The Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices And Other Related Offences Commission ( ICPC), Barrister Ekpo Nta has disclosed that he had always enjoyed all the freedom he needs to discharge his official assignment by anybody. In the more than two hours Exclusive Interview by Arewa Trust Newspaper Crew in his office in Abuja last week Monday, Barrister Nta enumerated many of the unsung achievements of the Anti-Corruption Commission. As to how many of these numerous achievements he would like to be remembered for, he said he does not like to publicise his achievements as he leaves such achievements to posterity to judge. He said this is because some people by their very nature cannot acknowledge the modest achievements of other people. He further explained that if you mention your achievements to such people, they will look down on them by asking; and so what? what is the big deal about them? He said he and his committed members of staff of the Commission recorded their modest achievements by first recognising and admitting that Corruption is the most single biggest problem of Nigeria. He said they therefore believe that if Corruption can be reduced to the barest minimum, up to 90% of Nigeria’s problems will be solved. He said their approach to the solution of the problem of Corruption in Nigeria at the I C P C is to treat all suspects brought for prosecution as innocent until they are convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction. He said that they treat all suspects with dignity and that as a matter of deliberate policy, they subject all the suspects they are handling to medical test to determine their health status before admitting to their detention custody.
He disclosed that since the inception of I C P C, no suspect has died in their detention custody and that I C P C has never been accused of re-looting any recovered money or property by anybody .
In this exclusive interview by Arewa Trust Newspaper, Barrister Ekpo Nta bares his many on many variegated issues about Corruption and its remedies. He dwelt extensively on what he and his other members at the Commission have been doing at the Commission. Below is the interview excerpt. Happy reading.
Arewa Trust: We wish to thank you for the rare opportunity offered to Arewa Trust Newspaper, Kano to have a chat of this nature with your humble self. Sir Could you briefly tell us how do you felt when in November 2012, you resumed office as Chairman of ICPC?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Fortunately before that 2012, I had been appointed a board member before the swearing in. I was requested to act as Chairman pending when the government will sort out the perceived problems that needed clearance in respect of the person that was earlier cleared to be the Chairman.
The first impression in 2011 when I heard my name was why do I have to come into such a place when in my mindset I should be relaxing after a serious public service outing having worked throughout my life and I knew that the major problem I would be facing as a country was corruption. From day one, it was going to be something very difficult for us to having rest. But I decided that if it was a way of contributing my quota to this country, I will gladly give my experience because by way of background training I hold a B. Sc and Masters Degree in Political Science and that has to do with the study of human behaviour. I have related and interacted under different scenario and I also have a degree in law, which has to do with legal provision and what you expect the society to be. Having worked in public set up all my life. , I knew exactly what the problems were.
Arewa Trust: What was your plan to carry out your onerous task without fear or favour in view of the high rate of corruption when you assumed office?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: As for me it was very easy because when I was taking the oath of allegiance I was not taking the oath of allegiance to any person. It was an oath of allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria as provided in the constitution. That is the mistake quite a number of people make. Because you have taken an oath before somebody at the Federal, State or local Government levels that your loyalty should now be directed at that person instead of the Constitution of the Federal Republic. If you read the oath itself, it is very clear and not ambiguous. You also need to read the act establishing ICPC. For example, it says it is an independent organisation that should carry out its assignment without fear and favour. Now if you go ahead and do the exact opposite and you get into trouble so who are you going to appeal to, that you are trying to satisfy somebody at the detriment of the oath you took. When taking the oath, you are asked, which of the Holy Books you want to use for the oath. Is it Bible, Quran or any other means. You must also have it at the back of your mind the holy book that you used in that attestation, so that when you are making an appeal to higher authority, that you believe in to be true and just
with every human endeavour. And those who have had to go to court, do you say you are asked to do something by somebody when that’s not provided by the constitution. If you know you are not going to resist such temptation, then don’t take the job. It is not a do or die affair job. That has been my position in my life.
Arewa Trust: Arewa Trust Newspaper in her July edition was able to independently showcase some modest achievements you have recorded throughout the period you have been in office. Are there any other fundamental achievements you have recorded and require the knowledge of the public sir and what has been responsible for such great achievements?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Unfortunately, I have always had this penchant not to make noise about my assignment but it is even worse. The ICPC act, I think section in 64 if I am not mistaken does not allow us to publicise our activities especially on-going investigations. Should that ask us not to tell the world the kind of things we have done? Now that you have even done your independent assessment, I was actually very surprised that you have dug out so much fact, I would say that the major thing we were looking at when we came in as a board and myself heading that board was to have a basic understanding of the society and basic understanding of what government wanted to use organisations like ICPC to achieve nationally and internationally and what was the world’s perception about Nigeria. That makes life very easy because we will have targets we have to meet. ICPC was set up because the United Nations have decided that corruption was the single biggest obstacle to world peace. That if you have sorted out corruption, every other things most likely to be through. So they had this United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which was the first convention where everybody in the world believed that corruption was the major problem. It wasn’t the Nigerian problem and it wasn’t the Ghanaian problem or any specific country’s problem. Everybody agreed that each country should have its own anti corruption agency, which was independent and well funded to tackle the issue of corruption, which was identified to be cross- national. It is very important to note that corruption is cross- national. So whatever you are doing in Nigeria does not end in Nigeria. It has repercussions throughout the world. If you also do corrupt act in US, it has damaging effect in the US and across the whole world. So, when we over hype about Nigerian corruption, that Nigerians are having issues about corruption, yes, we are but it is all over the world too. If you remember the bank that crashed in the US, it affected the entire world economy. So we must address this issue. But coming back specifically to the issue you have asked us what are the achievements that we have had which probably did not get specific coverage. I must say it was for the first time we laid a theoretical framework to the fight against corruption because you can’t be fighting something you don’t know. That is why when Nigeria for once stood up to fight the Ebola epidemic, which was ravaging other African countries and people were running here and there, Nigeria took time to study what is Ebola and how can we deal with this issue and then put the right person who was focused to lead the fight. We were able to bring the scourge under control, which the international community came to learn. The same approach is what we brought in to the issue of corruption and it is not the general knowledge approach. We must have specialists who address it on theoretical basis to know what to do. We have exactly done that and most of our publications and studies have been accepted internationally. But what I think is the star case is the University’ system study. When we looked at corruption in the University sector, we had time to do very good research and those researchers started addressing specific issues. You know before that, everybody was talking about illegal degree awarding higher institutions which NUC published in its magazine and which it still publishes at the back of its magazine. I think every month. So, we were the first agency to really take a critical look and address the issue. By the end of our study, we shutdown 26 illegal degree awarding institutions across the Country. We have been) maintaining very tight surveillance on those illegal institutions. Can you imagine what effect it has on young people going to this kind of places and coming out and being told sorry your degree is a tissue paper and they cannot work anywhere. We have replicated this in various sectors of the economy, : health, education. When I mean education, we left universities and we went to the Universal Basic Education Commission and Education Boards in the States. This is because these are mass mobilization tools for government to change the society. When we look at the health sector, we are now looking at the tertiary level – hospitals, : national hospitals or teaching hospitals. We look at the basic primary health, which is supposed to be in all the rural communities. We are doing a lot of work with the Federal Ministry of Health as we speak now.
