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Localities Autonomy of Their Resources" Ishola
Williams - Part 1
6th May, 2002) Tell your friends about this page! Email it to them.
Getting a credible personality to interview in Nigeria is like seeking for a needle in a haystack, considering the business as usual posture very many of our elected political representatives have adopted at the Federal, State and Local Government levels. In our pursuit to achieve this noble objective the name of General Ishola Williams (retired) readily came to mind. The retired General heads the local branch of the Transparency International group, a non-governmental organisation that seeks to measure the corruption in a country using various indicators and parameters. A gentleman of the old school order, Gen. Ishola X-rayed the multi-layered challenges facing the Nigerian State from the grass-root to the national level. He brought his immense knowledge of the Nigerian terrain to bear in this interview and we can confidently say he is an authority in his own right. Enjoy the interview.
Can you please introduce yourself sir?
Gen. Williams: My name is Ishola Williams, I am a retired Major General of the Nigerian Army, I am a honorary Secretary General of Transparency In Nigeria (TIN) which is a non governmental organisation trying with other members of the civil society to reduce corruption to the minimum in all the spheres of life in Nigeria. And I am also the secretary of the African Strategic and Peace Research Group (AFSRAG) which is a conflict research group.
Sir, what determined your interest in the organisation and corruption in general terms?
Gen. Williams: I think every Nigerian is aware of the fact that we have all the potentials in this world to become an economic giant. We have the human resources, we have the natural resources, we also have the environment in which we can explore this potentials to the highest, apart from that we have many Nigerians in Diaspora who are doing well in various field of studies including businessmen, some of them are in oil business, some of them are in technological areas and so on and so forth. And we have what Indians have too, but there seems to be something wrong and that is our corruption which seems to be a negative type of corruption instead of being a positive one as seen in Asia and because it is so negative you find that while Asians are increasingly developing and becoming powers to be reckoned with in economic terms, I am not even talking about Japan, I am talking about countries like India, Malaysia, Thailand or what they call the Tigers, you find that we are now far below what we should have been. The Asians come to Nigeria and apart from the multinationals, who are the people dominating the industries in Nigeria? If anybody tells you that Nigerians are in the commanding heights of their economy that person is a liar, we are not. The economy of this country is in the hands of foreigners, the multinationals and Asians. So, why had that been? It is because you see a company, Nigerians are the chairman or the chairperson. The board of directors, who are they? Who are really the owners in term of funds? And what do they do? Give them some amount of money, give them a car to ride and a house and they keep quiet. Many people don't know that is a form of corrupt practice in which you have the interest of your own self, not the interest of your country, not the interest of the next generation of people within your country and you think everything is good for you and therefore good for your country, no.
The second thing is that you find that all the agents that can allow development are so corrupt that they have become agents of under development; Customs, Tax, Inland Revenue, the law enforcement system which includes the judiciary and above all one of the key issues that we don't take seriously in Nigeria is the issue of land rights. Land is a very important issue in capital formation and you find a situation in which if you take somebody to court in Nigeria over land it will take you 20 years to get a judgment whereas the same thing in UK (United Kingdom) maybe after one year, the whole thing is sorted out. If you want to Singapore between 4-6 months, the whole thing is sorted out. So, if you want to do business, where would you go to? And sometimes you find out that the judge has got to be bribed or something like that. You see lawyers telling you that I have got to get something for the judge in most cases, that is not a lie, Ok so when you look at these factors, they are factors for underdevelopment OK. And if you then sit down, you say you want your country to be great and you don't deal with those issues, you don't deal with those factors of underdevelopment, then you are wasting your time. But, the key thing is this, that ehm, all of us whether young or old, leaders or followers. Are we a serious people? Are we a serious people, are we serious when we say we are fighting corruption.
