On the sidelines of a recent advocacy visit to Lagos to highlight the need for both legislative and executive progress on the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, the Head of Transparency International in Nigeria and Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr. Auwal Musa Ibrahim (Rafsanjani) spoke with Abimbola Akosile on good governance, corruption and various development issues. Excerpts:
Sir, you are welcome to Lagos…what brings you to Lagos this time around?
I came to Lagos to meet with like minds, organisations and individuals like you to see how we can galvanise efforts and support to ensure that the Petroleum Industry Bill is passed by the National Assembly. This is important because if we want to really improve in the area of our extractive, we must have a law that governs this sector which is very important. So the Petroleum Industry Bill will help to ensure that there is efficiency, there is transparency, there is clear division of responsibility and it will also ensure more diversification of investment in the area. So this is why we think that we need to advocate the passage of this law. At least we know that under the law, it will also help to address the issue of problems around the host communities, the problem of governance structure in the oil and gas sector. So it is so important that we cannot simply continue to allow this sector to linger in the lacuna we have found ourselves over the years. This is why we are here, meeting with organisations and media houses to ensure that we galvanise support for the passage of this law.
Congratulations on the opening of the CISLAC Office in New York, which is a positive thing….what was the main reason for that particular choice of location to cite an overseas office?
Thank you….we decided to open our global office in New York given the lots of activities going on around New York, particularly with the United Nations and CISLAC is registered in the United States of America and also registered with the United Nations. So it is natural that since we do a lot of activities with the UN it is natural that we establish out office near the UN. So we set up this office to be able to deal with so many issues that require international advocacy. For example illicit financial flow, issues of assets recovery, issues of forced labour and migration and issues around the implementation of the SDGs and also issues of ensuring UN decisions are actually involving the non-state actors and whole lot of other things like working with different missions to give voices to people in the Diaspora from different countries. So, these are the reasons why we thought it is relevant and important to set up a global office that will carry out our advocacy that we have been doing around issues of governance, issues of anti-corruption, issues of human rights and a whole lot of other key developmental advocacy and deepening parliamentary democracy also.
You were at the Global Forum on Assets Recovery (GFAR) that took place in Washington in December last year (2017). What were the major lessons from that forum for Nigeria?
The major lesson that I learnt is that it is important that Nigerian government works closely with the civil society groups, focused civil society groups that are working in the area of assets recovery, area of anti-corruption, to be able to lend its support to the Nigerian government to ensure that the foreign governments where assets are being domiciled are actually brought back because if the civil society support the cause, it is easy for the Nigerian government to be able to get these assets returned back to Nigeria. So, I think it was a very good opportunity because civil society had supported its efforts and willingness to work with the Nigerian government based on clear terms of engagement to ensure that we advocate for the return of our stolen assets. One of the major conditions we have given is that these stolen assets when it comes back it must not be re-looted. Secondly, there must be a clear framework on how this money should be utilised; it should not be spent like it was spent in the past where you cannot track anything. So that is why we went ahead to even recommend the setting up of an integrated trust fund that will be able to deal with some specific sectors like in the area of health, in the area of education and of water and sanitation. Nigerians have been deprived from these areas by the looters who have stolen and looted this money. So when this money comes, we can be able to inject them in the sector so that Nigerians can benefit from what they have been denied from benefiting in the first place.
The African Union recently had a summit and the theme this year is on fighting against corruption in member countries. As an anti-corruption advocate, what is your advice for the African leaders who went to the summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on fighting corruption in Africa?
The African governments and African leaders must know that fighting corruption is important if we want to achieve development, and if we want to achieve peace and stability in our region. This is because corruption spurs conflict, corruption makes development to be impossible, corruption also creates instability; it also creates under-development. Corruption creates unemployment and it also creates inequality. So this is why if African leaders really want to progress, want their countries and their people to be lifted out of abject poverty, out of under-development, out of lack of direction and also inability to meet with all the indicators of progress of a developed country, we must fight corruption. We must not allow corruption to thrive in our governance processes. So African leaders should take this theme of African Union on fighting corruption as very important and as a very powerful message that would ensure that fighting corruption is achieved and it succeeds. Otherwise the African nations will continue to linger in the kind of violent conflict we have seen, in the kind of under-development we are seeing and in the kind of impunity we have also seen. So we hope that the African leaders will take advantage of this theme to mainstream it into the governance architecture of the various countries.
Coming to Nigeria, you do a lot of advocacy and interaction with members of the National Assembly. From your interaction, do you think the legislators are really helping in the fight against corruption in Nigeria?
I think the National Assembly has the responsibility to key in into the fight against corruption in Nigeria. Because one of the major components of their work is to make laws for good governance, peace and stability, and there is no way you can make good laws for peace and stability without supporting the anti-corruption war. This is because if you want to make laws for good governance it means that corruption will be eliminated. Therefore I think they have responsibility to ensure that the fight against corruption succeeds, because they make those laws also, even the law setting up the anti-corruption agencies are legislated by legislators. So, it is not just to make the law and leave it, but also to lead and live by the law. To ensure effective implementation of the law lies with the National Assembly, so through their oversight, they should be able to ensure that the fight against corruption succeeds. And if there are some bridges or issues around that they should be able to intervene in a manner that would support the anti-corruption war and not undermine the anti-corruption war. So, currently, some of the National Assembly members, because of the way and manner in which our electoral systems are, they appear not to be interested in that because of the perception they have over there. But I think if we really see clearly, every member of the National Assembly, whether Senator or House of Representatives, has to play a role to ensure that anti-corruption war succeeds. If you succeed in the fight against corruption it means that you succeed in your legislative responsibilities. Without that, you would be a failure as a legislator if the anti-corruption war doesn’t succeed.
What is your assessment of the governance process in Nigeria in terms of delivery of good governance to the citizens?
I think that within the period that the current government came into power, there are some indicators where you could measure some level of success and also some level of failure in terms of meeting the expectations of Nigerians. So I think it is important that the government sit back to review and evaluate its performance vis-a-vis in the area of the economy which is the bone of contention really because if the lives of Nigerians are not improved, whatever instrumentality you brought, it would not be really appreciated so I think it is important that the government sit back and evaluate its performance and where they have their shortcomings they should also be able to mitigate such short-comings by coming up with sound policies and programmes that would be able to address the problems.
With 2019 general elections approaching fast, do you think development has taken a backseat in Nigeria?
It is very clear that many of the people in the Executive and the Legislature, they appear to be putting the election above the work that they are supposed to be doing. There is too much politicking now, too much of scheming and maneuvering on how to capture and retain power at the expense of governance. So, the governance process is going to be suffering while politicians are hustling for election, which I think is not really good. And because of the way and manner in which election has been turned in Nigeria, like a business, so some people they see this as a do-or-die affair. And because it is also imbedded with all sorts of corruption and impunity around it, some people can do anything to retain or remain in this dispensation. So I think it is important that the serving officials, whether legislators, whether the executive members they should focus and do the work that they are elected for and that they are given the responsibility to do, without suffering the Nigerian people or the governance architecture in the country.
Lastly, what is the major focus of activities for CISLAC this year?
Our new strategy plan which has just been approved – 2018 to 2023 – is a five-year strategy plan and it has five key areas. We have the area of democratic governance, the area of anti-corruption, the area of promoting health and social inclusion, the area of extractive and natural resource governance and then the area of peace and security. These five areas of our strategy plan that has been approved for the next five years will be focusing on how to help deepen democracy, and to help deepen our governance architecture in Nigeria.