•As executive, legislature, judiciary engage in a blame game over corruption
Barely 24 hours after his confirmation by the Nigerian Senate, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onneghen, who is yet to be formerly sworn-in to become a substantive CJN talks tough, literally telling the government to be ready to prove its cases especially at it concerns corruption. This happened at a function attended by Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in Abuja. He made it clear that he rule of law can be employed to its fullest in the fight against corruption but would not allow the judiciary to be used for mob-justice
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Apparently, they were completely oblivious of his message to them. Perhaps, by every conceivable circumstance, they had thought they were in the same ship and on the same page but little did they know that he had a mind of his own, especially when there was already some palpitations in the room.
Of course, one does not need to brood over the source of his audacity, for he had over the years, in the course of his job, faced fiercer, more intimidating scenarios and, so, had developed some fibers to deal with issues as they come, standing firm on his position.
That was the President Buhari Muhammadu Buhari-appointed, the Senate confirmed but yet to-be-sworn-in new Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onneghen.
Anyone, who watched or heard him speak at the 2 day National Dialogue on Corruption held at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Thursday would agree that Onneghen, indeed, spoke truth to power. He exuded rare courage and like the legal luminary he is, roundly schooled his listeners in the arts and science of legal prosecutions principally anchored on the rule of law and the constitution.
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Nkanu Onnoghen
Incidentally, a handful of his listeners come from the same background of law and had also achieved some intellectual height.
For instance, the Acting President before whom Onnoghen spoke is a Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN. This is also the case with the Chairman of PACAC, Itse Sagay. Of course, the Minister of Justice is also a SAN. ICPC Chairman is also a lawyer; and also the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed.
Organised by the Office of the Vice President in collaboration with the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, the event was a must attend by the relevant stakeholders.
Consequently, the occasion featured a rich roll call: Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubukar Malami, Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Nta Ekpo, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, Minister of Transport, Rotimi Ameachi, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, chairman of PACAC, Professor Itse Sagay and his sidekick, Professor Odekunle, and a lot more were in attendance.
Many people took it for granted that Osinbajo represented the Executive arm of government while Saraki and Onnoghen represented the Legislature and the Judiciary arms respectively.
Earlier, speakers after him had taken turns to speak “provocatively”, stoutly defending their various immediate institutions and actions, somewhat engaged in a blame game.
And by the time it got to his turn, he had become somewhat agitated. At least, that was the impression his expressions, gesticulations and presentation later stamped on the minds of many people.
For a head of judiciary who is very central to the anti-corruption war in prosecutorial matters, all eyes were steadily fixed on him. Interestingly, his immediate professional family had been raided for that.
He reeled out the protocols which he religiously followed. But just before he ended it, the CJN unconsciously pulled a sting of laughter with a deep breathe he took.
At this time, attention on him doubled with the sea of heads turning towards him for a better a view.
Of course, the deep breathe he intermittently took and the sigh he heaved gave him away as a man who was just regaining consciousness from a flurry of accentuated thoughts. He also gave an impression of a man who got stuck in a linguistic web.
Knowing that his remarks may be unwittingly interpreted on two major monosyllabic, controversial fronts of “yea and nay”, the CJN began on an emotional tone, occasionally sighing and hissing which caused more laughters.
While speaking, mostly extemporaneously, Onneghen maintained facial contact with the high table, perhaps, to let the message sink.
He audaciously told the high table that no judge would be cowed to hastily give judgment in a case with the prosecutor not proving his case beyond all the reasonably doubts.
He lamented a situation where investigations are shoddily done.
“As the head of the Nigerian judiciary, the issue of corruption is a sensitive one. The judiciary finds itself being battered left, right and center.
“So, what should the Chief Justice of Nigeria say on an occasion like this which will not appear as if it is in defence of his institution or shielding the bad eggs few of which I admit exist. Or just what will I say except to assure Nigerians that the Nigerian judiciary remains very much committed and in complete support of the effort at caging corruption in Nigeria. I stand for the Committee and other agencies in the fight against the scourge. I will like us to realise that corruption thrives (or any other form of injustice) thrives in a culture of impunity.
