How much money do the Federal Government, state governors and council chairmen, spend on the unaccountable security votes every year?
A rights group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) is seeking an answer and has sued President Muhammadu Buhari, Senate President Ahmed Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, asking the Federal High court to order them disclose details of allocations.
The group wants information on disbursement and spending of security votes by the Federal Government, 36 state governors and 774 local governments between 1999 and 2019.
The suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/1369/2019, filed last Friday followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information requests and “the respondents’ failure to account for some N241.2 billion of public funds allocated, disbursed and spent yearly as security votes, and the corresponding lack of effective protection of the rights to security and welfare, life and physical integrity of millions of Nigerians.”
Others joined as parties in the suit are: Mr Godwin Emefiele, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Ahmed Idris, Accountant General of the Federation and Mr Anthony Ayine, Auditor General for the Federation.
According to SERAP: “Nigerians have the constitutional and international human right to know details of the exact amounts that have been spent as security votes and specific areas and projects covered by the allocations, disbursement and spending. There is overriding public interest in Nigerians having access to these details, and the respondents have legal obligations to facilitate public access to such information.”
“Constitutional provisions requiring governments to ensure the security and welfare of the people are intended to protect the security and safety of citizens and not the security of a few individuals in government. Without transparency and accountability, the mismanagement and corruption in the allocation, disbursement and spending of security votes will continue with devastating consequences.”
The suit filed by SERAP’s lawyers Kolawole Oluwadare and Opeyemi Owolabi read in part: “The respondents have a legal duty to proactively record, keep and disclose information in respect of allocation, disbursement and spending of security votes without waiting for SERAP to request for such information. They are also required to maintain and publish documents containing information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public funds.”
“Public officials receiving and spending security votes ought to come clean with Nigerians on how exactly these public funds are spent. Unless the reliefs sought are granted, Nigerians would continue to see the appropriation of public funds as security votes as a tool for self-enrichment.”
“The suit is seeking to offer governments at all levels an important opportunity to be transparent and accountable with the exercise of their discretionary powers in the allocation, disbursement and spending of security votes. The public interest in the disclosure of these details outweighs any private interest the respondents may be seeking to protect.”
“The huge financial resources budgeted for security votes by successive governments have not matched the security realities in the country, especially given the level of insecurity, violence, kidnappings and killings in many parts of the country, which seem to suggest massive political use, mismanagement or stealing of security votes by many governments.”
“As revealed by a 2018 report by Transparency International (TI), most of the funds appropriated as security votes are spent on political activities, mismanaged or simply stolen. It is estimated that security votes add up to over N241.2 billion every year. On top of appropriated security votes, governments also receive millions of dollars yearly as international security assistance.”
No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.
Residents of Jos, Plateau State are lamenting what they call “unusual weather”, which compels them to adopt measures to cope with the condition.
According to News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the people have suddenly found themselves transiting from a temperature that ranged from 15 degrees to 22 degrees Celsius to a circle of between 24 degrees and 34 degrees Celsius, which makes them very uncomfortable, especially in the afternoon.
Miss Josephine Pam, a student, decried the new weather, which she said was making life very unbearable for her.
Pam said she had resorted to wearing Sunshade glasses to protect herself from the “scorching sunlight” being experienced in the afternoon.
She said she had also resorted to wearing light clothes as against the heavy materials she wore, about two weeks before, in order to cope with the new weather.
She also complained of having constant catarrh caused by the dust being brought by the winds blowing across the city,especially in the morning.
Another resident, Baba Abubakar, said the weather had been so inclement for the last two weeks, compelling him to be wearing light cloth to cope with the situation.
“I also find myself taking a lot of water, about 8 sachets a day, because of the sweating I experience in the afternoon,” said Abubakar, a commercial trycyclist.
Mr Bulus Dung, another resident, said he was already adapting to the new condition by changing his lifestyle including wearing clothes that were appropriate for the weather, and advised fellow residents to do likewise.
Mrs Mary Agada also decried the new weather, saying she preferred the “old weather” because she grew up in Jos where she found the weather to be cool.
“It is a lot easier to deal with cold than heat. When there is cold you just wear heavy cloth to protect yourself, but when the sun is hot like we are experiencing now in Jos, even the fan in your house might not help,” Agada told NAN.
Activist lawyer, Femi Falana, has alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari was secretly working towards a third term agenda.
There have been calls by certain groups for Buhari to extend his tenure beyond 2023.
