“Nigeria Has Weak Institutions”

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This is the 3rd part of The Tide Round Table Encounter with Barr OCJ Okocha (SAN), first published on Friday July 17, 2009. Continued on Page 17 of last edition. Fantastic! Read on.

What is the difference between the Police of the olden days and today?

My father served in the colonial police the only problem my father ever had in the Police was that of tribalism. Because he was a minority in the old Eastern Region, Ikwerre man. Whoever heard of Ikwerre people becoming Police Officers but even at that his promotions came as at when due. He went to Police Colleges in England, out of merit and then the Police was dedicated.

Your character needed to be examined before you enter the Police, my father was recommended to join the Police by an old headmaster from Ohafia through his relation that was in government in the Eastern Region. That was how my father got into the Police.

As a minority he went to Police Colleges and was able to perform and on merit. He got deployed to the branch called Special Branch. Special Branch is the branch of the Police that eventually became NSO and SSS.

Chief Horsfall served under my father in Special Branch in the Eastern Region and that time just before the civil war broke out he was the Deputy to MD Yusuf in a Special Branch. Then a Police man was really a friend, you would walk along the road and you stopped a Police man very knowledgeable.

You are going to Aggrey Road, a policeman will take the pains to tell you where Aggrey road is, in fine language. You know they used to carry batons in those days and alone policeman standing at the end of the street was enough to drive criminals away but now police is for all kinds of people.

I can tell you that the stories we have indicate that some of these check points that you see armed robbers operating some of them are wearing police uniforms.

Some policemen have also been implicated in armed robbery. Police need to be trained you know, overhaul, thoroughly overhaul. Any and any person cannot be recruited into the police because the police is a civil force for maintenance of law and order. When you have criminals in the police you have difficulties.

You know in those days, if you are a police constable and you bought a motorcycle you need to explain where you got the money to buy a motorcycle-constable, everybody knew your salary, but today, you see a constable operating 20 buses, 20 taxis, in the days of okada, there were policemen who owned 20 okadas.

So the police now is not what it was. My father used to tell me stories of how they used to investigate cases. Detectives were trained. Now you go to the Police, they ask you who do you suspect.

How can you suspect, you are sleeping in the night somebody came to steal your properties and you know there was something the Police had they had this supernunary Police Officers. They had what they called Police informant.

By the time you go to an informant he would know where armed robbers came from to operate in Elechi Street Diobu. Is no longer the same, they are not trained, they are not properly motivated, they are not properly equipped.

And in those days, every Policeman who signs for rifle will sign for the number of cartridge, what they call bullet that will go into that rifle.

They had an Armoury, you had hand writing experts, you have forensic analysts in the Police in those days and you know what they say, just by dusting this envelop now, they will tell you how many people had handled this envelop and they had record, without record, you can’t police anywhere I had a problem once with a young man in America, and I wrote a letter to Chief of Police in Boston. They picked up the man, fingerprinted him and told him they don’t want him any where within three miles of where I was staying in Boston, and they were able to monitor that young man and they succeeded in making sure he was nowhere near me for the three weeks I stayed in Boston that is what the police used to do. They know the criminals, they monitor them on a daily basis. So we need to retrain the police properly equip the police and then properly motivate them.

What is your comment on the current ASUU strike?

Yes, is unfortunate, I will say government has been unfaithful to its obligation to the educational sector. The time we went to the university late early 70s, we were satisfied that we entered university in September of 1973 and graduated in June of 1977 four years for a degree programme, we were satisfied that lecturers were being paid their salaries as at when due and their salaries were commensurate with the work they were doing. Government as we have read and heard, had several agreements with ASUU and the university teachers but government had not been faithful to implement those agreements.

Why should that be so. And we are talking of universities. The same thing goes down all the way to secondary education, primary education. I don’t know whether government actually recognizes that without education, without proper educational foundation this country is in jeopardy. Who will take over tomorrow from those of us who have gone through these processes. Most people are now sending their children to schools in places like Ghana, Togo, because our educational system cannot guarantee a proper education for our children. Is unfortunate, and I think that government would wake up to its responsibilities. The educational sector must be given immediate attention. All agreements signed with university teacher must be implemented and without any delay.

Sorry before we go back to the police, lets go back to Niger Delta, if you are in position to suggest what percentage should come to the Niger Delta, what will you suggest?

50 per cent because there are precedents. We started with 50 percent, shouldn’t be anything less. And people are telling you those who want to play the politics of Nigeria Oh no body is producing the oil, the oil was put there by God. Have they forgotten that in the traditional principles of land ownership, the man who owns the land owns everything under the land. So leave me with my land and if any oil company wants to take oil and gas from my land, let that company negotiate with me.

In that case I will have 100 per cent. Isn’t it. The argument cannot be sustained that any body should tell us, that God put the oil there yes, but we came and live here wherever you migrated from, everybody ended up somewhere and that place you ended up is your own land. For Nigeria to claim Oh: that the oil is there, God put it, so did He put gold and other minerals in other lands. Let everybody exploit his own and whatever you can make of it, make of it and take it 100 per cent.

So the principle that exists and the principle is fair is that Nigeria as a federation started with 50 per cent derivation as in the 1960, and the 1963 constitutions. That is the principle that already exists. The principle we should go back to.

Talking about the quality of Education because of incessant strike, has that also affected the products from the law school?

Certainly, is a sorry situation I was telling somebody just two days ago, a lawyer was drafting his statement of defence in a particular case, he said though, that the ancestor, had three female daughters.

