The executive, the legislature and the judiciary held a dialogue in Abuja last week on the justice sector’s reform and the anti-corruption campaign. The event, which had three sessions, featured no fewer than 22 speakers, including lawmakers, academics, judges, legal experts, technocrats and journalists. JOSEPH JIBUEZE highlights the key recommendations at the one-day event at the State House Abuja.
The plan of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration when it took the saddle about three years ago was to use the instrumentality of government to fight corruption. But the battle is far from being won.
Reason! The three arms of government, expected to unite against graft have not flown in the same direction
Making the battle more herculean is the fact that the organs of government are not only undermining themselves but working at cross purposes and the trend has become worrisome to the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), which last week, organised a one-day “dialogue of organs of government on reform of justice sector and campaign against corruption.”
The dialogue, organised in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Justice, was staged at the State House Banquet Hall in Abuja and was. It drew
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Bukola Saraki, House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) Abubakar Malami, SAN.
Represented by the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Mr. Ade Ipaye, Osinbajo, called for a harmonious relationship between the legislative, judiciary and executive arms of government, without which he foreclosed development.
The vice president said: “Conflicts could arise from misunderstanding of constitutional responsibilities; inordinate foray or venture by one organ into the territory of another organ, inordinate ambition or domineering attitude by one over others, power struggle, greed or self-interest, hypocrisy; lack of patriotism and corruption.”
According to him, unresolved conflicts slows down the pace of governance, creates suspicion and hostility, encourages bad governance, creates distraction and tension, encourages the culture of impunity and disregard for the rule of law among the political class, with attendant political instability that divides the populace.
“In order to avoid these consequences and for a government to deliver development to the people, it is imperative for the three arms of government to constantly bury the hatchet and focus on collaborative efforts within their constitutional responsibilities to formulate and implement effective governance laws and policies,” he said.
Dr. Saraki, who was represented by Senator David Omoru, spoke of the need to strengthen institutions and processes “so that we can fight the good fight without let or hindrance, and without any bias whatsoever.”
Pledging the lawmakers’ commitment to the anti-graft war, the Senate President said: “Let me assure you that we as lawmakers in the Eighth National Assembly take very seriously the fight against corruption to sanitise our polity and instill greater probity, openness and accountability in the system.
“That way, we would be better able to power the economic development of this country, rather than having up to 25 per cent of our annual GDP (Gross Domestic Product) disappear into private pockets,” he said.
The AGF said the campaign against corruption can only succeed if it actively involves all stakeholders and enjoys ownership by all the arms of government.
Malami said: “It is also significant to posit that the efficiency of the justice sector is critical to the speed at which the results of our collective efforts can become available to the public.
“No matter our best intentions, no matter the urgency in our methods as an executive branch, the application of the rule of law by the judiciary and the expeditious consideration of supporting laws by the legislature are equally critical to the overall success we hope to achieve in order to promote greater prosperity and stability in our country.”
Dogara, represented by Jide Akinloye, said the House would “go the whole hog to support any attempt to fight corruption”.
Sagay: Corrupt judges rubbishing judiciary
The PACAC Chairman, Prof Itse Sagay (SAN) said it was corrupt judges have been doing more damage to the judiciary, not those who point out its failing.
According to him, judges must not be afraid to bring the full weight of the law on their corrupt colleagues.
To the constitutional lawyer, all organs of government must be harsher in dealing with corrupt persons within their fold.
He said judges must have zero tolerance for lawyers who try to compromise them, but should expose such lawyers and have them struck off the rolls.
Sagay said: “Judges must be prepared to bring to justice any of their colleagues who accept or demand bribes.
“These are the ones who rubbish the image of the judiciary, not the legitimate critics of such gross misconduct.
“It takes only one apple to contaminate and make all the other apples in the barrel rotten also. So, self-criticism and firm punishment for culprits within a sector by colleagues is mandatory in order to establish zero tolerance for corruption in that sector.”