But Buhari has said he would hand over at the end of his second term in office and return to his hometown in Katsina state, Daura.
Falana has, however, called on Nigerians not to believe the president, saying all moves by the President and his men point to tenure elongation ambition.
Addressing journalists over the weekend, the activist lawyer cited some of the moves by the president such as trying to stifle free speech, a crackdown on the media, including the new media, disobedience of court order as a pointer to tenure elongation agenda.
According to Falana: “But you heard his group demanding a third term for him and the president trying to distance himself in a very unconvincing manner. I have no doubt there is a third term agenda, because dictatorship of the kind we are witnessing now, in the past, was to one end; tenure elongation.
“He (President Buhari) is trying to cow Nigerians, but no one can successfully do that. All his recent actions are geared towards that; ruling from London, closing borders, arresting opposition and jailing journalists, are meant for him, to be the only voice in the country, it won’t be.”
I don’t know about you, but I would say one of the most iconic images of the Buhari administration so far is the one released to the media on Monday, November 4. President Muhammadu Buhari — with a Hausa cap sitting comfortably on his head, a green pen in his right hand and a grin on his face — is seen appending his signature to the amended Deep Offshore and Inland Basin Production Sharing Contract (DOIBPSC) somewhere in London. Bent over by Buhari’s side was Mallam Abba Kyari, his chief of staff, whom I needed some forensic help to identify because he was not wearing his trademark red cap and white flowing gown; rather, he was in suit and cardigan.Typical of us in Nigeria, we have been discussing everything about the event apart from the significance of it: that Buhari has finally broken a major stranglehold of multinational oil companies on this country. To the uninitiated, I will make the narrative as simple as possible. In 1993, we entered into deep offshore production sharing contracts (PSCs) with multinational oil companies. Because deep offshore was a new thing and it was going to be expensive to explore, we decided to offer very attractive incentives to the companies to encourage them to invest in the fields. It certainly made sense: the technology was expensive and success was not assured.
We decided that if they hit oil beyond 1000 meters, they would not pay any royalty. But they would pay royalty in various percentages for oil explored between 100 meters and before 1000 meters. They would also pay a flat 10% royalty for oil found in the inland basin. There were other juicy incentives in form of lower rate of petroleum profit tax, compared to joint venture partnerships; profit oil split; investment allowance; and cost recovery limits. The long and short of it all is that fortune smiled on the “contractors” and they hit oil earlier than expected. Technology had also improved along the line to make life easier for them. In no time, they started smiling to the bank.
In March 1999, we decided to make a law on PSCs in Nigeria’s deep offshore and inland basin — so that they are not just contracts but covered in our legal statutes as well. We said if crude oil price went as high as $20 per barrel, the terms of the PSCs would be reviewed. We projected that at $20, their costs would be reasonably recovered and Nigeria should therefore sip more from the juice. We also said even if oil did not hit $20, the terms should still be reviewed after 10 years and every five years thereafter — in a way “economically beneficial” to Nigeria. So simple and straightforward, in black and white! Commencement date was 1993 when the first PSCs were signed.
You know what? Less than two months after making the law in 1999, we mysteriously amended it and moved the threshold from 10 years to 15 years! That is the kind of hold the oil companies have on us — of course, with the full help and collaboration of Nigerians. When 15 years arrived in 2008, the terms were not reviewed, even though crude oil was already selling for over $90 per barrel. At a point, the “contractors” was taking 80% of the deep offshore oil and while the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) got just 20%. We were not bothered: those who should defend the national interest were more interested in what-have-you.
The Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the industry regulator, actually wrote a letter to the oil companies in 2007 informing them of the 2008 timeline for the review, but that was all about it. The national assembly looked the other way. Everything went quiet thereafter. For a law that had automatic triggers — both in timelines and oil price benchmarks — it is incredible that we did nothing for so long. Why? Your guess is as bad as mine. Nigeria’s decision makers and political influencers always kowtow to them at the snap of a finger. We have to blame our own people in any case. But someone somewhere was going to break the spell one day. It was inevitable.
Even though Buhari waited for four years, he should be forgiven for finally doing the needful. Under the reviewed terms, there is a flat royalty rate of 10% starting from 200 meters. The zero royalty for 1000 metres and beyond is now history. Royalty based on oil price is now graduated: the sub-$20 mark remains 0%, but 2.5% will be paid if price goes to between $20 and $60; 4% if between $60 and $100; 8% if between $100 and $150; and 10% if above $150. The other incentives remain untouched. In fact, petroleum profit tax remains 50%, compared to 85% for JVs. We are projecting that the reviewed terms will fetch us an additional $1.4 billion in 2020.
