The intention of this article is not to be unkind to Mr. Ajibola. Avoidance of the harsh inference by Edwin Madunagu in: “Anniversary essays on our future” against the former Judge is my objective. I could not attempt but be kind because of past interaction with Mr. Ajibola. Yet, I am puzzled not by what was observed in his paper – it is the absence of intellectual solutions that turned what would otherwise have been an excellent paper to a yeasty presentation.
Of my interaction with him - when he was Nigeria High Commissioner to the Court of St James; I cannot vouch any closeness. Neither can I deny his graciousness and kind respects on several occasions. Once, he introduced me to a Baroness and former minister of the British Cabinet – his words were kind and the experience will remain with me for the rest of my life. I had access to him and his office. At his tenure, my name was on his invitation list and I was invited to many functions at the London Mission. Unbeknown to him - he gave me a sense of importance that my upbringing denied. His Christmas Cards remained on my mantle-piece – even past their sell by dates. Also, I am aware of his other generosities – some of which manifested; others, which did not. I am not unique in his credit. He was just qua Bola Ajibola. He was to me and I am still to him - a stranger. However, in the travels of life his goodness to me impaled the importance of too many relatives from whom favours were begged and expected; but who denied the same with lame excuses. Perhaps, this is the reason for my deep and possibly incurable contempt of them and respects for people like the eminent jurist. Nonetheless, his paper is my focus and through this attempt, I shall remain venerable in repayment of his kindness but critical of the argument raised.
In expounding the observations of the Deipnosophist, who advised: “signing of bad contracts, reckless and irresponsible acts, are the major factors contributing to the nation's huge debt burden, which has been put at $30 billion”; I inquire - where is the news in this disclosure? It is common knowledge that many Nigerian State Officials in collaboration with officials of Credit Institutions were involved in various scams to dupe the Nigerian Treasury, which was not properly coordinated and disciplined in the discharge of its obligations. From the Carpet manufacturing turnkey project to construction of inexistent highways for which loans were drawn - all these are no State secrets. In fact – why should they be? The purpose of each loan is verifiable and should not remain a matter of public record. If the Debt Management Office does not possess documentations for each loan – why is the Office not seeking proof? Are the signatories still alive? Are the projects visible? Where projects are not visible – why is this government not empowering the people to inquire difficult questions of it and previous government officials, who have been enriched by suspected recklessness or commission of financial crimes against the State? Its silence is a collusion of sorts and it does not advance what Mr. Ajibola propounds.
The Jurist noted: that by 1983, when the military took over, the country had already incurred international debt to the tune of $3 billion, regretting that the amount has now increased to $30 billion. Again, I ask - where is news in this submission? Save for the value of the nation’s indebtedness – the current president, Mr. Obasanjo and Mr. J.K Randle – the former president of Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) have averred that no-one knows the correct amount owed by the nation. How is it that the eminent former Judge could be so emphatic of his figure of Thirty Billion? Anyway, did the Attorneys General during the period in reference alert the nation or their Heads of Governments of the dubious and unfair contract terms; and “lawyers who compromised the nation”? If not, such Chief Law Officers can equally be charged of “compromising the nation.” Could Mr. Ajibola by extension be guilty of his own charge?
What remains unclear is the purpose of the Debt Management Office. Why is it that up till now, the president is not versed in the components of the loans that are being serviced? Mr. Ajibola went on to say that “…though between that period till now, Nigeria has paid in interests and capital over $20 billion …” Again, where is the news in this emotive submission? Factual, it may be. Puerile it is. Mr. Obasanjo once in a speech at the London Hilton Hotel asserted that the interest chargeable on the nation’s debt is compounded and penalties are payable for late payments. That, unfortunately, is the burden all debtors bear. Even in personal relationships with lending institutions – debts are compounded and non-repayment penalised - when there are infringements.
To understand the dilemma behind the submission of the eminent jurist – consider the report of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts. We operate a civil service that is not only inept - it is a den of vipers, thieves and robbers. It is unsurprising that government remains the biggest business in our nation. If the state of our civil service is as portrayed in that report – it is clear that an undeserved debt cancellation would set straight our records. The insuperable position of this debt is not the undoing of the credit institutions or foreigners who taught us to “load contracts” - it is squarely of a people misguided by their leaders and a nation where the rule of law applies only to plebs. This is the pronouncement, which is the good news that Mr. Ajibola offered as a gospeller.
