Recent outburst between the ruling All Progressive Congress APC and the opposition People’s Democratic Party PDP, on who to probe and who not to probe have been generating a lot of issues in the nation polity, forcing President Muhammadu Buhari to take his determination a step further at the weekend when he urged Nigerian lawyers not to sacrifice the integrity of the countrys’ legal system in a bid to cover the misdeeds of their clients, no matter how lucrative the brief may be.
The President made the appeal while speaking at the opening of the 55th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), where he also called on Nigerian lawyers to support his administration’s war against corruption and help the country return to the path of rectitude by making Nigerian courts functional and effective again. A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said he is convinced that Nigerian judiciary has a very vital role to play in the current war against corruption. “ I am convinced that law, law-makers, lawyers, law courts and the law enforcement agencies all have pivotal responsibilities to discharge, if the change we seek is ever to materialize.” “As you all know by now, this administration has taken on the challenge of improving security, fighting corruption and revamping the economy, among many others. “The fight against corruption is in reality a struggle for the restoration of law and order. Corruption and impunity become widespread when disrespect for law is allowed to thrive in society.
Disrespect for law also thrives when people get away with all sorts of shady deals and the court system is somehow unable to check them. “Ability to manipulate and frustrate the legal system is the crowning glory of the corrupt and, as may be expected, this has left many legal practitioners and law courts tainted in an ugly way. “In a gathering such as this, I do not need to elaborate on the way that corruption and impunity have damaged our economy. But I would like to say more on what, I believe, should be your role as legal practitioners, in helping us back to the path of rectitude. “First, we need to make our courts functional and effective again.
This means that we must have lawyers who take the ethics of the profession very seriously; lawyers who will not frustrate the course of justice, even though they defend their clients with all legitimate means and resources. “Nigeria needs ethical lawyers who always keep the end of justice in mind and will never sacrifice the integrity of the legal system to cover the misdeeds of their clients, no matter how lucrative the brief may be,” President Buhari told the country’s lawyers. Noting that lawyers are often in the vanguard of the defense of human rights, President Buhari urged them to view corruption too as a gross violation of human rights. “For the masses of our people, the millions still wallowing in want and diseases, corruption is a major reason why they cannot go to school; why they cannot be gainfully employed; and why there are few doctors, nurses and drugs in their hospitals and health centers. It is the reason why pensioners are not paid and potable water is scarce.
“In effect, corruption diverts public resources meant for millions of people into the private pockets of a greedy few, thereby causing a lot of suffering, deprivation and death. In my view, there can be no greater violation of human rights. “Viewed in this way, I think we can all fully appreciate the gravity of this oppressive and destructive evil. This should rouse us to fight it with the same zeal and doggedness as we deploy in the defense of fundamental rights,” President Buhari said.
The President also urged Nigerian lawyers to work for a more efficient and effective legal system which, he said, will help to attract more investments to the country and accelerate the pace of national economic development. “Increased engagement with the outside world is called for as we seek public private partnerships in our quest for enhanced capital and expertise. There is no doubt that all these depend on enforceable agreements and a reliable legal system. “Contracts are only good to the extent that they are enforceable without undue delay. If by the default of lawyers or the law courts, it is found that cases take ages to conclude or that the judicial system is somehow corruptible, we obviously cannot attract the kind of partnerships which we need or which our large vibrant economy would ordinarily have attracted.
“The world today has been correctly described as a global village. Capital and expertise are readily mobile. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between our country and others when the choice of where to do business is being made. Our current position in this respect is not good enough. Our process for obtaining licenses and permits are too slow. It takes too long a time to enforce contracts in our law courts and our regulatory and administrative processes are not noticeably predictable or efficient. “In all these lawyers have a key role to play, whether in the reform of our laws and regulation or in the integrity of our judicial systems.
It is my fervent hope that this conference and other fora of lawyers and non-lawyers will closely and quickly work out ways of making our legal system much improved in terms of integrity, the human touch, efficiency and rigorous dedication to the cause of justice,” The President assured the gathering that his administration will give its full support to the implementation of the required legal reforms if it is convinced that they are in the best interest of the nation. Meanwhile the (PDP) Caucus in the House of Representatives recently urged the Federal Government to adopt a holistic approach in its fight against corruption.
The group made the call in a news conference recently in Abuja. Addressing the conference on behalf of the caucus, its Spokesman, Rep. Rima Kwewum (Taraba) stressed that the anti-corruption crusade of the present administration required probe that was holistic. He urged the government to focus on delivering its mandate to Nigerians and not be preoccupied by only fight against corruption. Kwewum, however, expressed support of the caucus and PDP to the anti-corruption campaign, but said that the approach should be holistic. “Probe should not be limited to selected citizens of the country,’’ he cautioned. According to him, in the laws of Nigeria, corruption is a crime.