I am, therefore, amazed to be hearing some murmuring from even Nigerians that the new law would discourage investment in deep offshore and that the oil companies would move to other countries in protest. Really? This is very difficult for me to understand. There was a law that should have been implemented since 2008. This law was ignored by every government for whatever reason. Nigeria lost billions of dollars as a result: an estimate puts the short payment at $62 billion in the last 11 years, but a moderate figure would be between $1.6 billion and $2.8 billion per year. How can we be blaming ourselves for implementing our own laws? I honestly cannot understand this.
As for the threat that the oil companies will get angry and leave our shores simply because we decided to make the necessary adjustments to the PSC terms as provided for in the law, I believe that would be an over-reaction. But for the lack of visionary leadership which has plagued Nigeria for decades, shouldn’t we be doing the exploration by ourselves — 63 years after discovering oil? Isn’t it an indictment on us that we are afraid that the big oil companies would angrily leave our shores (or offshore) and we would be left naked? Why should we be afraid to review the PSC terms under which they were engaged for deep offshore exploration in the first place?
Actually, we should be ashamed of ourselves for our legendary incompetence. In the 1970s, three countries — Nigeria, Norway and Malaysia — decided to set up national oil companies to engage in exploration, production and refining. Nigeria created the NNPC, Norway Statoil and Malaysia Petronas. Today, Statoil, now renamed Equinor ASA, and Petronas are among the biggest state-owned oil and gas companies in the world. Equinor ASA and Petronas declare profits in billions of dollars and are among the most valuable companies in the world. Equinor ASA operates in 36 countries; Petronas 35 countries. And our own NNPC? Please don’t get me started this morning!
If NNPC had not been operating as a scam centre for decades, we would not be batting an eyelash over any oil company threatening to exit Nigeria because of the reviewed PSC terms. Unfortunately, when we decided to empower Nigerian entrepreneurs to play big in the upstream sector of the oil industry, our renowned “greed is good” disposition and mismanagement malady expectedly took the centre stage. Some of the so-called entrepreneurs were busy frolicking with the Naomi Campbells and Atlanta celebrities, accumulating private jets like toys, partying in $80 million yachts, rendezvousing in $35 million penthouses and what not. A fool and his money are soon parted.
The amendment of the law was a clinical coup by Buhari. The planning and execution was done in such a way that the oil companies did not have time to kill it or lobby it into coma at the national assembly. Kyari, apparently the arrowhead, is himself a former oilman, so he knows one or two things about the politics of the industry. The guile and determination were such that the amendment was passed by both legislative chambers within 21 days. This again confirms my pet theory — that if Nigerian politicians decide to do something, nothing can stop them. I wish this determination would always be applied to all the things that matter to Nigeria’s progress.
If there is a will, there is always a way. Let them now apply the same determination to healthcare, power, education and security. Above all, we need to start thinking strategically as a nation, to define our interests and to pursue them with one mind. We cannot be doing deals that are skewed against us. Only God knows how many agreements government officials have entered into ostensibly “in the national interest” but purely for personal benefit. Some agreements and laws need to be reviewed or renegotiated. Many government officials sign agreements or pass laws that are clearly hurtful to the public interest but they cannot be bothered. Their god is their stomach.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS… SAVING SOWORE
The failure of the Department of State Services (DSS) to release Omoyele Sowore, convener of Revolution Now movement, despite a court order is turning the whole case into a circus. No matter the offence Sowore, publisher of Sahara Reporters, is accused of committing, we are in a democracy and court orders must be obeyed. The government cannot keep holding an individual without legal justification. We are not operating under the obnoxious Decree No 2 of 1984 under which people were arrested and detained in a devil-may-care manner. The Sowore case is yet another acid test for President Buhari’s self-professed conversion to constitutional democracy. Watching…
For the 11th time this year, the national grid collapsed on Friday night, sending darkness across the nation. No matter the megawatts we generate, the national grid, managed by the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), must be able to move the power from the generating companies (GenCos) to the distribution companies (DisCos) before we can enjoy the electricity. TCN has become the biggest obstacle to regular power supply today and has endangered many agreements the country signed with GenCos. And you know what? We chased away Manitoa, the Canadian company managing the grid, in 2016 without getting a competent replacement. Shocking!
