In this interview with Professor Jideofor Adibe of The News Chronicle, Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and head of Transparency International (Nigeria) who was recently elected chairman of the board of Transition Monitoring Group, a leading election monitoring civil society group, answers questions on a variety of national issues:
TNC: First let me congratulate you for your recent election as the new chairman of the board of Transition Monitoring Group, a leading election monitoring civil society group in Nigeria. You are also the head of the Nigerian wing of Transparency International as well as the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC). How are you going to joggle all these responsibilities?
Rafsanjani: Thank you very much. As you are aware, the thematic area of democratic governance where campaigns for good governance and free, fair and credible elections fall under, as well as the anti-corruption thematic area which is the focus of the work of Transparency International all fall within the vision of CISLAC. Nothing is coming as a new area of engagement as we have been rigorously involved in advancing for a corrupt free Nigeria and a country where its electoral processes are free, fair and credible. My role at TMG is supported by very vibrant members of the Board and the large number of civil society organisations across the country that make up the membership of TMG. I am not going to be working alone. Besides, I have long committed my life to working to ensure a better Nigeria.
TNC: You are taking over the headship of TMG at a very auspicious time in Nigeria’s political development, with manoeuvrings for 2023 further polarising and heating up the polity. How do you think this environment will affect the conduct of the 2023 election and its monitoring?
Rafsanjani: It is true that the country is at an auspicious time in its political development and this is when all the stakeholders must contribute their quota to ensure Nigerians are proud of the outcome of the 2023 elections. Politicians will be politicians, and the current manoeuvrings are nothing strange in the build up to elections in this country. What is paramount is to sustain and improve on the drive to ensure adequate and effective frameworks are in place to guide the conduct of elections in Nigeria, and to ensure the processes are transparent enough to reflect the wishes of the voters. We are monitoring closely the activities of political parties and have noted the absence of internal democracy in some of the parties. This is largely where most of the issues heating up the polity at the moment are emanating from. For us, it is just a call on the political parties to put their houses in order, this is very important because we are a party system democracy. Nigerians will always depend on the vibrancy of political parties to present vibrant candidates for leadership positions. However, the TMG has an agenda that does not overlook the affairs of political parties in the democratic process. TMG will monitor party conventions and make its reports public.
TNC: What are your thoughts and solutions on (a) the current state of insecurity in the country (b) the increasing indebtedness of the country (c) separatist agitations across the Southern part of the country, especially the Southeast and the Southwest? (d) Power rotation between North and South?
Rafsanjani: It is very mindboggling that despite the increased budgetary allocation and funding on security, insecurity continues to escalate even to parts of the country that were normally peaceful. We thought a change of Service Chiefs would bring about some form of solution but this has not been the case. Insecurity has apparently become a business for certain people in the country. The chain of course that the government must commit to take, is finding the financiers of insecurity in Nigeria and bring the full wrath of the law on such people.
Nigeria is overborrowing and this is why the debt rate is currently unprecedented. The Nigerian federal government spent a total of N1. 8 trillion on debt servicing in the first five months of the year, representing about 98% of the total revenue generated in the same period. This is unacceptable. There is also the question of transparency and accountability on utilization of the loans. Government should focus more on blocking leakages as a result of corruption and it would find that it is not even necessary to borrow so much.
Separatist agitations are a product of unfulfillment. When people do not feel a sense of fulfilment in a situation, it is natural to think otherwise. This is also an outcome of poor governance and the current state of insecurity. Nigerians largely desire to remain a united country knowing that is where its strength is.
Power rotation as you know is not constitutional. The Nigerian constitution allows for eligible citizens in any part of the country to contest for electoral positions at any time. However, the political parties have largely popularized the practice to give different sections of the country a sense of belonging. Being that candidates must emerge through political parties; I would personally expect that party members respect the positions of their various parties.
TNC: You were critical of the manner in which the probe of Ibrahim Magu was conducted. Can you throw more light on why you were critical of the process? Why do you think that all past chairmen of the EFCC have ended up in disgrace? And by the way what has become of the Magu probe?