Arewa Trust: Since you came on board as Chairman of ICPC, how many corrupt cases have you prosecuted and who are those involved?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: So that we don’t have any contention. , I have a compendium of that, which has just been brought to me. I will give you as a document. But even without having to go through the document, if you go to our website, the ICPC website, we have put all the cases ICPC has been involved in from 2001 to date. I think I published that two or three years ago, the part one of it in the Guardian Newspaper, so that everybody is fully aware that there is no ambiguity about these cases. It is in the Guardian newspaper of Friday March 27, 2015 you find all these but replicated in the website. We update it every week.
All these have been replicated. I have criminal and civil cases and to make a distinction between corruption cases and other criminal cases, I have cause to publish ICPC Law Reports. We have done volumes 1,,2 and 3 now. The 4th volume will soon be accomplished. These are law reports, which were never published in this Commission. I came in and published them. Why did I do this? In court, the judges and lawyers like citing cases from law reports of decided cases. So I decide, let’s contribute to the scholarship and help judges and lawyers and even researchers because in the pronouncement of judges, people only look at the final decision. They don’t look at the whole judgment report, which shows distinction between what should be and what should not be. I will give you a very simple example. We took somebody to court, and the court at
set him free because there was no written petition against that person and held erroneously because the act says you must investigate based on a written petition or if somebody tells verbally you must reduce it to writing. Our position is that petition can come by way of intelligence. We then went on appeal and the Appeal Court upheld our position. All those lawyers and different people who had been canvassing in the past that ICPC cannot act without a petition is old story now. We can act based on any information we received or via intelligence. In answer to your question, how many corrupt cases? I don’t like giving figures. It is you that will do that research because all the materials are on the website now and we update this on weekly basis specifying the parties involved, the court where it is, dates so that you can even follow the next date as we even publish the new date when we will be going to court. That is where I now challenge the media that the moment we file a case in court, and you cover the arraignment, everybody now relaxes. You don’t have a team that is following the case unlike what happens abroad. Then you begin to say the judge has compromised, ICPC staff and law enforcement staff have compromised. Even if they did not compromise and think they are not receiving due attention, there’s likelihood that somebody would like to play some games. Whereas, if it is in the public domain and report exactly what is happening in court, people will think twice before trying to be funny. The mass media have major roles to play in that respect, of not just looking at the case on the first day of arraignment. Follow the case step by step. I remember the case where we arraigned somebody, one Adeyanju who was involved in a fraud of almost a billion at the Federal Ministry of Environment. It created sensation on the day of arraignment but after that, no paper was reporting anything about it, which means that one has gone off the radar whereas if you had a dedicated reporter, people would be very careful as to what is happening.
Apart from these law reports, which we have done, we have also published all the interim seizures of assets or monies we have recovered, farmlands, vehicles and the rest that ICPC had ever been involved in. It is on our website. I think we are probably the only agency in this country, law enforcement or anti corruption that had put all our seizures in the public domain. If you go to our website you will see them there. So, the issue of somebody accusing ICPC of re-looting items we have recovered has been laid to rest. We did not only publish the list, names, amount, location but also the bank account to which the monies have been paid in to. Initially we used to have ICPC Recovery account that was domiciled in Zenith bank. But with coming of TSA, all such monies go into a Federal Government recovery account at the Central bank. We make sure that when we are talking about a particular subject matter, we have the pictures of those items on the website.
We recovered 40 vehicles taken away by retiring personnel of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources. The Ministry did not have enough vehicles to carry out day today activities of the Ministry. But this group of people left with 40 vehicles when they retired. We recovered the vehicles and gave it back to the Ministry. We did not just call them to take the vehicles so that tomorrow somebody will come out to say one vehicle is missing or is with the ICPC. We called a national press conference and got all the television stations here. It was a public handover so that there is nothing like ambiguity that when the vehicle was going towards certain direction and, it deviated and one got missing or is with ICPC. That’s our approach.
The monies we recovered too were returned publicly to the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Environment and it was covered by the Press. About the same time, we recovered money from a Federal Government Pay Officer in Abeokuta, who had taken money meant for feeding of secondary school children – three Federal Colleges. We recovered the monies and did the presentation same day publicly. Do you know why we did this? We could have taken the matter to court and the matter is actually in court. We can keep the money, the children do not have food to eat, they riot, school property destroyed. So we went to court and told the court, this is the exhibit, this is the money. We want an order of court to return the money to the victims while the case goes on. The court gave us the go ahead and we did it publicly because tomorrow we didn’t want stories of we recovered the money and they couldn’t see the money any more. We publicised it in our public enlightenment newsletter apart from the external press that covered it. The whole thing about fighting corruption is very simple, : transparency and openness. The moment you do it, even the suspect or the accused will see that this is an open process himself. Is this the vehicle we recovered from you?
