Comrade Debo Adeniran is the Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL). He spoke with EJIKEME OMENAZU on the growing insecurity in the South East, the threat to declare a state of emergency, as well as the division of Northern and Southern governors and leaders over the issue of zoning of the 2023 presidency, among other issues. Excerpt:

During his Independence anniversary speech, President Muhammadu Buhari spoke about some terrorism sponsors in the South East and South West, even as he fingered a prominent member of the National Assembly as a sponsor. What do you think is the implication of such a blanket accusation? 

Different people have different styles of governance. The reaction of people may inform the government’s responses. People are against media trials, premature arraignment of suspects. Thorough proper investigation should be carried out to ensure that suspected sponsors of terrorism are duly prosecuted and punished. It is defeatist on the part of the government to think of knowing the criminals before they are punished. People should be deterred from financing terrorism. Such people should be arrested and prosecuted.

What are the implications of such a blanket accusation of the National Assembly members? 

The implication is that it will give the financial sponsors of terrorism time to cover their tracts and make Nigeria feel unsafe in the hands of the government and that will make the government lose the loyalty of the people. It is the prerogative of the government to provide security. If the government cannot provide security, it has lost its function. It is a failure of intelligence and failure of governance for the government to share power with the terrorists.

What is the difference between what is happening in the South East from what is happening in the North East and North West? 

The difference between what is happening in the South East and North East and North West is that those in the South East have declared a different government, a different republic. This is not the case in North East and North West despite the onslaught of Boko Haram. In the South East, they have their currency, their flag, their army, everything that will make a different country. The ESN’s activities are like an army. They force people to obey their laws. Boko Haram is a terrorist army, which wants to impose their rule on the people. They have not gone as far as IPOB. In the North East, people have not stopped their economic activities. In the South East, the ESN impose sit-at-home and people who disobey are attacked. That is why the situation in the South East is so different from what obtains in the North East. Borno, Adamawa and Yobe had state of emergencies because of inadequate protection of the people due to the Boko Haram. In the South East, IPOB does not want elections to take place. They want to disrupt the Anambra election. No government will want to allow disruption of campaigns and elections in the South East. People’s houses have been attacked and residents killed, including Dr. Chike Akunyili. That makes what is happening in the South East more devastating than what is happening in the North East. Boko Haram has been declared a terrorist organization. IPOB has also been declared, but they have continued to operate illegally.

What is your take on the split between the Northern and Southern governors and leaders over the issue of zoning the 2023 presidency? 

I am not really interested in political arguments. We want a system change. The elite should not be leading us by the nose. The arrangement of North/South leadership is tossing people’s sensibility. People should come from any part of the country and participate in elections. People should be concerned about good governance, social inclusion, transparency, and participatory governance. It is not about where people come from. Goodluck Jonathan did not develop South South even though Bayelsa is his home state. The few developments in the North were not only when their citizens were in government. Most of the developments in the South were carried out by heads of government from other parts of the country.

What is your view on the recently released Pandora Papers which fingered some top Nigerian politicians over alleged fraud and money laundering? 

It is an expose that government has to take seriously. There were previous papers before this one. The previous governments handled them with kid gloves. We cried to high heavens and nothing was done and they were swept under the carpet. Those names that came up should be investigated. Government should carry out a due diligence investigation of those mentioned in the Pandora Papers. Government should recover what has been looted. Nobody should be in government and still be in business or engage in underhand dealings elsewhere. If government fails to do something about the current revelations, it will affect the image of Nigeria.

Your group has been going around to speak to people about the 2023 general elections. Could you tell us about your recent campaign? 

The Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) recently commenced the sensitisation of Nigerians on the 2023 general elections to inculcate in them the virtues of integrity of the electoral process. The project is with the support of Mac Arthur Foundation. It centres on anti-corruption and accountability in elections, even at the grassroots level. The goals of the project tagged ‘Priotising Anti-Corruption and Accountability Issues During the Upcoming 2023 Elections’, include to reduce corruption in the country by bolstering support for anti-corruption and social inclusion among critical groups and strengthening policies and programmes for anti-corruption in the country. The main project goal is to reduce corruption in Nigeria by educating and mobilising citizens’ groups and galvanising support for anti-corruption among political parties, frontline candidates and critical interest groups and networks involved in the 2023 electoral processes in Lagos State. It is our view that the media should increase their reportage and investigation of corruption and accountability issues before, during, and after the elections to ensure that political parties and their candidates incorporate anti-fraud issues in their manifestoes and agenda. There is an urgent need for anti-corruption campaigns to percolate down to the grassroots and even to the level of primary and tertiary institutions to stem the tide of rising cybercrimes (Yahoo-Yahoo) among our youths. Political parties must be engaged in mainstream anti-corruption and accountability in their manifestos and activities. There is an urgent need to amplify the voices of the people at the grassroots because most of them do not even have access to their elected representatives once they are sworn in. There is need for more proactive measures by anti-corruption agencies in timely investigation and prosecution of offenders. In the case of Lagos State, the state anti-corruption agency should be truly independent to investigate and prosecute all corruption cases and should also work in synergy with other anti-corruption agencies. There is the need to increase citizens’ timely voter education and sensitisation by both the electoral body and relevant stakeholders. In the last few weeks, CACOL had been holding consultative meetings with stakeholders in the five major divisions of Lagos State with the aim of making the 2023 general elections corruption free. The programme, which is supposed to be national, will be held in different states, although it was kick-started in Lagos State.

Some Nigerians are worried over the one party state in Lagos. How could this trend be reversed? 

Only Lagosians can change the current one-party rule in the state to multi-party administration. The one-party structure of the Lagos administration can only be reversed by the people. What is happening in Lagos is the choice of the political elite in the state. If the citizens are satisfied with what is happening in Lagos, we are not going to fight their battle. They can form their own political party and vote out the ruling party. The people have the right to make Lagos a multi-party state. Lagosians have the right to belong to different political parties. They have the right to vie for elections in any other party and win. If they are cheated, they should use the channels available to them to protest to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), they can embark on street protests or go to court. If there is adequate enlightenment, they will know what they should do. We can only give them enlightenment on what to look for.