“Wherever you have a culture of impunity, you will have corruption. Because people believe I must have this. It must be this or nothing. It must be me and me alone. So, they throw away the constitutional provisions that have been drafted to guide our daily activities, inter-governmental, inter-personal; they throw away the principles of Rule of Law.
“But the judiciary holds this principles in care because that is the only way by which you can ensure an orderly society and ensure the good and maintenance of democracy and justice for us. So, if you are to fight corruption then you fight the culture of impunity which is an attitudunal phenomenon, by adhering strictly to the constitutional provision of the rule of law. If we allow the rule of law to reign, then you will agree with me there will be a dramatic reduction in corruption and injustice.
“That’s speaking for myself, that’s how I see it. Ask yourself; corruption, the judiciary always stands accused. In fact, it appears the paint and the brush…it seems to be an institution that epitomizes corruption. That’s not fair. That’s not correct. A Nigerian judicial officer is a gentleman. You have gentlemen on that bench. And by the nature of that institution, the judiciary, it is crafted and designed in a such a way that a judicial officer can only seen not heard.
“Not that he has nothing to say even in defence of himself? So, when you are dealing with judicial corruption when one exists, you have to do it in accordance with the rule of law and then, channel whatever you have through the appropriate channels so that you don’t destroy that institution. Because destroying it will not make any good. It will do it more harm than good.
The institution is so painted as if we are not doing enough. Yes we can do more. But for now, you have EFCC and ICPC for instance, building all data of cases that have been successfully prosecuted in the courts of law. So, if the judiciary is not doing well, you find out the report card from them.
“So, whatever problems that exist in the cause of prosecuting their cases, let them bring them up, identify them and let us see how best we can improve on the system and not make it appear as if the judiciary is not doing anything. It takes three people to prosecute a case like I said yesterday.
You have the investigator who has to investigate. You have prosecutor who has to prosecute based on the result or evidence gathered from the investigation. Then you have the judge who has to weigh and balance the scale between the accused person and the government, the power-that-be, to arrive at a decision.
When you have a shoddily investigated case, poorly prosecuted one and you expect the judge who is under oath, judicial oath, to do justice to all manner of persons without fear of favour or ill will, to respect you on balancing the scale, to convict willy-nilly, this can never be done. I can assure you of that. No judicial officer will get himself involved in that. Do you know why?
“Because, a Judicial officer’s witness is time. Time is the only witness to a judicial officer. So, only time can tell. Tomorrow, these things will be reviewed. He could have committed suicide by the decision he arrived at.
“I have gone through, call all the heads of courts in this country, federal and state courts, and they furnished me with data on EFCC, ICPC, terrorism cases and high profile commercial cases, and one thing I can remember, funny enough, most of the cases are abandoned in the court.
When you see statistics, so many cases are filed and judgment has not been delivered. These cases have been abandoned. The Judge is always there. But the prosecutor decides to just abandon and find a reason and stop coming to court. There is an instruction to judicial officers that they should not strike out as a policy. You should not strike out such cases.
“They should not remain there. So that when they start striking them out, you say, oh, the judiciary is striking them when they should prosecute these cases to conclusion. I wish you very, very good time for you to look at this time holistically and let us have a way forward. But remember always that a judicial officer can really be seen and not heard.
“So, whatever decisions the agencies would arrive at, they should not put us in a situation that later on when you know the whole truth comes out and a big mess had been committed and the man will spend the whole of his life under that kind of yoke. It is not only demoralizing, it is killing the spirit of the judiciary. So, I wish you very good deliberations.”
By these words, Onneghen is simply reiterating his position at his screening at the Senate on Wednesday, where he had made it clear that: “I assure you that I will not compromise my integrity and the independence of the judiciary will be re-enforced under my watch. I believe that you don’t need to see a judge before you have justice”.