He will say yes. We are returning it to the owner and you will be there to see it done. So you cannot go back tomorrow and say that an investigator of ICPC took the vehicle and he is the one driving the vehicle. Why I am saying this is because we had a case involving a
Customs officer. We got the petition from somebody who lives in the U.K. He said he sent a vehicle to his parents and it was hijacked by a Customs officer who formulated all kinds of excuses and auctioned the vehicle and the same officer bought the vehicle. He brought the petition here. It took us about three years to resolve the issue. We had the officer prosecuted and he was convicted. We sent the judgment to the petitioner in UK.
This is why I am glad that the present Control General of Custom is now simplifying the process of auctioning seized vehicles so that anybody can bid. I am only hoping that those bid processes in future is displayed in a very simple language because he himself has complained about the processes being tampered with ahead of time by those who are I.T. savvy. He even wants to make an electronic interface. He must make sure it is very good so that people who want to play games are checked. It is possible because I do not know if any of you sitting down here has been able to cheat GSM people or you want to make free calls. The moment your credit get finished, your calls go off. Whereas in the past if it was NITEL you can call them and say please now you know me. I always pay my bill at the end of the month. That is how we crashed NITEL.
Arewa Trust: As head of Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, do you think you had enough freedom to execute your assignments? If yes, what was the level of freedom and if no, why and how have you been able to succeed?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Well, so far so good, I can speak for myself. I can also speak for the previous Chairmen of this Commission. ICPC luckily has had track records of Chief Executives who have interpreted their freedom in relationship to the Act. If you don’t go in line with the Act and allow your freedom to be curtailed, you are strictly on your own. I have not had anybody insist on me doing something contrary to what we have. .Sometimes, if such kind of pressure comes, it is not enough to tell the person off. He might not know. You have to explain the consequence of misusing the power. As ICPC Chairman I should be able to get all my children into any government agency for employment. That is what everybody outside thinks including my relations. That as ICPC Chairman you mean you cannot give me jobs. What ICPC is all about? It means abuse of public office for private gain. If I use my office to get you something that you are not entitled to, I will be the Chief culprit. It is a very unpopular feeling. And that is why as ICPC Chairman, if I go to the bank, because once in a while I do go to my bank, if they find me on queues, even the bankers are worried that why should I stand in the line when I could simply walk straight to the Bank Manager. But I have to send message to the public that if I am law abiding, you too should be law abiding. I have travelled a lot outside the country. For everybody that knows me, I obey all regulations made by the Federal Airports Authority. If they say remove your shoes or sandals when passing through the screening, I will remove. Can we see your hand luggage, I will do it. Because if you don’t, who do you think should?. But most of the senior citizens have been brainwashed to believe that your being a big man is equivalent to how you flout regulations. For me, it is the exact opposite.
Arewa Trust: Sir, some time in 2016, there was rumour that you had been removed from office, until the Secretary to the Government of the Federation corrected the rumour saga, Sir, what exactly happened?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: It was rumour and you saw it in the papers especially in the social media. For those who were driving in the traffic they saw it. Didn’t they stop to buy the papers? At least, they have sold their paper.
Arewa Trust: Sir, were you hurt?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Why Should I be hurt. As public officers, If you get hurt when you see such things, then you will probably die before your time. See, one thing you must know in life, if you know the right thing, then go ahead and do the right thing. There are officers who are ready to step into your work on daily basis. There are others who think that for them to do certain things, the person there should be removed or should die. As a civil servant, we are used to all these things. If you have a person who is made a Director and is 35 and he is to retire at the age of 60, you know what the people below him will be thinking? They will pray for higher office for him so that he can go elsewhere so that they too can become Directors. But if he doesn’t go anywhere and he is still in that place, others might think can’t this man have stroke?. People think in different ways but the unfortunate thing is that when you do such things and it gets into the international domain, you are actually bringing your country to disrepute.
I think we must begin to prescribe punishment for such activities because it is not everybody who can take it. Different countries will react in a different manner to such information or misinformation. We might think it is a laughing matter, you can see what is going on currently that is overheating the polity because of the license, people have assumed that you are in lawless society and you can write whatever you feel you are writing. For me as a person, I can ignore such things. But there are others who probably might not be able to take it. This is why the law of defamation comes in. But, more than that when serious newspapers are involved it is disgraceful. You can see that the principal newspaper where it emanated from and it got that without confirmation, do you think they are being taken seriously in the comity of publishers and of serious readership? There are certain things, which you do and damage your own medium that it would not be taken seriously any more. So the papers themselves have to be very serious about seeking information that come to them.
Arewa Trust: Sir, what about the academic training of ICPC? I mean its nature, purpose and challenges.
Barrister Ekpo Nta: That is a very in-depth question. Like I said before, if you don’t
have good theory, you cannot have good practice. That was the whole essence why we decided to look at well designed academic training. In the first instance, all the Officers in ICPC in the officer’s cadre have very good tertiary qualifications and professional qualifications and that I am very proud of. As I speak to you, if you are looking for professional accountants in this country by
organisations, I am not too sure except for the Auditor General office and Accountant General office and such offices where they are, you will find the crop of accountant we have including Fellows of Chartered Institute. That is how serious we take academic qualifications. When you deal with complex corruption matters, it is not just anybody that can address it. You must be very intelligent to be able to go through the matrix. Stealing a goat is very easy to trace and arrest the person but by the time you sit down and organise the removal of one billion naira, then you know that person must have some sophistication going through the checks and balances of any loophole.