A lot of Nigerians will make a lot of noise in the newspapers, when it comes to putting them in positions, they will do exactly the opposite of what they have been talking about. I have told people in Nigeria, please don't talk about corruption except you have been tested. If you have not been tested, then you have no right to talk about corruption, and also because of that situation most Nigerians have no integrity. You don't claim responsibility for anything and when they head the department or an organisation or ministry and something is going wrong there, "ah!Ē they say "it's somebody else that has done this", but you are the head you accept responsibility OK. An accident happened, a railway accident happened in Egypt. The minister responsible for the railway resigned, the Managing Director of the railways resigned. It will never happen in Nigeria. An explosion happened in Nigeria (Bomb explosion in Lagos on Jan 27, 2002) because of the carelessness of the Ministry, did the minister of defence resigned? In other countries, he will resign. Pension problems all over the place, did the minister of defence resign? He did not resign. These are just two examples. So, a country with leadership without integrity, who will come and invest here? So, you will find that anybody who wants to help this country has got to help whether he likes Obasanjo or not, has got to work with him to fight corruption. It doesn't matter; we should not involve personality in this thing, please. What he is preaching in his anti-corruption stand, is it good for Nigeria? Is it good for the investment climate? Is it good for the future of our children? Our next generation, etc? If this is good, then all of us must join and genuinely try, so that is what brought about my interest.
Sir, could you give us a brief profile of Transparency in Nigeria, year of establishment, objectives, achievements, challenges and how you raise or generate funds?
Gen. Williams: Ehm, Transparency in Nigeria (TIN) as you know is a chapter of Transparency International (T.I) and I will give you one of our flyers for your people to just go through. It started as a follow-up to a conference organised by African Leadership Forum and you know that Obasanjo is involved in that and he was a member of the Board of Advisers of Transparency International, one of the original members. So, a conference was organised for West African in 1994, in Cotonou and at the end of the conference the participants there were told that when you get to your various countries please try and continue with the struggle and it then necessitated the creation of a chapter in Nigeria. And of course you know around that time that was the time of Abacha regime. You also know too that every military regime that comes to power want to fight corruption and even Abacha regime claimed to be fighting corruption, but the interesting thing about that regime was that it allowed the chapter to be formed, the chapter was formed, but the members were scared that being members of an anti-corruption movement they were to be seen by government as anti-government or anti-regime which was very stupid anyway, which I felt was naÔve. But you know at that time everybody was afraid, afraid of getting killed or disappearing or being jailed, OK. So those who came in initially en mass wanting to fight, after some few months were just disappearing, OK. And what was often interesting at that time was that Abacha was fighting corruption globally while he was stealing, while he was looting. Because during the period of Abacha, Nigeria was not on the list of money laundering nations, we were never never on the list but today we are on the list of countries who are well known for money laundering. So and at that time he stopped many people from stealing except those whom he needed to transfer money abroad or to take money abroad, Central Bank, Ministry of Finance and so on and so forth. So, he kept it to a small group, others were banned from participating. So, it was selective looting, not widespread as we have it now, OK. And it was within that atmosphere that, ehm, so it got to a point that only two people were left in the organisation to continue the struggle, only two persons were left. One white American lady and my good self OK. And that's how we continued until 1997 and then we managed to get some funding from the British High Commission. They were the only people at that time who had courage to fund an anti-corruption conference. And we held that conference in 1997 at the University of Lagos auditorium. And again most of the Nigerians that we invited were also afraid to come. Some had courage in that 1997 to come and that's how we managed to create another beginning of the chapter OK. And then we continued from then on and the British Council and with the support of the British High Commission continued to fund our activities. Now, they also helped us to equip our office with a computer and a photocopying machine so they have helped us with that. And the areas we concentrated on were one; the first conference in 1997 was to see how we could build a national integrity system in Nigeria and that means bringing the key pillars of an integrity system; the media, the judiciary, the law enforcement agencies as a whole, the accountants and then the lawyers. Because in any country if you have lawyers who are professionals, judges who are honest, plain and brilliant in their job, hardworking. If you have free and independent press, OK. And if you have good law enforcement system with mostly incorruptible people and you have accountants who audit their books, not like Anderson with Enron, and the owners of Enron, if they come to Nigeria they will see tales of that because our auditors are just like Anderson anyway from my own experience. You will discover that that country has good investment climate and will always get good investment and that is the advantage of Singapore OK. So these are the people who make up the pillars of an integrity system. So we try to bring those people together but you can see that we have not succeeded very much.
