can go to court. If somebody is accused of committing a crime, rightly or wrongly, my view is that police should be allowed to do their work. If in the process of doing their work they exceed their boundaries, you can go to court, not to stop them from doing anything at all. So, those who go to court believe that they have the right to do so.
But, don’t forget that the court is the ultimate in deciding if it is a proper case or not. All I will just say is that our courts should be up and doing and alive to the nuances and antecedents of Nigerians. If somebody brings a frivolous matter, the matter should be treated as such.
But to do a blanket something that because corruption is rife nobody should go to court, is to condemn people without being heard. And that’s one of the advocacies I had against the EFCC when Nuhu Ribadu was the chairman. Somebody has already been condemned before his matter is heard in court.
The question I ask is if at the end of the proper trial, you are now found not guilty, what do you get as compensation for the irreparable damages, not only to your person alone, the entirety of your family, your children, grandchildren, as you would have been shown on television and newspaper as a rogue, a thief.
Why? And the court says you are not guilty of anything. So, we must balance these various interests. So, I do not agree that courts are promoting or encouraging corruption. Yes, judiciary like the executive is a human institution. There is only perfection in God.
How do you assess the performance of anti-corruption agencies?
Nigeria is an interesting country. We must address the things that promote corruption. The anti-corruption agencies are just to be there, in a normal setting, to address few issues. I am sure the anti-corruption agencies are now overwhelmed because of the level and gravity of the pervasive nature of corruption.
And you must situate those institutions within the environment they operate. I keep on saying that the fight against corruption is not for the government or anti-corruption agencies alone; it’s for all of us, if we are serious. It’s for you and I. You as journalist, I as lawyer. How do we even live our private lives? Is it devoid of corruption? I keep on saying it; I don’t succumb to the general thesis that if those in government are clean, everyone else will be clean.
Those in government are in the minority; majority of the people must make up their minds and decide the society they want to live in. In foreign or developed nations, it is the ordinary people that decide that leaders must uphold some moral codes.
It is easier to track corruption in those places because in Europe or America, nobody cares about the extended family. Putting it in context, in those places, by the time your child is 18 or 21, he is out of the house.
You don’t care about the mother, father or in-laws. So, our social system also promotes corruption because the few people who make it in the society are under unbearable pressure for material contribution to the lives of others.
I am sure it happens to you too. People believe you are big men too. Somebody gives birth and comes to you to contribute to the naming ceremony. That doesn’t happen elsewhere. And if you say no, the kind of bad names they call you, you won’t imagine it.
We should get it right. So if we want to fight corruption, all of us must buy into it. How? We too should shun personal corruption. We should be of assistance to all these agencies. Nigeria is only place where people make all sorts of allegations and will be short in supplying details on how to address them. ‘So-so-so is corrupt or a thief and all that.
Where are the facts and figures? There is what I call group cowardice because we don’t give vent to what we believe in; we just like name-calling. We must grow above that and assist the anti-corruption agencies with information.
Like I always say also, we must invest in the confidence of the security people. Once people know that information given to them is sacred and their own lives will not be threatened as a result of it, because that is part of the problem of our security agencies, why people run away from giving information. They must reinvest themselves and gain the confidence of the people so that the people will be willing to come forward and say XY and Z are not good guys. Keep your eyes on them.
Is the nation ripe for state police?
Out rightly, I don’t think that we need state police or that we are ripe for it because most of us that are old enough in the First Republic know what and how it was used. In the North then there was native authority police; in the South we have local government police and they were merged with Nigeria police in 1968 when Gen. Yakubu Gowon was head of state. Before then, we know the uses they were put into by politicians.
And unfortunately the politicians of today are worse than the politicians of that time. So we cannot play partial federalism according to the text book, we should do it according to what we have. We have too many infertile individuals as politicians in this country today. We would be promoting unnecessary anarchy with state police.
What I think we need to do is to properly position the present police, especially in terms of moral armament. They must let it be known that corruption in that area will not be tolerated. They are supposed to be the keepers of our security and I am sure you would have been wondering over two main things that happen from the scraping of check points by the Acting Inspector General of police. Immediately, the volume of highway robbery reduced tremendously.
Accidental shooting had actually gone. When there were police check points, killings of innocent people was a daily occurrence.
People were dying in their tens. For achieving those two things he (the Acting IG) should be commended. Anyone calling for restoration of road blocks is a beneficiary of the rot of the past.
