The Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) recently wrote a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari warning him not to elevate the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola. CACOL’s Executive Chairman, Mr Debo Adeniran, speaks with MOSES ALAO, on why the group is on the trail of the former governor and the need for accountability in Nigeria’s body-politic. Excerpts:

RECENTLY, the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola, accused your organisation of writing a preemptive letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, raising allegations that have not been proven. Why did CACOL write a letter that appears to be targeted at stopping Fashola from being appointed into Buhari’s cabinet at this point?

You are wrong. The effort to get Mr Babatunde Fashola to be accountable started in 2009.

But the fact that you wrote that letter to the president now is suspect. Why is CACOL on Fashola’s trail at a point that he is likely to be appointed by the president? How many other likely appointees did you write to Buhari about?

We cannot work on everybody. There are certain things that have obvious answers. It is only those that we know that we can work on. When you talk about why we are on Fashola’s trail, you just need to look at the need to hold our leaders accountable. CACOL is not being sponsored by the state; it is our members that contribute the funds that we utilise to do the little that we can do; so we only take one step at a time.

We are in Lagos and we are witnesses to the budgetary presentations year in year out, which can be put at an average of N500 billion yearly. We know that international organisations like UNESCO, WHO and World Bank, among others, contributed to some of the projects that are supposed to have been executed in Lagos, especially in the areas of provision of water, drainage system and aesthetic, that is citing of ornamental plants and so on were also done with contributions from corporate organisations, which are in abundance in Lagos. So, when we pieced all of these together, we discovered that more than N5 trillion could have been budgeted for and expended in Lagos in the past eight years by the government headed by Mr Fashola. We moved round Lagos and we discovered that there were no adequate signs that such amount of money was properly utilised. We suspected that as early as 2009. By February 2010, we wrote the first petition, after we had been frustrated, having tried in vain to see everyone that needed to be seen for explanation. We wrote that petition to the Lagos State House of Assembly and we submitted it in a public protest that was covered by the mass media. The House set up a panel to investigate the claims in the petition, but the state government went to court by proxy, using Richard Akinnola; the late Bamidele Aturu was his lawyer. They succeeded in getting an injunction restraining the House from proceeding with the investigation. If a governor does not have anything to hide, why is it difficult for him to allow an investigation by an arm of the same government and just present his side of the story?

Remember also that a group called the True Face of Lagos came up with damning allegations about the financial recklessness of the Fashola’s administration. But he didn’t defend himself or state his own side of the story; he only said the group was faceless. It got to a stage that we went round all the locations that the True Face of Lagos mentioned and we decided to give a face to what they did; so we adopted their petition and sent it to the governor to give us their response, but they did not respond.

Can you remember when you sent that petition?

That was in 2010 but we didn’t get anything. Out of frustration, we wrote to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the commission claimed that it had got our petition and that it invited some directors and other top officials. The commission claimed it got a detailed report, which it would not release to us because Fashola had immunity. Out of frustration, also, we went to town, called representatives of all the local governments together in a hall and we called in Lagos Open Parliament. Through that platform, we got reports from each local government about how the government was able to implement the appropriation law, how effective or otherwise it was. We administered questionnaires and the entries were recorded. We gave at least 2,000 questionnaires to each local government, retrieved the ones we could and analysed them. We monitored mass media and social media reportage of budget performance and we gathered that the implementation was far less than expected. We didn’t stop at that; we took photographs of areas where expectations of the people were not met and we put all our findings in a book. We also monitored the internet and we compiled these findings into a book we called ‘Lagos Open Parliament: A report of the underground assessment of the state of budgetary implementation on infrastructural development in Lagos State between May 2007 and May 2011.’ The book can be accessed on our website. It contains pictures, data, graphs, tables and so on. But after all of these, we thought that we could be wrong and so we sent copies to the government; but I must tell you that we had even sent manuscripts to the government before publishing the book, telling them that if they had any defence to make, they should do it. We started updating that book through the same process. We also kept on reminding the anti-corruption agencies every year but they didn’t give us the feedback we desired; we were waiting and complaining. We grumbled about why everyone should ignore us when we had presented how expectations of people were not met and no one explained why government was right and we had been wrong. After that frustration, we vowed that it would be protest without end.

But it is appearing as if CACOL just woke up at the prompting of some people to hunt Fashola.

That is not correct. If you could recall, before the last general elections, we had a public demonstration, warning the Lagos public not to vote for Mr Akinwumi Ambode, because he was coming from the same stock with Fashola. It was also at that time that we asked former Governor Bola Tinubu to come out in the open and defend all the allegations against him in the documentary aired on AIT. We told him that rather than go to court to stop the documentary, he should defend himself in the open on allegations the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) levelled against him, because the court has always been deployed as a tool to keep others quiet about issues. Unfortunately, we didn’t get anything out of those efforts.