Then, the second thing we tried to do with the help of USID and they gave us a lot of money about N8 million for what? Many people, except when you are close to the private sector do not know that the private sector is as corrupt as the public sector in Nigeria, within themselves. Whether it is banking, stock exchange, capital sector, financial sector, name the sector, a lot of rot is going on within the system. Why are all these banks going in distress that the Central Bank has got to investigate 21 of them? The guys who are in foreign exchange department, the sort of things they do. Why do we find a parallel market in Nigeria? You go to the bank they say no they can't get you dollars, you go to all these places you can change $1 million (USD) how come? Where do they get them from? From Central Bank? Is it not from our normal banks OK? So, when you want to talk to them and say oh! they say "no no no we can clean ourselves," especially the ICAN they say "no no we can clean ourselves" but they know they are rotten, "no no we can't be exposing," they will not expose themselves, the same thing with the bankers. But me and you we are suffering OK. So when we then say, "why are you doing that?" They say it is the public sector if you can clean the public sector then we can be cleaned. So we said OK let us bring the public and private sector together let them interact and see how they can clean each other OK. Through the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, the one off Ikorodu road in Maryland area,
NACCIMA? (cuts in)
Gen. Williams: Yes NACCIMA. We then organised series of workshops. NACCIMA agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between themselves and the public sector and the World Bank organised a workshop on procurement, DFID organised a workshop on this integrity system for the private and public sector. The public sector has refused to sign up till today, the private sector as signed OK. And we took it down to the zonal and state level. The State Governments is saying that you go and get Federal Government to sign then we shall sign. But what has Federal Government got to do with that. So in short, not a single State Government has signed it. Which means that they know that corruption is going on and they want it to go on. So within the public sector itself either at the Federal level or at the State level their refusal to sign that paper saying that they have something within the public sector that can take care of it, shows that they don't want to come open in spite of the effort of the President himself. So these are some of the areas that we tried as much as possible to cover. What we are now trying to do is to go down to Local Government level and they said that if the people at the top are reluctant then let us start at the bottom where we can make a direct impact on people's lives. Because like Punch newspaper said the other day the third tier of government (local governments) is in a mess. Ask anybody about the Local Government, they will just tell you that all of them are thieves, that they are not there to do any serious job, with due respect to some of them who are serious anyway, but majority are not. If you look at the House of Representatives, for example and to certain extent the Senate, what do you find there? Again, we have tried and worked out a code of conducts and ethics for the members of the House of Representatives and for the Senate. The Senate to a certain extent are following that code, because recently they stopped paying some Senators because they did not open an office in their Senatorial District and they are not paying their staff. They pay them the money, they put the money in their pocket. Many people are doing that in the House of Representatives also OK. But, the House of Representatives till today for the past one and half years, they have refused to pass as a resolution that code of conduct or the code of ethics. So you see that the steps that are necessary to make Nigeria, to make our leaders live up to the expectation of the people are not succeeding very much. So we decided now, like I said before let's go down to Local Government and see whether we can tackle the problem of the Local Government and therefore we are trying to run one or two workshops both in the north and in the Southern part of the country to see whether we can introduce a sort of system in which the community themselves will be responsible for monitoring the activities of the Local Government councils.
Having participated in putting together the budget for the Local Government, in terms of what are our needs? What are the priorities? What do you want us to do for I mean what do you want the Local Government to do for you. Looking at the revenue that they bring in, looking at the revenue they generated and making sure that that money is spent for what it's meant for. Making sure that the Local Government staffs are paid. The other thing we also want to do is that ehm, we want to encourage even the National Union of Local Government Employees, also to advocate for an integrity system within the employees of the Local Government and that for example, a market master in Local Government will go to the market and extort money from people, that money does not go to the Local Government coffers. It goes to his own pocket or he shares it and in some Council the money will go to the Chairman or Chairperson and that is his own pocket money OK. So people pay taxes, pay all sort of things, but they don't get the benefits. People should not accept that anymore. But the question also is that, we want people to look at the sense of no sense of having Local Government within an urban area like Lagos. Why don't we have a Lagos City Council? Why have twelve (12) Local Governments, Alimosho and all those rubbish! Because if we have one Metropolitan Council in Lagos, it can generate enough money to run most of the services in Lagos and don't need Lagos State Government to take over what Local Governments are doing now. If you look at it, Lagos State Government clears the garbage, they run the water system, they repair the roads, so what is the job of the Local Governments in Lagos? What is the job of all the Local Governments in Lagos? So, if they will give them money what do you think they will do with it? Because they know that if they don't do anything the Lagos State Government will do it. So why don't you create the former City Council that they have before. So all this structural defects also encourage corruption OK.
