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Nigeria Heading Towards Depression – Agbakoba

Posted: Sep 4, 2016 at 6:39 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) was a guest on Channelstv recently and he spoke on the state of the economy and the on-going debate on the need for reform of the laws setting up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-corruption agencies. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI monitored the interview and brings the excerpts:

Most of the newspaper headlines today are talking about Nigeria in recession which you have previously talked about before this figures came out. What is your take on this?

It is not surprising. Remember I said it about three months ago. The analogy will be if you are hypertensive, you see your figures going up.  If it continues to go up, you have a stroke and die.  It is an absolutely disastrous situation.  Those who say we are going to bounce back in  Q1 2017, that is not going to happen.  Whether Q1 or Q2 of 2017, we are not going to bounce back. Typically, a recession has a cycle which is three years. A recession has to be converted with the proper economic tools. First, we have no macro-economic tools. The policy of the government on how to deal with the economy is unclear. The CBN has adopted a monetary approach which is tight money by taking the MPR to 14 percent, base lending rate. This means that the banks will now lend at, at least, 20 percent. That is terrible. But one thing that will shock the system is massive bounce. You need to pump money into the system. When you pump money into the system, you need to have productive activity.  When (Margaret) Thatcher took Britain into a recession by her tight money, she was able to succeed to bring it out because she had a very robust privatisation programme. In our Nigeria’s economic sector, I don’t see anything happening. So, it is bad news, massive unemployment and even the 2016 budget remains 90 percent unimplemented.

Everybody has always said we are not heading that way. But today, we have all agreed that this is where we are. Do you think we have been living in denial till we get to this moment because Federal Executive Council (FEC) is now saying it is a difficult time for Nigeria?

It was politically incorrect to say there is a recession. People did not want to say it. People wanted to say things that will please the government.  Even with respect to my good friend, Bismarck Rewane, he got it wrong because he is also now seeing the issue.  Anyone who has any knowledge of econometrics would have seen that from Q4 2015, we have not grown.  And from Q4 2015 to Q1 2016, we have been contracting. Now we have two contractions.  Absolutely, I don’t even think that we are in recession, we are heading to depression.
Monetary, fiscal and trade policies go together. So, the CBN is doing the wrong things by trying to manage the foreign exchange process.  I cannot for the life of it understand why the CBN is over excited about the foreign exchange process.  The Naira is going to N1,000 to a dollar because you cannot defend it.  Just watch and see.  The more the naira is defended, the more squeeze the CBN will put. And if there is that squeeze, there will be nothing to put into the system for the manufacturers to grow.

Barrister Femi Falana (SAN) said the argument that the EFCC should be stripped of prosecutorial powers has been done before and it did not succeed. So, why go back to it?

The starting point is to say that I strongly support the statement of our (NBA) president, A.B. Mahmoud (SAN), suggesting that 14 years after the establishment of the EFCC, there is a need to review what has happened. The context of the statement of the president is that the anti-corruption war must be supported.  There is also a problem of how successful has it been, not just with the EFCC. Though I agree with Femi Falana on the points he raised, that a body invested with such a power can prosecute. But that is not the issue. The issue is: How successful has the EFCC been?  I am not too sure that they have been very successful because if you look at the cases they have had, some of the cases has been pending for the last 10 years.  So, there is a need to then say, how do we make the anti- corruption war effective? That is the real question.

Is that ineffectiveness the fault of EFCC alone or partly the judiciary?

That is a very good question. It is an institutional process.  You have the investigators, the prosecutors and the judiciary. All of these institutions must come together to deliver on the justice system. That was the underlying conceptual issue raised by the NBA president.  So, it is not as if he is suggesting that the EFCC should lose its power or not. But at least, let’s talk about it. The EFCC’s response, I believe, is misconceived.  I personally think that the EFCC is overburdened and maybe we should look at how we can make it more effective and perhaps, split the functions.  There are so many models in the world in the anti-corruption agencies. Actually, the debate internationally is split. There is no one science-fit model. In countries in Europe, they tend to combine, prosecutorial and investigative. In Commonwealth countries, they try to keep it apart.  So, which works for any particular country is an issue that we should debate. But there is no question that the EFCC needs support and capacity.  I know the EFCC people very well. I have been to their offices in Abuja and Ikoyi. They are struggling to survive.  Operationally, the capacity is not there. Sometimes, there is no power supply, they are poorly paid. They don’t even have the capacity. How many lawyers do they have? So, it is an issue that goes beyond the EFCC. It is a Nigerian issue.

Don’t you think that increasing its funding address some of these issues?

