2014 Confab report solution to Nigeria’s problems – Niyi Akintola
Legal icon, Chief Niyi Akintola(SAN), has said that the implementation of the 2014 Confab report will douse the tension and solve the problems confronting the nation.
In this interview with VINCENT KALU, Chief Akintola, took a swipe at those who criticise the composition of the conference and asked, ‘who elected those who drafted the 1999 Constitution…’
Nigerians are singing discordant tunes. Some are calling for restructuring and others are calling for the implementation of the 2014 Confab report, there are those advocating for fiscal federalism and resource control. Nigeria is on edge, how do you think it can be fixed?
Yes, Nigeria is on the edge. The truth of the matter is that I was at the 2014 National Conference, and I served in the most powerful committee- Devolution Committee. Over 600 resolutions that were passed, I was a party to it.
All the issues that are facing us today were fully addressed there. I should be playing the ostrich for anybody to claim that the representatives there were not elected members and so it was undemocratic.
Those who put the 1999 Constitution together, where and when were they elected? Who elected Abubakar, and Justice Niki Tobi, as well as, Awal Yadudu that drafted it?
Those who are saying that membership of the 2014 Confab were not elected and undemocratic are riding on the intelligence of Nigerians. Ask them to explain who elected those who put the 1999 Constitution together.
We had a situation where people from all walks of life, the best you can think of – former governors, former Chief Justice of Nigeria, former President, Court of Appeal, lawyers, bankers, journalists, doctors, traditional rulers, almost everybody that matters; everybody that is somebody was present there.
All of us were signatories to the report, including those who are now kicking against it. How many of those mouthing restructuring are sincere? Sometimes you begin to wonder what they mean by restructuring. Many of them don’t seem to appreciate it.
When we were at the National Confab, we were discussing the issue of resource control, and the reason it was shutdown was that some people were ready to take but were not ready to give.
At one of our sessions, I suggested to our brothers from the South-south that those of us from the Southwest don’t care if those who get oil take their oil.
All that the South westerners are asking for is to allow us do our thing in our own ways. We have been championing the cause of restructuring for decades; our progenitor, Awolowo championed it, and subsequent leaders championed the same cause.
Restructuring is our baby, and if you are talking of resource control, and it must include VAT, sales tax, charges from ports and border, and they said no. I said if that was the case, no resource control and that was how it was shutdown.
The people who want resource control don’t want Lagos State to benefit from the VAT, ports and border charges.
Today, 70 per cent of energy being consumed is in the Southwest. I’m from Oyo, the state with the longest borderline in Nigeria. What is being given back to us in 2013, from the Federal government, about N60 billion was generated at the border of my state, but no one kobo was given to Oyo State government.
If you want resource control, it must be all embracing, and that was my hypothesis there, so be it, provided that the man from Niger State should be able to get control from the hydropower and the man in Mambila should be getting something there. If the South-south brothers don’t want that, there is no resource control.
Restructuring as it affects resource control should be all embracing. If you don’t put certain things on the table, you don’t get anything. We don’t seem to know what federalism means. Nigeria is the only country that practices federalism and that operates single licensing authority.
Nigeria is the only country that even if you have to breathe air, they ask you to come to Abuja. What business should the Federal Government have with primary education? On the 68 items on the Exclusive list, what should be there are not more than seven. We need to unbundle all those items to the Residual list.
You aspire to be Oyo State governor, on which platform, and what difference are you going to make there?
It is on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC). Don’t forget that I have been in the system for a very long time. I’m an Ige boy. Don’t forget, I was once the Deputy speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly, 1992.
I became a politician not by design but by luck. I was in the Chambers of Lambe Arasi and Co, where I was taught the abc of law.
I have been the counsel to the progressives since 1999. God has used me to argue more cases for the progressives more than any other lawyer since the beginning of this Fourth Republic.
Beyond that, the incumbent governor of the state has set the bar of governance; has set the pace and has brought peace back to the state. If it were ten years ago, I dare not stick out my neck. I would not even open my mouth to say that I wanted to contest election because thuggery was the order of the day.
So, we need to sustain what the governor will be leaving behind. We need to take a cue from Lagos, where everybody wants to live and die in the state because there is continuity.
Asiwaju Tunubu laid the foundation, Fashola built on it and Ambode is sustaining it.
Every progressive governor has his business well cut out for him. The template is here in Lagos, and we can see the difference. You can compare what is happening here and what is happening in other parts of the country. We cannot continue to be on the sideline watching the system.
Is there any zoning arrangement in Oyo State, and does it favour you?
No, there is nothing like that. It is for the best. There is no dichotomy in Oyo. All of us are Oyos. We are all the same.
You said you had been in the system for long. How did it begin?
In 1991, politicians were detained. Among them were Chief Bola Ige and Chief Lamidi Adedibu, Gen Musa Yar’Adua and Jim Nwobodo. They brought the brief for the release of Adedibu to our chambers, Lambe Arasi and Co. My senior colleague, the late Chief Olanipeku and I were asked to handle it. He was leading. God made it possible for us to win the case at the Appeal Court and Adedibu was released to us.
We lost the case at the lower court and the day of the ruling at the appeal, it was my fortune to go to court to take the judgment. Adedibu was ordered to be released forthwith, and after the processes, he was released to me.
In the course of taking him to his house, the crowd that had gathered carried him on their shoulders and they never allowed his feet to touch on the ground.
