Comrade Debo Adeniran is the chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) and was among the 24-members of the coalition that were arrested within the premises of the state High Court, Osogbo, Osun State while peacefully protesting the alleged compromise of the Justice Thomas Naron-led Election Petitions Tribunal by the police team led by the state Commissioner of Police, Mr. John Moronike and later remanded in Ilesa prison Custody by Magistrate Olapoju Akintayo of an Osogbo magistrate court.
In this interview with the Editor, Kayode Agbaje and Kazeem Mohammed, he spoke extensively on the CACOL members’ arrest, remand and their experience in prison custody.
OSDF: What informed your decision to form CACOL?
Adeniran:- CACOL is a coalition of organizations of which my primary organization is one. My primary organization is Child Help, which is in defence to the right to education in Nigerian otherwise known as Children Project. It was at one of the fora of the organization that we analyzed the situation in the different sectors of the economy and we discovered that all the problems can be traced to corruption at one level or the other.
We discovered that corrupt practices at the lower level based on the corruption at the upper level of government or organization, where you find heads of parastatals, institutions, ministries perpetrating high level of corrupt activities by embezzling funds that should be used for the ordinary people in the country. Meanwhile, the livelihood of these ordinary person are being jeopardized due to non-availability of infrastructure and some other amenities because they would have to spend so much to get little which means that their regular earnings cannot meet up with their lifestyle.
As a result of this, they turns to another means which is beyond the conventional means of getting money by turning towards criminal ways like bribery, stealing and perpetrating all other vices.
So, when we discovered that this corruption affects virtually all aspects of life and economy, we resolved to find a way to tackle the monster once and for all by at least reduce it, if we cannot destroy it completely. During our analysis we discovered that Children Projects which I primarily belong to could not do it alone and we had to invite other organizations and at our meeting we agreed to pursue a minimum agenda on corruption.
Also we said that we are going to tackle corrupt leaders in public and private sectors, that if we could tackle corruption at the higher level, to tackle the ones at the lower levels would not be difficult.
That was what actually informed us to found CACOL and we started CACOL in August 2007.
OSDF: What are the laid down objectives of the coalition?
Adeniran: The main objectives is to garner enough strength both human and materials to engage the state actors in providing wherewithal with which corrupt practice in public and private sectors will be brought under perpetual check. We design programmes that will pamper the anti-graft agencies to do their works accurately that nobody would be treated as sacred cow, be it the head of any public or private institutions. As such, we tried to pressure the anti-graft agencies to do their work without fear or favour.
Also, we help the anti-graft agencies to engage in research with which we can provide them with facts and figures on situation of corruption for them to have materials to work with. We also intend to discourage corrupt practices by exposing ‘corruptionist’ and make sure that their community do not welcome them by deceit. We persuade the communities to warn their sons and daughters that if they engage in corrupt practice, they will find a way of shunning them. So, our motor in CACOL is ‘Name, nail, shame and shun corrupt leaders’ anywhere, everywhere and that is one of our activities that we should identify them, petition against them and make sure that the petition is followed up to a logical conclusion; that they are investigated by officials of anti-corruption agencies and make sure that they are prosecuted.
If eventually they are prosecuted we want to ensure that they are not welcomed back by their communities so that people would be discouraged to engage in corruption.
OSDF: Looking at your objectives, how have you been able to succeed in bringing these corrupt leaders into justice?
Adeniran: If you go back to the history of Olusegun Obasanjo-led government, many people thought that anti-corruption agencies would not do anything that will halt them and you will realize that the need to prosecute Obasanjo started around the time we started CACOL. We took the bull by the horn by writing to the EFCC. We did a procession to the Lagos zonal office of the EFCC-where we submitted the petition in November 12, 2007. Then, we compiled another one and was submitted in December 14, 2007 to ICPC and since then we have been doing follow up.
