Mr.Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, one of Nigeria’s leading lawyers has not just distinguished himself in the field of law, but has also earned a reputation as an activist and politician.
Besides the silk he earned in his chosen profession, Mr. Akeredolu has served as president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and also as chairman of the Nigerian Legal Aid Council between 2005 and 2006.
In his foray into the partisan politics, Akeredolu emerged as the governorship candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN in the 2012 governorship election which he lost, albeit narrowly.
Now a chieftain of the All Progressives Party (APC), Mr. Akeredolu in this interview responds to questions on the propriety of the ongoing anti-corruption war by the new administration, the procedures and processes engaged by the protagonists in the war and the effect on the polity among other things.
Akeredolu’s career in the legal profession began after he was called to the bar in 1978 following his earlier graduation from the Faculty of Law of the former University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. He was appointed the Attorney General of Ondo State in 1997. Excerpts:
By Bartholomew Madukwe
Do you believe that this government really has zero tolerance to corruption or it is just after some individuals in the opposition party?
Yes! The signs are there and that is why you cannot see today, be it ministers or other level of government officers, do things anyhow, everybody is being careful.
So this is to show that this government does not tolerate corruption. I believe that, given the number of months this government has spent and what they are trying to do in the space of time they have spent, they have shown that they are not tolerant of corruption.
The signs are there and you can read it in the palm of your hand. The president has said that his political capital is built on anti-corruption and they cannot afford to fail. With the president’s record and, integrity, he cannot afford to fail.
I do not see why one should be doubted about the position of the leader. The followers, particularly in terms of the line managers, the moment they all know the CEO’s stand, they cannot go out of line.
I am sure that Nigerians have a lot to gain from the president’s stand on corruption. I believe that it will run down with time.
The ongoing trial of former National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd) over alleged misuse of billions of naira of security fund has sparked off many revelations. Are you shocked with the high level calibre of persons mentioned in the matter?
My approach to matters of this nature is that I refrain from joining in public condemnation. I also try to refrain from trial by the media. So I really want to give opportunity to the persons concerned and give them the benefit of proper trial.
When they are convicted, one can then start passing comments on it. But if it comes to the question of the calibre of persons fingered, you would not have expected that if money is to be distributed it will be to people who are less than them; it will go to this calibre of people and not by myself or those on the street.
This is high level corruption, so it is high people that are going to be involved. I am not surprised at the level of people that are allegedly involved.
What I have already said to myself is that if this matter is pursued very well and properly investigated, maybe Fela Anikulapo had a foresight.
I remember in one of his music releases he said, “one day will be one day for those who are stealing money about” and I believe that the day has come.
What is your reaction to the way and manner the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting corruption cases, especially the frequent arraignment and then re-arrest of suspects who are granted bail by the courts? Is it proper?
The number of problems that one would not expect from the EFCC after so many years is to still have an amateurish way of prosecuting suspects. But in terms of their procedure, one would have some reservations. One would have expected that after so many years they should have gotten over this very amateurish way of approaching prosecution.
By the time you make an arrest one would expect you are ready with your charge so that whatever happens, in 24 hours maximum, you arraign the suspect in court.
There is no justification for ill prepared arraignment. Ideally, you should have everything in place, completed your investigation and have your witnesses ready before you go to court.
Amending the charge
Probably, I am not too sure, one of the problems they have is the idea of 100 or more charges against an individual. I believe that the lesser the charges the more effective it will be better for prosecution.
If people are granted bail and subsequently you arrest them again, that is very wrong. What I know of a fact is that in practice, you do not normally arrest a person when the court has granted the person bail.
You are not expected to do that. In any way, if you have new charges, the proper thing to do is to amend the charge or substitute it with the new one.
The moment the court has granted bail to an individual and you make another arrest, it means that the person’s attendance in court at the next adjourned date has been made worst.
So what probably would you now give for arresting and not allowing the individual to go the court at the next adjourned date? What are the things that they need to that they cannot wait and perfect at the next adjourned date?
What I believe they should have done in such case is to come to the court at the next adjourned date substitute the former charge with a new one. For as long as the court has by its bail or by the grant of bail assured his attendant, I do not see why the EFCC would have to arrest the suspect again.
We have seen situations especially in the past whereby EFCC’s charge that run into several offences are thrown away by the court or the suspect is granted plea bargain and gets a lesser punishment. What would you say about that?
Well, I know that sometimes EFCC’s cases end in plea bargain, which is to say that the suspect agrees committing the offence and saves the time of the court.
The individual then gets a lesser punishment instead of going the full trial. Let us not have too many doubts in our institutions but a lot of things have gone wrong.
Speaking truthfully, my view of EFCC is that they may have lack of proper training, which has led to mishandling of a few things.
High profile cases
But I am not too sure if it is an issue of collusion with them and the defendants in most of the cases. Again, because they have tried high profile cases, a number of things could happen.
I do not take that out of it. These high profile cases have become a pattern that you will negotiate the trial and come with a plea bargain, then at the end of the day the defendant is let off with minimum punishment and people will react to that. I am not too sure if it is an issue of collusion.
Early this year, Nigerians suffered fuel scarcity and cost of goods and services went high as a result of it. Don’t you think that President Buhari decision to appoint himself Minister of Petroleum is impeding decision taking in the oil sector?
I do not believe that we have a Minister of Petroleum in the country. I do not believe that President Buhari is a minister but he is overseeing the petroleum ministry with a Minister of State answerable to him.
The president has not appointed minister of anything; he is in-charge of every ministry. He oversees all activities in every ministry in this country, including petroleum. He may pay more attention to petroleum for reasons best known to him.
There are other ministries that he will also have proper focus on. I am not too sure if anything will go on in the ministry of defence without his approval, but he has not said he is minister of defence.