That is what a layer wrote. That this man who found the village had three female daughters and male son, so his properties was inherited by his brothers.

So I said a lawyer who has been called to the bar and is at least four years post call.

Do you know that sometimes, lawyers coming out of the law who cannot even draft letters applying for adjournment. That is the reality of the situation; Because the products from the primary school into the secondary school into the University, weak foundations.

All of us remember by the time we left primary schools, I left primary school in 1964. We were the first set that moved from class four to elementary six. By the time you got to class four in primary school, you could write a letter. They used to call it composition in those days. You could write a beautiful essay of two or three paragraphs of three pages telling them your experience during your holidays, but look at today.

Lawyers cannot draft a simple letter applying for adjournment, is not the lawyers fault, obviously if primary education is weak, secondary education is weak at the time he got to the university with weak foundations, he was only barely able to pass and we know what is still happening to the universities. Students will go with gun points and insist that they must give them marks, which they haven’t earned.

Nobody ever heard of it and you know we used to belong to campus society in our days, those campus societies were just for what we called justification.

We were in the Palm Wine Drinkers Club you go and take a palm up to the mountain at Ife and when you finished you go and take your food.

You wouldn’t go and say because you are member of the Supreme Comorado as you called it, you are entitled to so many marks, you hold a knife at the neck of your lecturer.

How dare you enter your lecturers office and we used to have lecturers that you know we called terrorist.

So the educational system has suffered neglect at every level you know, they say primary education is for local government, Secondary for state government, tertiary for federal government. At every level, every government should do something seriously for the glory of education in our land.

There are numerous Anti corruption Agencies, but they have failed to check corruption.

When I was President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), we went on a study tour of the United States of America (USA), to study their law enforcement institutions, the FBI, the CIA, the police, the commissions responsible for appointing judges, the commission responsible for removing Judges. The institutions, we have in Nigeria are weak.

We have not put in place proper laws and proper regulations to check corruption. In that study tour, I came to know that if you were a relation of a government official, you were disqualified from being a contractor to any government agencies.

So if a commissioner or a minister awards a contract to his brother or a company belonging to his brother or sister, you haven’t started to fight corruption. When you have institutions which will regulate the police, these agencies, EFCC, ICPC you also have the Code of Conduct Bureau and the tribunal, we have not properly established.

Some police men formed EFCC with Nuhu Ribadu sooner or later, we now heard about the commission being used by the then President to intimidate his political opponents.

EFCC was now doing the work that police should do. Some EFCC officers were collecting rents, some were settling problems between husbands and wives. We have weak institutions, so if we had strong institutions, EFCC this is your responsibility, this is how you do your job, and they stocked faithfully to the principles for which they were established for, when you have proper regulations, every commissioner you know when you filled those forms for the Code of Conduct, there are certain things you declare and there are certain things you should not disclose.

I was a commissioner, there was a base upon which I awarded contract in my days in government we have what we called Tenders Board and Finance and General Purpose Committee. Those were institutions put in place by the colonial masters to check undue corruption, so those things have all disappeared.

Now, the governor can sit in one place and say to a commissioner award a contract to soso and so, and the commissioner awarding obviously will look at cases and wonder what will be the benefit of those people so the institutions have not been properly established and until they are we are beating about the bush.

EFCC cannot do it and ICPC cannot do it. How many political officeholders have been brought to book for corruption and you and I are living day and night with them in the same village and communities. The man who have difficulties buying car, somebody you saw moving on okada, he becomes a politician and the next thing he is building a mansion of three plots. I told you a story about how a policeman who was a corper bought a motorcycle and he was sent to Orderly Room to explain where he got money to buy a motor cycle. Now what do we do, we give them chieftaincy titles. We invite them as chief launchers, even government ceremonies.

No, the institutions are weak to fight corruptions and until we strengthen those institutions and the institutions include as I said the police, the courts. The courts are also weak, because the courts only deal with what you bring before it. So unless we strengthen these institutions all this talk about fighting corruptions is baldadash.

Are you interested in politics?

You know politics is something which unless you are certain that the playing field is level any sensible person will always be reserved. When politics returned to this country, people didn’t think it was a serious thing, because we have heard several series of banning and unbanning by Babangida and by Abacha. So by the time they said oh; Abubakar came up and all that yes we are really going to hold election, and hand over in May of 1999, not every body was convinced that it was a serious thing. Those who went into it ended up entering a game that the rules will keep changing on duly basis. Those who could spare in politics managed to survive all those occurrences and today they are our political leaders.

I have this strong believe that serious and credible Nigerians will have reservation before they venture into partisan politics.

Look at the recent one we are hearing from Ogun State. We have heard it in Anambra about Okija shrine. How we reached the level now our so called representatives have to go before a shrine, fetish juju shrine to swear oath of allegiance to a governor who was supposedly elected by the people, do they not understand that the power is for the people until we get that into our mentality politics is not for serious people, so, yes I have every right you know I was asked by a newspaper once, are you prepared to serve and I said “Yes I am prepared to serve.” I think it was your colleague, the headline that came out was that Okocha: I’m prepared to serve” All the friends I have in the government suddenly became my enemies – OCJ wants to run for governor he won’t let me know. If I offer myself to the people and the people find my policies and programmes attractive, they will say that this is the man we will vote for.

Barr OCJ Okocha (SAN)
Barr OCJ Okocha (SAN)