In this interview with LEADERSHIP, Sen. Ayodele Arise, chairman of Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHETSCO) board and a chieftain of APC, bares his mind on some national issues including the presidential poll which is 11 days away.
Some Nigerians have criticised the manner the president suspended the CJN Onnoghen. Do you think the criticism is justified?
As far as I am concerned, I don’t think Mr President had any choice on Onnoghen. We have seen a situation that the constitution did not have enough provision to tackle for us. I was in the National Assembly when we came up with the doctrine of necessity. What Mr. President did was to come up with a doctrine of necessity, because not only has the CJN been found culpable but he also admitted that he broke the law. I am not a lawyer but they said that, ‘ignorance is not a defence in law’. He knows the law yet he broke it. The question for us is how rich can you be that you forget to declare $3m and some assets? Meanwhile it’s not as if it is money you left there about 10years ago. It is money you periodically do transaction with. So the story cannot have the sympathy of any serious person. Now there is a law that say, as a public servant, if you break the code of conduct act, you will be charge to CCT. I also understand that our constitution which was drafted by lawyers has no clause that says, you must go to National Judicial institute (NJC) for you to establish an offence.
The NJC will only make recommendations for sack or advice the government on what to do. But should we have one set of law that some people can break? If you commit an offence in US as a judicial officer, the congress of the US will Impeach you from office. If the executive contravenes any of the offences, the National Assembly or Congress is empowered to impeach the president. If the president committed a crime, it will be totally wrong for you to send that same offence to the president which is what our constitution says in the case of the CJN. That an offence must go to the NJC and the man alleged to have committed the offence is the head of the NJC creates a moral dilemma. So when they were writing that part of the constitution, nobody envisaged that one day, this man will be the one facing trial otherwise they would have written things differently. It is a situation where the president has to find a way of operating within the law whereas that same law if you look at it from the perspective of the lawyers, does not meet the standard set by the NJC. This country has not been able to make any significant progress in the war against corruption because accused pay lawyers to pick holes in the law. In the US, they call it obstruction of justice. But here they look for technicality or hold you to ransom for 4-5years. If that happens, it means justice has been denied.
If we find a way of prosecuting them for obstruction of justice, you will see that the way we practice law in the country will change. But as it is today, look at the argument, nobody is talking of whether a criminal is heading the judiciary…
But the grouse with the president is that he did not follow due process and that, this is not the first time he is disobeying court orders…
We all want progress in this country, yet nobody wants to obey the law. The penalty of corruption in china is death because they understand the impact and look at where china is today. Go and look at Malaysia and Singapore, these are countries we were on the same level with years ago but have now left us behind. As a head of state, you can hold a person as a security risk to the state because this person has $3m in his account, he can use it to do anything against the state. The president can say “I am holding him because I consider him as a security risk”. If such drastic action are not taken, more people will continue to commit crime. Look at the case of kidnapping, now that they have introduced death sentence on kidnappers, the wave of kidnapping is reducing. There is corruption all over the world but they have a mechanism in place to check it. This man has agreed that he is guilty and that, he forgot to include it in his declaration form. So the man has admitted that he is guilty. The CJN Was supposed to call for the NJC meeting that will deliberate on the matter. He did not convene the council’s meeting. So what do you expect the president to do?
Most of the people criticizing the president’s action are demanding that he should reverse the sack and allow for due process of the law to be followed. should he do that?
It is possible but the NJC has taken the right position by querying both Onnoghen and Acting CJN Muhammad. They might end up expelling both of them though the one that became CJN illegally might become a collateral damage. In the future, even if a member of the executive wants to do something that is not in line with the constitution, the beneficiary will say no. My take is that the president should have contacted the NJC and asked for the name of the next senior person to make an acting CJN because there cannot be vacuum.
Another person that has not done what he is supposed to do is Onnoghen. If he has an iota of dignity, he should resign because what is he holding unto? He has admitted that he violated the law of the land and he is the number one law officer yet, he is still appealing his suspension? Did somebody tried Kemi Adeosun before she resigned? This man is older than her. If Onnoghen had resigned quietly, he would have been regarded as a hero.
