Buhari Should Be Impeached Immediately–Emeka Ugwuonye

By Ikenga Chronicles June 27, 2017

Buhari Should Be Impeached Immediately–Emeka Ugwuonye

Emeka Ugwuonye is one of Nigeria’s brightest legal minds. A graduate of the Harvard Law School, Mr. Ugwuonye who has practised law in the United States of America for over twenty years, is a former Legal Counsel to the World Bank Group; former Policy Advisor at Harvard University, and the founder of The Due Process Advocates (DPA), a body that seeks to offer access to justice to people.

In this exclusive interview with Ikenga Chronicles‘ Chinonso Nnabuike, in Garland, Texas, Mr. Ugwuonye speaks on the current state of leadership in Nigeria, the anti-corruption war, his views on the Biafra agitation, and his run-ins with the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore.

You will enjoy it!

IC: It is nice finally getting to catch up with you sir. Really difficult to track you down. Please who is Emeka Ugwuonye?

EU: Simple person. I am a regular person as you would realise. I was born in Enugu state in 1966. After secondary school in Enugu state, I went to UniBen (University of Benin), in Benin City for my study of Law. After that, I went to the Nigerian Law School. After Nigerian Law School, I worked for a couple of years in Nigeria. Then I came to the United States as a graduate student of Harvard Law School, and after that, I stayed behind in the U.S.

I taught at Harvard; have been counsel to the World Bank; and I have owned a law firm for more than twenty years. That’s actually about me, in terms of my background.

IC: You are the founding father of a group called “The DPA”, which is The Due Process Advocates. Could you please give us a little insight about DPA and how it came about?

EU: DPA was inspired by my assessment of the deplorable state of justice in Nigeria. Everywhere you look in Nigeria today, you will see a significant level of injustice, abuse of power by powerful people, the maltreatment of poor people, failure of critical institutions of law enforcement such as failure of the Police; failure of the EFCC; failure of the military; failure of all the security agencies. Faced with all these things, I felt I could make a difference. I felt I could contribute in some ways towards redressing some of these problems, and to facilitate access to justice.

Due process as you see is essentially a generic term which is meant to cover all aspects where there is need to do something in accordance with the law, instead of the whims and caprices of individuals. So due process to me is another way of speaking of rule of law, and I wanted to see that in Nigeria. That was why we set up our organisation, The Due Process Advocates. It was inspired by a simple idea and I was the first member. Today we have over 250,000 members. I am impressed with the progress we have made numerically, but also with the reach we have made–our ability to reach out to more people, in Nigeria and beyond. The need for justice goes beyond the boundaries of Nigeria. We have DPA branches in Dubai and a few other places, and we are hoping to expand to wherever there is need for justice. Nigerians are predominant members, but non-Nigerians are also welcome.

IC: You mentioned the deplorable state of things in Nigeria, especially the justice system. How would you rate the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria?

EU: Well, I am going to disappoint so many people, particularly government people. The Nigerian anti-corruption war, not just with this government, but all the time was a sham, was a disgrace, it’s worse than a failure. Because it created a facade that something was being done, but obviously nothing is being done, because the level of corruption today, is as bad as it was at the time the Agencies were created. Indeed I would say that the level of corruption today is worse than before EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) was created. So if we measure it by that, we can conclude that the efforts of the EFCC have been a total disgrace. Now, if the patient becomes more sick than before the treatment started, you cannot say you are making progress. Progress is supposed to reflect an improvement of sorts. So the Nigerian situation in terms of anti-corruption is a disgrace. If it worked before–when Obasanjo spoke about it–then there would be no need for Buhari to make it the anchor of his government. The fact that it was the thing Buhari anchored upon, indicates that the problem was still of such a magnitude, twelve years after.

But, focusing on the Buhari era, it is also clearly a failure. You see, it was during Buhari’s era that we discovered about $50million packed in a room, in a residential apartment. Today nobody has been arrested; nobody has been detained. There has been virtually no consequence. So what else do we say? I had considered that the litmus test for Buhari’s administration. It is a disgrace, absolute disgrace. They went ahead, arresting judges, and creating all these noises. The judges arrested have all been released! Indeed they are back to the bench. What a disgrace! So what we have witnessed in all these anti-corruption war, whether it is now, during Obasanjo or Jonathan’s era, is that they were virtually an excuse, or a pretext through which the government suppressed their political opponents.