We have a very generous policy of training in ICPC. Quite a number of staff are still improving themselves in various academic institutions on part time basis and to give serious response to what you have raised, in 2012 I did more international trainings for ICPC staff than they have ever seen between 2001 when we came into inception and 2011.
I am saying this because they are all here without missing target. That gave us big mileage, we went to institutions all over the world. We did not stop at that of just sending you abroad for training. We designated a day, I think Fridays, for the staff to present power point presentation in the auditorium in front of all the staff of the Commission and members of the board. You make your presentation as to how your training will make this place better. That was a very unique process. That also aided us to identify star staff who we probably never knew during the presentation, When we saw that foreign exchange might be an issue, and money might become an issue for training, we set up our specialized academy at Keffi and it is specifically an IT based place. I am proud to say it is one of the best in Common Wealth Africa because if I say in Nigeria, it is like we are always competing with people here. Why I am saying so is because there is British delegate who went there and said this is the best we have seen in the country. So, I am now moving my own out. I suggest you take time to go and inspect the place. We run even JAMB Exam as a centre for JAMB and we have been adjudged as one of the best in the country. All our promotions and confirmations are done there in CBT. We got international assistance such that we now have online interface training. You can deliver a lecture from Harvard University and from anywhere in the world. That is why the Law Report you have seen is a product of our staff. When we review our operations from the different sectors of the economy, we are doing it from the position of authority because we have experts that can address all those issues. And if we don’t have in house, we know where to look for. We are doing an investigation of some massive buildings in one of the Universities currently. Because we had an MOU with COREN, the Council for Registered Engineers, they have given us a Fellow. We have also gotten a Fellow from the Nigerian Institute of Architects to work with our investigators. So, that tells you that we leverage heavily on academic expertise. Most of our in house jobs that we do in ICPC, we don’t go looking for Consultant to come and supervise you because we have in- house Consultants, highly qualified who do the supervision and it is good for them because they would have to apply to be Fellows of their various institutes and we have examples of work on ground that we can show.
Arewa Trust: What can you say about the relationship of this Commission to other subregions of anti corruption bodies?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Oh, like I told you before, the United Nation Convention against Corruption requires that most countries of the world, if not all, should have anti corruption agencies. So, ICPC is part of the anti corruption family. We attend meetings of Heads of anti corruption agencies in the world. We have an association. We also attend meetings in Vienna i.e. the United Nation Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which is more or less the coordinating body in the world for anti corruption. In the last four to five years, a new body has come up, which is the Heads of Anti Corruption Agencies in the Commonwealth in Africa. We belong to that Association and we had several meetings and interaction in South Africa. Botswana, Ghana and I think one was held in Namibia. We are all part of that process. In addition, we relate with theInternational Anti Corruption Academy (IACA) in Austria, which is the highest training institute in the world on corruption issues. I am proud to say that I was elected Board member on that academy to represent Africa. It runs from 2016 to 2022. This shows you how rated ICPC is. On the African Union, they have a Board that deals with corruption. ICPC had for almost four years running had board member nominated to serve on that board. The first lady , also a board member of ICPC who served there was Dame Nwariaku. She had two terms on that board. After her was Alhaji Isa Salami who was also a board member of ICPC serving on the Anti Corruption Board of the African Union. In terms of those relationships, we are very much in place. The Provost of our academy, Professor Shola Akinyade was a one-time rapporteur of the international anti corruption academy in Vienna. We have very good interactions. In about a week, the anti corruption agency in Cameroon is coming here for a visit. So, we have all these interactions going on.
Arewa Trust: Sir, recently, ICPC invaded the residence of the former Vice President of Nigeria, Arc. Namadi Mohammed Sambo to carry out search based on the information of a whistle blower. The search was unsuccessful and we understand the head of your Kaduna Unit was put on suspension as well as the whistle blower arrested for prosecution. What actually went wrong?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Nothing went wrong. When you have this whistle blower policy, which is a policy that is in place everywhere in the world, for such persons coming in, the first thing you do is let them understand what the whistle blower policy is all about and the consequences. The consequences are very serious. Under the ICPC act, it carries ten years jail term. With the new amendment that id coming by the national assembly, it carries seven years jail term. One of the most infractions you can commit under the act because if you are going out of your way to tarnish anybody’s image, be very careful about the consequences. The truth is that this Commission does not target any human being. We don’t! When you provide credible evidence or what we call credible intelligence. In this case, it had to do with the property and the property was said to belong to a former Minister. We got there because if you don’t even go after your due diligence as to what and what should be done, then you are not doing the right thing yourself. It is like somebody coming to tell you that look there is a robbery going on in the bank just now. And you said I have been to that bank before with this kind of thing, so nothing was happening and I wouldn’t go. Supposing this time, it is true. Are you getting the point?
Arewa Trust: Yes Sir
Ekpo Nta: Ahaaa! It has nothing to do with persons whatsoever. We have operational strategy for addressing the processes. If at one point, you don’t do the right thing, you also as a staff, you will face disciplinary action. Because all this is designed to protect Nigerians no matter who you are. Otherwise, like in the past, you are struggling with a family member over family land and one day, there is a robbery in your village church. You now run to the police and tell the police that I saw the person who did this robbery, it is my uncle because he knows if that uncle is taken away, access to that land becomes easy. He has nothing to do with the robbery that took place. This is a true story I am telling you because I have been a witness to this. By the time the police investigated and found the truth, do you
think they should leave that kind of a whistle blower? These are the processes, which for me, it is also a warning. If you are coming to ICPC to think you can bamboozle anybody or bring things you know are not hundred per cent correct, we give room for error too, then you should be ready to face the consequences.