Recently, Transparency International released a report which suggests that corruption has not reduced even under this administration. Does this bother you?
I don’t known the indices that they use but from a layman angle, I think there has been some significant improvement in the fight against corruption. We have seen under this president, a former governor going to jail. We have seen under this government, the chief justice being tried for corruption. We have seen under this president, a minister resigning because of NYSC and assets illegally acquired being seized. If I were TI, I will have find a way to say that Buhari has tried. It’s just that we are facing grand corruption in this country because it is entrenched in our system.
In spite of all you have said, some people believe APC members are being shielded?
But Dariye is an APC member…
APC chairman, Adams Oshiomhole recently said that once you join APC, your sins are forgiven. Don’t you think this is an endorsement for corrupt persons?
If he said that, then it is very unfortunate because there cannot be two sets of laws for people in the same country. I believe he might have said that in a joking manner. I can assure you that APC’s best might be 16 years and then somebody will take over and will asked questions. The moment this president is aware and there is prove that a person is corrupt, then I can assure you that this president will take him out. People were in power for 16years and were in charge of our funds. So who will be accused of corruption if not those that were once there?
Do you think the APC will win the presidential election?
This presidential election has been won since the day the National Assembly approved the social welfare fund. The fact that the person driving it is ensuring that the people it is meant for get the money has made APC to win the elections. The PDP had similar schemes but the money didn’t get to the people instead, some few persons diverted the money because that was the culture then. So many of these monies never got down to the grassroots. It’s going to be landslide victory. In the east that was initially a ‘hostile’ region to the president, they will give APC a significant vote. They will give some votes to Obi for sure but I can assure you that Buhari will get some too. There are some states that will be tough. In Anambra, the president will get significant votes. Look at the roads and the infrastructure that the government is building there. They have given them power at Ariara market. These are not people looking to lose elections. Some will say, they don’t care since the president is giving them what they want. Look at the Southwest, all the states are with the president now. So there will be a landslide. There might be challenges in Benue, Plateau and Taraba states but the fact that there are twelve million people who are die hard Buharist will make him win. I don’t see how Atiku can win this election unless they import the votes. PDP might win Rivers because Wike is working and he is making enough noise to show for it. This is the cheapest election we have had in this country because you can’t see money flying all over.
How has SHETSCO justified its mandates?
SHETSCO was established in 1993 by the federal government as a multi-disciplinary research and development agency but recently, we had what appeared to be a breakthrough in the treatment of a variety of cancer in women. I think they are making some stride towards finding cure for some serious ailment. I think if we can do the clinical trial and start producing in mass quantity, then things will change for the agency.
How is SHETSCO coping with challenges of funding?
Obviously, there is no money there. It barely break even. I think the last budget is about N600 million for the center and that was for the whole year and what has been released is about 30% or thereabout. We have research institutes in different parts of the country, but we don’t have enough resources to cater for all of them. There are so many sectors that are critical but the greatest problem is the multiplicity of the agencies. We got too carried away with the idea of creating different agencies that the ability to fund them by the FG is becoming a problem. A number of organisation are looking for funding to ensure that they run well. I once enquired why they have not sold some of the things they produce to schools like the calibrator machine and I was told that, there is no enough fund to do mass production. I am being told that, the calibrating machine that was produce, a proposal was made in the 2019 budget. I really don’t understand how things work in the public sector because I have been a private sector person even before I went to the senate.
Is there no other way research institutions can function without depending on the FG for funds?
I have encouraged them to look into commercialising the things they do or go into public-private partnership because the private sector can actually drive these things. At the end of the day, everybody will be a winner because you will have money to fund your research and the private sector will buy and sell the products. They are now looking at some sectors and also reaching out to international organisations for partnership. I know of the arrangement to start packaging moringa for export. There are so many complexities involved because most of the monies you make has to be paid into the TSA, so that at the end of the day, you will require a sort of exemption letter to access your fund quick for you not to break the law. A lot of genetic engineering is going on right now and this biotech industries will not be allowed because, there are side effect.We have not really touched the surface. We have laid out some of these foundation in the past. Some of us have seen the gradual change that has taken place since Mr. President came on board.