We should commend the IG and that he should maintain his stand. And when you are repositioning the police, IG should carry it all through as we have too many idle policemen guiding political office holders.
These men could be better trained and deployed for normal security work. Rather than go for state police, we should do more of community policing where people in their own areas would volunteer, be registered and you keep proper record about them. That’s what happens in other places. In London, you see some people in uniform trekking and moving around.
They are not proper police men, it is community policing. They are given uniforms and they are credible people who do not abuse the privilege. And you can start with professional bodies in this country, from some credible members of NBA, NUJ, Nigerian society of Engineers, surveyors, and we will see changes. It would be a transformation of the vigilante.
Can we still hope for the best out of the fuel subsidy report with Lawangate or Otedolagate?
I believe nothing should happen to distract from the implementation of the fuel subsidy report of the House of Representatives. The Otedolagate or Farouk Lawangate is just one incident out of so many issues.
We should not make the mistake we made when Chief Olushegun Obasanjo was to leave, of not allowing the amendment of the constitution because of what now became third term. There were so many other provisions. Third term was just one item out of hundred. So, the Otedola is just one out of several other findings of the committee.
I don’t think this has affected the totality of the integrity of the report. So, we should not put the report under the carpet. I’m sure we will be learning some lessons from there. So I believe the nitty-gritty of the report should be looked into and implemented.
Some people say government made political office attractive because of wages of political office holders. What is your take on this?
I believe the scramble for political position is not about the wages. It is about illegal acquisition of funds. I think it is unrestrained access to public funds by illegal means that is the attraction. Nigerians still believe that the shortest way to wealth is through public officeor government. That orientation must change.
How do we change it?
God bless you. I’ve said it, when you are proven guilty of corruption charges, the person should just be killed, executed. I’ve been preaching this for more than a decade. I used to call it Chinese treatment because in China if you are convicted for corruption, you are either hanged or shot. I believe this is necessary.
People challenged me, they say, ‘oh in other places they are scrapping death sentences’. Yes, those are other places. Corruption has contributed at least 80 per cent to problems we have in this country. If we can reduce corruption by 50 per cent, you will be surprised at the level of efficiency we are going to attain.
At least we would have achieved one thing – the person who committed the crime would not be the beneficiary of the gain. He won’t live to enjoy the fruit of his crime. Also, Nigerians will not be committing crimes for others to enjoy. Once they know and see example, they won’t be committing the crime.
Also, our value system would have to change; from the mosques and churches. And I’ve said it, the religious groups promote corruption because nobody asks a man, where he gets his money.
Nobody cares anymore. If a civil servant of level 16 or even 17 walks into a mosque or a church and say he is donating N2 million, he should be queried. One man says he’s contributing 10 per cent (tithe) of about N10 million, you should ask him, you are not a contractor? The rot is everywhere.
We now have religious leaders who take pride in flying private planes; from what source? All these are critical issues. The day Nigerians ask questions about how these people get these things, we won’t have problem. We must re-orientate ourselves. This God of materialism that we worship we should abandon it.
We should judge people by the content of quality of their character, not by wealth or money that the man has. The content or quality of character must form the basis of our relationship. And we must, as our forefathers used to say that somebody who is corrupt would be ostracised from the society.
We should learn to ostracise people whose source of wealth we are not sure of. We should not be lionizing them or promoting them. That’s a challenge to you people too. We should not just promote people because they have money. We should be wary before we give byline to a man in newspaper for example.
How did he get here? Let him explain. What did he do that others who are equally endowed intellectually did wrongly that they could not make it? So, I think these are very critical issues. We must all buy into it. So, I know the wages could be an attraction, but it’s not the wages that is pushing us.
There are too many illegal pecks in all these political offices that people believe that once I get there I have gotten to my Eldorado and I’ve no more problems.
NBA national conference is around the corner. What’s your advice to members?
My advice is that they should do it right. I have a very strong view about how leaders emerge in NBA. I don’t like sectionalism, parochialism; I don’t enjoy tribalism or ethnicity. I believe that the NBA as a professional body should be a model for the Nigerian political system and political class and for other professional bodies in terms of how the leaders emerge.
I don’t buy or agree that leaders should emerge based on sectional interest. Somebody is from South West, North West; those should be for ordinary politicians and not for a professional body. Not for an association as big and enlightened as NBA.
I want to advise our colleagues that they should know that serving the bar is a call to service and is voluntary. Anybody who is not going there to serve selflessly should leave us alone. That’s my appeal.