People have built their names over the years. I can imagine everybody’s anger when you are faced with this. It is all part of life and one has to move on with life. You asked me initially that how did you feel when on the paper you saw that you are sacked? I might not feel very angry as a person. Like I told you, I didn’t feel anything but what about your relations? What about your counterparts in other part of the world who see it? If you are dealing with ICPC and know that you are pursuing free money to spoil people’s name, we will also come after you with the same zeal that we use in our job. That is why we don’t like publicising anything, and if you notice, till date, we have not made any public statement apart from you asking me now. So, some of the statements that have been going out everywhere did not emanate from ICPC. They are all conjectures. It was an absolute ICPC operations, some will go well, some would not go well.
But that does not mean we shirk our responsibilities from doing what is right. We want to conclude that we have received many whistle blowers tips like this and when we did the evaluation that they had nothing, we did not move. People might think that every whistle blower that comes here, we move immediately. No, we wouldn’t. We have to do our background check. Sometimes we need to move very fast because the person would say if you don’t go today, we know the money is moving today. This shortens your time of doing long term diligence. The whistle blower incentive can be cloud your reasoning. May be, this is also a good question you asked because may be in the past, I would have said I wouldn’t answer this. But I am answering it so that it becomes a warning to those that have a malicious bent but for those who are genuine, we work with them.
Arewa Trust: Sir, you are aware of the on going internal wrangling between the Minister of health and the Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme. The issue is generating in to financial scandal. As a body mandated to check corrupt practices of government agencies, what have you done and/or are you doing to unravel the financial mess between the two government agencies?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: First, I can confirm that the National Health Insurance Scheme has been under investigation, not even starting today. It has been going on. I think last year when the full report had not come out, some social media and one certain magazine went ahead and reported the scoop and we did not respond because our Act says do not publicize on- going investigations. We wouldn’t release report until we are hundred per cent sure that we are taking people to court or we are clearing people so that we do not get into media trials at all. For this question, I can tell you that I have absolutely no comment on an on- going matter. I can’t tell you what we are doing or what we are not doing
doing. When the report is ready, we would come out. Already, like you have said if I say anything, I may begin to jump the gun and that would not be fair on all the parties involved. We have very clear mandate on what to do.
Arewa Trust: Sir, what disciplinary measure put in place to check any excesses of your personnel at the Commission?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: They are all (staff) here looking at me. Even in your house, you also have rules and regulations. In some compounds, after 9pm, they will lock their gates and you will sleep at wherever you went to. Some have it at 10pm and some even put it at 1pm. If we do not have such regulations in our agency, then the agency does not worth its salt. We are very particular about the behaviour and character of every staff because the weakest link in a chain can cause that chain to cut. If you are riding a bicycle and one link is bad and it cuts, that will be the end of the bicycle’s movement. That is how serious we take it here. The good thing is that we have our handbook which prescribes the punishment or processes that we should adopt if we have infractions. But to answer your question specifically, we had set up what is called an intelligence and support unit in the Commission and part of its function is to have an oversight intelligence function over the behaviour of staff and to vet what is happening around. If you are found wanting, you will be given a very fair opportunity to defend yourself. In law enforcement agencies, you may face summary trial. Unfortunately, we are unable to do such thing here because we have to go through processes. But by and large, I think we are doing extremely well principally because our population is small. We are still under 900 for the whole country and so, we virtually know each and every staff and what they can do and what they cannot do. There are certain things somebody would do and I ask around he would say Oga. it is most likely it is this person. So, we have given them a lot of training and these days as jobs are very hard to come by, if you want to put your job on the line, fine. By and large, I am very impressed with the majority of officers who are working here. This is because when you look at the kind of things we have had to do and the budget that was given in the past, then it is a miracle that the members of staff have remained what they are.
Arewa Trust: What kind of welfare have you given to your personnel not to develop long throat on the course of carrying out their tasks?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Well, the first thing is to let them know that having a long throat comes with certain consequences. If you swallow a live fish, it will not go up and it will not go down. It will hook and so you have a choice. In terms of welfare, I am very happy to state that since I came into this commission, we have not owed staff their salaries by even one week except for the last month (June), which was across board for the public service, which I think salaries spilt over for a week into the next month. We have always been very sure that you get your salary and allowances as at when due. That is the greatest incentive as a civil servant or public officer.
When I listened to what is happening in some states where staff have not received salaries for seven months and you claim to be an ongoing State? We introduced some allowances which we cannot disclose. For training, we don’t compromise that here. We don’t see training as a luxury. It is your due and for you to perform you must get that training. You don’t need to lobby anybody. I have a training committee that virtually does all the selections based on the criteria that has been worked out ahead of time. So the issue of if the Chairman doesn’t like my face, I wouldn’t go on training or I need to go and meet the Chairman does not arise in ICPC. If the funds are there you get your training. I am happy to state that in the course of this, a lot of the international donors offer free or partial training opportunities locally and internationally to our staff. They have seen the quality of staff here, they write back to say we are very proud of the contributions your staffers have made.
I made several attempts to see that we have our own specialised housing estate and all that but largely it wasn’t successful. So they have been left to be using their own means through cooperative society and some assistance from the administration. That I think is very unfortunate and government must look at that. Why it is even worse, you don’t have quarters for Chairman of ICPC. We have to be going cap in hand and it is unheard of in any anti corruption agency in other parts of the world – that the Chairman of ICPC should be faced with heavy problem of not knowing where he is going to lay his head? So, that is one incentive I would insist that government should do the right thing.
Arewa Trust: Sir, in a couple of few months ahead, your tenure as the ICPC CHAIRMAN will lapse. What do you want to be remembered for after serving five years term at the Commission?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: I will leave that judgment to history because people know what we saw and what we have done and what we haven’t done. If I say I have done this and I am very proud of doing that, somebody would probably say, what is the big deal about that?. I normally leave such thing to posterity to decide and records to decide. For me, life is a continuous process, do what you can. Do not discredit the past, build on the past and don’t also remove the ladder for people who are coming to do what you are doing and ensure a level playing ground, give opportunities to everybody and move on with your life. But most critically, I have been able to let everybody know that a job in this place and any place is not do or die affair. Do the best you can and move on. What I might do that looks easy here, let somebody else come and do it and put value.
