James Abiodun Faleke is the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Anti-corruption, Values and Ethics. Noted for speaking the truth to power no matter whose ox is gored, the lawmaker who represents Ikeja Federal Constituency in this interview, he speaks on why the war against corruption has been difficult to win, PDP’s 14 years in power and what Nigerians stand to benefit from APC. Excerpts:
As the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Anti-corruption, Values and Ethics, what is your take on the decision of the Federal Government to merge the EFCC with the ICPC?
I think the issue of merging ICPC with EFCC is not a welcome development as far as we are concerned. As far as I know, no matter how many agencies you have to fight corruption, the better it is. If you have like 10 agencies fighting corruption, we will be better off as a nation. One agency cannot alone fight corruption in this country. We can only say that ICPC should be well funded as it is being done to the EFCC. People don’t even tend to find out on what basis both organization is being compared. They are not on the same level in financial terms, or even structurally. So, how can you expect the same level of efficiency from both of them? We know the budget of the EFCC as well as the ICPC. It is important that if the government is sincere in the fight against corruption, then it should do so with every available resource. If we are actually interested in fighting corruption in this country, government should fight it with every available resource.
Why do you think the war against corruption is far from being won despite the federal government’s much avowed commitment to tackling the menace?
I think basically we have a government that has been in place for 14 years after military rule. When the military was there, whether there was corruption or not, we dared not talk. Nigerians could not speak their minds. And since the advent of civilian rule 14 years ago, we have had a party that has paid lip service to fighting corruption. And I think that it is important to say that when they decide to even fight corruption, they only use it to witch-hunt their enemies and engage in selective fight against corruption. And I think it is very important that to win the fight against corruption, Nigerians should start fighting corruption even from our individual homes. The generality of Nigerians have seen corruption as a way of life because those at the top have also seen themselves enmeshed in corruption without any punishment. So, it is going to be difficult more and more to curtail corruption until the presidency also clears itself of corrupt practices.
Have you achieved much in your committee, considering the fact that you, as the Chairman of the committee, are in the opposition party?
I won’t say that we have achieved much, but I want to tell you that we have achieved a lot in terms of reforming the ICPC internally. We sit together and discuss the way forward. We send information to ICPC about corrupt practices and ICPC have always taken it up. I am aware that we have done a lot which we cannot continue to elaborate here. The issue is very clear that until we have a court, a judiciary that is also interested in fighting corruption, it will be difficult for Nigerians to see whether we are winning the fight against corruption or not. Until we have special courts that take care of corrupt practices. If you are found guilty and you are taken before this court, it shouldn’t take up to one month before judgement is delivered. That will serve as deterrent to others. Until the presidency comes out openly and say if you are corrupt, let the law take its course, rather than when the committee comes with an investigation and we try to invite principal officers of agencies or political appointees to come and answer questions on one or some issues, it tries to cover them and say don’t go. Because the presidency knows that so many things will be exposed. So, the best we could do of course is to write letters to the appropriate agencies to take it and that is what we have been doing.
Have you received support from anti-corruption groups like Anti-Corruption Network, CACOL, and others? And how has your committee treated reported cases of corruption from them?
Yes, of course. We are not the ones organizing these agencies, but we have been getting support, especially from the Anti Corruption Network led by Honourable Dino Melaye. We received petitions from him, which we have taken up. The area where he said a particular minister or ex-minister was corrupt and we took it up. Like I said, they got presidency backing not to respond.
Are you, in essence, saying the presidency is shielding corrupt officials from prosecution?
Technically, that is the way I see it as long as we write agencies and they refuse to appear and to submit documents that are requested by the anti-corruption agencies. Then, what can we say? They can only have the backing of the presidency to do that.
It has been 14 years of democratic rule under PDP government, how will you describe the journey so far?
First is to say that 14 years of democratic rule under the PDP has not given Nigerians their expectations and nothing much has been achieved. You can point to one or two things, maybe during former president Obasanjo’s regime, and say we are able to bring up policies that came with mobile systems technology, policies that even the government made so much money from, sold licences to investors, and what have we achieved with those funds that came in? Absolutely nothing; for me, we have had more problems than solutions in the past 14 years. The nation has witnessed more poverty; we have cases of people at the top getting richer while the masses are getting poorer. We have had oil thieves here and there. So many people involved in oil bunkering. We have had political instability, rising cases of insecurity which is a paramount essence of governance. We have also had situation where Nigerians no longer exercise trust in their government. We have had a situation where Nigerians took to the streets to protest, which is good under democracy. But I want to say that Nigerians are very tough people. We are also very resilient. What has happened in this country, if it should happen in other countries in terms of looted funds, many of those countries would have collapsed. 14 years of rulership under PDP has seen this country losing so much money to individual pockets.