The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) has released a report on oil theft and pipeline vandalism in the country. The biggest summary is that crude oil and refined products worth $41.9 billion were stolen between 2009 and 2018 — that is the size of the nation’s foreign reserves currently. The tragedy, if I need to emphasise it, is that most of these criminal activities are carried out in collusion with security agencies and government officials, some of them very senior. This is an open secret. The evils we do in this country! That is why at some point, crude oil was selling for $100 and above but our foreign reserves were not growing. Treasonable.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan has been derided for his stewardship but there is one thing nobody can take away from him — the singular honour of accepting defeat and congratulating his opponent while results were being announced! No top presidential candidate in our history has been able to do this. When the Supreme Court threw out Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s petition against President Buhari recently, he couldn’t summon the courage to accept defeat and congratulate Buhari. Do we still remember that Buhari himself never accepted defeat or congratulated his opponent? Those who think Jonathan’s gesture
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says Nigeria has the second largest number of child brides in the world, with 23 million girls and women married out as children in the country, thereby ending their educational strive.
Mr Bhanu Pathak, Chief of Field Office (CFO) UNICEF Nigeria, Bauchi Field Office, stated this in Bauchi on Saturday at a Youth Talk ceremony organised in commemoration of the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
“Too many Nigerian children and young people are being left behind, especially when it comes to education.
“Nigeria has the world’s highest number of out-of-school children; more than 10.5 million Nigerian children are not in school.
“Nigeria also has the second largest number of child brides in the world with 23 million girls and women married as children, and as such, ending their education,” said Pathak.
He reiterated UNICEF’s resolve to foster a stronger partnership with the Nigerian government at the federal and state levels for the realisation of children’s rights.
In his remarks, Mr Sagir Musa, the President, Youth Advocates For Education, Bauchi, said, the challenges of young people included high rate of unemployment, lack of basic life skills, drug abuse, political thuggery and illiteracy among others.
He commended the state government for collaborating with UNICEF, Bauchi Field Office, to organise such forum which gave young people the opportunity to have their voices heard and take decisions on matters that affected their lives.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), the ceremony was organized by UNICEF and Bauchi State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB).
The Youth Talk, which is tagged ‘The Nigeria We Want: Voices from Bauchi’, was sponsored by United Kingdom Department For International Development (DFID), with participants from six states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Plateau and Taraba States.
A former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof Chidi Odinkalu, shares with TUNDE AJAJA his thoughts on the state of the nation, clamour for Igbo presidency in 2023 and other issues
There have been questions over the appropriateness of President Muhammadu Buhari’s private trip without handing over to the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, and then his Chief of Staff having to take files to him in the United Kingdom to sign. Some people believe the President is taking Nigerians for granted. As a lawyer and public affairs analyst, what do you think?
I’m not sure what you really want me to say. What we know is that the President left the country October 28. According to his handlers, he went to Riyadh for an international investment conference; from there to Makkah for the Umrah; and from there to London on November 2 on a private visit. While he has been on the private visit, the Presidency has been off-shored. He has assented to the Deep Off-shore Act, in London. His Chief of Staff took the Bill to him there to assent to, which begs the question how private is this private visit. If you recall, in the final days of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, the Attorney-General then, Michael Aondakaa, told us that the President could rule from anywhere. It was in response to that that the National Assembly amended the constitution requiring the President to hand-over to his deputy in these kinds of circumstances. But, really, with the way they have been treating the vice-president recently, let’s be honest, did you realistically expect them to comply with the Constitution on this matter? Essentially, these folks find the Constitution worse than inconvenient.
To a very large extent, it’s like a consensus that this country’s problems could be tied to bad leadership. Why can’t Nigeria get it right in having the right leaders, given the brilliant minds in this country?