His words “A crime could have been committed ten years ago, but it is still a crime. Nobody has the power to decide on his own that a crime committed at a certain period is no longer a crime. “A crime at any point as long as it is within our memory, as long as facts can be brought up, is a crime. “This is why we are saying as a party that the fight against corruption should not have any limitation about what has happened as to time”. He also urged the government to ensure that perpetrators of corrupt practices were duly prosecuted.
He reiterated how can you come and say that you are not going to prosecute people because you have arbitrarily drawn a line without an amendment to the Constitution; because the Constitution has not given status of limitation. He further noted that any criminal activity is a criminal activity until it is investigated and its perpetrators are penalized, Kwewum said.
However a Policy Analyst says that the fight against corruption in Nigeria is uncoordinated, nonstrategic and has no policy. Speaking in an interview recently, Mr. Gbenga Omolayole, said that what is happening in Nigeria is like a bullfight, with the cow boy riding a bull and the people are applauding him. “Is it the bull that will eventually fall or the man riding it?” he asked. The fight is like a media war. You don’t fight war on the pages of newspaper, Mr. Omolayole further stated while maintaining that the government must be prepared to take constructive criticism and advice. Speaking on the need to enlighten the people in order to curb corruption, he said that there had to be a form of campaign to educate the people on corruption. Mr Omolayole, however, addressed the issue, based on both short and long term measures.
Speaking about the short-term measures, he said the judiciary must try cases of corruption via courts while the issue of immunity clause, civil service, among others must be reconsidered. All the short term measures that might serve as conflict to the constitution must be addressed constitutionally. “Let us re-energise and restructure the agencies created to fight corruption so as to achieve results,” he stressed. His words “Our constitution is designed to encourage corruption because the preamble of the constitution is untrue”. He further said that Nigeria was not practicing true federalism and that federalism was too expensive for Nigeria. What I will recommend for Nigeria is the semi presidential system of government that is being practiced in France, he said.
Similarly the Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Most Rev Hassan Kukah, has faulted interpretations given his comment on the Federal Government’s anti-corruption war in the media, declaring that he was not trying to protect former President, Goodluck Jonathan against probe by the present administration. The Bishop, who declared at the weekend that he had never, in any of his latent and manifest utterances, gone against probing Jonathan. According to him, he only offered a very realistic advice to President Muhammadu Buhari, advising that he should not be carried away by probes, as the business of governance must go on.
Speaking through the secretary of Sokoto Diocese, Rev. Father Sixtus Onuh, Kukah insisted that his simple standpoint remained that the probes should not be selective; rather it should cut across all former leaders and public servants. Father Onuh argued that Kukah remained a very patriotic Nigerian, who has served the country in diverse assignments without demanding any material reward, and maintained that the bishop spent even personal resources for missionary work. Onuh insisted that it is unfortunate; the extent mischief-makers can go in trying to blackmail the respected cleric by snapping Bishop Kukah’s building and uploading same on Facebook, alleging that it was built with money given to the Peace Committee by former President, Jonathan.
“All he is saying is that governance can go on while President Buhari can carry on with his probes, but he was not just elected to only come and probe. All he said was that Nigerians are eager, Nigerians are anxious to see things taking shape. “He made this comment on Channels TV. He made the comment in Sahara Reporters as well. He said that it was Nigerian attitude. All this noise about probe, probe, probe, he said that you can go ahead with the probe but don’t forget the governance. “All he is saying is simple: if you really want to probe now that ordinary Nigerians are calling for probe, then the probe should be extended to former leaders – Yar’Adua, Obasanjo, IBB and all others before them so that Nigerians will know that Buhari has done a great job rather than carry out selective probe. “Bishop Kukah has served this country in diverse capacities. He served under Obasanjo, served under Yar’Adua, under Jonathan and even under Buhari.
All I want Nigerians to note is that Bishop Kukah has served the Nigerian government, whether in the Political Reform Conference, Oputa Panel or whichever national assignment to mention few which he has found him without receiving any gratification, because he had said it earlier that, that was his own contribution to the nation. But he has never taken anything from the government. Meanwhile whatever people are saying about him, whether he was given bribe to defend Jonathan or not, I tell you with every sense of honour that if I should explain how much the Bishop spent on daily or monthly basis supporting us (Sokoto Diocese) since he became bishop of the diocese, you will appreciate God for him because I have the record as the secretary. “It is people, friends both local and foreign that are supporting him to develop God’s work.”
Father Onuh also added that the bishop was simply being sincere in addressing issues. “Bishop Kukah does not join issues with anybody. If you like, insult him; he will simply say God should forgive you,” he noted. Interestingly the Federal Government has begun moves to establish special courts to try corruption related cases as part of the efforts to fight graft in the country. In his bid to leave no stone unturned in its determination to sustain the anti-corruption was President Buhari is opting for a comprehensive onslaught against the problem of corruption in the country. It was learnt that the President had concluded plans to submit a bill on the planned special anti-corruption courts to the National Assembly. The Presidency had commenced the process of identifying fearless judges that would be saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting corrupt persons as he said.
-Francis Moses writes on the raging propriety of FG’s fight against corruption and probing of alleged looters.