Buhari came with his anti-corruption war, and guess what, he went after the members of the PDP (People’s Democratic Party), and began to prosecute them–Olisa Metuh, Fani Kayode, and others. These are PDP people. So invaribly, Buhari is suggesting that only PDP people are corrupt. I don’t know how to express my disappointment at the sham called “anti-corruption war”. Yes, corruption remains the biggest problem in Nigeria; it remains the central obstacle which if tackled, Nigeria will be saved. But so far, nobody has been able to tackle it, because all these governments are products of corruption.

How did Buhari come to power? State governors corruptly embezzled the monies of their people, to support him. I will score his anti-corruption war worse than a zero, because a zero suggests that you attempted.

IC: So specifically, as we talk about corruption wars, what then is your take on the acquittal of Senate President Bukola Saraki, by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT)?

EU: I wasn’t surprised. Saraki’s arrest was a political move, it was motivated by politics. The political circumstances changed, and it was reversed. Truthfully, it was a sham. Absolute sham. They started to prosecute Saraki because Saraki broke the party arrangement. He broke the party arrangement by becoming the President of the Senate against the plans of the APC (All Progressives Congress). That’s the whole thing. So I wasn’t surprised; I didn’t expect anything to the contrary.

IC: Based on the way things are now, with the President of Nigeria being sick and out of the country for close to another 50days after the first one from January-March, do you think it is time Nigerians called for the resignation of the President?

EU: That time was actually a long time ago. When the President of a country falls sick to the extent that he has to entrust his health to the medical team of another country, not minding the security implications, and implications for Nigeria’s sovereignty, that is the time he should have resigned. Any Nigerian President who falls sick to the point that he has to go overseas for treatment is due for resignation. In Buhari’s case, unfortunately, it is worse.As I understand, the President has suffered a massive memory loss and speech impairment, and may very well be supported by a machine–a life support machine. So talking about his resignation, I don’t think he is capable of resigning now, because he has to be conscious enough to resign. He should be removed by the constitutional process of declaring him unfit–incapacitated. So to resign means that you are conscious and capable enough to do so. I don’t think that Buhari is capable of doing that, I think he should be removed on grounds of incapacitation, and that should have been done long ago.

IC: So you think it is time for the National Assembly to evoke the Doctrine of Necessity?

EU: Very good question, but let us re-phrase the question; ‘Is it the right time for every step to be taken to get Buhari out of office? ‘Yes, it is the right time. But let’s not call it evoking anything. There is a constitutional provision that is there, and it is clear. They can just follow it. Let us not talk about ‘Doctrine of Neccessity. ‘Doctrine of Necessity is a deviation from standard rules on the basis of emergency and necessity. So it is a departure from standards. But when a constitution provides a way to go, you follow it. Likewise in the case of Jonathan, they shouldn’t have called it Doctrine of Necessity at all. Jonathan was the Vice President, he was to take over in the absence of the President. The only thing they did was, they refused to exercise their power, to declare the President incapacitated, to impeach. So they found a corner to remove him without impeaching him. That’s essentially what they did, which was stupid, because if we keep on dodging our procedures, how are we going to get things done? “So Buhari ought to be impeached“. If not impeached, they can consider the incapacitation procedure, and declare him incapacitated. So that should be done, and I hope they don’t call it Doctrine of Necessity. That should be done under the stipulations of the constitution.

IC: President Muhammadu Buhari got into power, using the anti-corruption slogan. That was what he used to win the masses over. The question then is, over two years in, what areas of the Buhari administration are better than those of his immediate predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan?

EU: None. I am sorry, but none. If anybody can point at any, I will be very glad to learn, but for me, none. Well, maybe Boko Haram. Boko Haram activities particularly have been reduced. But when you talk about insecurity in Nigeria, it is a wide concept, it is not just based on one single incident. Boko Haram activities have been reduced, but Boko Haram as a group is still operative. They can resurge in a moment, they can still attack. So a remission in an illness is not a cure. Things can get worse after a remission.