Chinua Achebe summed it up as such some 36 years ago in his essay, ‘The problem with Nigeria’. Clearly, Nigeria has had a problem with leadership. When we speak about leadership, however, the tendency is for folks to externalise that notion and then exculpate ourselves from any burdens of personal responsibility for leadership failure. So, the only leaders are presidents and their deputies; governors and their deputies, senators, members of the House of Representatives and State Houses of Assembly and local government chairmen, those folks who live in big houses and drive big official cars with tinted glasses. They are, in our imagination, those people, who in the music of Fela have the opportunity to commit “Authority Stealing”. But leadership involves much more than that. Parents are leaders in the family; teachers and principals are leaders in education and in school. We have always had community leaders and religious leaders. Leadership is a multi-dimensional thing. In the past, if you saw a child endangering themselves in the society, you took charge and tried to save the child before asking who the family or parents were. Now, we will make a video of it and make the video trend. When a lecturer sees their student as a piece of meat to be eaten or abused, that is leadership failure. When a pastor seeks to sleep with their worshipper or a Mallam turns a kid into a beggar to make returns to him, these are all departments of leadership failure. You can say the same for election officials who collect money to manufacture results for votes that were not cast or police officers who beat up people to get them to admit to crimes they have not committed or senior officers in the military who divert to themselves money meant for the protection of men and officers under their command. A society with this kind of multi-faceted civic failure cannot hope all of a sudden to produce presidents, prime-ministers and parliamentarians that are fit for purpose.
Nigerians see the two dominant parties as comprising mostly of selfish politicians. Should we start considering the option of independent candidacy so that people outside their bloc could have a chance?
I should let you know: the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights ruled about five years ago in a case – Mtikila – against Tanzania that the proscription of independent candidacy is incompatible with the obligations of African states under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. That decision obliges all state parties to the Charter, including Nigeria, to bring their national laws in line with allowing independent candidacy. Obviously, Nigeria has yet to do this.
Could it be that the gladiators are afraid of Nigerians having that option of independent candidacy?
I genuinely think so, yes. Look, when you ask party managers, they will tell you that there is a lot of money to be made from the internal party management of competition for electoral tickets. If you now have independent candidacy, it could dis-incentivise the role of the party managers, making it less profitable. People may discover or decide that they have had enough of being fleeced by the party managers.
Do you think we could begin a journey to ‘freedom’ if we adopt independent candidacy?
Whatever I say will be hypothetical or speculative. It is not possible to predict how independent candidacy will fare when we don’t have it. It’s possible it could fail. It’s also possible it could offer an outlet to politicians who are unhappy in their parties to be able to mobilise a platform without having to go through the usual partisan gatekeepers. It could also reduce the costs of running.
Another aspect of the many problems facing Nigeria is the cost of governance. Senator Rochas Okorocha has suggested that there should not be more than one senator per state and now that we are borrowing to repay our debts, do we, for example, need 360 members in the House of Representatives?
I’m sorry, I really can’t be discussing Mr Okorocha. This is a man who took eight years to destroy an entire state giving us lectures about cost cutting. I will not acknowledge him. And all this stuff about excessive representation sounds alluring but it is only because government isn’t working for people and we live conspicuously. We have all these elected officers who move in convoys of multiple 4-wheel drives without caring about how such is funded. There are countries in which their peers go to work by public transport or on bicycles because those people care about their constituents. I think we are fixating too much on symptoms and not causes. Do I think Nigerians are over-represented? No. Do I necessarily think that 360 representatives are too many for Nigerians? No. It all depends on how we want the system to run. The National Assembly surely has to make an effort to show it cares about the people and to reduce appearances of conspicuous consumption by its members. That is important. And legislators all over the country should. But the real theft in the country happens not in the parliaments but in the executive and if we are going to make progress in reducing the cost of governance; that is where I believe we should begin. One more thing: citizens also have to take some responsibility. It is okay for us to ask legislators to cut their costs. But we should also cut the demands and expectation we have of them as Father Christmases.
While Nigerians must check themselves, is there the political will cut cost of governance?
The Federal Government has recently issued instructions for the cutting of travel costs of senior public officials. That is a beginning. Travel is the biggest single line item in our public accounts bar none, by the way. So, trying to cut it is good but not enough. The underlying philosophy of the public space in Nigeria needs re-orientation. The problem in my view is that we run a government based not on production but on allocation. An allocation-based system does not prioritise production nor does it reward it. So what we have in the public sector is everyone wielding a sense of entitlement as a trump against the next person. We compete to be the least developed so that we can finagle more from the federation account. Nigeria made progress in the 1960s when the competition among the regions was to produce the most and be the most developed. That political economy changed in the middle of the civil war around 1968 and since then we have been competing in our different parts to be the least developed so we can get optimal allocation without a care for how what is allocated is produced. That is not a framework for progress. I think the political economy of allocation instead of production has killed the positive competition that underpinned our coexistence and the psychology of military rule has done terrible damage that will not be repaired in several generations.
