* Fayose is always talking rubbish
*We have acted fairly, in law, with Maina
Obono-Obla is Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Chief Okoi Obono-Obla, in this interview opened more on the controversies surrounding former PRTT boss, Abdulrahseed Maina. Enjoy reading the thought.
When you featured on Channels TV on Sunday, you were defending a former chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina’s reinstatement; but now, he has been sacked by the President. Why were you defending the indefensible?
Maybe you did not get me; you need to be a lawyer to appreciate the fact that I was not defending the indefensible. I was asking them if he (Maina) had been convicted because they asked me if his reinstatement was not a dent on the war on corruption.
Then I said that it cannot be a dent. I say this because if you want to judge this government, you have to do so holistically. You cannot begin to say that Maina’s reinstatement is a dent on the war against corruption based on one isolated incident.
I asked them; has he (Maina) been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction? I am talking as a lawyer and I don’t want to be emotional and sentimental because Nigerians are very emotional and sentimental. As a lawyer, I was trained not to be emotional and not to be sentimental when I am discussing law or involved in a legal argument. If Maina had been convicted, I want to see the certified true copy of the judgment of the court that sentenced him.
On Maina’s matter; if you are only looking at law, what about the moral aspect?
Law and morality are two different things that don’t mix. There is a school of jurisprudence that says you cannot mix law with economics, you cannot mix law with morals, or sociology, history, culture or politics. So, we are looking at a legal point of view. What does the law say about somebody who has not been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction? Looking at the moral aspect of it, then it is condemnable. But an allegation has been made against somebody, but that allegation has not been ventilated in a court of law.
But the allegations against Maina are there in public domain.
Yes, to a lay person, the allegations are immoral, but the man had not been convicted. I was saying (in the Channel’s interview) that nobody should blame Mr. President or bring him into this issue. The discipline of civil servants is not the prerogative of Mr. President. There is a body established by law known as the Federal Civil Service Commission; it is one of the executive bodies established by the law. Members of that commission are appointed by Mr. President, subject to the confirmation by the Senate. It is (FCSC) supposed to be a body detached from political interference.
If a civil servant has been charged to court, the normal procedure is that the Permanent Secretary in the ministry he is working would be notified and then a certified true copy of the charge against him would be brought to the Permanent Secretary in the ministry. The civil servant would now be placed on suspension and sometimes, such a worker is placed on half pay. If the court now finds him guilty, it is not enough. Then the ministry has to report to the FCSC. This is because the FCSC is responsible for the recruitment, promotion and discipline of senior civil servants from Level 8 to Level 17. Then they would now initiate disciplinary measures to be meted out to the civil servant. When they find the civil servant guilty or liable, then they inform Mr. President.
We are talking about a man that has been declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The EFCC is not a court of law. The Supreme Court has said that in several cases. The case against Rotimi Amaechi (Minister of Transportation) and the Independent National Electoral Commission is an example. Amaechi won the primary election in Rivers State. But the Peoples Democratic Party then said he was under investigation by the EFCC and based on that, he should not stand for election. And they gave the governorship ticket to (Celestine) Omehia.
Then Amaechi went to court and the matter ended at the Supreme Court. Amaechi won and was declared governor. The Supreme Court said an indictment must be only by a court of law and not by somebody or an investigative body like the EFCC, the police or Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission. So, if somebody is being declared wanted by the EFCC, it does not amount to the person being adjudged a criminal. After investigation, the matter must go before the court.
I understand he (Maina) went to court and the court said his dismissal was wrong. That means he was not given a fair hearing. Maybe it was based on that that the FCSC asked for his reinstatement. I am still maintaining my stand despite what has happened (Maina’s sacking). That is why the President has ordered an investigation. I think we should not pre-empt the findings of the investigation the President has ordered.
There have been controversies over the persons involved in the reinstatement, including the Attorney General of the Federation, Minister of Interior and the Head of Service. What specific role did the AGF play in that episode?
