The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has advised the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA not to institutionalise corruption by taking sides with the suspended Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, a man whom it said has already admitted that he committed an offence.
The ex-CJN was suspended from office last week by President Muhammadu Buhari on allegations bordering on graft but members of NBA resolved to embark on a two-day warning boycott of courts in protest against the suspension on the ground that the action did not follow due process.
MURIC said that “This boycott is sheer hocus pocus. It is poor Nigerians who will suffer from the NBA’s boycott. They have allowed their emotions to run away with them. The problem with our lawyers is that they see every problem, including political, as a legal problem. They do not look at other angles or think of other possibilities and solutions. They tend to corroborate an African proverb which says, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.’
“We are talking about a man who sat at the helm of our judiciary here. This man has admitted that he ‘forgot’ more than a billion naira in his bank account. That, to us, is preposterous. It is alarming. Unfortunately those who know better because they are ‘learned’ are the same people staging a boycott to protect the billionaire Justice.
“Why can’t it happen here if it can happen elsewhere. Just last year, on June 20, 2018 to be precise, a judge of the Supreme Court in West Virginia, United States of America, Justice Allen Loughry who was accused of using his office for personal gains was suspended. His offence involved $363,000 worth of office furniture, having expensive office furniture taken to his private house and using government vehicle and gas card for personal use.
“That happened in a sane society They have lawyers there too and his colleagues did not identify with the wrongdoer. So we need to ask ourselves if we truly want to sanitise this society. Perhaps it was this kind of sentiment that made Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to conclude that, ‘To fight corruption in a corrupt system, you don’t follow due process, you follow the necessary process.” Vladimir Putin
“We are tempted to ask, ‘Where is the human face in the practice of law in Nigeria? We know the thief. He confesses to us. But we are the same people who will tutor the thief to change his confessional statement. We tell him to claim it was made under duress. We are the same people who appear for the Evans and the Oyenusis yet we go to the mosque on Fridays and attend church on Sundays. Do you think God is blind?
“MURIC appeals to the NBA to put humanity on the front burner in matters like this. NBA should not wish away Justice Onnoghen’s offence. It should be Nigeria first. No single person is bigger than Nigeria. Crimes like the one the ex-CJN is accused of are what turned this country into a wild jungle and NBA must join other patriotic citizens who are presently working day and night to return Nigeria to the comity of sane communities.
“We further appeal that the NBA creates an enabling environment for ordinary Nigerians to have access to justice. We should not be seen protecting the rich and powerful all the time, particularly a powerful man who has already admitted that he is the owner of incriminatingly humongous bank accounts when poor Nigerians are sentenced to long terms in prison just for stealing one tuber of yam. Ayn Rand has a strong message here, ‘When the law no longer protects you from the corrupt, but protects the corrupt from you, you know your nation is doomed’.
“It was the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who said, ‘Any wealth accumulated on a selfish basis, at the expense of the state in defiance of social justice helps to create a disorganized society in which everybody will eat everybody, and no one person can be safe.’ Do the respected members of the NBA want to support the creation of such a chaotic society?
“MURIC has taken the ex-CJN to the court of public opinion and he lost woefully. Nigerians are flabbergasted that the ex-CJN has N1,131,684,554.00 (one billion, one hundred and thirty-one million, six hundred and eighty-four thousand, five hundred and fifty-four naira) in his personal accounts and still counting. It is appalling, repugnant and nauseating.
“We advise NBA not to pursue vested interest. Nigerians see the Onnoghen affair as a struggle between those who fight corruption, those who despise it, those who embrace it and those who benefit from it. If NBA will not stand up to be counted among those in the first group, it must not be seen to identify with the third and fourth camps. The second rank is a safer ground for the purpose of posterity.
“We appeal to the NBA not to resume its boycott of courts soon after the two days. This is because it is poor Nigerians who suffer each time there is a boycott of courts. The legal profession is sine qua non to the dispensation of justice anywhere in the world and that is why lawyers are respected by all.
“Resumption of boycott is unnecessary because Justice Onnoghen himself in a separate case in 2013 acknowledged the special powers of the CCT. In the case of AHMED V AHMED & ORS (2013) LPELR – 21143 (SC) delivered on 12th July, 2013, the ex-CJN held that, ‘The CCT has exclusive jurisdiction to deal with all violations contravening any of the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau’ and that ‘the provisions expressly ousted the powers of ordinary regular courts in respect of such violations’. He further concluded that ‘Any allegation that a public officer has committed a breach of or has not complied with the provisions of this Code shall be made to the Code of Conduct Bureau’.
“As we rise from this session, we remind honourable members of the NBA that law is a noble profession and a good number of our lawyers, both senior and junior ones, are men and women of integrity. This profession is for the bold, the assertive and the man of decency and candour. We advise NBA to think outside the box. Onnoghen appears to have dragged its name in the mud. What NBA should do to reclaim its good name is to step aside and allow the ex-CJN to defend himself at the tribunal,” MURIC said in a statement by its director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola.
Court acquits, discharges suspended SEC DG, Gwarzo
A Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court on Tuesday discharged the suspended Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mounir Gwarzo, of the charge of fraud filed against him.
Mr Gwarzo’s co-defendant, Zakwanu Garba, who was the Executive Commissioner of the commission, was also discharged and acquitted.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had arraigned the two officials before Justice Husseini Baba-Yusuf on a five-count charge bordering on fraud.
The former Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, suspended Messrs Gwarzo and Garba from their positions in November 2017 over allegations of corruption.
The minister then set up a panel to investigate the alleged issues, after which the ICPC arraigned them in court.