The 2020 Appropriation Bill presented by the President few weeks ago does not seem to offer much hope, because the chunk of the budget is going into recurrent expenditure, while there is little left for capital projects. Can Nigeria get better with this cycle?
I have not read the Appropriation Bill and I want to be careful about commenting specifically on something I have not read. I only read President Buhari’s speech to the National Assembly when he introduced it to them. However, the structural point you make about the trend of Nigeria’s public finances is an important one. I think the change in the balance between capital and recurrent expenditure happened around 2004 and 2005 as President Olusegun Obasanjo began his scheme to wangle himself into a third term. They began to bloat the cost of governance as they began to spend money on anyone who was willing to be corrupted for that purpose. Until the turn of the millennium, Nigeria spent more on capital than on recurrent budgets. The tendency towards wage inflation in the public sector has also not helped. On minimum wage, for example, we need a package of measures that would mean that workers get a fair deal. That requires addressing more than minimum wage. You need also to address access to social goods, especially health care, education and transport. You cannot just deal with Minimum Wage in a country in which public schools are not attractive and the best means of health care is private. When a worker on Minimum Wage is obliged to send their child to private school because there are no public schools, you cannot preach integrity and fighting corruption to that person. It is really that simple. So, in my view, we have a problem of compounded policy myopia on all sides and the growing asymmetries that we see in the appropriations are only a symptom of that. One more thing: cost of living varies between states in Nigeria. Requiring Jigawa or Ebonyi to pay the same minimum wage as Lagos is not federalism or sensible economics.
But if you have any disparity, will it not lead to huge labour drift and considering the fact that workers across the country go to the same market?
It’s not true that workers in the country go to the same market. The cost of goods in Dugbe market in Ibadan is not the same as in Ogbete Market in Enugu and the cost of goods in Balogun Market in Lagos is not the same as in No-Man’s Land in Kano or in Sabon Gari in Kaduna. Cost of living varies across Nigeria and so does the cost of labour. What you have in this way is a mismatch of inputs and outputs. Income tax in Nigeria is in concurrent list and varies from state to state. Revenue varies and so does federal allocation as does productivity. So, why would you have unitary salary from governor to the shop floor? As I said, it is no federalism and it’s not sensible economics. We need to decentralise labour and productivity as well as remuneration for all offices across the board.
While some people see the discourse around 2023 as a distraction at this time, it is gaining traction and it would seem what is of interest to those championing it is elections and not development. Who do we blame for that: the citizenry or politicians?
Politicians cannot be idle. Their vocation is politics. If only they could spend as much time on figuring out the country for good as they do on figuring out their ambitions and egos. You have to give it to them. They’re a hardworking lot, politicians – not always on the kinds of things that serve the public, though. I guess in that sense our politics is the art of making the pursuit of personable ego and ambition look like a public cause. In the end, no one is God. Who knows which one of us will be alive tomorrow? But that doesn’t preclude planning. I don’t begrudge the politicians their moves. I wish citizens could also be as far sighted. But in a country where deliberate impoverishment of the civics has become an art and method in government, you can’t expect much more, can you?
With the usual reluctance of Nigerians to take up issues with the government, would you say Nigerians are docile?
As I just said, government has been reduced to the art of impoverishing Nigerians in many places. So, hunger is increasingly the biggest instrument of public control at all levels. That is why when a public official at any level disburses public money for supposedly public good, we hail them and the media reports that they have ‘donated’ something. We no longer have expectations of our public officials – they are philanthropists donating our public money to us in dribs and drabs and we clap for them. Find whatever adjective you wish to describe that. Does it mean that Nigerians are docile? Well, we care about our Aso Ebi and our Tazarce Kaftans and Isi Agu. That is good and there are real economies built on those. Sadly, my view is that our political and social imagination does not yet extend to inter-generational consequences of what we do. I have seen a few people in public life who are concerned about that – Raji Fashola; Charles Soludo; Yemi Osinbajo, Atedo Peterside, Yusuf Tuggar. But I have not seen enough.
Since it’s already an issue of interest, many people are asking that the South-East should be allowed to produce next President for a balance, while Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, said it should be based on merit rather than rotation formula. What is your position on this?
Nigeria has co-existed so far on a convention of political equity that is accepted but not written. Political equity also has to be married up with legitimate political competition and the need to produce credible and competent leadership. If we can mend these three issues: political equity, political competition and leadership competence, the leadership that emerges will be good enough for the country.