And we need to start looking at them very seriously by advocating for changes in all these structures. The second thing about Local Government staff is this they have a Local Government Civil Service system at the State level. So they can post you in, post you out, in Lagos State from Ibeju-Lekki to Epe. We are saying no, for example if I work for Lagos State Government they cannot post me to Abuja, they cannot. So if I work for Epe Local Government don't post me to Ibeju-Lekki, let me start my career with Epe Local Government and end my career with Epe Local Government and since I come from Epe I will not cheat Epe people through their Local government. So, when you go to Ibeju-Lekki for example, you go their, ehm 9 or 10 O'clock there is nobody there because most of the people in Ibeju-Lekki are living in Lagos because maybe they were working with Lagos Island Local Government before that person was posted to Ibeju-Lekki. So you see the quarters in Ibeju-Lekki totally empty that you have built for these staff their. So, why don't you recruit people from Ibeju-Lekki area and they know that they can build their career their, they will be more loyal, they will work better. So, these are some of the structural defects that we need to tackle. Therefore, if the man is there for as a market master for three years, he will try to make as much money as possible to go home with. Because he doesn't know where he is going to be posted to after the next three years, so it may be one dry Local Government and so on and so forth. So, these are the things we want to tackle and we are hoping that we can succeed. And the last one is that communities must participate in making budgets for Local Government, therefore they can be able to monitor and evaluate what Local Government what Local Government is holding forth. And we also needed to sort out some few things at Local Government level, because with the system of financing Local Government now, Nigeria will remain under-developed for the next 100 years, the system we use in financing Local Government. We have a system of Top-Down finance instead of other countries it comes from the bottom and we need to study that issue seriously. And.
These are some of the structural defects, not only at the Local Government but within the system itself, that act as disincentives to investment in Nigeria, apart from all the security problems that we talked about. So you could see that this is what we've been trying to do. We've been helped a lot by the British, USID, British High Commission, British Council, we've been helped a lot by the United States Agency for International development, the Office of Transition Initiative they have gone and packed up now. So these organisations have been very very helpful to us and then to a certain extent too the Transparency International secretariat in Berlin is trying to help us with funding of about $35,000 to be able to run this workshop in both the North and South and we hope we can be able to do it between this April and May, OK.
How would you rate the performance of the Anti-corruption Commission, that is, the one headed by Justice Mustapha Akanbi having regard for what ever obstacles and challenges it faced and still may be facing? Would you say it is doing a good job? How would you rate him? Are they really working in connection with you?
Gen. Williams: Yes, the Anti-corruption Commission with Justice Akanbi appears to be serious and they appear to be ready also to deal with issues OK. And they also now seem to be ready to deal with anybody and not to believe that there are sacred cows in Nigeria. And I think also too that, ehm they want to do their investigation thoroughly so that if they take people to court they make sure that they have a good case they can win. Along that line I believe that they are doing a good job ok. But, most of us know that the problems are many, multi-faceted and therefore they cannot do it alone. They need support from the Public Complaints Commission, which is very weak and the Code of Conduct Bureau which is making a lot of noise now, unlike in the past. They took Jerry Useni to court, Alhaji Dangey and co to court. That couldn't have happened in the past, that people declared their asset wrongly, thousands of people have declared their assets wrongly, but maybe they want to make two of people as examples for now and in the future maybe more people will come up later.
Now I would have liked to see a situation in which there are special Anti- corruption tribunals, who will just deal with corruption cases only and will be given three month to finish a case, given three months. Infact, if that is set up, nobody in the world will say that Nigeria is not respecting human rights. Because they know that corruption in Nigeria is a very very big problem and if we set up special Anti-corruption Tribunal today the whole world will support us to deal with corruption. What is important is this, allow people to have lawyers to defend them, provide them with all the facilities that they require for their defence and you too make sure that you study your case very well. I am only hoping too that, ehm that the Anti corruption Commission will not depend on the Police for their investigations, they will have their own independent investigation branch, not of ex-Policemen, not of Policemen, but people they have got from the society and trained. So that they can build up their own culture and not have either civil service or Police control. If they can do that, that will be very good.