Delivering judgment on the case on Tuesday, the judge, Mr Baba-Yusuf, held that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused persons committed the offence for which they were charged.
The judge said by its own admission, the prosecution through its witnesses and evidence confirmed that the action of the defendant was by a decision of the governing board of SEC, which is the highest decision-making body of the commission.
Ruling on the first count of a five charge of use of office for personal enrichment against Mr Gwarzo, the judge said the ICPC did not prove its allegation.
He held that while the first prosecution did not implicate the first defendant in her testimony, the remaining witnesses who are operatives of the ICPC contradicted themselves.
“Furthermore, exhibit 19, which is a memo from the governing board of SEC, has clearly demonstrated that the decisions of the board of SEC as the highest decision and policy-making body of commission is legal.
The judge also absolved Mr Gwarzo of the allegations that he used his official position to corruptly enrich himself by using the monies paid to him as car grant as the DG of SEC.
Mr Baba-Yusuf held that: “The burden of proof was on the prosecution but through its own exhibit, which includes a board resolution which approved the car benefit for an executive director who had spent more than two years in office, the charge against Mister Gwarzo has not been established,” he said.
He said the fourth witness under cross-examination agreed that the board resolution was lawful and that the car grant was non-refundable.
Mr Baba-Yusuf held that the testimony of Prosecution Witness Two clearly showed that the first defendant had no role in deciding what he was entitled to and as such could not have used his office to enrich himself.
The judge, however, concluded that the evidence as a whole cannot be used by any court or tribunal to convict him.
He, therefore, discharged and acquitted him.
The court in the fourth count also discharged Mr Garba on the grounds that the evidence that he aided the suspended director-general of SEC to use his office to corruptly enrich himself was not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
The judge then held that no prima facie case was established against Mr Garba who acted based on a decision of the governing board of SEC, which is the highest decision-making body of SEC.
Kwara governor denies alleged attempt to tele-guide recruitment of KWASU VC
Kwara State Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed has denied an alleged attempt by him to tele-guide the selection process of a new vice chancellor for the Kwara State University (KWASU) in favour of particular candidates.
He said such recruitment is entirely the prerogative of the institution’s Governing Council, as the incumbent’s tenure expires.
Ahmed, in a statement issued by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communications, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, dismissed the allegation circulating on social media as an attempt to blackmail him.
He also dissociated his office or his aides from any attempt to foist anyone on the university as vice chancellor.
Ahmed said he has been briefed by the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science and Technology, KWASU’s supervisory ministry, that the university is yet to receive any response to its recent advertisement for a new vice chancellor, not to talk of skewing the selection process in favour of any candidate.
The recruitment of a new vice chancellor for KWASU, Ahmed reiterated, would follow guidelines enshrined in the law establishing the university.
Stop blaming NASS for delayed budget passage, Dogara tells Buhari
Speaker Yakubu Dogara has chided the Executive led by President Muhammadu Buhari for constantly blaming the Legislature for delays in the passage of the country’s annual budgets.
In his opening address at the national budget hearing organised jointly by the Committees on Appropriations of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Dogara drew the attention of the Executive to late presentation its part.
He also lamented poor implementation of previous budgets and he stressed that the Parliament won’t “rubber stamp” budgets merely for the sake of early passage.
According to him, “the budget is the most important law that is passed yearly, consequently, no parliament anywhere in the world rushes it. Let me re-emphasize that this Parliament can never be a rubber stamp and neither are we prepared to surrender our constitutionally assigned rights of checks on the Executive. It is unfortunate, however, that many commentators always ignorantly accuse the National Assembly of delaying the Appropriations Bill as if we are meant to urgently rubber stamp whatever budget estimates that is submitted to us by the Executive. If we fail to scrutinize the budget proposals, it will not only amount to abdication of our constitutional responsibilities as legislators but a betrayal of the mandate of our constituents.
“Let me also add that it is very unfair for the Executive to consistently and repeatedly blame the National Assembly of delaying passage of the budget while failing to address the issue of late budget submission on its part. The Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, provides that the Appropriations Bill be submitted not later than September of the preceding year which will give the Parliament ample time to process the document and pass it in good time. Unfortunately, the 2019 Appropriations Bill was submitted on December 19, 2018, just 12 days to the end of the year and the earliest time an Appropriation Bill has ever been presented to the National Assembly in this dispensation was on November 7, 2017.”
Dogara however noted that in a bid to address the issue the National Assembly passed a Constitutional Amendment Bill which sought to compel the Executive to submit the Budget proposals to the National Assembly not later than 90 days to the end of the fiscal year and also to limit expenditure that can be incurred in the absence of the Appropriations Act from six (6) months to three (3) months.
Dogara added that: “In yet another effort to improve institutional capacity of the Parliament to process and pass budget expeditiously, the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) establishment Bill was passed into law. It was closely modeled after the American Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Unfortunately, I regret to inform this gathering that these laudable efforts and initiatives were thwarted when the President withheld his assent to these two important Bills.
“Consequently, efforts to enact a Budget Process Bill which will spell out timelines for every activity concerning the budget is stalled because it would be ineffective to enact a law that will run contrary to Section 81(1) of the Constitution which allows the President to submit the Budget estimates, ‘at any time’ before the end of the financial year.”
The Speaker concluded by assuring that the National Assembly will endeavour to speedily pass the budget as he called on the heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to appear before relevant committees and urged the Executive to ‘to muster the will to honestly and diligently implement’ the budget when passed.
In his comments, the Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe) observed that the public hearing was crucial to inclusive and active participation in the process of passage of the 2019 budget.