We come with different specialisation, somebody else might come and have innovations that you have not done. That’s the style of the thing but the central core value of the system must remain, which is, anybody who is talking about ICPC outside should say. I trust that organisation and that is the bottom line. I trust the headship of the place to be fair and that is what I met with the previous heads and I have refused to go back. ICPC will not be involved in anything that is not fair. The message is very clear. ICPC is not a loud organisation.
ICPC obeys and adheres to human rights. Anybody that is detained here for one reason or the other would never go out to say he was mistreated because we hold the principle that only the court says you are guilty. We treat you in a very civil manner and to give credence to that, if they bring you here that you should be detained, we don’t just throw you into detention. You must go through full medical checks in our unit or a nearby medical hospital. If it is therefore a medical advice that we cannot do that at the detriment of your health, we let you go or at the worst, we detain you in a hospital. Sometimes some suspects only come here to realise that they have life threatening ailment after we have checked because they never knew. Indeed, one of our suspects had been suppressing his hernia for long until he came here. I think out of anxiety, the thing became full blown. We did not release him to his family. We asked him to go through surgery which. we paid for.
Because he was facing serious problem and the money he took was huge, we still spent much money on him to make sure his health is paramount. We paid over N300,000 but who would like to do such?. They will tell you, go and meet your family. We went through that process. When he went to court, he was misled by his lawyer to say that he was not well treated and so he should be allowed bail. The Judge gave bail conditions that they could meet immediately, the court said he should be detained in Kuje and he objected seriously. He said No, they should take him back to ICPC for detention. On our part, we said if we treated you badly, why would you like to come back to us? Go to Kuje where they have better facilities. We made sure that he was taken to Kuje and we understand he had serious quarrel with his lawyer thereafter that he was misadvised. These are the kind of things we should always have at the back of our mind as citizens of this country. When we treat each other in a fair and just manner, most of the troubles perceived that exists between the federating units will disappear because if we know that I am Chairman of ICPC and I come from certain geopolitical zone and you are from different geopolitical zone, but I have taken personal interest in your welfare, as accorded by the international law, would you be looking for somebody from your zone to go to such places because you believe that whoever is doing the right thing in public office, is fair by you. Why don’t you go to hospitals to say I want the Doctor to come from my village even if he is not specialised in the field. We are looking for the best doctor, are we not?. Then we pretend to be foolish outside. When you go to the airport, why can’t you refuse to go into the aircraft because the Pilot is not from your village?. All you want to know is are these airlines safe?. Do they have good policy and they say yes. At that point, you are not asking where does the pilot come from. If you are in position of authority, be it legislative. executive or judiciary, if you have that principle at the back of your mind, you will influence the common man to believe in Nigeria, and that is why you see me doing this job and not because of the salary. The salary is pittance compared to what I know I can earn outside. But somebody has to do this leadership aspect of a thing.
Arewa Trust: Sir, how do you see the future of this country in respect to the Fight against corruption?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Well, the good thing is that with the current President coming to re-galvanize the war against corruption, mind you every government has its own approach to fight corruption. What has now happened is the total galvanizing of the populace to understand that I am a victim of corruption. Before, it was why are you harassing this person, is it because he is from my place? Now we are approaching a situation where even citizens from different communities will report the corrupt person in their community to the law enforcement now. That is the major thing I am beginning to see and the moment we all agree that we are victims, the fight against corruption would have been won. Does it not surprise the people that is why each time it is announced that fantastic amount of money is recovered, everybody will say, ah! ah!!, this is very bad and after that, they go to sleep and wait for another announcement. Whereas you can do something very simple, starting from the primary school where your children go to school, they come and say, Daddy or Mummy, my teacher was not in the school today. A good parent will march to the school and find out why the teacher was not in the school. If he is not satisfied he goes to the head teacher, if still not satisfied, he goes to the Chairman of PTA (Parents Teachers Association) and if you are not satisfied, you go to Commissioner of Education that this is not acceptable. By the time you do this, you think the teachers in that school would begin to relax? But we are afraid, you will say they will victimize my child. Who says if all the parents get together, you can victimize any child? You send your child to school, no toilet, no laboratory, no library and you have WAEC and NECO doing public exam and you expect you children to compete with the children from well equipped private schools or good public schools and expect that they will not cheat and when they cheat, you begin to beat the child or report the child to law enforcement, whereas you are the one who created that environment. You didn’t give the child a level playing ground. Are we getting the distinction?
It is the major thing that we must wake up and begin to do the right things. You are in a vehicle, you are accosted with different people with different type of uniforms, may be tax officials and all what not. They tell the driver, give us N50, N100 or N200 and the man says for what, I have all my particulars or I have paid all my taxes and insists I am not going to do that. Who will begin to object that you are wasting my time, can’t you give this money and let’s pass. Is that not what happens? Whereas if everybody stood up and says on what basis are you doing this? Ok, give us the paper, we will go and pay in his office and they say No. Park your car in the middle of the road, traffic will build up, everybody will come down and begin to ask, what is happening here? You think those people will stand? They say stubborn person, carry your trouble and go away.
They begin to work on those who are weak. You go to hospital, and nobody is attending to you and another big man walks in and you will see all the Doctors running around and you pay tax. How are you sure the big man is even paying his tax? And then you go home you are very angry in your bedroom. Who cares and who is hearing you getting angry in your bedroom? But if you raise your voice in the hospital that if anything happens to my child here, there will be problem and people begin to gather, everybody will begin to sit up. Then you leave there and go to report to the civil society.
