How Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Spoke Truth to Power in An Audacious Manner

How Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, Spoke Truth to Power in An Audacious Manner

With President Tinubu listening with rapt attention, Senate President Godswill Akpabio taking copious notes and Security Adviser Nuhu Ribadu clapping in adoration, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, former President Nigeria Bar Association and human rights activist, proffered solutions to a myriad of Nigeria’s challenges; from wholesale re-written of the constitution, to electoral reforms, to the economy,

With President Tinubu listening with rapt attention, Senate President Godswill Akpabio taking copious notes and Security Adviser Nuhu Ribadu clapping in adoration, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, former President Nigeria Bar Association and human rights activist, proffered solutions to a myriad of Nigeria’s challenges; from wholesale re-written of the constitution, to electoral reforms, to the economy, to administration of the judiciary and power devolution.

He spoke Thursday as a Guest Speaker at the Lecture/ Colloquium in honour of the Senate President (Dr.) Godswill Obot Akpabio, CON for his 61st birthday. His topic: “Volcanic Explosion of an uncommon Agenda for Development”, also focused on the issue of governance, revenue generation and jobs creation among others.

He spoke with conviction and clarity of thoughts; he was audacious and assertive in his delivery. For every problem he proffered a solution. His well-researched paper appeared tailor-made for a nation in search of fresh thinking, out of the box. Implementing some of his suggestions would make Nigeria stand on its feet again within a short time.

Please read excerpts from the transcription as compiled by Olusola Oludiran our Correspondent- Editor.

Winning the War Against Terrorism
We need peace, security to develop without we can’t win the war, in my opinion, by armed forces. So, I will suggest to the National Assembly to consider inviting the ethnic nationalities, the owners of Nigeria. You know, in the past national conferences, I was one of those who attended. We have no stakes in Nigeria in the sense that I am not an ethnic national leader. I suspect by inviting ethnic leaders together with our traditional rulers, who I think are being ignored in the process, we might be able to resolve this Boko Haram, IPOB etc. For the President to make progress with the President of the Senate, Peace must reign. So, the first task is: how do we find peace? Is it by armed forces, the answer is no. It will be by executive and legislative process, to find how we can draw in Ohanaeze, Afenifere, PANDEF, AREWA, the traditional rulers that are being ignored, I personally believe they have a role in the constitutional process if this is done I feel we will achieve peace.

Moving from Transactional to Transformational Legislature
I will like us to also consider moving away from the 9 to 5 transactional legislative process to the transformational uncommon process which Mr President of the Senate is familiar with. We must have an objective. I will offer 10 objectives. President Tinubu has made 3 tough decisions I agree with some but not all. The removal of the fuel subsidy, I entirely agree, was a market correction. It had an impact, so it is how we deal with the impact by legislation that will be helpful. For us to have had an unsettled Constitution for 23 years ought to end with the 10th national assembly.

Getting A New Constitution Through Constitution Replacement Process
Twenty-three years, is a long time for discussing the Constitution, so I will suggest that the first thing would be how do we get a new Constitution. There are two ways, the first thing is what the National Assembly is doing now, which I disagree with. I prefer the solution proffered by the late Prof Ben Nwabueze. He refers to the extraordinary power of the National Assembly. The National Assembly has four types of legislative powers; only one is in use. The National Assembly is the National Assembly sitting as the House of Assembly of the Federal Government in pursuant to Section 42 of the Constitution but please check section 41, the National Assembly is the National Assembly sitting as the sovereign parliament. So, the House of Assembly is at one sitting of the Federal government and the House of Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 21 is very vital in the Constitution, describes Nigeria as indissoluble and there is only one citizen that carries the sovereign authority of Nigeria as far as I researched, there is only one citizen that is referred to as the President of the Federal Republic Nigeria and that is President Tinubu. So, the President of Nigeria carries with him the authority of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The federation is not a political entity, it’s merely a subdivision within the sovereign Republic of Nigeria. So, it is important that the National Assembly in carrying out legislative functions, that it has the trinity of powers, the final one being the FCT. So, when that scope is understood, there are broad ways we can deal with the Constitution. One is Section 8 and Section 9 which you are using but has taken us 23 years in altering the Constitution. The other one is called the constitutional replacement which happened in 1963, because the Constitution now is not an Act, it is a schedule attached to an Act. So, Professor Nwabaeza said if you invoke section 41 and section 44 of the Constitution, all you need to do is detach the schedule from the Act and replace it with the new Constitution, the matter resolved rather than every new Assembly discussing the same issue because we can’t make economic and political progress if we have a discussion that’s lasting 23 years.