The second important thing is that for those who are doing jobs like that, you must take care of them very well so that they are not tempted. But, anybody who has a mind to be corrupted anyway no matter what you pay will be corrupt and if such a thing happens then they should deal with that person too, immediately within the organisation. But left to us too on our own part as members of the civil society not only to work with them but also to monitor that they are doing what is right. Now we had some series of workshop with them and they participated in nearly all the workshops that we held once we invited them. But they need to be more open in terms of briefing the civil society not only through the press but meeting together with the Anti corruption NGO's and saying that what information do we have, this is the information that we have, this is the new system of corruption we are now seeing and so on and so forth. So, We need a lot more dialogue between the Anti-corruption Commission, the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Code of Conduct Tribunal and the Public Complaints Commission, because if we have all this organisation working together then you can build up a very strong Anti-corruption, you know, public sector movement. And then coupled with the fact that we have NGO's now, who are also part of the anti corruption movement then they can act as working with them and as monitors for their activities. And above all we should, they should now make use of these anti-corruption NGO's as what? As reporting centres for corrupt practices, so that if you have information for example and you give it to me I should be able to send it the Anti-corruption Commission and they should be able take action and you see that they take action. So I become credible, Anti-corruption Commission becomes credible and you now know that in future if there is any information you have you know that that information will be taken care off OK. So these are some of the things that they still need to do, but they need to work more with the civil society, work more with the Code of Conduct Bureau, Code of Conduct Tribunal and Public Complaints Commission and make sure that they are strengthened to be able to help them to do their jobs.
One particular area which has not been dealt with very much is the case of 'whistle blowers', they are the voice within the organisation. They see the rot that is going on there and you come and report, nothing protects you OK. You submitted documents, they can even sack you and nothing will happen to you. Some people can even want to eliminate you, because you've revealed some information. Now we have proposed a law to the National Assembly to protect people like that and to compensate them when they have been found to be right OK. Now this will also help a lot with the Anti-corruption Commission and the Public Complaints Commission too can also be a good reporting centre for corrupt practices but they are so weak especially for 'whistle blowers' who want to complain about what is going on in private sector and what is going on in the public sector. And, that is why the Public Complaints Commission is very very important for the 'whistle blower' to work. Lagos State Ministry of Justice has brought a directorate of public defender, for defending the public. If they can create that at the Federal level, create that in all these States, it will also help a lot. So these are some of the structures that are needed and if they work, corruption can be reduced to the minimal in Nigeria.
Sir, the next thing we want you to give us is a brief comparison of the Nigerian nation before 1999 and how it is now? What do you think is the state of the nation before 1999 and since 1999 till date sir?
Gen. Williams: Ehm, it is not a matter of before 1999 because all that one is politics, it has nothing to do with economics at all. You see, if we are serious we should look at our growth between 1960-1966 and from 1966 till now. Anybody will tell you that the economic growth of Nigeria between 1960-1966 was faster than between 1966 and now. In spite of all the infrastructural development, between 1960-1966 there was no problem with power. So if you are a nation that plans, that think ahead, why is that as you are sitting in this office there is no light in a modern town? What is the population of Lagos compared to Cairo for example, you go to Cairo you donít see a blink there is light 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. What is wrong? If you don't have power then your industries will rely on (electricity) generators, the cost of product or services would go up.
Sir, what would you say is the implication of the Supreme Court's judgement that the extension of Local Government tenure in Nigeria by the National Assembly is null and void?
Gen. Williams: the Supreme Court is there to interpret the constitution, anybody who reads the constitution even if you are not a lawyer will know that, ehm that the National Assembly has no right to amend the constitution of Nigeria. They may do, but they have to pass it round the State House of Assembly and three quarters of them must accept and pass, they've not done that. So I mean the job of the Supreme Court was very easy anyway, it was very very easy that is all. And secondly what is also important in this thing is that the State Government has no right to dissolve any Local Government because they are going to contest election next year, nobody is going to dissolve the State Government and put a care-taker there before they contest election, will they? So all this tom foolery by the State Governors should stop really. The Local Government Chairman, if you are a Local Government Chairman until the day another person is elected, until the day another person is elected then they can then handover to that person.
Would you say that the current privatisation exercise needs an injection of new blood with fresh ideas? Do you think the recent failed NITEL privatisation to IIL raises any issues of non-adherence to transparency and due process?