It is unfortunate, but I was one of those who supported Buhari. I thought he would make a difference. I saw a palpable weakness in Jonathan’s administration, and I thought we needed a change–that any change would be better than Jonathan. Unfortunately, Buhari is not the change, he is a complete disaster.

IC: As Boko Haram is being contained, herdsmen are taking over. What do you think should be done to address the herdsmen issue?

EU: Well, we cannot tackle any of these problems without going back to assess the character of the Nigerian state. Nigeria is a country where there is the domination of ethnic communities by a certain ethnic community. That dominant ethnic group, dictate everything. The Fulani herdsmen did not drop from the sky. They belong to an ethnic group. It is obvious which ethnic group they belong to, and which ethnic group is dominant in Nigeria. So, in a way, the Nigerian government is a reflection of the will of the dominant ethnic group, and the Fulani herdsmen are a representative of the same ethnic group. So to find the solution, you have to go back to the character of the Nigerian state. We need true federalism in Nigeria. We need some significant increase in autonomy for the federating states. The regions, the ethnic nationalities that form Nigeria, ought all to be empowered, ought all have the capacity of self governance to a point. Then, they can also be responsible for a certain degree of their own internal security. If that is the case, Fulani herdsmen issue will be solved. If the Policemen in Enugu state are from Enugu state, that will stop the herdsmen. They will shoot every herdsmen with a gun. But if you have a security system, where you need the permission of the Inspector-General of Police on how to react to Fulani herdsmen, you better pray that the Inspector-General of Police himself is not a Fulani, or is not a member of the herdsmen group. So that is the solution to the security issue in Nigeria. Be it Boko Haram, or herdsmen, particularly herdsmen. Boils down to the character of the Nigerian state, and the capacity of the Nigerian people to defend themselves. I will want Enugu people to be able to protect their territory against herdsmen. Let Nigerian Army deal with external aggression. Internal agression like the Fulani herdsmen issue, let our local forces deal with them. They will not venture into Enugu state if the security of Enugu people is in the hands of Enugu people. But it is not in the hands of Enugu people. The security and safety of Enugu people are not in their hands, therefore they will be at the mercy of Fulani herdsmen, which is quite a menace.

IC: What do you think about the quit notice issued to the Igbo in the North?

EU: It is very serious problem. I know it is a serious problem because if I were living in the North today, I will move my family away. Why? Because the government has not done anything to assure me that the government will protect me. And why can’t the government do that? Because of the character of the Nigerian state which I just highlighted. The Nigerian government is not a neutral agency which will protect equally, the lives of all Nigerians. They will represent only certain people. It is particularly troublesome because we know what happened in 1966. A similar incident occurred and they massacred over 100,000 Igbo people. That is a significant number of people to lose.

If you ask me what should be done, I would say, the government should arrest those people who issued the threats, put them in prison, try them quickly, and execute them, because that is treasonable felony. Do to them what was done to Nnamdi (Nnamdi Kanu, the leader of the Indigenous People Of Biafra–IPOB–, who was arrested in 2015 for treason and held against court orders until 2017 by the Buhari administration), show some impartiality. But unfortunately, that has not been done, and that is what gives a lot of us deep concerns–that if there is an explosion of massacres in the North, what happened in 1966 will happen again. The government will fail to act, and the Nigerian Army will switch sides from protecting the people, to siding the murderous mob that will be killing the Igbo.

IC: When do you think Nigeria can balance things up by letting the Igbo produce the President of the country?

EU: (Laughs) A more important question will be; ‘what difference will it make if the Igbo produce Nigeria’s President under the present structure? ‘The answer, truthfully, is no difference, except superficial, cosmetic difference. You know, that psychological feeling of ‘oh there’s been an Igbo man there. ‘It is a sign that the exclusion and expectation of the Igbo are no longer apparent. But we have a structure that is so loopsided that I don’t think a single Igbo President will be able to take care of it. Look at the failures of the Igbo governors, magnify them, and you will find the failure of the Igbo President. It is not the President, it is the structure. The Igbo President will hurt the Igbo more because he is going to go out of his way to prove that he is a true Nigerian, by making sure that even his cook is not an Igbo person.

IC: Recently, Ohaneze Ndi Igbo said they are not for Biafra, but rather for restructuring of the country.What do you think is the correct position?

