JUSTICE MUSTAPHA AKANBI: NODODY DARED ME AT ICPC
Three weeks ago, we ran the first part of this chat with the straight-talking, time-tested Justice Mohammed Mustapha Akanbi. He was the pioneer chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Matters Commission (ICPC). A former president of the Court of Appeal, he had discussed his trajectory at the temple of justice - why he retired at 66 years instead of the mandatory 70 and how he 'worked myself to the bones at the Court of Appeal to shame my traducers.'
He also told of how his fine showing in his first term as the point man of the anti-corruption body instructed his boss then, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to ask him to go for a second term. But, according to him, he rejected the offer. Reason? He said he was not assured that he would not be encumbered in his work - he figured he would not have a free hand to put together those that would work with him.
In this second and concluding part, he discusses the place and depth of corruption in Nigeria; how to effectively fight it and the role of the two anti-corruption agencies, EFCC and ICPC. He also talks on the very embarrassing CJN and president of the Court of Appeal's saga. On the latter, he says: 'I want to believe that there have been some penetrations on the part of politicians and there is nobody who should be happy that this is happening. There has to be a majority and sense of belonging to an institution, which holds high hopes for this nation. If the judiciary is destroyed, what is the hope of the common man? What is the hope for Nigeria?'
How would assess the fight against corruption now?
Sometimes, when you have left an office, it is difficult to assess or start commenting on your successor in the office, lest he thinks you are running him down. I had cause to speak on ICPC because by the time I was leaving office, there were some big men that we had investigated and they had their cases in court. But from the report I was receiving, my successor believes that the way to fight corruption is to re-orientate the people and enlighten the public on corruption. But Section 6 of the Act recognises six primary responsibilities that may sometimes be reduced to three.
It talks of enforcement, prevention and public enlightenment and education. Enforcement means investigate and prosecute. Prevention is stopping the practices in government establishments, identifying those practices which may lead to corruption and giving solutions to them. The third one is public enlightenment. They must go pari pasu. You do not set investigation and prosecution aside completely. There was an attempt to slow down the aspect of investigation and prosecution, especially as the big names no longer resurface.
If you do not have the courage to deal with all classes of people, if you keep on prosecuting people whose names probably do not mean much to the public eye, Nigerians will not take you serious. Once the average Nigerian sees you prosecute one or two big men, he will sit up. Like EFCC did in prosecuting Bode George. Honestly, whatever is the case, it is a big plus for them. We do prosecute, we do not convict. We just present the evidence to the court for the court to decide. So, if the evidence is there, why not prosecute them? So, I want to believe that the zeal with which we started has gone down a lot.
In my time, I had Kanu Agabi as the Attorney General. He never interfered with my work. When we had Akin Olujimi, he never interfered. Of course, if they did, I would have resigned. I would have told Obasanjo that I could not do it. The ICPC must be independent. It is true that the Attorney General, in terms of the constitution, can terminate a case but he should relate positively with the chairman of the ICPC.
What could be done to strengthen the ICPC and possibly the war on corruption?
There are so many things that should be done. Firstly, the president must be totally committed to fighting corruption. If you read the book on Malaysia, a man who was in charge of Transparency International said, 'The president must ensure that he fights corruption.' Like this (last) election, by every available indices, has been free, fair and credible.
Unless we want to deceive ourselves, we also know that some of the parties spent a lot of money. They carried money to people's houses. In fact, that is corruption. The new president must make the fight against corruption his focal point. Then, whoever that he is going to appoint, he must make sure that the head of that body must be a man or woman of courage, impeccable in character, a man or woman who fears no foe and not a coward.
Secondly, the government must make sure that all those who work with the ICPC, apart from taking the oath of office, anybody who is corrupt should be dismissed. Happily, the traumatic experience Jonathan went through should give him the courage. He should have a genuine interest to ensure that those he is appointing are above board. Those who work with him must be resolute with integrity, because if we do not fight corruption we will be making money from oil and other sources of revenue to the government, but we will not move ahead. What I am saying relates to what may be called the political will. There has to be the political will on the part of each and every one of us to fight corruption.