Reforming the Electoral Process
Second point is the electoral process, President Tinubu here had a petition, Peter Obi versus President Tinubu. When I checked all the petitions, I actually found out that the petition would have been best addressed to INEC, Peter Obi has no quarrel with Mr President Tinubu, if you look at what he stated in his petition, he was like the referee refereeing a match and allowing a goal for Chelsea and then Chelsea petitions against Arsenal, it is not Arsenal’s fault it is the Referee’s. So, we need to adopt the Kenyan Model, the Kenyan Model is very simple: a petitioner presents a petition which if it raises reasonable cause, it convokes a tribunal, the tribunal turns to the INEC not the respondents to justify the election: Were the PVCs working? Was the BVAS working? That’s not an issue that would concern the President; those are issues to be addressed to the election management board. In that way, you will find that the pressure will now turn to the election management body to do their work properly because when there is a challenge the petitioner and the respondents don’t fight each other, it is the INEC that carries the brunt. Once that is done, everything will change.

Unbundling the INEC
I also recommend the unbundling of INEC. It is doing far too much. INEC is the largest printer of papers in Nigeria, that’s not their job. So, I will urge the 10th National Assembly presided over by its chairman, Senate President Akpabio to simply enact the recommendations of the Uwais Panel and that will be the end. The electoral Act makes a mockery of democracy so we can correct that mockery by passing all the recommendations.

Reforming the Judicial system
The legal and the judicial governance process, by the way, I’m speaking only to the narrow issues of development, I’m talking about governance. So, governance is the process by which you can elevate economic and political matters to its optimum. I feel now that we are operating sub-optimally and if governance is well applied across what I’m saying we can get to optimum performance. The insertion of section 315 in the Constitution is a horrendous mistake of lazy people, so what section 315 does, it allows for instance the law statute that was passed in the UK in 1635 to still be in our books. In the case of Rwanda, Paul Kagame took a different view, he set up a national reform commission and they amended, modified and introduced a thousand new laws in three months in three months, so Mr President of the Senate, may I respectfully urge that we do away with Section 315, we review our laws expunge all that is unnecessary, obnoxious dead, some of the laws passed when President Tinubu was very active in Civil Rights movement, all the laws that the military passed , why are they in our books, when we’re in democracy? So that ought to go.

Nigeria Has Suffered A Legal Failure
Then as the president of Nigeria Bar Association between 2006 and 2008, I know we have suffered legal failure, if you suffer heart failure, you’re dead. So, for all intent and purposes, we don’t have an effective legal system. In my practice, a lot of my clients come and say 5 to 10 years they don’t want it can’t stand it’s too old fashioned the same thing with the judicial system you know it’s sort of ironic for me to say this not only as a former President of the NBA, as a Senior Advocate as a former member of the Nigerian Judicial commission but when my dad was CJ of East Central State we all wanted to protect the Judiciary from military incursion so we fenced the Judiciary so everybody is afraid no, no, no, don’t touch their money, don’t do this, don’t do this and that philosophy carries forward today the Judiciary should not be as aloof as it wants to wade off others. I was the first, accompanied by my brother Wole Olanipekun who applied because we felt we were qualified to sit in the Supreme Court, but the mafia there threw us out it threw us out you know why because we still mix administration of justice which the National Assembly cannot with respect interfere with and how they do their work which is judicial Administration, which the National Assembly can make laws for.

National Assembly Should Make Laws Governing Judicial Administration
There should be a law governing the process of appointments of senior judges, we can’t leave it to the National Judicial Council. All the law and all the constitution say is once you are 15 years you’re qualified but the National Judicial Council and the Supreme Court judges have formed a mafia so that others don’t get there and this Supreme Court is with the greatest respect the worst Supreme Court I have seen in my 45 years of practice it has to change and that is a challenge for the National Assembly is to enact a law that deals with judicial Administration I didn’t say administration of justice you can’t go there because that is the internal workings of the Judiciary but judicial Administration, the National Assembly can make laws, you pass a law so that I do not depend on the chief Justice of Nigeria if I wanted to become a judge the law will be passed stating the criteria to become a judge, you will find a big change. So, I make that very strong recommendation to the National Assembly.