Don’t make National Assembly a scapegoat—Saraki
The Senate President, Saraki though represented by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-corruption, Senator Chuwuka Utazi, would not also stomach the bashings of his National Assembly at the forum and so, rose in defence of it, asking anti-corruption agencies to tame themselves of corrupt tendencies.
“Certain government agencies and civil society bodies (and PACAC is not innocent of this), have formed the habit of making a scape goat of the National Assembly as a den of corruption. They deliberately cast institutions of state in unsalutary hue that is divorced from reality.
It does not help in confidence building, within government and across the civil population, when institutions of state are deliberately demonised in order to put the shine on others.
“As a critical stakeholder and partner in the mandate given to PACAC, it does not feel right when you mount rostrums to say how badly the National Assembly has performed; how they have left their duties derelict and how corrupt they are. Indeed, it is counter-productive for PACAC to do so because its mandate of advising should be given across board to all arms and tiers in order to promote the effectiveness of all government institutions and strengthen anti-corruption measures in a comprehensive manner.
“In the same vein, PACAC should not lend itself to supporting extra-legal actions, if the fight against corruption will be sustained and ingrained in the body polity. A situation where PACAC speaks in favour of patently extra-legal means of law enforcement does not bode well for the rule of law. The end-result of any action of government is as important as the process.
“The platforms for fighting corruption should not, themselves, be corrupt or be seen to be corrupted. The recent so-called sting operation by the Department of State Security on the residences of some very Senior Justices, some without warrants, others without any proof of incriminating body of evidence, leaves much to be desired”, he said.
NDDC, Nigerian Customs stink with corruption – Sagay
Earlier on, the Chairman of PACAC, Sagay had stung the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC and the Nigeria customs, saying there were cesspools for corruption.
“Corruption is omnipresent in Nigeria. High and low office holders, public and private sector, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial Sectors, Customs, Immigration, Police, the Civil Service, everywhere.
“The recklessness with which public officers spend public funds is insensitive to the point of insanity. Yes I mean that. The level of insensitivity has become pathological.
“Only a few months ago Nigeria was on fire because members of the National Assembly bought cars costing over thirty million Naira each with our money, in order to carry out so called oversight duties, during this period of financial drought and famine. We called them well deserved names, like cruel, inhuman, malevolent, etc.
“My dear friends, you will not believe that with all we are going through, the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) which is the other name for uncompleted projects, has just bought over 70 cars. Of those about 8 of them are Super Lexus Jeeps costing 78 million Naira each and about 10 are Land Cruisers costing 63 million Naira each”, he said.
Corruption is everywhere – Osinbajo
Perhaps, everyone had expected the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo to be piqued by the submissions of the CJN. But like always, he played smart and once again, showed leadership. In some calm and calculated soothing voice, Osinbajo told the crowd that the blame game wouldn’t do the country any good.
He rather asked all to appreciate the existence of corruption across every stratum of the Nigerian society.
He said: “Corruption as we all seem to agree, is an existential threat to Nigeria both as a nation and as an viable economic entity. Clearly, there is no doubt whatsoever whether every one arm of government can excuse itself, every part or arm of the society can excuse itself. But the truth of the matter is that we all know that corruption in Nigeria is systemic. It doesn’t matter whether it is the Executive arm of government, the judiciary or the legislature, every arm of government is involved in this systemic and life threatening social anomaly called corruption.
“So, I think we should leave the finger pointing, because the finger pointing is unhelpful. What is important is that we recognise that there is a major problem here. What I’d like us to do if that is possible in the course of this dialogue, is to look at models that have worked elsewhere and to see whether these models are somewhat applicable here.
To look at best practices. The truth of the matter is that there is nothing peculiar about the Nigerian citizen, or the Nigerian type. Corruption thrives where it is allowed to thrive and there are many societies that have found themselves in worse circumstances than Nigeria and have somehow managed to solve their problems.”