Thirdly, those who commit the crime of corruption are people who can get millions to engage the best of lawyers. Then, you cannot afford to have a poor body fighting corruption. The body must be adequately and sufficiently funded. During my time, I arrested many people, including the then President of the Senate, (Senator Adolplus) Wabara. We also arrested Matazu; we arrested Ciroma, former Minister of Finance; we arrested M.F. Afolabi, former Minister of Interior; we arrested a former chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party; and even judges, Matida from Plateau State, and a few other judges who were involved in the Akwa Ibom election petition saga.
When you look at that situation, you need men of integrity. They also need money to prosecute the cases. In fact, while we were paying our counsel N200, 000, a suspect will have paid N5 million to a lawyer. I was lucky that as a former president of the Court of Appeal, there were lawyers who took briefs from us because of the respect they had for me. Some of them would even take up the case without even receiving a penny, though I made sure that they were paid what was due to them. For them to accept without initial payment is because of my own personality. It would not always go like that.
Don't you see a duplication of roles between the ICPC and the EFCC?
I do not view it like that. In fact, I trashed this when I was at the ICPC. That is why I spoke about the ICPC when the EFCC wanted to set up anti-corruption monitoring department. There was a time we had a meeting with (General) Aliyu Gusau, the then National Security Adviser, with all the enforcement agencies, and we identified that the duty of the EFCC had to do more with money laundering, people who siphon money out of the country. And not the basic corruption cases which the ICPC is concerned with. When the case of Wabara and others came up, former President Obasanjo handed the case to Nuhu Ribadu (then chairman of the EFCC), and then they invited us to a meeting to tell us about the case.
Obasanjo had a speech, which he was going to read, and I was there. The Inspector-General of Police was there. Ribadu was there, the SSS representatives were there, all these agencies were there; even some of their political authorities were there. I believe Ahmadu Alli and Ibrahim Mantu were there. I said, 'Mr. President, sir, this job is not for the EFCC. They cannot do it.' It was decided that the case which involved Wabara, Osuji and others be transferred to the ICPC because the law is clear. We had to take the case to court.
After that, any case that had to do with corruption, Nuhu Ribadu would refer it to me and every money laundering case, I would send it to him. The EFCC was for money laundering basically. We never had any quarrel. Ribadu honoured that position. The president agreed. So, the ICPC and the EFCC are not duplicating roles.
How do you feel about the recent Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, and president of the Court of Appeal's saga?
This did not happen during our time. The two of them are supposed to work together. I want to believe that there have been some penetrations on the part of politicians and there is nobody who should be happy that this is happening. There has to be a majority and sense of belonging to an institution, which holds high hopes for this nation. If the judiciary is destroyed, what is the hope of the common man? What is the hope for Nigeria? For instance, they set up a panel.
I learnt that there was an objection to a member of the panel. They overruled that he should be there. If I am in a panel and there is an objection, I will rather withdraw. That is the tradition. What are you after? If you are in a panel and somebody says, 'I do not trust that you will do justice to this matter', won't you leave? But the man is still there. We have not heard the last of the matter.
If you were Justice (Ayo) Salami, what would you have done?
I do not want to go into details. But I was a member of the NJC (National Judicial Council), I resigned recently. I do not want to add, indiscreetly.
Some people are of the opinion that both the CJN and the president of the Court of Appeal should resign.
What is your opinion?
If you resign, it is an admission that you are guilty of what they are saying. It cannot be two of them that should resign. It is either A is right and B is wrong, or B is right and A is wrong. The one that is wrong should be the person to resign. Whoever is wrong should resign…It could be unfortunate if you make the person who is right to resign with the person who is wrong. It means he is suffering for what he has not done.
May we know the type of food you eat?
Until my health no longer permits me, I will eat any food except that which is prohibited by the Holy Qu'ran, like pork. I do not discriminate. Any African food, from akpu to any food you give me, I will eat. But now, I am bound. I do not take sugary things. Sometimes, when I want to take a Coke, my wife will say, you will die. At the end of the day, if I want to tease her, I will tell her that death will come when it will come. I am not choosy. I eat well and I abide by my doctor's advice.