Chief Tunde Odanye
A former governorship candidate and stalwart of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Osun State, Akinrogun Tunde Odanye, is a legal practitioner with over three decades of practice. Speaking with Omololu Ogunmade, Odanye dwells on Nigeria’s recent ranking by Transparency International, de-registration of political parties and the politics in Osun State amongst other issues. Excerpts:
What do you make of Nigeria’s recent rating as the 35th most corrupt nation by Transparency International against the backdrop of President Jonathan’s claiming of having fought corruption more than any administration?
Well, I will say what the president most likely meant was that he hardly intervenes in high profile corruption cases, which of course, is better than what we had before. I see a president whose position is, if you are caught, you are on your own – justice would take its course. Of course, whether it takes that course further down the ladder is a moot question. Indeed, if it did, I doubt the executive would be blaming the Judiciary like it recently did. We must also remember the police and the prosecution too are part of that ladder. Having said that I must say that I am pleasantly surprised that we were only rated the 35th most corrupt nation; maybe they were ranking only official or political corruption because if you look at the corruption in every facet of our everyday lives, it is endemic.
In fact many don’t even know what constitutes corruption, if you ask them they would tell you– its business after all they are only using their positions to make money. I’d give you examples. If you drive past motor parks, you‘ll see people hawking brand new N100.00 and N200.00 notes. Initially, the commission was 10 per cent. So, for N10,000, you would pay 11,000 or got N9,000. Now, the commission is 20 per cent so, for a new N10,000 bundle you‘ll get only N8,000. The question is, does Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have an official marketing window for these new notes or is it the bank managers who in their banks sell these notes?
This is because if you go to your banks and ask for these new notes, you will never get them. To even get old N100.00 notes is a problem. Can you imagine going to the United Kingdom (UK) and having people selling to you 50 Pounds for 40 Pounds and yet you hear these same bank managers making big money from it talking of corruption in government. Isn’t theirs corruption?
Likewise the Petrol Station attendant would collect some money for you to buy petrol in a Jerry Can, or the Students Affairs Officer allocating accommodation in Universities, or the tenders board giving out contracts, or the procurement officer buying supplies, or the parking lot attendant, or the person checking in passengers on flights, or the policeman you report your case to, or the fellow you’ve got to yield 50 or more percent of your fees to before you are given a brief or job, or the official who insists on a share in your company or property before he clears your project or property, or the Treasury or Finance Officer who places a fixed deposit with a Bank or other Financial Institution at 10 per cent per annum and reports 8 per cent to his company/employers, secretly collecting the 2 per cent himself?
The list to my mind goes on ad nauseum. The Halliburton Scam, the Head of Service Office Pensions Scam, The Fuel Subsidy Scam, etc just when you think there can’t possibly be another, another comes up all with mind boggling figures and guess what after the initial shock, outrage and noise? They all tend to die a natural death between the investigators, prosecutors and the judiciary.
The pity is that it is those who refuse to play the corruption game that are ostracized. They are not welcomed in many places. They are a bad influence; they are an unwanted reminder to the corrupt officials of the wrongness of their ways. In fact, it is so bad in Nigeria that trying to do the right thing can actually land you in jail these days in Nigeria if you are not killed first. Failure to pay a policeman a bribe, insisting on paying full customs duty and the list goes on and on.
Everywhere you go now, the security man in the bank, the traffic warden on the road are all saluting you, expecting you to give them some money. So, for me, those who ranked us as 35th most corrupt nation in the world probably have done it based on mere corruption in government. If they are talking of corruption in every facet of our lives in Nigeria, I think it will probably be worse than number 35. Look at corruption in politics. If you are in politics, you are believed to be in politics because you want to steal. If you don’t steal, they believe you are mad or at best a born fool.
Recently, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) de-registered 28 political parties. Do you think this is a healthy development?
My honest opinion is that in any civilised clime, we do not need more than three political parties. You are either to the left, to the right or in the centre. Every other one is just an embellishment like more to the right, or more to the left, or extreme right, further right or extreme left or further left. So, for me, I believe that we either have capitalist/conservative inclined parties or socialist/welfarist parties or a mixture of both. This is what you find in Britain which runs a parliamentary system and the United States of America which runs a presidential system like ours.
It is now inside those groupings that you find the moderate democrats, the moderate conservatives, the hard core democrats, the hard core conservatives etc. To my mind, every other vista of left, right and centre would manifest itself within the party. You know that with 60 parties talking at the same time, people cannot even choose which one to listen to.
Then, instead of ballot paper, you have ballot booklets or ballot books. And of course you find that in the process, it is very possible that one or two names are omitted whereby after a very expensive election seriously contested by only two or three (3) parties, one or two obscure parties go to court that their names have been omitted just to shake down the winner for some hush money.
We all saw what happened in Ondo State. Everybody knew that the last governorship election was a three-horse race. All of a sudden, you now had people who claimed that their names were omitted from the ballot. It’s like a market place and to my mind I think INEC is on the right path by de-registering some parties. In any case, that’s the law and the parameters set by the National Assembly. I think luckily, they have not said don’t register new parties. Indeed, hitherto some parties were set up only to collect money from INEC with only father, mother, daughter and son as members.
But what difference does it really make when the same INEC that de-registers parties today cannot stop owners of such parties from registering another tomorrow?
First, you are not likely to have everybody coming back to register new parties. Two, it is unfortunate but that it is the provision of the law. If the law is imperfect you can only amend and improve it but till then, the law is the law and you’ve got to obey it.
After 13 years of democracy, poverty is still prevalent. Why is this?
I believe strongly in the saying that the worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship. In any case, it was that extended period of military rule where the plunder mentality took reign that brought us to this sorry state. I think the reasons for the sorry state of our democracy are two. First, the people who genuinely fought for our new found democracy were not the beneficiaries of that long drawn battle for democracy. What you have is the same set of opportunists who were either collaborators with or quislings of the military whilst the military were in government, or military officers themselves.
They were practically the only ones with money to fight or finance elections, so, they are in a position to either finance themselves or finance people- which is the godfather syndrome we are talking about and if you know what godfathersm is really about, it is not about people mentoring junior politicians, no. To many of them, it is about finding a surrogate to be there on their behalf. I was telling somebody that the godfathers are quick to parrot that loyalty is 100 per cent, what they are saying is don’t argue, you are not allowed to have an opinion, even with your parents; you are not allowed to voice a contrary opinion.
But what they are saying is that, you take my orders like a zombie, I put you there. Do what I ask you to do. Now, how many people worth their salt will accept this?
The second reason is that most Nigerians do not understand that there are two types of politicians. There is the business politician who sees it as a quick and easy avenue to make unimaginable money - you get power to make money. They are the ones who generally talk from both sides of their mouths- promise anything and would do anything to grab the political office or power. As far as they are concerned, it’s all about money.
On the other hand you also have the other kind of politician. These type are in the minority, an acute minority, who believe that God has been so kind to them they want to give something back to the society. They say ‘I think l have the skills despite the danger to my own financial position and stability, but things just can’t go on like this. I am going to try and make a difference, make things better.’ But this type of politicians are very few, unappreciated, and unwanted in our grossly corrupt environment. They are an endangered species because the bulk of the current political champions don’t want them, indeed cannot stand them. And whilst these are the kind of politicians sought and voted for in decent and developing societies the opposite is the case here in Nigeria.
To me, however all hope is not lost. The fact that this democracy is driving the privatisation process gives me hope. I believe the more of our strategic enterprises that get out of government’s hands and are run efficiently and profitably, the better for us.