So, when elections came and went, we knew that President Buhari, whose election we supported because of his pedigree, antecedent, personality and integrity he exudes, would be able to fight corruption. But when we saw this gentleman, Fashola, dancing around the president, following him everywhere and fraternising with him, we suspected that he could have been lobbying the president for a post and we knew that would be dangerous for Nigerians’ collective wellbeing.

Why did you think so?

You would recall that Lagos State was a theatre of activism during the clamour for the Freedom of Information Act. But we wrote to the Lagos State government back then, asking them to give us all the information we needed regarding the corruption allegations based on FOI Act and the state that was governed by Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), replied us through its Ministry of Justice that the FOI law passed by the order of the National Assembly was not applicable to Lagos. We were taken aback then and that was why we said if Fashola had his way to the federal level, he would discourage the federal government from engaging in pro-people governance. He is not likely to allow transparency, accountability and probity. He might even work towards the repealing of the FOI Act. So, it was on that basis that we had to write Buhari that instead of elevating Fashola, he should get him investigated and possibly prosecuted. That was the basis of our letter.

But Fashola made a reference to some pigs somewhere who he would not like to wrestle with. Is CACOL sponsored by some anti-Fashola elements to stop him from being appointed into office?

Look at it from this angle, if you want pork, won’t you wrestle with a pig and make sure it dies? CACOL wants a piece of pork and that pork is to make our leaders remember that they are accountable to the people, who are the owners of the sovereignty. That is what we are doing and we are going to wrestle this pig into submission and we will not allow the pig to go into our barn, because it will destroy everything it finds there.

I want to tell you that if we had been sponsored since 2009, we would have been able to fight him more frontally than we are doing. He would not have been able to cover his tracks. It is because we had no access to government shelves that we have not been able to compel the anti-graft agencies to prosecute him. If we were sponsored, we would have been able to mobilise Lagosians and we would have been able to buy media spaces to make our points. As I am speaking with you, CACOL is not sponsored by anyone; we do not have money, but we have intellect; we have the know-how; we have the spirit of activism, patriotism and progressivism and these are driving us. We believe that someone must stand for what is right. That is what obtains in Nigeria, whenever anyone says anything against a top personality, such person will be accused of being sponsored.

The former governor said the allegations against him could not be substantiated, that you have no evidence.

It took us five years to get facts and reports that we have published and he has failed to ever respond to. So what is the evidence that we are being sponsored? Fashola said we did not have any evidence, when every top civil servant in government had been sworn to secrecy not provide any evidence. The only statute we could use to compel the MDAs to give evidence had been made ineffective in Lagos and what we did was to go into the fields and question how contracts were awarded and executed even when the facilities were nowhere to be found.

But he said his job was done, having served the state for 12 years.

Which job was done? Is it roads? Is it schools? Is it hospitals that we will talk about? There is nothing that is not in a bad state in Lagos; there is always flood anytime there is a heavy rain; the drainage system is too shallow. Fashola started building on the lagoon, go and look at what they are doing at Ilubirin and what they call the Atlantic City. Is that what Lagos needs? Why is the money spent on the cable bridge in Ikoyi not utilised on an expressway that will run from Ikorodu to Epe and back to Lekki so that people could move freely, because that is the axis where people who only depend on their ingenuity to earn a tuning for themselves are. But their roads are bad; there is no security in Lagos. Security of lives and properties is in a shambles. So, what can we not talk about? If anyone says someone is sponsoring CACOL, we are happy that we are being sponsored to do what is right; but I can tell you that we are only being sponsored by our members who contribute what they have towards emancipating people from physical and moral enslavement they were subjected to by the administration of Fashola and we are not going to stop at anything but to achieve freedom for them.

Finally, do you subscribe to the claim in some quarters that the current fight against corruption is selective?

There is no way the corrupt elements will not complain that the anti-graft agencies’ war is selective; even when you publish a story, they will accuse you. How come you won’t select? Once it is only those who perpetrated corruption that are being selected, we are happy with that. If it is only those corrupt elements on whom we have adequate evidence and witnesses that are being selected, Nigerians will be happy with that. Inasmuch as no innocent person can come out to claim that he is being wrongly prosecuted, you cannot prevent elements that are drowning from clutching to any available means, even straws, in order to discredit any effort towards bringing them to justice. Everyone who has perpetrated corruption must rot in jail. Unless we all put our acts together to kill corruption, corruption will kill us. We should not allow corruption to kill us. We should banish corruption.

Source: Sunday Tribune.