I don’t know because I am a Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution in the Office of the Attorney General. That very responsibility was not given to me. I have read in the social media that it was based on the advice by the AGF. But you cannot fault the AGF. Judgment of court of competent jurisdiction was made available to the AGF and the AGF is the chief legal adviser to the Federal Government, to the President. So, if there is a judgment from a court, it would be wrong and illegal for the AGF not to advise anybody to obey that judgment, no matter how bad that judgment is. You don’t expect the AGF to disobey a court order.
People have even accused the AGF of masterminding the reinstatement, even when the EFCC, an agency under his ministry, has declared him wanted. Was that not impunity at its peak?
I understand that there was a judgment setting aside the warrant of arrest that was issued by the EFCC. Is there any contrary evidence that there was no judgment setting aside the warrant of arrest? The issue of the AGF acting in an improper manner does not arise. If there was a judgment, I have not seen it. But what I read in the media was that there was a judgment setting aside the warrant of arrest. So, if that is the case, then you cannot really say that there was a matter pending against him. Another question is that this man (Maina) has been around; then why did the EFCC not arrest him? If it is on top of its game, then why did it not go after him? It cannot say that it is not aware that this man has been around for the past one year.
Some Nigerians, including Governor Ayo Fayose, have described the sacking as an afterthought. Is that not true, because it was only announced after public outrage?
Fayose is always talking rubbish. He is suffering from Buhariphobia. So, he is always talking rubbish; I don’t want to take issues with him. He is not a lawyer and does not understand the issues at stake. He always talks out of point, out of emotion, out of sentiment, out of hatred. It is like he has pathological hatred for the President. Fayose does not talk with the sobriety expected of a governor of a state. Based on this, I don’t want to take issues with him. He is very immature in his utterances; he is not sober and does not comport himself very well and only plays to the gallery to run down Mr. President.
People believe that there has been serious sloppiness and shoddiness by those advising the President on anti- corruption, including you. Is it not true when people say most of you do not earn your pay?
That is rubbish; it is hogwash, balderdash; if there is something like that. We work till 12 midnight. Most days, we work till 10pm, 11pm and then the next morning, we are in the office. So, why would you suggest that we don’t earn our pay? Nigerians are very funny people, to say the least.
The way issues are being looked at; sometimes, you begin to wonder what is wrong with us. It is wrong to begin to suggest that Mr. President is not being advised properly. You cannot use an isolated incident to begin to judge this administration. There is war against corruption, which is unprecedented. If you want to be objective, the number of politically exposed people that are facing trial is huge and so is the amount of money that has been recovered.
You say that some politically exposed persons are facing trial, but the government is losing these cases.
It is not a matter of winning cases. But we have been winning. I read the EFCC saying that in the first quarter of this year, they had 200 convictions. Just last week, the Accountant General of Kebbi State was sentenced to 70 years imprisonment by the Court of Appeal and the press is not making an issue out of this. But if we lose one or two cases, then all hell would be let loose. It is not fair.
Fighting corruption is not all about catching people and putting them in prison. If Nigerians were fair-minded and objective and balanced in their view, they would appreciate the fact that this government has put in place institutional reforms to fight corruption.
I can give you many instances. The Treasury Single Account has saved this country so much. Before now, the Federal Government did not know the number of accounts it had. Everybody now knows that all accounts of the Federal Government are with the Central Bank of Nigeria. Before we came in, monthly wage bill was N160billionn.
But through prudence, accountability and fighting corruption, we have reduced that salary wage bill to about N110billion a month. Again, the pension administration was so chaotic to the extent that the Federal Government was paying N60billion to pensioners every month. Now, it has been reduced to about N20billion.
Even Biafran pensioners have been paid. So, all the programmes that have been put in place in fighting corruption should also be counted and not just to talk about the number of convictions that have been secured. Remember that the judicial system is slow.
The most important thing is asking people to account for their stewardship; asking people to account for their deals or misdeals. The stigma of standing in the dock as a politically exposed person is enough to make people not to commit the crime of putting their hands into government coffers to loot money.
I can assure you that the level of impunity has reduced. Even the mere fact that Nigerians are outraged if government officials make a mistake like the Maina issue we are talking about means Nigerians are supporting the government in the fight against corruption. It means we are making a point because before now, nobody would be outraged. But note that corruption is a basic human instinct and it is there, even in the Bible. This means nobody can eradicate corruption completely.