A legal practitioner, Mr. Wahab Shittu, in this interview with TOBI AWORINDE, argues that former President Olusegun Obasanjo should be investigated for allegations of bribery levelled against him while trying to push his third-term agenda through at the N’Assembly
Do you think the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission should investigate the third-term bribery allegations against former President Olusegun Obasanjo?
I want to preface my comments by emphasising the need for us to maintain an open mind and to also recognise the presumption of innocence on the part of those who are to be investigated, particularly on the part of former President Obasanjo. The rationale is that he remains an elder statesman, a national and iconic figure who has made some significant contributions to nation-building and who was also very instrumental to the quelling of the Civil War.
He has consistently been praised for his crusade for unity and cohesiveness in the country. Although he remains controversial, he is perceived as a cat with nine lives. But that does not mean he is above the law. So, my take would be yes, the EFCC should reopen investigations into that allegations. But they should not be limited to the third-term allegation alone. It should cover other bribery allegations against that administration and subsequent administrations. For instance, it should cover the murders and other alleged atrocities of the Obasanjo era, including alleged atrocities of the (Goodluck) Jonathan years, like the allegations raised by (former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido) Sanusi on the money that was not remitted to the Federation Account, the Halliburton scandal, the Siemens scandal and other scandals of that nature, in order to put the past into proper perspective so that we can draw useful lessons. But beyond the allegations, what I would emphasise is that in undertaking such, a premium should be placed on effective and efficient investigation.
What should such an investigation entail?
A fair criminal justice system is an integral part of crime investigation. It is built on public confidence and encourages respect for law and order. In essence, crime investigation is the process by which the perpetrators of a crime are identified through the gathering of facts and evidences. It may involve an assessment of whether a crime has been committed in the first place. Investigations can be reactive, i.e. applies to crimes that have already taken place, or proactive, that is, targeting a particular criminal or forestalling a criminal atrocity. Whatever is the motive, what I would emphasise is that investigators, who are going to be involved in such investigations, are aware of the need to conduct an efficient and effective investigation; they must recognise the fact that the presumption of those involved must be guaranteed. The investigators need to be certain that their suspicions are based on an objective evaluation of facts and that they have not twisted the facts to suit their suspicions. If we can conduct these investigations effectively and efficiently, investigators will need to be given considerable powers.
So, what I am saying in essence is that I am in favour of reopening such an investigation, provided we deploy effective and efficient measures. But that should not be limited to the third-term agenda alone, because there are allegations of similar reports.
What is your response to those that think that a probe would be demeaning for the ex-President, given his contributions to nation-building?
We should acknowledge the fact that certain positive roles were carried out by certain individuals and for playing such roles, their respective names should be on the positive side of history. But without prejudice to such roles, it is also important for the state to ensure a crime-free society and to also make the point that when allegations are made, they are not swept under the carpet, no matter the persons involved. There is also the perspective in the public space; Obasanjo and those who believe in him would say that there was no third-term (agenda), whereas there are others who would say the third-term agenda was in place and that it was heavily funded. You will recall that Bala Na’Allah, a member of the Senate, came out recently (to say) he was offered N50m and that he rejected it. Someone like that should be summoned to establish the veracity of the allegation because reputation, character and credibility are involved here. Where such are involved, whatever positive achievements may be ascribed to these people may be rubbished on the pages of history, if these allegations are not cleared. It is even in the interest of those who are accused, no matter their standing. Let prior investigation be carried out and their names cleared, if necessary, so that whatever legacy they want to leave behind will not be rubbished.
I think what is important is for us to find out whether they are indeed innocent or guilty. Then it is also important to find out if such actions were actually carried out. Also, we need to know what the motivation is. Was it carried out in spite of the motivation? We have to find out why it (the third term agenda) was not successful and whether some people derived any benefit from those actions.
Why do you think Na’Allah should be quizzed over the issue?
For instance, if Na’Allah is saying he was offered N50m and, according to him, he rejected it, we need to find out whether some people benefited from the process and the identities of those involved. Former President (Obasanjo) has allegations against the National Assembly. We need to know what happened during the era. We need to know what proof the former President has by searching the archives. What is important in both processes is the quality of investigation. We must ensure that we have adequate information; we have to ensure that sufficient response is deployed in evidence and to identify those who are involved. We need to know if there are victims or witnesses who need to be interrogated to form his particulars.