The EFCC has invited us several times to give them more information and to help them into the investigation of the petitions submitted to them. We have also met ICPC a couple of time. Though they have not shown us that they are doing something, but their pronouncements in the media show us that they are investigating the matter. Also, the Director of Investigation, Umar Sauda declared in Lagos that Obasanjo was under their investigation which was the first time they make categorical statement on the issue.
Also, we went to the National Assembly to submit the same petition and follow-up letters that we have written. We also met the chairman, Anti-corruption Committee, Alhaji Naduku who represented the Speaker of the House of Representatives and we are expecting result from the Assembly of which we will know where to base our agitation. But beyond that, a number of organizations have been gingered up to pick up activities that are directed towards anti-graft activities.
All these activities might have led to what the National Assembly is working on, when they set up a probe panel even at the senate when they have to investigate the allocation of properties at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and some other scandals that have been exposed. Although, we don’t have the illusion that the present administration will probe the past because with all sincerity, the election that brought a lot of them, including the president to power was full of irregularities.
That was the basis of forming the electoral reform committee by President Umar Musa Yar’adua which we believe is not likely to reform anything. Also, the so-called 7-point agenda of Yar’adua has been sabotaged even before it began. In the whole agenda, there is nothing that is working. Basically we don’t have so much hope but we want to put so many things on record that these petitions are against those people, while it will be on record and the atrocities they have committed will be in the history book of this country.
We also support the probe panels that were set up by the National Assembly, even if they were not going to do anything. They said they don’t have prosecutorial power in the Assembly but we told them that they can invite anybody in this country and that they have not invited Obasanjo to defend himself from the power probe sittings and that is a big minus to whatever that might have come up from that power probe thing.
So, if they don’t invite him, they have not done up to 50% of what we expects them to do. But for those ones they have been exposed so far, we believe that government does not do anything about it and we challenge the government to do something about that particular issue.
A lot of other petitions have also been written like that of the way police commissioner in Osun State behaved to us when we staged a procession to the State High Court. So, as for achievement, apart from the fact that we have brought some of these issues to the front burner in the media or elsewhere, we may not be able to say that we have reached a conclusion, but we are not daunted yet and we are still on the move. We have been moving round to do the protest against those corrupt leaders. We were in Jos, in Benin where people are working parri-passu with CACOL agenda.
OSDF: How have you been able to finance your activities in CACOL?
Adeniran: I must tell you that we don’t need much money to do all those things, but the little we have, come from over 30 organizations that come together and in every meeting, all the organizations fund their way to the meeting and to our activities. We have people on the ground anywhere we go in Nigeria, where we stage our activities. We have not engaged in any expensive activities than to write letter and take it to where it should go. Meanwhile some of our members are ready to contribute their skill and finances to ensure that we are succeeded in our programmes. For instance, for now, we are using ‘Children Project’ secretariat for CACOL and some of our members even contributed to some of the publications that we have gotten.
OSDF: What brought about your interest on Osun State?
Adeniran: What actually attracts our interest on Osun State was when we read in the newspaper that the legislators were given N5 million in the state and eleven of them returned the said money. When we read it, we see it as part of corruption because legislators are supposed to checkmate the executive arm of government. For the legislators to now begin to execute projects, it means that their functions have been overlapped. If their functions are now being overlapped, definitely checks and balances would be in jeopardy. It means that the people of the state would now be on their own and the state would be turned to a banana republic, whereby, only might would be right.
So, we addressed press conference and said the fact that legislators have no right to execute any constituency project. If they see that there is need for any development in their constituencies, they can inform the executive arm to include it into the budget estimate and make sure that the projects are executed in their constituencies. So, that was what brought us to Osun State and that was where we discovered the judicial corruption as reported in TheNEWS magazine.
That was where we discovered that one of the lawyers, Kunle Kalejaiye (SAN) had secret access to the judges of the first election petitions tribunal led by Justice Thomas Naron’s concerning the secret phone conversations between them. When we saw that, we discovered that it was an aberration, unethical and it was against the rules that govern the profession. We have professionals among us who did the analysis of the alleged call logs and we crosschecked with the evidence in the magazine. We even liaised with the publisher of the magazine and they showed us more evidence than what they actually published.