Ameliorating the Impact of Removal of Fuel Subsidy on the Masses

I now turn to a point which think deserves special attention. We can’t pretend that there’s hunger in the land there’s a lot of hunger but I commend president Tinubu for the bold decisions he took, very few would have taken it, you are to be commended to remove fuel subsidy, in fact I don’t know whether you really thought about it because you said it in your acceptance speech but that was the correct decision sir, what needs to follow is the tough job that the National Assembly must do. You must recognize as Leaders of your people that they’re suffering so you must now support the President with consequential legislation that will give them peace. I have introduced in my office what I never knew I would do that and it is working and some of them are beginning to have potbelly. I’ve introduced breakfast and lunch to cushion the impact on the staff because if you pay for instance your driver 100K rice is 60k per bag.

Mr President that your work is heavy but you know the only way to remember you, this is the only way people will respect you. I saw you (Senate President) running at the stadium which means you are loved back in Uyo. If you were not, they wouldn’t be there, the only way that all of our political leaders will be relevant in four, five, six years is to do good today there’s an urgency do good today so that you can walk the streets and they say this is our man do good today

Make sure you use the opportunity, don’t sleep, be awake, be worried about what your people want you to do then when you leave office you will find peace, you won’t need to be protected because you have done what people wanted. The most important thing we need is economic governance. As I said, Mr President has taken a number of tough decisions the naira is devalued, the only one I haven’t heard Mr President talk about and I’m sure he will, is how to, personally I don’t like the word restructured I prefer devolution from the centre. The centre is too powerful so, I’d like to see something around devolution so that many people can participate but in the sphere of economic policy, may I call the attention of Mr President of the Senate to section 16 of the. Constitution which actually makes Nigeria a socialist state, I’m not sure if people are aware of it, it makes Nigeria a socialist state please when you read it carefully the commanding heights of the economy belong to the government that’s not the intention. I think the intention is to make Nigeria a mixed economy a liberal economy so if we don’t get the ideological basis of Nigeria’s political economy right nothing else will work.

Rethinking the Nigerian Economy

I recommend that section 16 be modified. Now, the national economy has five fingers, it has the hard economy, the soft economy, the blue economy, the green economy and the brown economy. All these will be tied by three important things fiscal, monetary and trade policy. Right now, Nigeria has no trade policy and that is a big mistake; the last trade policy was in 2017, the CBN works on monetary policy, the CBN is carrying far too much responsibility and quite sensibly in the UK their own CBN, which is the bank of England devolved power to two great institutions and I think we need to see it here. The credential regulation Authority; their work is to make sure that the public trust we have in our banks is indeed followed our banks are not traders, it is a shame that me standing before you I have never had a loan in this country because they will ask my grandmother who is dead to come. In the UK, I’ve had loans because the system works, the credential regulation Authority in the UK ensures that the banks work in fact some of us keep saying how is it in spite of all this poverty the banks are making tremendous profits, how is it so where is the money going? Then, the banks if they misbehave you have the financial conduct authority to keep them in check so the CBN needs to devolve two important Powers supervision and conduct.

Tapping from the UK Example
In the UK, it is retained within the structure of the bank of England but there is a huge institution that ensures that oxygen money is in the system how can Nigeria be described as a country that wants to be in the first 10, when it is not a credit economy no country survives without a credit system. Nigeria is not a credit economy so, it is a matter of urgency that the National Assembly should look for ways to create a system which economists call gearing to gear if you have 100 naira and there’s access to finance you can gear it when you gear it then we all become the better so gearing is crucial to create a credit economy but it’s important that the laws are there, right now the laws are not there, so these are some of the tasks that I urge the National Assembly to consider.

One of the most important under economic governance is a national credit guarantee corporation, these are people who give credit, they see your idea it is good they give you the money we need that when all these are in place, you’ll be very surprised the Nigerian economy will gear up.

Taking Advantage of Ministry of Finance Incorporated
When I wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance in the last government the response was yes, we had forgotten MOFI, you see the name Ministry of Finance Incorporated. In her response she accepted that Ministry of Finance Incorporated has in a preliminary study 33 trillion naira and we say we’re poor and our so-called nonsense budget is N27 trillion for a country of 200 million? No, Mr President sir to you sir Mr President of the Senate our budget next year should not be less than a 100 trillion. If it is, then we have failed. I don’t want to say you have failed I say we have failed but I know you know what I mean, N100 trillion go and look for the money, look for it, there are 56,000 uncompleted projects around Nigeria the federal lands alone the money there is unbelievable look at the federal Secretariat it’s wasted there for the past 40 Years. Yet, we cannot build the road from Ibadan to Lagos when that is 140 billion? What is it doing there? Sell it and don’t be involved in things that the private sector can do. I talked to Zacheus Adedeji and I told him and I’m happy that the presidential committee mentioned it that no parastatal or department or agency should collect revenue, it’s not their job, NIMASA , Customs it’s not your job to collect Revenue it’s not their job. The job of Customs is enforcement of customs’ regulations not collecting revenue, all that collection should go to a new National Revenue Agency. They are the ones to collect money not the individual parastatal that don’t even remit. You will then find that the money is not as difficult as you looking at it, you can get the money.

