Question: ICPC has made a lot of recoveries for ordinary people who were swindled or had their money stuck in government establishments due to corruption or administrative bottlenecks. Sir, what is the impact of these recoveries in the context of the overall anti-corruption crusade?
Response: The issue of corruption has been looked at as being a matter concerning only highly placed persons in our society, which we have addressed. The Commission takes this from a human angle intervention, which is to build the fight to assist the voiceless Nigerians. I call them voiceless because for you to speak in this country particularly in fighting for your rights you must have a platform to operate and some of these platforms require payment of huge money like paying lawyers and having to pay for advertisement in newspapers or airtime in the electronic media.
I was a bit worried about the bureaucracy of government in shutting out the common man’s rights and for this reason they have cause to write ICPC. The more we got involved, the more merit I see in the approach we adopt that we should fight for all persons without discrimination.
One of the very rewarding interventions was the spinal cord patient who resides in the United Kingdom. For about 20 years he had been writing everywhere to get the money that he was entitled to and his duly approved N8 Million was withheld. Fortunately, in December 2014, ICPC was able to make his Christmas beautiful by getting the appropriate Ministry to remit the sum of N8Million into his account and he was so excited.
He wrote a very beautiful letter to ICPC. Eventually, he was interviewed by Ben Television Station in the UK and he said very good things about us. I think last month, we intervened on behalf of another spinal cord patient who paid for surgery at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital; and when the surgery did not take place, the patient requested for reimbursement and the Hospital refused to give him. Last month, the Commission recovered over Four Hundred Thousand Naira for him.
We are Nigerians and our children and relatives are studying in various universities. The Commission gets complaints about harassment for one reason or the other that these children have either over stayed in the universities or polytechnics out of unnecessary harassment from persons who are in positions of authority. Two clear examples come to my mind, in the University of Nigeria Nsukka, a student spent about 12 years without graduation and got frustrated. He sent a petition to ICPC and our intervention brought him to graduate immediately. We also intervened on behalf of a young lady from Ambrose Alli University over the issue of sexual harassment, we investigated the matter and she is now a graduate. She has written to thank the Commission.
The whole essence why I’m mentioning these is that we don’t do it as one-stop-process. ICPC goes further to know why these things happen in the first instance. And two, the outcomes that I have talked to you about led to validating some of the conclusions we had found out when we did the University System Study and Review. We are strengthening the university system to ensure these do not happen anymore and if they do, then sanctions are to follow.
One other area of intervention where everyone is shouting has to do with pensions. When the pensions are paid eventually, we return to status-quo and let suffering continue. ICPC has done a lot of recoveries on pensions directly for beneficiaries. One letter just came in from a pensioner of Katsina State Local Government Pensions Board and we recovered about N2.5Milion for this particular gentleman who wrote to us. I’m going to order the System Review of that Pensions Board to avoid further similar complaints.
If any Nigerian has a solid petition with verifiable evidence, go ahead and submit to us through the use of our website, offices, toll free lines or send a written petition and we shall address those issues immediately. ICPC doesn’t look at petitions in terms of its monetary value. We want people to look out and if there is an infraction of our enabling law, no matter your status in life we shall respond. We don’t look at the status of the persons involved. Last year or two years ago, a case involved a house maid whose employers denied her wages, this looks as simple as what has that got to do with ICPC? But the two people involved , the husband and the wife, were public officers. We sent them a letter asking them to comment on this and the couple came to the Commission with N100, 000:00 as they were scared.
The girl was just asking for N17, 000:00 only. We took her money, N17, 000:00 out of the N100, 000:00 and we simply returned the balance to them. In getting justice, we did not charge the petitioner anything. Now, that this young girl is growing up within Nigeria, she would believe in this Country, and that is the essence of our intervention.
During my advocacy visit to the University of Benin, I spoke to the staff and students of the University and the Vice Chancellor, Professor Oshodin was there. The late Professor Festus Iyayi was the one who invited me. I had an interactive session with the students. What came out of that session, was that Nigerian youths are very good people. All we need to do is to give them an opportunity to express themselves on a level playing ground. When I got back to Abuja within a period of one month I got 312 emails. We were able to analyze all these emails. The ones that needed attention, we sent back to the Vice Chancellor, who was very nice to us and he took action to address quite a number of these issues that came up. Without this intervention, this would have led to unnecessary demonstration by students.