He urged judges to strictly apply provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 in order to enhance speedy and fair justice.
“Some judges are currently carrying on as if the ACJA does not exist,” he noted.
According to him, there must be no espiri de corp between a clean member and a corrupt member in any arm of government.
Sagay said those who are known to be corrupt have no moral right to pontificate on the fight.
The PACAC chief said: “There is a lot of lip service by various high profile public servants in the anti-corruption war.
“When a person who is known by the Nigerian public as an irredeemably corrupt person begins to wax lyrical about the devastating effects of corruption, it sounds very ill in his mouth and it ridicules and belittles the fight against corruption.
“Public figures that are already notorious for their penchant for corruption are doing disservice to the anti-corruption struggle by pretending to hate corruption. Let such people remain silent rather than ridiculing the war against corruption.”
Urging lawmakers to fight budget padding and unjust remuneration and to pass pending anti-corruption bills, Sagay advised agencies of the executive, such as Customs, not to demand bribes to do their jobs.
He said: “If they deserve higher remuneration, they should demand it. In fact, we should allow Customs, Inland Revenue Department, EFCC and ICPC to retain a small portion of the assets recovered or collected by them in order to promote internal integrity in those services.
“We must tackle the following matters with all seriousness: prevention of corruption; speedy, effective and efficient trials; recovery of looted assets, and discouragement and deterrence of bribery, corruption and economic financial crimes in the public and private sectors.”
Falana, others speak
The event had three sessions, with the sub-themes: Campaign against corruption and justice sector reform: Journey so far; strengthening justice sector institutions/law enforcement agencies for improved sanctions and enforcement; and preventing corruption and sustaining justice sector reforms.
Speakers and contributors include: Justice A. D. Yahaya of the Court of Appeal, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, Prof Larry Chukwu, a lawmaker Jimi Benson, Justice T. Akomolafe Benson, Justice E. Agim, Justice Chinyere Ani, activist-lawyer Femi Falana (SAN), a professor of law Ayo Atsenuwa, a journalist Mr. Lanre Arogundade, former Nigerian Law School Director-General Lanre Onadeko (SAN), The Nation’s Managing Editor, Northern Operations Yusuf Alli, Executive Director at the Access to Justice (A2J) Mr. Joseph Otteh and Dr. Fatima Waziri-Azi of PACAC, among others.
Falana urged Attorneys-General to do more in the fight against corruption under their jurisdiction. The activist-lawyer noted that impunity has continued because some of them abuse the power of nolle-prosequi.
“The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) cannot go to a state to prosecute without the fiat of the Attorney-General in many of the cases. What are they doing in pursuing cases of corruption in their state?” he asked.
On sentencing, Falana wondered why someone who stole billions of naira would be jailed for a mere 10 years or less. To him, it was a class issue that must be addressed.
He said an armed robbery suspect who robbed only one person may be sentenced to death, and no one would raise an eyebrow.
Falana said: “But, the man who has stolen money meant for building a road – and because that road is not built, people are dying, or the one who diverted money meant for building a hospital – are only asked to plea bargain.
“The worst case of fraud that has been recorded was that of a bank executive who was alleged to have returned through plea bargain N191.4 billion in money and other assets. He was sentenced for six months in a highbrow hospital in Lagos. Whereas, in Osun State, a young man was sentenced to 50 years for stealing a handset worth N7, 000.
“For us not to expose the law to ridicule, there would be the need on the part of PACAC perhaps to organise a seminar on sentencing, because people out there are laughing.”
Falana accused anti-corruption agencies of not applying Section 10 of the Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act.
The section, the lawyer noted, provides that if a person fails to declare assets worth over N1 million, the person is liable to life imprisonment.
“That law is there, but nobody applies it,” Falana said.
The SAN said workers emoluments, health insurance and other benefits are given high priority in countries where corruption is genuinely fought.
According to him, people are likely to be tempted to steal if they know they would retire into penury.
