Mr Gad Peter is the Executive Director of CLEEN Foundation. He speaks in this interview with JULIANA FRANCIS on the foundation’s connection with the much-talked-about late Gen Sani Abacha loot and the Second Niger Bridge and the need for Nigerians to hold public office-holders accountable
What is the connection between CLEEN Foundation and recovered funds from late General Sani Abacha’s loot?
You know that the Abacha loot was recovered by the present administration even though it was the Goodluck Jonathan government that started the process.
It is this government that succeeded in getting the loot and part of the agreement with the U.S. government was that the Nigerian government will ensure that the loot would not be re-looted, that our government should be able to show what it was going to do with the money, how the money was going to be spent and how the money was going to add value to the lives of Nigerians irrespective of religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, gender or age.
It is in that direction that the Federal Government and the U.S, government agreed that they needed to have a civil society organisation that would be able to monitor the implementation of the Abacha loot, especially relating to the Second Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kano expressway and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway.
I am sure that these infrastructure; especially the Second Niger Bridge and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, have been a challenge to a lot of people in Nigeria. A bidding process happened and CLEEN applied like other organisations and we were picked based on our track record and previous performance.
Phones and Tablets
We have been doing a lot of work for the good of Nigerians, so we were picked to pay attention to the issue of child labour around the project sites because most often when contractors are working, community people want their children to participate either to fetch water, mix cement or other things, and the government did not want to have anything like child labour.
We paid attention to ensure that children were not part of that process. There was no child labour around those projects. We were interested in the procurement process. We were interested in the accounting process and we used forensic experts to do that.
Basically, we were in partnership with the Federal Government to ensure that the process was executed according to agreements signed and specifications as well as to ensure that Nigerians are not short-changed.
As we speak, most of the projects are almost 80-90 per cent completed. I must quickly add that it was not the entire length and breadth of the project that the Abacha recovered loot is being used for. There are certain parts of the projects, which the Federal Government’s budget is fixing. The Abacha loot has specific areas where the money is being used.
But you have no idea of these specific areas…
We have the kilometres because we have all the documents and the areas, so when we go to the field, we pay attention to the details.
Is the money just for only building of bridges and roads?
The money is basically for building of the bridge and the two major roads I talked about; the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and of course the Abuja-Kano expressway. Before now, the Federal Government about seven years ago gave N5,000 cash to the poorest of the poor in Nigeria.
We were made to understand that it was from the Abacha loot that money was taken from and given to people but what we are focusing on is how to reconstruct and build the Abuja-Kano expressway, the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the Second Niger Bridge.
What’s your reaction to the allegation that the recovered money was shared among a few Nigerian leaders?
You know there is a deficit of trust between the government and the citizens over the years because in the past, looted property are re-looted again by our government. Nigerians are always suspicious of their government’s activities. But I tell you that under this process, it is not true. I can confidently tell you that what we are working on, which in the next few weeks, will be aired via jingles across many states in Nigeria. The jingle is ready and we are trying to identify the radio stations to work with.
We are going to have news commentaries, and hopefully, we are going to have press conferences to draw attention to stakeholders on that issue. We are going to have a small meeting among CSOs either across the zones or we invite them to a central location.
We will update them on our contribution and efforts in the partnership and for us to all learn from it and ensure that we keep an eye on the projects. It is not only because it is about the Abacha loot, but we should be interested in the quality of execution of every other project in which taxpayers’ money goes into.
We think as CSOs, we have that major responsibility which is again the reason we think that meeting will happen. I assure you that between now and the first week of November, a number of radio stations will be broadcasting the messages on the recovered loot and how much has been spent. Our website that will provide more information on how much is the total amount of money and how the money was distributed or spent on the projects.
With respect to shrinking civic space, what is your advice to activists?
Maybe because I am Christian, I want to say that the harvest is much but the labourers are few. I think we need to have more activists. We need to have more people speaking up and we need to have more people demanding accountability, transparency and good governance. I tell people that wake up in the morning or anytime to say ‘civil society organisations what are you doing,’ I usually retort: ‘What have you done and what are you doing?’ because demanding good governance is everybody’s business.
To make sure we have a country where things work is everyone’s problem, not just the CSOs. You are part of the system and you are feeling the effect of the bad governance, injustice and others.
Why must you wait for an activist to wake you up to do what you’re supposed to do? That is why some of us were happy with the #EndSARS protest because it was an organic protest. People woke up and said ‘look, we’re not satisfied with this process,’ and they felt they needed to address these issues. You can see some of these issues have been addressed. If they had not taken that stand, I am very certain the Federal Government and police would not have reacted and it would have been business as usual.
As we move into the 2023 election, my advice to Nigerians is to ensure that they have their Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and to ensure they vote. They should ensure they will be at the right places and to cast their votes. They should ensure they vote for a candidate that represents a value that they see in themselves and for the Nigerian society. We need a government that is sensitive, a government that is inclusive and proactive.
We need a government that is going to be engaging, but above all, we need a government that has respect for human rights, justice, fairness and that is going to be accountable to its people. We don’t want another warlord. We don’t want to hold another godfather.
We don’t want to have a titled chief that will look at Nigeria like his empire, and who thinks that he knows it all. We want a government that will accept when they are wrong; a government that will always create an opportunity to hear from the public and to take home those areas people feel the government has not performed; a government that will come out and give update about its activities as much as possible; a government that believes in monitoring, evaluation and learning.
Activists have a lot to do; women, men, and unborn children from the womb of their mothers need to demand justice even before they are born because if we wait for things to get bad, it is going to be a mess for everyone. I am hoping that every right thinking Nigerian will do the needful.
You know, I tell women that when they hear a woman crying in their neighbourhood because either her husband, boyfriend or somebody is molesting her, they should not be happy over that woman’s plight. This is because when the man finishes molesting that woman, he will either molest the one laughing or he will encourage men to beat other women.
We need to speak up always, to say no to injustice, to say enough is enough, to always demand that the government should do what needed to be done for the good of the nation.