EU: That is the correct position. Ohaneze’s position is the correct position. That is more feasible, more realiseable, more intellectually sound. If you restructure Nigeria in the sense of creating true federalism, and elevating the state of rights, where it no longer matters where a person comes from, that is what is right. But the question is; how can it be done? The same question can be posed to the agitators of Biafra; how will you get your Biafra?

So Ohaneze’s position is what I consider feasible, and it is consistent with what I have felt over time. I say this because I was one of the lawyers who represented Nnamdi (Kanu). I represented him from the point of view of his rights as an individual. Not because I am a member of the IPOB. It is also not an indication that I believe that Biafra needs to stand on its own as a country. The irony of it is that I believe in the agitation because I want it to be happening, I want people to have the right to demand that they want Biafra. That demand is a process of negotiation, a call for us to re-negotiate the Union. It is a wise and reasonable agitation. But if you ask me whether the solution is in giving them a territory, and saying ‘okay, you guys have Biafra, go there’. I think it will be a total disaster.

IC: Can we talk about your ongoing issues with the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore?

EU: Simple, Sowore is the biggest criminal Nigeria has at the present time. I don’t hide to say this, I published it. He is the biggest criminal. What he does is essentially… he cornered the internet before many people knew what was going on. He uses information warfare to attack people in exchange for money. If you have a story to tell about anybody, it doesn’t matter how true or false it is, Sahara Reporters will put it out there. Why is he able to do so? Because he has been operating from outside Nigeria, so it is difficult to sue Sahara Reporters. If you sue under the US law, the US law is very different on defamation because they have what is called “actual malice exception” which means you can actually scandalize a public figure, provided the person is a public figure.

Sahara Reporters was blackmailing a number of clients of mine as far back as 2008. Sowore will tell them he is going to tell a lie against them unless they pay him money. If they pay him, that’s the end of it. But if you don’t pay him, he begins to publish lies against you. He did it to Timi Alaibe in 2008. I met Timi and Timi asked me to weigh in. I weighed in, and what Sahara Reporters then did was to scandalize me. First publication was on 5th March, 2009, and he basically said that I and George Obiozor (then Nigerian ambassador to the US) colluded and defrauded the Embassy through the sales of property, which was false. I sued him. So basically, Sahara Reporters peddles lies against me at the slightest provocation.

I don’t know what else he can say about me, but I have been inundated with so many other things, that I continue to consider so many options, including the option of returning to court in this case. When I sued him the first time, the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) intervened. He blackmailed the leader of the EFCC into sharing very false allegations against me. The important thing is that all this while that he has been peddling all these stories, nothing has ever stuck.

So, he is a menace, and I call him so. Ultimately, I will get him. I will get him where it hurts. When I say get him, I mean be able to sue him successfully for defamation, and claim damages. But one thing is, the landscape has changed, and he is no longer in dominance in the Social Media world. People are now able to counter him.

It was very devastating for me in 2009 when he first attacked me because there was no way to counter the allegations and false stories peddled. And Nigeria is a community with a tremendous level of gullibility that if something is on Google, or for instance Sahara Reporters writes a story and people are able to access it through  Google, nobody can say,’ go to Sahara Reporters and see what Sahara Reporters wrote about him”, they will say, ‘go to Google’ as if Google is the source! It is a very dangerous situation.

IC: After Saraki was acquitted, it was said that Sowore demanded money from him. Is that the type of blackmail or extortion you are talking about?

EU: Yes. I believe he did so. I really believe that Sowore demanded for that money. He has made a lot of money stealing from people. He is the biggest criminal ever known in this time.

IC: It was nice really getting to talk with you sir. But before we wrap up, let me quickly ask, what is the proper path, like the due process, concerning the issue of the EFCC chairman, who has been rejected twice by the Senate?

EU: That’s another instance of Nigerian leaders violating the constitution. He is not supposed to be in that office today, if they obey the constituion. But there is a pervasive level of criminality involving a lot of people, including surprisingly, the Vice President. Magu (Acting EFCC chairman) is not supposed to be in the office, if the Nigerian constitution was respected. So it is a subversion, indeed a glaring instance of the abuse of the constitution. It doesn’t matter what he thinks of himself, there is a constitutional process that he failed. The President is now imposing him, without allowing the will of the people. He is undermining the act and the people.