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A ‘forgetful’ chief Justice, an illustration of the Nigerian problem

By Tabia Princewill

IF the Buhari administration has done one thing right, it’s to show us why exactly it is so difficult to turn things around in Nigeria. The eyes of the ordinary man on the street should be open to the many strangely legal and illegal pathways available and commonly used by the political elite hell bent on maintaining the status quo.

Onnoghen
Justice Onnoghen

ONNOGHEN: Prepare for break-up if INEC rigs election —N/Delta militants

The first among their methods, besides using legal jargon to confuse the uninformed or exploiting legal loopholes and technicalities, is misinformation and manipulation aided by some sections of the media.

Let us take a quick walk down memory lane, starting with: “no government can fix Nigeria in four years”, a statement by former President Goodluck Jonathan at the end of his own four-year term. Ironically, he was right. There are simply too many people standing in the way of progress: our dysfunctional system was purpose built to allow a predatory elite unchallenged and unequal access to our resources.

Unequal access to our resources

The Constitution we inherited from the military has many strange clauses, including ones which place the bodies meant to investigate or sanction chief executives under the control and authority of these same executives.

What a perfect way to ensure no one is ever found guilty of anything: constitutionally, only Onnoghen can suspend Onnoghen in order to investigate the same Onnoghen.

In legal terms, the NJC, a body under the Chief Justice’s supervision, is expected to also investigate, suspend and/or sanction him.

What we call “due process” in Nigeria, is faulty in many ways. Our laws, particularly those pertaining to the code of conduct of civil servants and political appointees, have built in loopholes which have always allowed individuals to escape justice, or to escape proper investigation to begin with.

No Senate has ever deemed it fit to review such aberrations, for obvious reasons. Protecting politically exposed persons from punishment or investigation is the primary “human right” of concern to the Nigerian elite and nothing else.

Politicians have always counted on the ease with which Nigerians can be manipulated: the collapse of our educational system is intentional, it’s the reason why some people see nothing wrong with the many unresolved allegations hanging over some of our nation’s top citizens who continue to determine our country’s future. When the June 12 election was stolen from us, some people treated it like a “Yoruba issue” with nothing to do with the rest of Nigeria.

We’re not wondering why Obasanjo and Atiku are suddenly back to being friends, despite the terrible and damning things they both said about each other. We ignored it when former Finance Minister, Okonjo-Iweala said the National Assembly received N172 billion to pass the 2015 budget and that this has been the practice from time immemorial.

We made jokes about budget padding. We also ignored the $16 billion  power funds allegedly “mismanaged” by the administration led by Obasanjo who curiously criticises every President he helped install once they allegedly no longer see eye to eye.

INEC officials who admitted they received $115 million from Diezani Alison-Madueke, the former Minister of Petroleum to compromise the 2015 elections were sentenced to seven years in prison over the weekend. Curiously, this isn’t discussed.

We ignored it when Justice Dahiru Sale was removed by Obasanjo and Ayo Salami was removed by Jonathan. Do we see a pattern here? Our Chief Justice, Walter Onnoghen, who managed to “forget” $900,000 is only taking a leaf from the “forgetful” Nigerian people, many of whom act as if justice doesn’t apply to the rich or well-connected.

The corruption industry in Nigeria is more sophisticated than any bystander could possibly imagine. While the US, the UK and the EU “mean well” (although this could be argued given what WikiLeaks cables revealed they supposedly knew about the activities of oil companies such as Shell which allegedly also play a key role in subverting our tax income and judicial processes), they must admit the obvious, like anyone who wants Nigeria’s progress: the anti-corruption fight obviously needs a judiciary that is above reproach.

Damaging evidence

Buhari’s “fear” of being perceived as a dictator, despite the mind-boggling facts or damaging evidence of corruption enacted by those the EFCC and security agencies have investigated or prosecuted, which could support or explain his actions, is a thought Obasanjo, Yar’Adua or Jonathan wrestled with.

Lee Kuan Yew, a man who is now celebrated by the West after he successfully sanitised Singapore, took many of the steps Buhari is ironically being criticised for today. Mandela was called a terrorist by the British government, Martin Luther King wasn’t appreciated by the US government until his death (in fact “troublemaker” was the most polite term used to describe him).

So, sometimes foreign governments get it wrong, in pursuance of their own interests and agendas at the time. Nigerians need to decide what they want, once and for all. Our country’s survival depends on it.

President Muhammadu Buhari

BY signing Executive Order 007, the President allowed private companies to build federal roads. This is another one of those underreported yet potentially game-changing events in recent months. Zainab Ahmed, Finance Minister said: “Our intention is for there to be at least one significant eligible road project underway in every state of the federation within the first year of the operation of this scheme”.

A total of six investors (Dangote, Lafarge, Unilever, Flour Mills, NLNG, China Road and Bridge Corporation Nigeria Limited) will build 19 federal roads in 11 states in Nigeria (794.4km across the six geopolitical zones). In return for tax breaks, critical projects will be undertaken by the private sector. Couldn’t this have been done decades ago?

National Judicial Council

SOCIO-ECONOMIC Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, sent a petition to the National Judicial Council, NJC, demanding it “immediately takes over the case of Justice Walter Onnoghen from the Code of Conduct Tribunal with a view to setting up a committee to investigate the allegations of breach of constitutional asset declaration requirements against him”.

A SERAP statement said: “It is in times like this that the NJC must be most vigilant and alive to its constitutional duties, if it is not to permit a diminution of our treasured constitutional rights.” Interestingly, Onnoghen reportedly postponed the NJC meeting without giving a reason for doing so. Is that due process?

Kemi Adeosun resigned over an NYSC certificate, yet with the Onnoghen matter, some people encouraged him to neither resign nor take the expected steps to clear his name. In Nigeria the accused is never held to the same standard as the accuser. President Buhari said he expected Onnoghen to have “acted swiftly to spare our Judicial Arm further disrepute by removing himself from superintending over it while his trial lasted”.

He also said it was “no secret that this government is dissatisfied with the alarming rate in which the Supreme Court of Nigeria under the oversight of Justice Walter Onnoghen has serially set free, persons accused of the most dire acts of corruption, often on mere technicalities, and after quite a number of them have been convicted by the trial and appellate courts”.

If petty thieves in Nigeria were granted use of the same excuses and loopholes as the high and mighty, no one would ever be convicted no matter the crime.

Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.


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