So, this exercise you are doing, for ICPC, we just don’t stop at this. We train Journalist in investigative reporting. In fact, I think in 2012/2013 when we had a bit of money under the vote to assist training, when I sent out my staff, I picked journalists from five different news print and electronic media . I sent them to Dubai with our own media team for training on investigative journalism as it relates to corruption. We signed an MOU with them and their organizations that we are not doing this as a bribe. If you go and come back and find anything in ICPC where corruption or where the Chairman is doing anything that is not right, you are free to publish. It wasn’t about bribe that if you come back, don’t write anything about me or ICPC. No, it is not like that. We did it and if we have money again, we shall repeat it. Mass media is a very powerful tool in changing people’s mind set. By even small investigation you can change the society. I go to church, I go to Mass, I stand there and see that in the whole car park, you find at least 10% of them are government cars being driven by the children of the elites, or the children or wife of public servants driving officials cars to the church, what message are you passing? If the journalist decided to go to the church and take pictures of the government cars that are in the premises on Sunday and publish it on front page to show that this is how our common resources are being spent, tell me if on the next Sunday, you will see any one with official car. It looks simple but you can change the whole of the society. Some top officials want gets to be known as big people because of the number of government cars parked in their premises. In ICPC, as Chairman of ICPC, as soon as you drop me in my place, the car comes back here to park every day. On weekend you will not find me unless I have official assignment that the driver comes to pick me and then we go for the assignment. Some of these things that are happening,
the mass media can even do more than ICPC and EFCC by publicising. The next thing that they will do is to change the official number to private number. I will not go for the whole cars. I will target about ten vehicles and I will know the vehicles. When they change the number, I will take the new number and same vehicle and publish it again on the front page that the cars I reported last week, they have changed the processes, which is an abuse of public office. You will see a total change because when these guys begin to appropriate and use these things, when they want to go, why wouldn’t they carry the vehicles? There are so many processes you can change and if you do not let our children begin to demonstrate, you can go to one university or polytechnic, in fact secondary school, take the pictures, no laboratory, no toilet, no this and then ask, why will the children not cheat in the future?
That is the question that you have for the school and the Schools have Federal Inspectors of education coming for inspection and collecting inspection money. Now that they have not done public exam for these children to cheat, when the report hits the public, Commissioners for Education will send for inspectors and same for Directors. How come this kind of thing is happening like this? I will put two schools together, put this community school at one side of the paper, front page and put public school one page for comparison.
Arewa Trust: Sir, what are the various challenges you faced throughout your period as the ICPC chairman?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Well, the first challenge there is that I have not had enough time for my family and in some instances my family has had to be deprived of their own freedom of movement because our society is a society that when ICPC takes a decision, it must be Chairman taking the decision. If you are arrested by the police on the road, then it must be the IG who says they must arrest you. They don’t distinguish between the organisation and the person heading. So, if you are angry, they want to take it on the person themselves. Two, my privacy. I cannot go to certain places and socialise. It is very obvious and organisational challenge that the kind of funding that we give to anti corruption must be realistic. If 90% of your headache is corruption, it does make sense that you should invest more in that set up. I will use a very simple example. You have a project of ten million Naira and because of corruption, you lose conservatively about four million to corruption out of ten million. If you invest in corruption and put one million on prevention of an agency, you will reduced that four million you have lost to one million. So you now have extra three million to do your job, which give you eight million. But you wake up and give to the person who should be able to block all the loopholes for you fifty thousand Naira and say, my friend go and manage. You take all the money and come back and tell the person and say we have established you, why are you not working?
We are speaking in abstract terms, so I will bring you home. Drive through Asokoro, Maitama and other places where you have plenty of new houses. Beautiful houses and duplexes, I am sure you have seen them. Have you taken time to look at the security post? In all the beautiful mansions you see, which is the worst property inside the building? Is it not the security post? They make it as if it is a dog that will stay there. In fact, you cannot lie down straight in the security post. No mosquito netting and if you are lucky, they put one small toilet and no shower cubicle. So, you take your shower and it wets the whole floor you are also using as your toilet. At the end of the day, the person who is staying there if they are two, because of mosquitoes, they close the window. They can hardly breath. And you are in your one billion Naira mansion with your children and AC in all the rooms. Now, who is being stupid?
The man who is staying the whole night to watch all of you, you make his life very uncomfortable. That is the story of Anti corruption. If you design the security post like most intelligent people would do, you put security Camera all over your house and get your house fenced and you put the monitor in the security post, and it is in wide good space, the security man with his intercom is watching, he doesn’t need to come out. Through, the monitor any movement in the premises, he will see you first and he will raise an alarm and call you on your intercom that “Oga, it looks that we have some funny people around”. You can then contact the police immediately.
In fact, CCTV has even gone ahead now to have what we called Movement Censor. You can sleep as a security man. If anybody moves in that premises, the CCTV will make an alarm inside your room and you wake up and you will see. Wouldn’t you like to be a security man in such an environment? What do we do? You make life very impossible for the man. In fact, he will even become the whistle blower himself that I saw when they are bringing Ghana Must Go bag even if it contains your clothing. It is the same scenario. Is there anybody who should receive better treatment than workers of law enforcement agencies and anti corruption commissions?
