Prominent activist and human rights lawyer, Malachy Ugwummadu, no doubt is stepping into the big shoe of the late legal luminary, Gani Fawehinmi, Senior Advocate of the Masses, given his radical position on fundamental issues.
Ugwummadu, a former national president, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) in this encounter with Sunday Sun, dissected critical national issues, including zoning, corruption, INEC, and the 2023 elections. Excerpt
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Let’s start with your take on the latest ranking of Nigeria by Transparency International (T.I) in its corruption perception index?
As a Nigerian, it did not come so much as a surprise, it validates the givings that many Nigerians have and there is no use trying to dodge facts-based assessment. I think that what the government can do is to renew their determination, apparently, a clear commitment on the part of the government to deal with the menace of corruption. But it does appear that the strategies in place are not paying up at optimal level. Don’t forget the same way the government is instituted for the welfare and security of Nigerians under Section 42 (b), that same section dealing with the fundamental objectives and directive principle of state policy dictates, and this is very clearly stated also under Section 15(5) that the government of Nigeria shall abolish all forms of corruption and abuse of power. So, if you have such as a policy directive, as a fundamental objective, you will see that the leadership at all times cannot be at liberty to determine where to travel to, it must be in consonance and consistent with these stated objectives. But the point is, we don’t need these bodies to bring us to the realization of what we all feel and see. If we now see institutions caving in, state actors succumbing, all sectors of our economy reeling under the weight of corruption, you will see why the conclusions are drawn year in, year out in favour of a depleting effort to retrieve Nigeria out of it (corruption), but as a Nigerian, the worst that can happen is to continue to ignore this issue. This is where we continue to call on the political class or elite to take this issue much more seriously than it’s happening at the moment, it’s truly an existential crisis and it has the capacity to collapse this country. From Boko Haram activities, I am talking of terrorist activities to kidnapping, banditry, etc, all manner of social vices, even up to road accidents, dilapidated hospitals, half-baked graduates, etc all of these things draw energy and strength from corruption. So such a country that is buffeted, attacked from all angles cannot survive if nothing is done to redirect the course of events.
But we have agencies that are expected to rise to the challenge or do you think those institutions are not efficient, not doing enough?
It is part of what I have already noted, I am referencing the relevant institutions created by law to stem the tide and possibly change the course of events as it stands today. And in that regard, the agencies you mentioned, the ICPC, EFCC, Code of conduct Bureau; all of them need to operate at an optimal level, including the Nigeria police that has come under serious indictment. In recent times you could see that the views of the youths of this country were correct about the police, and it’s being validated, that we just knew very little in relation to the damage that had occurred to the fabrics of our society. So your question is rhetorical because I have already dealt with it in my initial response. When I have reckoned earlier about the government it does not mean that President Buhari should be running after suspected criminals from Lagos to Katsina and from Katsina to Cross River, no, I am referencing the relevant institutions mandated by law to stem the tide and possibly change the course of events as it stands today. I am also referencing the failure of the institutions. But one can also add that all lapses or identified inadequacies that have rendered the full or optimal operations of the institutions either in terms of structural aspects, in terms of work tools, tools of engagement, the technical know-how, the issue of manpower, are they understaffed, are they underfunded? What about training, what about the contemporary knowledge needed to tackle the new trends suffocating our country? What is the degree of transparency and accountability, even within these institutions to restore the confidence of the masses as to covenant and own the struggle because when the masses of this country own the struggle, own the campaign, the war against corruption, that is when we will be having maximum results. In that regard, you have the best input of the people, the best of intelligence to guarantee optimal effectiveness, optimal operation.
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Presidential aspirants are coming up from different political platforms. So far so what is your assessment of those that have indicated interest?
Except you want a general response, your question should have been specific so that I deal with them based on specific answers, but if you have decided to generalize it I will tell you no, that I am not satisfied with what I am seeing so far. This is because we are in a very critical stage in our history at the moment. When I say critical stage I am conscious of the fact that the nature of the challenges that we have at the moment requires, by far more than the conventional politicians we have seen and it has clearly shown the best they can offer. The entire political class in Nigeria today needs to be taken out, they need to be substituted, they need to be shown the way out and it’s not because in our utopian hopes thinking that we are going to have some angels from outer space come to our rescue but it is in acknowledgment of the fact that those who have socialized around our political arrangements and activities in this country have clearly shown that they are incapable of engendering a new Nigeria and the reasons are not far-fetched. There could be one or two who may be well-motivated, well-intentioned, well-orientated, however, the larger political elite, and it cuts across all political parties, have shown that they are incapable of dealing with the complex nature of salvaging the country. And each passing day they continue to degenerate further and cause more havoc. The oppressed masses of this country, the critical masses of this country and they are everywhere, among the Labour forces, market women, professionals offering constructive leadership derived from the need of the people and the vision to take Nigeria to drive the resources. We have both human and natural resources in this 21st century. What we still witness in the political system is still the same recycling and they don’t have the capacity. If they have capacity we would have witnessed something better than what we are getting even within a year or two in the office. So, let me repeat that I am not satisfied with what our politicians are offering us as far as leadership is concerned. If they have the vibe, the capacity needed to transform this country you would have noticed it even with a year in office. They should be taken out, they lack the needed capacity.
As we are approaching the 2023 elections different political zones are strategizing for the presidential seat. Do you have a preference for any zone?
I am not one to be drawn into zoning or whatever it is called because these are some of the things pushing us down in this country. The country itself has succumbed to it because we have been unable to deal with the larger question on nation-building in a more constructive manner, in a more holistic manner. We have failed to organise ourselves as a people of the same nation with one objective, and we are now clearly captured in the shell of ethnic, religious cleavages. It is even there in the constitution, you have heard about federal character, quota, etc, it is because we have failed to grow beyond the mundane vestiges of colonial domination, of sentiments…If there are jobs everywhere do you think people will be interested in the so-called zoning? If there is peace everywhere, if there is gainful employment for the masses of this country, Nigerians will not care or be concerned about zoning. I prefer to relate with people of other tribes than my own tribe, so that I will learn and become more cosmopolitan. In any case, even the people clamouring for the zoning are not serious and that is to put it very bluntly. We have been in this country over time and we have seen and noticed that some people are just paying lip service.
Are you really optimistic that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will deliver a credible election in 2023?
INEC is eager to do the best that they can, but INEC cannot operate outside the milieu, outside the environment they find themselves in. The water has been polluted from the source, so most of these bodies from INEC to ICPC, EFCC, etc for me they are interventionist bodies they come to provide some remedial efforts and see whether we can keep the country afloat while we keep gasping for air. So there is no doubt that you could see some determination, some innovation, and some creativity to improve on what exists on the part of INEC but it is not INEC that can handle the fundamental compromise of the law enforcement agency for instance when it has now fallen on law enforcement agencies relied upon to ensure credible election colluding with the criminals to undermine electoral processes, to undermine legal processes. INEC cannot solve that problem, it is not INEC, but maybe, National Orientation Agency (NOA) which we hardly hear of. The last time we heard of that kind of name and what they were doing was during the time Prof Jerry Gana was superintending the affairs of the agency. It’s not INEC that can help to re-orientate the badly damaged image and polluted minds of the Nigerian people. It is not INEC that will restore the confidence that has been betrayed and thrown overboard by successive leadership in this country; INEC can only act within the power they have under the electoral act and the constitution and that can barely deliver a process and not a reformation or a transformation. It can deliver a process that seemingly would look credible but cannot deliver a transformation that is needed.