I’ll just quickly show you how because the president has given a task that Nigeria would be a trillion-dollar economy in six years, let me say 10 years, it is more than doable it is doable but it will require absolute hard work and that’s why I’m pointing out to look at solid minerals. Nigeria has about 44 or 45 absolutely required minerals but not the laws, we have legal failure.

Between Revenue and Capital
Let me just return to a point I missed under economic governance which is the difference between revenue and capital they’re different things. Revenue is the public revenue consecrated by section 162 of the Constitution why is it that our leaders only concentrate on tax and not non-tax? There’s a lot more money in non-tax than tax so if you put tax and non- tax together you’re looking at more than 100 trillion when his Excellency Oyetola had his meeting with us in Lagos, I showed him where to find the money, I showed him so we can we can get the money so it’s possible that through tax and non- tax public revenue federal government only has so much but it is not federal government public revenue that drives the economy, it’s capital. What is capital is the National Asset let me just take housing in Lagos 98% of the housing have no title therefore you can’t take a loan nobody will give you. I, standing before you I have never gotten a loan but I got a loan in the UK, I bought the first house because the legal infrastructure is there, I got the second one. Aren’t you happy for me? I went back and I got the third one but here I built the stand alone, I built on the next one while the legal infrastructure to draw Capital does not exist and I recommend you read Mystery of Capital by Hernando Doo, it’s a fantastic book.

Nigeria Economy A Dumping Ground
I presume predictably that capital not revenue is what will drive this 1,000 trillion-dollar economy not public revenue because public revenue is consumed you don’t have much of it so I really urge you to look at the differences between public revenue and capital. Solid Minerals, I’ve already mentioned it trade policy, we can’t be a dumping ground, we need to have our own local WTO which I call the national trade office. The last gentleman there who came from WTO late Ambassador did a tremendous job but he wasn’t empowered so we need two things here a trade policy and a national trade office established by Parliament then we need trade remedies legislation. The trade remedies legislation is the countervailing power that checks when to raise tariffs, if Donald Trump could do that, the so-called liberal democracy why can’t we do that? They tell us to keep your doors open and they pour things here now if people keep pouring things here how can you grow so we need to worry about the appropriate trade policy, Nigeria is a right now a dumping ground.

And as a dumping ground we’re unlikely to develop there will be dumping from China. The China-Nigeria Trade Agreement ought to be torn to pieces, it ought to be torn, it is so unbalanced that we have about 29 multilateral and bilateral treaties, some written in 1959 when we were not even independent. I hope you know that the people in Paris still collect money from Mali from Niger and all that that cannot be if you want to be a sovereign country. Maritime governance that’s my specialty, if it is well harnessed. I told His Excellency, the minister of marine and blue economy and by the way Mr President thank you very much for that. That was a great move to create that Ministry it will be the cash cow if the laws are there.

The Benefits of Marine and Blue Economy
The Chinese come in the top restaurants, Hong Kong they refer to it as Nigerian tiger prawns, we are one of the World leaders in tuna fish, we have such wealth in our Aqua System, that it’s a shame we don’t understand how to use it we need to have strong laws the last time I spoke I said we need to have a coast guard. How can you not have a Coast Guard anyone can come to your place steal your fish in the night and run away. A coast guard Mr President is crucial for all sorts of things so the one trillion economy is possible, a piece of cake, it just requires what one of my partners sent to me: a smart National Assembly must be specific don’t get up at 9: and come to work at 11:00 and leave at 12, no you must be there for the people.

What Nigerians Want
Mr Senate President, I want to see you in four years looking older so that you would have been worn out, you will get up in the night working the work of the National Assembly. It must be measurable, you must be able to measure it, must be achievable, there’s no point saying we will do all this and then you do nothing. It must be relevant and it must be time bound because the first four years or so, if smart is applied to these principles I have enunciated, I can assure you the price of rice will go down. We are a great blessed nation. What Nigerians want is not court cases, so let me tell you they are not interested they’re nothing, that is the private affair of the PDP and the APC. Now that the APC is there make us happy that is all we want.

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  • Tony U O
    January 12, 2024, 2:25 pm

    Olisa has truly diagnosed Nigeria’s problems but will these thieves do anything. Gods will was not even paying attention while the lecture lasted. Even Tinubu too. All looking for money as if their lives depend on money.


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