Rafsanjani: CISLAC’s position on the handling of the suspended acting chairman of the EFCC was that due process should be followed and Nigerians should be informed on the outcome of these investigations. It is sad that we are yet to get any update on what has happened to the probe and as it stands, we, have no information on that. CISLAC has always advocated for the need to have enabling legal frameworks like a proceeds of crime Act and Whistle-blower Act to assist the anti-graft agencies carry out their duties effectively.
TNC: How would you compare the EFCC and the ICPC in their processes and in the outcomes of their work? Nigerians appear to be less critical of the ICPC than they are of the EFCC. Why do you think it is so? There appears also to be a sort of unwritten code that the chairmanship of the EFCC must come from the North (and of course statutorily must be a policeman) while that of the ICPC must be a civilian and from the Southern part of the country. How do you think this arrangement impacts on the whole fight against corruption in Nigeria and in the perception of the two agencies?
Rafsanjani: The EFCC and ICPC are integral to Nigeria’s fight against corruption, and they need to be supported. Many times, citizens tend to confuse the mandates of the two organizations. They operate in different ways hence they will be perceived differently. The EFCC works on Economic and Financial related crimes while the ICPC also has public enlightenment and education as part of its own interventions. And for us, these two approaches are nice because while you fight corruption, you also need to enlighten citizens on the dangers and all other preventive measures. While the EFCC act stipulates that the chairman must be from a security or law enforcement agency not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police or its equivalent, neither the EFCC nor the ICPC Act mandates the heads of these organizations to be from one section of the country.
TNC: You head the Nigerian wing of Transparency International which publishes the Corruption Perception Index. Nigeria was ranked 149 out of 179 countries in the 2020 Corruption Perception Index, compared to its ranking of 146 in 2019. In the 2018 index, Nigeria had risen by four places from 148 to 144. The Federal government of course disagrees with Transparency International’s ranking especially when it does not favour it. How would you respond to criticisms of Transparency International’s methodology? And do you think that our declining fortunes on the Transparency International’s Perception Index mirror the state of the fight against corruption in the country or something broader than that?
Rafsanjani: The CPI is a globally recognized index. It is computed using different credible research sources from institutions like the World bank and other bodies. From our experience over time, pro-government voices always disagree with the index when its not favourable while anti-government voices do the opposite. When it is favourable, we have anti-government voices disagreeing while it’s the other way round for pro-government voices. As patriotic citizens who want a better country, we are not bothered by these and like we have continuously pointed out, we are ready to engage with the state actors on how the country can improve because at the end of it all, Nigeria is the only country we have. Key factors for the poor showing can be seen in the procurement issues that plagued the COVID-19 response, political interference, the NDDC scandal amongst others.
TNC: The general perception is that the fight against corruption has not been working – not just with the Buhari government but also with all the past governments as the incidence of corruption seems not to be abating, if not getting worse. Based on this, do you think it is the right time to re-think the whole fight against corruption including possibly doing away with the current contraptions – the EFCC and the ICPC set up to fight against them? If you share this position, what would be your recommendations on how the whole fight against corruption should be re-thought in the country?
Rafsanjani: Obviously, there are no commiserate result with the purported fight against corruption in Nigeria which points to the fact that government must desist from paying lip service to the fight against corruption and concentrate on enforcing and implementing necessary legal frameworks without any form of political interference. It is also highly important to keep citizens abreast of the situation of things by working closely with relevant civil society organisations to ensure transparency. The EFCC and ICPC have very important mandates, it is critical to support the organisations in the pursuit of their mandates. The campaign must be for government to truly allow these agencies full independence to prosecute without any form of interference. Nigerians feel that the agencies are not effective because they have been perceived to be selective in the fight against corruption.
TNC: How would you assess the performance of Abdulrasheed Bawa, the current chairman of the EFCC, including how he emerged to the position?
Rafsanjani: So far, the chairman of the commission has shown the desire and the drive. Recently he met with banks executives and gave them a strong anti-corruption message. Stemming from the fact that he grew through the ranks of the commission, this is commendable. We will like to call on him to ensure that he kicks against any form of political interference and continue his engagement with representatives of the CSOs, media and citizens.