The APC recently rolled out 8 cardinal programs which it intends to implement if voted into power, is there any difference between these programmes and the current Transformational Agenda of the present administration?
As a new party, we have come out with these programmes as what we intend to offer Nigerians, compared to the present failed programmes the PDP is offering us. It is left for Nigerians to now compare the two. I must say that you can’t have it better than that. The APC did not only come up with the 8 cardinal programs, they also came up with the policies and philosophies of the new party which was clearly stated in another 7 points. So, if you go through, you will see that everything has been captured under this agenda. And we are hoping that this present government will also come out and say this is what we have been able to transform with their so-called Transformational agenda. Have we been able to transform the unemployed youths? Is it the YOUWIN programme that is being handled by the Finance Minister, that we select 20 people out of millions of unemployed graduates, will that solve the unemployment situation in the country? Or to create an enabling environment for investors to be able to establish businesses and for all our businesses that have moved outside the country to places like Ghana, South Africa, to come back and create employment opportunities for our teeming youths? In this country, I don’t know the number of graduates our higher institutions churn out annually. I am sure they can’t be less than half a million. But where are the corresponding jobs for these ones? And you say there is insecurity in the land. There can’t be security when there is unemployment. I was following closely the Boko Haram issue and I discovered that the youths in the North have now taken up the task of securing their area, saying if governments through the military cannot do it, they are now civilian JTF. That amazes me because it implies writing off the Joint Task Force in the North. And so, our party, the APC, has come to stay despite all odds and I give kudos to all the leaders of the merging parties, especially our great leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and General Muhammadu Buhari. So many of them have sacrificed a lot of things, they relinquished their ambition for national good and uplift the nation. My only hope and prayer now is that Nigerians will join hands with APC to get Nigeria out of the woods.
The PDP has described the APC as a coming together of strange bedfellows. It also said APC will not harmonize and that sharing of political positions will polarize them as the merging parties will not agree on sharing posts. Do you see this as true?
If they say APC is an alliance of strange bedfellows, what then is the PDP? They have been together for the past 14 years, yet they are still having serious crisis almost on a daily basis. That shows that they have nothing to offer. Initially, they said APC as a political party will not see the light of the day and they quickly went to a corner and organized a kangaroo APC, by the time they realized it, INEC had registered us. So, they were shocked. What Nigerians are after is what the APC has in store for them. Nigerians have seen for themselves that we have passed the level of fighting over the sharing of political offices. PDP as a party never expected that we will come this far easily. They thought that the APC is all about grabbing of available positions the way they are. Leaders of the PDP are not interested in developing the nation’s economy, they are not bothered about rising cases of unemployment, they are not after finding a lasting solution to the issue of power. I cannot imagine a situation in which government went to China under Chinese loan arrangement to buy rice mills for different states to produce rice rather than providing the funds, bringing inflation rate to single digit to enable investors bring in this rice mills on their own, establish it and provide a special package. By the time they started running it let us see what happens because it is the same people in government that are importing rice. I once worked in a rice mill called Kayo Foods in Ilupeju, and then we would buy rice from local farmers and process it. But what has happened to that rice mill today? It has been killed by importation of rice. I appreciate the Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina. I believe he is the only man in the present cabinet who knows where he is going and the way to go about it. He is the only man who comes and states clearly his intentions. I give kudos to him but he has found himself in the wrong place, in a wrong party surrounded by people that have less capacity to understand him. But we are saying that come 2015, all these must come to an end. The man called Jonathan must leave the seat of power and PDP must depart Abuja for a better government that will meet the yearnings of Nigerians.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike while students are idling away at home, yet the Minister of State for Education seems unconcerned because he has abandoned his job for his ambition in Rivers State, don’t you think Mr. President should call him to order?
On Wike I read in the dailies that the Rivers State Chairman of PDP said that he is the next governor of Rivers State. And so, if a serving minister could come out and say ‘we are not going to allow the governor of Rivers state to rest, have peace and concentrate on his job, can he himself have peace if he eventually becomes the state governor? We are talking about a Minister of State for Education who is not bothered by the prolonged strike by ASUU. We are unable to provide a simple solution the problem leading to the strike? How many universities do we have? They are unable to sit down with the executives of ASUU and agree. I cannot understand why the Minister of Finance will say they cannot fund N95bn. How much is that money when if you add three of them together, they would have stolen more than that. It is unfortunate that we have found ourselves in this situation. And I am appealing to Nigerians to just exercising patience, that come 2015, they should just vote them out. Is that the person the PDP should be thinking of putting forward as their governorship candidate in Rivers state to come and serve the people? Through his actions and utterances that is inimical to our democracy, is it Amaechi that he thinks he is dealing with or the people of the state? And yet, this is the same person who wants to come and serve as the state governor. It is impossible.