That was what probably informed the University of Nigeria Nsukka’s students who were requested to pay N12, 000:00 each for annual subscription for internet service to disagree with this proposition. The students argued that it should be on the basis of pay- as –you- go like the way we use our phones. Most of them stay off campus why would they be charging them, they complained. So when the University was not ready to listen to them, they came to ICPC and I immediately assigned someone to go to Nsukka and the matter was resolved to everybody’s satisfaction.
This is the kind of impact I would say is encouraging the citizens. And we don’t stop at this; we also go to NYSC orientation camps in Nigeria. We did advocacy lectures in all the 36 states and FCT, sensitizing them on the issue of ethics, integrity and inviting to volunteer against corruption. We have interventions in secondary and primary schools. So I expect that this kind of intervention would continue.
Question: From the remarks of the petitioners, it seems that ICPC staff that treat such cases do their jobs with integrity and uprightness. How are you able to ensure this good attitude on the part of your staff?
Response: I must say I’m very proud of the vast majority of my staff in ICPC and we have come a long way. If I look at 2012, I think that was the boom year for training in ICPC. The training came in two parts. First, for you to acquire the technical knowledge from various parts of the world, the second part which is more important, is for my staff to go to other parts of the world to see how systems work. I remember that during a Roundtable discussion in Dubai with some of my staff and members of the Anti-corruption Units in Ministries, Departments and Agencies, I told them to concentrate less on the lectures we were holding and to go round Dubai and study how systems and discipline operate. I asked them to go back home and discuss why we cannot have similar achievements in our Country. That we are better placed than these people and should take it as a challenge.
Is it because the salary that we receive is small? No matter how big the salary we receive is, if we want to be corrupt we would be. Each time I get letters from the people we have to interact with, all the letters keep on saying the same thing such as your staff are courteous, your staff are above-board, and we are happy. If my staff are bad, the same letter will come. As an Integrity Organisation, I’m very proud of it. We are happy with these testimonies.
Question: Is it the Policy of the Commission to continue to help ordinary people recover such monies? And should Nigerians expect the continuity of this policy?
Response: The Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 is directed towards the eradication of corruption and other related offences. I don’t want the general public to think that you need to be a big man in the society before you get justice done from somebody who corruptly swindled your money. People should be able to see ICPC and other law enforcement agencies in Nigeria as being in the position to respond to the legitimate requests of the entire citizenry. Otherwise, people will seek alternate means of redressing their grievances. The Nigerian state must protect the rights of its citizens irrespective of anybody’s religion, ethnicity, gender etc. That is why I’m very passionate about helping my country. Ever since this present ICPC Board came on board, we had addressed the issue of the Detention Centre. I don’t like a situation where when you bring someone into custody, you keep him under dehumanizing conditions. We made sure our Detention Centre is equal to any found in civilized nations. I have even gone one step further. As soon as you are arrested we ensure that you are fit before detention. The Commission paid about N300, 000:00 for the surgery of a suspect at National Hospital. A suspect is considered not guilty until a court of law proves him guilty. All your rights are protected in ICPC.
The attitude for the respect of all suspects’ rights is being upheld by every staff of the Commission. Whether I’m in the country or not I must know the condition of the person we detained. This policy for the respect of human rights is something that I inherited from the past Chairmen of this Commission. ICPC does not play with human rights. And I have done my best to continue in that direction. I’m very happy to see that the Bill to protect detainees has abolished the extraction of information through torture. This is something the Commission abhors. We have never tortured anybody during interrogation in the history of our existence. Interrogators in different law enforcement agencies must be trained and retrained on how to do the right thing.
The theme of this interview is very apt. If you tell your child not to throw out banana peels out of a car window, he will accept that. If he sees the father throwing out banana peels, that will begin to create the problem of compliance by the child.