On that we now put petition together to the president, Court of Appeal who actually set up the election tribunal. Though, we don’t have enough funds to take the petition to Abuja to go and present it, but we sent it through the Federal Court of Appeal in Ibadan. That is another area where we have dabbled into Osun State.
So, it was at the level of presenting the copy of the same petition to the Chief Judge of the Osun State that we ran into the malady that pervades the governance in Osun State where a peaceful procession was turned to opportunity to brutalize ordinary citizens of the state. We have submitted the petition to the Chief Registrar and we were about signing the acknowledgement copy when we saw the policemen in about five vehicles with two cars following them, where we discovered that the policemen were led by commissioner of police in the state.
Even the first set of police that came saw no reason to arrest us because of our peaceful conduct. Because they did not see us engaging in any violence, they even led us to the office of the registrar of the high court of Osogbo, where we submitted the petition until the CP and his team came. The Chief Registrar even told the CP that everything was under control and he should leave us alone, but the CP even threatened to harass her, which made her to leave us to our fate and kept quiet.
So, they arrested us and two-gatemen of the High Court for allowing us to go into the premises of the court. Meanwhile, the gatemen knew that we were harmless before they allowed us in and even on that day, two courts were sitting and they did not complain that we were disturbing their proceedings on that day, neither were we charged for any offence.
We were taken to the police headquarters from where we were also taken to the state CID where we were psychologically brutalized and they (police) even threatened to make any one of us loose part of his body. Twenty six of us were cramped into ten by six room and even the two policemen that were assigned to the court were also arrested.
Five days later, we were arraigned at the magistrate court 2 and our lawyer argued our bail applications, where a couple of authorities that were cited by our lawyers were opposed by the police prosecutor, Adekunle Ayuba, after which the magistrate said that he would have to go through all the authorities cited. With that, he said that he would rule on the bail application ten days after and we should be remanded in Ilesa prisons after which we were granted bail and we are still on bail now.
OSDF: What were your experiences in prison custody?
Adeniran: When you talk of personnel, it was better but talking of facilities and social amenities, they are in short supply. Ilesa prison does not witness prison congestion as we have been experiencing in Nigeria. The fact is that the warders and even the prisoners are well behaved, but the conditions of living in that place are nothing to write home about. As a result of that, we met the head of prison and complained about all the shortage that we discovered. Also, there are some cells that are called single cell, they are nothing but a torture cage and whatever the case, we don’t believe that prison should be a torture centre, but should be a correctional centre. It should be a place, where prisoners could see at least a minimum comfort and they should have access to recreation and some other things.
Talking about logistics, we discovered that there were no enough vehicles and the ones that are available are not being regularly maintained and even in some occasions the prison officers misses the court proceedings, where they are supposed to present the accused persons. As a result of that, several people spend a long time in prison awaiting trial.
I was surprise, when the Minister for Justice and Attorney–General said that nobody was detained for more than one year without trial, because we discovered that so many people have spent over 8-years in the prison without being tried. Whereas, if they eventually get convicted, they would not have spent one-tenth of what they have spent.
You will also discover that the governor and even the Chief Judge are not visiting the prison to see what happens there and even if they pass through the place, they don’t seek the opinion of the prisoners to know what they are short of. Due to the long time they have spent, some of them have been tortured that they could not even recognize their sanity. Some of them have contracted diseases, while some of them have developed pneumonia, because of the bad living condition. We believe that there would be improvement if the head of the prison improve on the care of the prisoner as promised.
OSDF: What is your message to our leaders and even the followers?
Adeniran: The message is that our leaders should shun corruption because whatever they do will surely be on record.
To the people, the corrupt leaders should not be welcomed to their communities, so that they would be discouraged from such act, they should shame and shun the corrupt leaders after they might have been identified.