Before tackling the issues of compounded interest chargeable by lenders and manifestly unfair contract terms of our external loans – we need to examine and sensitise the nation on the import of the Public Accounts report. What hope is there for development when evidence of financial transactions are either not properly kept or destroyed by ministries and their parastatals? What is unfathomable about the Civil Service and every succeeding government in the 21st Century is the techno phobia and unwillingness to employ technology to curb waste and use of the same for proper record keeping. Anyway, the Civil Service as indicted is full of Arsonists. Anyway, who can guarantee the safety of records and hardware? There must be a viable system for efficiency to dethrone malfeasance.
On the issue of adequate provisions in the Criminal Code Act and Penal Code for dealing with different types of crime – the eminent jurist asseverated that the problem is the implementation of these laws by the appropriate authorities. Without stirring trouble between him and Mr. Obasanjo – to admit the above submission is germane is to conclude that the eminent jurist questions the usefulness and establishment of ICPC. After all, in his own words – “…the Commission has changed nothing.”
Does the establishment of the cash starved Commission not in itself depict how our leaders fail to consider the implications of their policies? ICPC may have appeared in the short term - popular and expedient in dealing with corrupt practices. Its demise is only a matter of time -a very short time for that matter. Yet, Mr. Sunday Awoniyi – the Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) once posited that ICPC was incapable of dealing with its mandate as there are other prosecuting authorities charged with similar powers. It appears that unless funds are provided – Mr. Justice Akanbi had better reengage himself in grandfatherly pursuits of retirement.
Mr. Ajibola’s colourful approach to corruption is more of fire fighting and one that is reckless advocacy from a former Chief Law Officer. Chika Amanze-Nwachuku of This Day Newspaper reporting his words – though a hear-say: “… Nigerians should learn to tell any corrupt person, no matter how highly placed, that he is corrupt. However, a direct quote of: "Let us call a spade a spade. Any person who is a thief should be told he is a thief…" does not diminish the report. This type of advice is a wise crack to the common man. It is technically irresponsible and eminent jurist knows better.
If the advice pertains to a common thief that has been prosecuted and found guilty – the legal luminary has again stated nothing new. Judging by his paper – his advice relates to corrupt leaders. It beggars belief that he admitted so much that ICPC has not made any difference. If that position were acceptable – save for minor offences perpetrated by junior officers, the Nigerian system is still to punish or find guilty major league perpetrators of corruption. Around us, we recognise former government officials living in laps of luxury at retirement and their corrupt collaborators with unexplainable wealth displaying the evidence lucre. Yet, the State remains blind to them. In fact, these men and women are patronised; their children graduate into political high offices and the judiciary with comfortable ease. Who wants to display the level of foolhardiness that the retired diplomat advocates? Not you. Not me!
Calling a spade a spade is indeed what is required. It is the spade of Freedom of Information that must be endowed. Since, Mr. Ajibola has a good influence on the current president - he should influence his friend to direct government information flows freely to the citizen. Classifying loan documentations (if they have not been tampered with or burnt by Civil Servants) signed as State secrets will defeat attempts to expose Nigerians who have “compromised the nation”.
After name calling of spades – perhaps, we can commend Mr. Obasanjo for his attempt to reposition the economy through diversification and non-reliance on Oil as the only source of foreign revenue. Whilst government must not remain the largest business in the country – there is a need to refocus and reposition unregulated economies outside of the mainstream. Also, our technological blueprint must take a cue from India and the Tiger Economies of the East. Perhaps, we could devise policies to make technology experts of many of our youth. Our collective dream must be likened to Mr. Bill Gate’s - who in this generation dreamt of putting a computer in every household. By such dream – he has made himself dream. If we, through free technology education can make youths of almost each household technology experts – the benefits would be in foreign revenues to pay off our debts and our economy fuelled by the private sector. Mr. Ajibola must see a way out through a more serious endeavour other than name-calling, which respectfully was not the only anodyne the man advocated.
Mr Odutola is a solicitor of the Supreme Court, England and Wales and a Lawyer at a Firm of Solicitors in London, England.