Gen. Williams: See, before you even talk about transparency and due process which to me appears to be the case because people who form the consortium that made a bid for NITEL were well known businessmen, traditional rulers and so on OK. It appears that they did not do their home-work well, they were not professionals at all. And again those who are in the Bureau of Privatisation, they too do not know what they are doing. Why? If all the big telecoms companies in the world run away from being interested in NITEL, if a sensible person won't, you go back a bit and say "ha, there is something wrong here o". Maybe we need a new methodology OK. They were so much in a hurry to get rid of a corrupt and inefficient system. My telephone here has been bad for over a month and it has always been like that. I will write, the Minister will write, tell them that they must not allow the telephone to go bad, it will go bad and other telephones in the area will be working. Why? Because I refused to give NITEL technicians anything and I have made up my mind that if they cut it off I will never give them anything.
The second thing is this, Nigeria has a big population, do we really need NITEL? As far as I am concerned there are many options, left to me what could have happened is this and I'm sure many Nigerians must have proposed to National Communication Commission (NCC) and the Bureau of Privatisation, we break up NITEL and divide it into zones. They sell the zones, so if you have the south-west zone, people will bid for the south-west zone, people will bid for the south-east zone. So, I think in a zone if other zones are inefficient, your zone will be working OK. If you pick up your phone in United States or England you can telephone Uyo on one dial, but to get Uyo from Lagos especially in the morning or late at night, is a problem. If I pick this mobile phone and dial United States, one touch Iím through. But, if I dial a local number in Lagos I have problems, all because we have one NITEL. When United States used to have Bell Telephone Company for the whole of the United States, what did they do in the United States? They broke up Bell into various companies and today can you count the number of telephone companies in America? Is it not efficient? If we had done that with NITEL, it could have been superb. Then you will see that some people will rush for the south-west and south-east, they will not rush for northeast and other parts. Then the State Governments of those areas should buy the shares and run the telephone company, then you get rid of that. Now the next step will be how do you then link up all the zones? You will now take that one and tell people to bid for that for what you call long distance communication, two types the one that will link up the whole of Nigeria and the one that will link Nigeria abroad. So you now tell people, bid for that and have two companies running that OK. One for long distance abroad that is all. And they will now sell to these local companies who are running the zones. So those companies running the zones now have choices in choosing between two companies and those companies too you may even have two in each zone. When people are competing with each other they get efficient.
When e-mail started in Nigeria the servers were charging so much amount of money, yesterday I saw in one of the newspapers, Linkserve was asking for N41,000.00 for one year, for Internet. Whereas before it was N100,000.00 to about N120,000.00 to one hundred and something thousand. Then, during the Christmas they brought it down to N81,000.00 now it is N41,000.00. Why? There are so many servers in the market now, Cyberspace, Infoweb and so on, this is what we are talking about. The case of Nigerian Airways, today if you go to the airport, you want to fly to Kano, you have choices. United States has no United States airlines, do they still not respect them. So why do we need NITEL? All those times of when somebody carrying flag, it has passed we are talking about economic efficiency. So when you have a telephone company, a national one and people refuse to buy it something is wrong with you. Change your strategy, break up the company, sell them to zones, have long distance telephone companies for overseas and within the country, they become more efficient. So it is not your business if I want to telephone Ibadan, I can telephone Ibadan and know the company to deal with not NITEL. You see the same thing with NEPA, we don't need one NEPA, we don't need one NEPA at all. So if Niger State has potential for generating electricity, let Niger State be selling power. So Niger State will not say that they have no resources. Therefore every State in this country has resources. And if all these things are done this way Nigeria will boom, all this one that the Federal Government keeps everything, everything must be intact and things like that is balderdash. Federal Government does not need to own shares in NITEL, it doesn't need to own shares in telephone companies, it does not need to own shares in this thing. If you are talking in terms of security let the Armed Forces and the Police have their own national telecommunications system so they don't depend on the private sector, so let them have their own.
Editor's Note: NEPA is now called Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN from 2005.
This interview was held on the 7th of April, 2002.
The concluding part of this interview will be posted to this site on Monday 13th May 2002
See Also: Part 2 of Interview with Ishola Williams
See Also: Transparency in Nigeria, A Profile
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