It was just a week to the 1992 election between the SDP and NRC. All the candidates for the election were at his house and he announced that, ‘this my lawyer was going to be the speaker of the House of Assembly’.
So, I was given the nomination form, which I filled right there, and he also decreed that my senior, Olanipeku was going to be the commissioner of Finance, and that was it.
It was on Tuesday and by Saturday I had won an election on the platform of SDP to become a member of Oyo House of Assembly. I didn’t have party card, and I never campaigned. I was to be the speaker but the party leader pleaded with me, and I stepped down and became the deputy speaker.
The hardship I passed through radicalized me and I had joined all sorts of human rights groups, and I became a thorn in the flesh of the House, and I was kidnapped and put in the booth of a car and taken to Adedibu’s house.
That marked my departure from politics and I resigned and didn’t have anything to do with politics again until in 1998. Like I said earlier, I’m an Ige boy, and I can say comfortably that I was one of his kitchen cabinet.
By 1998, the country was boiling, and I was a member of NADECO, which was a thorn in the flesh of Abacha, and we were being detained here and there. I was detained five times by the SSS. We were in and out of detention camps. We were arrested wherever we were accosted and thank God for the Nigerian press, that was always reporting our arrests.
By 1998, we had Pan Yoruba conference at Premier Hotel, where we took a decision to participate in Adulsalami transition programme. We decided to form a party, Bola Ige decided to join elder statesmen like Ekwueme, Lar, Ciroma and they formed the PDP. I participated in writing the PDP Constitution under the supervision of Bola Ige. But that couldn’t work as Ige pulled out of PDP to APP.
AT Nicon Hilton Hotel, where APP was having its inaugural meeting, as soon as Ige saw Adedibu on the high table, he turned and told us that we can’t stay here. We left there but some people stayed behind, including the likes of Akala, who contested election for the chairmanship of Ogbomosho North on the platform of APP.
We went back to the drawing board and formed the AD. We had the likes of Akerele Bucknor, Lam Adesina, Adefarati, Osoba and the rest of them.
That was how AD started. If you look at the constitutions of AD and PDP, they were the same, the only difference was just the nomenclature and the changing of names. We were almost not registered as we didn’t meet the criteria, but because of the sentiments and the prevailing situation at that time, we were registered. We were getting late to meet the deadline of INEC.
What is your view on the corruption fight in the country?
It is a good programme, which should be supported by everybody, but the approach needs to be fine tuned, the approach being adopted is suspect. It is not only suspect to abuse, most of the stakeholders that should key into the fight are not there.
Then there is too much propaganda surrounding the fight. Some of the methods being adopted are not only flawed, they are totally irregular and some of them cannot stand the test of time.
Many don’t know that most of the laws that were put in place by Obasanjo to fight corruption have not been domesticated by the states. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) that was passed by the National Assembly was copied from Lagos State. It was the brainchild of Lagos State under Prof Yemi Osinbajo, as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice. In copying it, the Federal Government did a very bad job of the copy.
ACJA cannot stand the test of constitutional scrutiny, but we allowed it to operate because of the sentiment, but it is flawed.
Public Procurement Act (PPA) has been domesticated only in seven states. Only 17 states have domesticated the ACJA. Only five states have domesticated The Freedom of Information Act.
How do you secure a conviction on a non-existent law?
Most of the judges are being intimidated mostly at the lower level, that is the high court level. They are being intimidated to the extent that many of them have lost courage. This is from my experience in the field. Over 90 per cent of corruption cases in the court cannot fly; many of them are being adjourned over and over again because the trial judges are afraid to take decision due to shoddy preparation, shoddy investigations and shoddy prosecution.
You have a case that shows clearly that investigations still continue while you took the matter to court. In your proof of evidence, you have a case where the witness will come and say no money was missing, and that the man has not committed any offence and yet you keep on such cases in court.
Judges are being intimidated left, right and centre. When you charge people under non-existent law, what do you expect the judge to do? No state in the Southeast has domesticated PPA. As we speak, the ACJA is not in operation in Rivers State and other states.
Even the Child Rights Act, which is not related to anti corruption law, in the entire 19 states in the North, only Kwara State has domesticated it.
We don’t need rocket science to fight corruption; the approach has to be fine tuned. I have written papers on this, in which we postulated the approaches that should be adopted, which were fashioned after that of Singapore. Corruption is an expensive business in Singapore, if you engage in corruption, the penalty is death. If a newspaper makes false allegation, it would be fined double the cost of setting up the outfit.
If a television station makes false allegation against anybody, the damages that would be awarded is double the amount used in setting it up. Both the whistleblowers and the press had to be careful. Unlike in Nigeria before investigation is concluded, everything is on the front pages of the newspapers.
I give you one example, last November, a proprietor of Nigerian restaurant in Huston, Texas, known, as Lagos Island Restaurant, was being trailed for four and half years, and no media reported it. If it were in Nigeria, it would have been reported from the first day of investigation and the person would have covered his trap. By the time she and her accomplices were nabbed, they just took her to court and jailed her. They would produce iron cast evidence, but not in Nigeria. Corruption fight here is too media-driven.
There is this impression that most of the cases being filed in court against suspects are not being filed for the purpose of getting conviction, but just for the purposes of embarrassing the person at the judiciary.
What do you say over the seeming face off between the National Assembly and the Presidency?
It is normal in a democracy. The Presidency is doing the right thing to go to the Supreme Court to get interpretation over the matter.