And then finally, the major obstacle of should we merge or should we not merge? You are working in an organisation where anybody that comes would say, oh merge, scrap. What will you feel working in such a place? Would you be dedicated 100%?. One would begin to say let me look around somewhere else where my future can be guaranteed. You must begin to make people think that they can work for say thirty years and my future is guaranteed. Don’t create problems. I am speaking this way because I owe nobody not telling the truth. I am not going to work here for ever. These (pointing to his members of staff present during the interview) are the permanent staff who will work here. If I don’t tell the truth in a place where I want people to be my correct representatives, then I am not doing the right thing in the country. Before I came to ICPC, there was always this story of merger or no merger. It keeps reoccurring. I had a team from NIPSS who came here, made up of Army Officers, police and some others who are in strategic planning. An officer stood up, I think from the Army and asked me. Don’t you think we should merge anti corruption agencies into one, ICPC, EFCC. CODE OF CONDUCT to save cost? I said, fantastic! I don’t have any problem with merging ICPC, EFCC, CODE OF CONDUCT as one since you are the one asking the question. It would even save us more money if we merge ARMY, NAVY and AIR FORCE as one. He said No! No!! No!!! Because I brought it back home to him. but I said you are doing the same thing, you are all fighting and protecting the territorial integrity. He said No, we have different specialisation. So, why didn’t you go and read the mandates of the agencies. You think those who set up these agencies are stupid?
Let me give you the technical reason why these agencies are operating the way they are. The United Nations Convention against Corruption said all countries should have anti corruption agencies to deal with the issues of corruption. We should be well funded and we should be independent. But, this is section one. Section two says, in addition, they should set up other specialised agencies to address emerging criminal tendencies like money laundering and drugs. This was how EFCC came to address issue of money laundering and NDLEA was set up to address drugs. Then we have gone beyond more emerging trends to set up NAPTIP, trafficking in human persons. Now, new trend has emerged in internet scam and cyber crime. They now have a national council on cyber security. You see how these things are set up. If you do not understand the international reasoning, you will be confusing yourself in Nigeria, running round the circles and destabilising everybody who should be focused on what he is doing. It is not a Nigerian creation that people who have not read all these international aspect will stand one day and begin to make pronouncement.
Arewa Trust: Sir, what has been your relationship with the executive and National Assembly in the execution of your work?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Oh, under the act we must relate with both. We must relate with executive to draw our action plans and look at the main thrust of executive to reduce corruption because those act of corruption we have to report to them that these are your agencies that are doing XYZ. With the National Assembly, we have to relate with them for oversight functions. They have committees that does oversight on ICPC. so, you must also relate to them on what you’re doing. Your budget defence must also go to them so that they are in full picture of what is happening. ICPC has always had very good relationship with all sectors and that is the way it should be.
Arewa Trust: Finally Sir, briefly, what is your assessment of Arewa Trust?
Barrister Ekpo Nta: I had not actually been reading the paper. But what impressed me most was when I saw your pullout edition on ICPC and the research you had done, this is how the mass media should run. Do your independent assessments and finding. My wife was the one who first saw the report and read through and said you people have done so much and you have not made this kind of publicity. She has made permanent record of all the cuttings of the publication you have made. That has even given me an idea if I can have some compendium myself. Because when you are working in this place, you don’t have time to think about yourself or what to do. You simply keep moving in line with your strategic action plan, which you set for the Commission. If you go this way the way you are going I think you have a great future because some of the questions you raised here, I am not too sure if some other people would like to ask such kind of controversial, indepth processes, which means you have done a lot of research before coming up.
I want this to be a more permanent relationship and I have also pointed to you the areas, which you can run independently to help our society. We will be very happy to collaborate and in the past, one or two operations that we took out under cover of the University system when we were doing the investigations, we went with pressman who worked as if they are ICPC staff so that they could see the style with which we do our things and their reporting thereafter can be very objective.
It will help us because at the end of the day, you need to have better welfare facilities for staff of this commission. You don’t expect me to send a driver and some staff to say, Kano for an investigation, then I give the driver five thousand naira per night to go and find his hotel and eat from there and you expect that you are not putting that man in line of temptation because the budget says he is entitled to five thousand naira. His staff counterparts in other part of the world would take the same amount like his Director. He needs to stay in the same environment. If you go to Lagos, which hotel would you use five thousand naira to stay unless you go to the outskirt, and most likely the kind of people you will meet there are the hoodlums, who you will be associating with in the same hotel. If there is a raid, they will come and carry you that you are of the Indian hemp smokers there. There are certain levels that we expect for our staff.
That is why you should carry out an independent survey and help advise government that these are things that we must do and look at seriously. I hope you will also take time to look at the pension regime. I was in government at the time when if you retire, government paid you for life until you die. But with the contributory pension scheme, which I have time now to investigate properly, carry out your research how long are you entitled and what effect is that age for the people in service so that you can help government and the relevant authorities to propose new and good changes. Because some of these PFAs would tell you after 15 years, and by then you should be about 75, we may not have enough funds to run the balance of your life. Whereas in truth the older you are the more money you need for your health. So, we must have a social insurance scheme. I am happy that the Federal Government has started something introductory but we need to make it broad and faster. These are the foundation that fuel corruption at the top. Corruption we are talking about is above the ground. It is like is house. The foundation you don’t know what they have used. If you don’t finish the foundation well, people would automatically do what they should not do. That’s the whole aspect we must begin to work with to change our society and good governance. How do you feel when you see somebody on television begging for money for transplant or whatever? It is a national shame. Are we so poor that we cannot address the 0.1% of citizens that have problems? I am not comfortable to hear that someone has just built a government lodge for the comfort of the Chief Executive at the rate of ten billion naira and you call the press and showcase the building and in the same State, somebody is looking for one million for medical attention. I will rather build a beautiful duplex or bungalow and then all the citizens in that State know that if I have medical problem in my State, government will address it for me. They are more satisfied with that kind of governance than coming to look at fantastic buildings. Governance is not about buildings. It is about people. When people are happy, things will be plain and make your governance relaxed.
Arewa Trust: Thank you very much. If you look at Arewa Trust Newspaper, our logo that we want to believe in is “we stand by the truth of the fact.” We thank you for having the opportunity to speak with you. We will do our job as cherished and espoused by journalism profession without fear or favour .
Barrister Ekpo Nta: Thank you.