That is part of the issues the NBA President is raising.  I, as (former) president of the NBA, have also said it. I even visited former EFCC chairman, Nuhu Ribadu, to talk about it. My predecessor, Lanke Odogiyan, also raised the issue. So, I am surprised that people have taken Mr. Mahmoud’s statement out of context. The NBA has been saying it.  We have been saying that we do not like some of the things that the EFCC does. Things like kicking people’s doors, arresting people without evidence and all of that. So, what way can we now have an efficient and effective anti-corruption process?  Not EFCC alone, mark you. I said an anti-corruption process.  We need to moderate this discussion. We need the NJC to even play a role as to whether the judges are performing the functions they should perform. When that is done, we can then say here is the way to go; there is a roadmap.

Will such a roadmap be brought before the National Assembly?

It eventually could be. But all the critical stakeholders must play a role. The NBA, the EFCC, Police, the NASS, NJC can be there. But first, what has happened? One thing I like is that Mr. Mahmoud has raised a pivotal issue and we are talking about it today. So, the questions I will like to ask the EFCC is: ‘Since inception, how many cases have you done and successfully prosecuted? How much money has been recovered?’  I don’t want to impugn the EFCC’s integrity, but I have not heard them say: ‘We have recovered N2trillion’.  That is something that ought to be in our face because we are in recession. We can use the money recovered by EFCC to feed the economy.

How is these multi-purpose anti-corruption agencies going to work, Is that what the anti-corruption coordinating councils copy?

Yes. The models you adopt for your country depends on what you want to do. Some models have preventive, educative, strong advocacy to prevent even the crime from occurring. Another model is a very tight prosecutorial model. Another model is about: Should anti-corruption agencies prosecute or investigate?

Which model do we have?

We have the combined model. In other words, the EFCC can investigate and prosecute. There is nothing wrong with it conceptually if it is working. So, I think the main point we need to keep in mind is: ‘How well is the EFCC and other law enforcement agencies, lawyers, judges performing in the overall strategy to combat corruption?’

How can we make other institutions work so that it will not seem as if we are focusing on EFCC alone?

I think the problem was how the EFCC was established.  The EFCC was established by pressure brought up on Nigeria by the OECD countries.  It is probably the fastest legislation ever passed. So, we needed to be members of the Financial Action Task Force; but, to be able to do that, we need a local law. So, (former) President Obasanjo used his weight to push through that law.  And for him, it now became his baby. So, don’t forget that the ICPC, by statutes and authority, have the powers to actually investigate political office holders, not the EFCC. The EFCC’s mandate is narrow – economic and financial crimes. But, what is happening and that is why attention is being drawn to the EFCC, is that they are everywhere.  They are in all the states of the federation. It is not just possible. The work is too huge. They are already in 36 states and 774 local governments. Now, they are even saying that they are going to probe banks.  The issue is: Can they really do it?

If other agencies have been effective, do you think the EFCC will be everywhere?

If you don’t remember, I will tell you. Obasanjo has special liking for Nuhu Ribadu and therefore, EFCC became the rock star of anti-corruption to the exclusion of others. That is the problem.  So, what I like to see now is to empower the Police. The police have a very strong Fraud Unit.  But, it is disempowered. The ICPC and EFCC should also be empowered so that there is an institutional mechanism to combat corruption on a specialised process. The EFCC has become a giant, carrying such a responsibility for such a small-based organisation. We will like to know how many staff the EFCC has. I will also like to know how many lawyers they have.  Those are the challenges.

What if the EFCC does not share the same view and say they are fine?

They cannot say they are fine because it is our money.  Even if the EFCC claims to be successful, that is the precise debate that NBA president is calling for. There is no question that the EFCC has made some progress. I don’t deny that, but how efficacious have they been?

Do you think that the EFCC should prosecute?

No. Personally, I don’t think so.  This is my personal view and it has nothing to do with NBA or any other person else’s view.  I do not think that investigation and prosecution go well together. One of the arguments made against combining these is that investigators have a tendency to be bias. Once you go to a surgeon, they cut you. If you go to the EFCC and they investigate, they are just looking for evidence to take you to court.  The prosecutor has the discretion. He can evaluate the evidence and say ‘I don’t think this is a good case to take to the court’.  And in the old days, the police will investigate and turn the file to the DPP for his prosecutorial discretion.  That is what I favour. On the other hand, the disadvantage of separating both is that the prosecutor does not have the insight that the investigator has. So, some countries favour that combine approach. But, whatever it is, let us debate it.

The NBA president said EFCC should be limited to investigation alone. Why not prosecution?

This is because they don’t have the skills.   Investigators lack the skills of prosecution.  An investigator is a policeman, but prosecutors are lawyers. These are two different professions. But, I am not saying that the EFCC should do it one way or the other. I am simply saying let us, in the context of Nigeria, debate the issue. Is there anything wrong in that? I don’t think so.