“How do we create an enabling environment for us to live good lives so that we’ll not be tempted to want to loot the treasury?” Falana wondered.
Justice Ani said corruption results in poverty, high level of unemployment, infrastructural deficit and lack of foreign investments, among other ills.
She regretted that some high profile cases were badly investigated, which makes it difficult to prove the essential ingredients of a crime.
On the part of judges, she said there was “entrenched” lack of know-how by some of them, adding that lack of enough budgetary provisions also hampers the anti-graft war.
Justice Ani recommended the equipment of courts for efficiency, as most of the court use manual recording systems; improvement in inter-agency collaboration, as well as an amendment of the section of the ACJA on video recording of suspects during interrogation to replace the word “May” with “Shall.’
Alli said there was too much political interference in the anti-graft war, even as there was lack of manpower among anti-graft agencies.
According to him, investigators must have insurance policy and very good welfare package to keep them motivated.
On the way forward, Alli said there should be less politics in the anti-graft war, adding that it should not been seen as a political tool.
To him, the office of the AGF should be separated from the Minister of Justice, while anti-graft agencies need to be sanitised.
Alli said: “Anti-graft agencies must operate within the ambit of the law, and merit should take preeminence over any other thing,” he said.
On the issue of media trial, Alli said the press does not go beyond filtered information given to them by anti-graft agencies.
EFCC’s Head of Legal Department Gbolahan Latona said it was a miracle that anti-graft agencies were doing the much they do considering the low budget they operate with compared to their counterparts abroad.
Onadeko decried the fact that corruption cases were lasting too long in courts. To him, corruption cannot be fought conventionally. New approaches must be adopted, he said.
Prof Atsenuwa said the ACJA would not work unless it was properly funded.
“I’m not aware of who has mapped the budgetary implication of ACJA’s implementation. There has to be an implementation framework for the ACJA,” she said.
She added that in the investigation of cases, lawyers need to guide investigators on what to look out for.
Justice Yahaya, who chaired one of the sessions, said there were enough laws; the problem was with their implementation.
“The problem is the indiscipline that is in us. Without a committed and disciplined people, I don’t see us succeeding. Something is going to collapse unless we all address the challenges and face them,” he said.
Otteh called for the introduction of a Financial Disclosures Rule which would limit the amount of physical cash that judicial officers can hold at any time.
He said the rule that “he who alleges must prove” should be revised so that those founds with suspicious amounts of money could be called upon to explain how they came about them.
Besides, he said the war against corruption would not be won when the courts are shut down on flimsy excuses, such as when all judges of a court are attending a burial or seminar.
PACAC member Prof Femi Odekunle cited the example of South Korea where the elite got together and fought corruption to save the country. He said the elite must agree to kill corruption if the fight must be won.
“Like the President said, if we don’t kill corruption, it will kill us. He appears to be the only one saying so. It has not been bought by the elite collectively. If the elite in the three major organs of government get together and fight corruption, it will filter down the other agencies,” he said.
Prof Odekunle said the three arms of government have more to do. For instance, he said the National Assembly had punished its members who tried to expose corruption by suspending them, and has not been transparent about lawmakers’ allowances. According to him, “any of them who breaks out of the code of silence” gets punished.
He faulted the executive for recalling a man who was suspended over allegations of corruption, adding that the judiciary appears to condone corruption among its members.
Odekunle said: “I said about two years ago that you have to sacrifice the blood of two judges and two SANs to cleanse and do libation to be able to liberate the legal profession from corruption.
“If the executive had gone along, there’d be no Maina case, no Babachir case and the NIA case.
“I agree there should be separation of powers, but there should be no separation of the core values, the ethos, the philosophy of social organisation.
“I think the elite must get together and say: ‘Corruption will kill us if we don’t kill it’. They must lead the way.
“To me, it’s a matter of a visionary leadership, but all the elites must agree; otherwise I don’t think we’ll make progress.”
The post Executive, legislature, judiciary join forces against graft appeared first on The Nation Nigeria.