Looking at the imperative of the three factors you mentioned side by side with the perceived marginalisation of the Igbo. Do you think we would make some progress towards our quest for national unity if for the first time we allow an Ibo man or woman to be the President?
There are a few things we need to get out of the way. As usual, Nigerians default to the single identity of ethnicity or what you call the ‘tribe’. Yet, under the presidential system of elections, no single ethnic group has it in them to determine who becomes Nigeria’s President or to win the presidency by themselves. Winning the presidency involves coalition politics. The presidency has also not really benefited most of the people that produce it. When Shehu Shagari was President, his local government area in Sokoto didn’t have a secondary school. When Obasanjo was President, the Lagos-Abeokuta Express Road was impassable. Under the Jonathan Presidency, the East-West Road to his place remained undone. Nearly all of Nigeria’s security chiefs are from President Buhari’s hemisphere of Nigeria, yet that is exactly the part of Nigeria where insecurity is most rampant. By the way, Yar’Adua and Buhari are from the same local government area. This fixation with ‘capturing’ the Presidency without caring much what is done with it or how it benefits the ordinary person is why the country is not making progress. In so doing, we also diminish the role of the states and governors. Lagosians remember Lateef Jakande. They don’t much know who was President when he governed Lagos. My bet is they will remember Raji Fashola long after those who served as President while he was governor have been forgotten. If we are going to fix Nigeria, we need to think a little more of what happens at the levels of government other than the president. My view is not a popular one but that is it. You ask me about Igbo Presidency, right? Let me ask you, after seeing what Rochas Okorocha did to Imo State or what Orji Uzor Kalu, Theodore Orji and this one there now (Okezie Ikpeazu) have done to Abia, would you want to have them lead you as President? But are they Igbo? Yes. What’s my point? I bet some people will read this and say, well, but the North has produced Presidents despite also producing terrible governors, to which my response is: why do you want to make that your own standard? Isn’t that why the country is in this sorry state? We need to ramify our leadership parameters beyond ethnicity and ‘tribe’. That is my point. We can’t make progress in a system in which the Igbo (are made to) believe they cannot compete for the highest office in the country; but I don’t think you should decide an office as important as the presidency only on the question of where the putative occupant comes from.
On the way forward, where should Nigeria’s journey to good governance start from?
I have already said so – from the states. If the states don’t work, the Federal government labours in vain. To ensure that the states work, we need to address leadership replacement, get them credentialed at that level and get it right.
Some months ago, you sued the NHRC for asking its staff to take oath of secrecy. Being an agency you once headed, did you find that action strange?
Thank you for asking that question. I want to be careful – the case is pending in court. The issues are clear enough in my view, though. First, the NHRC is the public body perhaps more than any other charged statutorily with promoting the values of open and democratic government built on enlightened citizenship. It should not be subverting those values. That is my default position. What are the facts? The commission has had no Governing Council since 2015. So, it has been run essentially by an Executive Secretary acting as a Sole Administrator really. The normal controls and give and take that should shake up and refine decision making in some of these bodies have been missing from the commission as a result. This is the context in which this thing about oath of secrecy is unfolding. The management of the commission obliged all staff to subscribe to an oath of secrecy, claiming it was doing this under the Standing Orders and Rules of Procedure of the commission. I actually did those Standing Orders & Rules of Procedure when I chaired the commission and I knew as a fact that there was neither basis nor justification in those Standing Orders and Rules of Procedure for the claim the management made. To put it differently, in order to do this Oath of Secrecy thing, they misrepresented the Standing Orders and Rules of Procedure of the commission. That kind of chicanery should not be coming from an entity like the Human Rights Commission. The poor staff cannot, of course, be going to court to challenge this kind of thing. But someone has to do it. I believe I have a role in defending the integrity of the rules governing the commission since I was the person that instituted them. Let’s give the courts a decision to make. Now that we are in court, the commission is no longer claiming that they acted on the basis of the Standing Orders and Rules of Procedure of the commission. Rather, they claim that they have a duty to preserve classified documents from getting into the public domain. The interesting thing is that the power to preserve and protect Nigeria’s classified documents is established by the National Security Agencies Act and lies with the Department of State Services. So, what the management of the NHRC is saying is that they have become the DSS. If that is the case, where should citizens go for protection? That is where we are.
One would expect that the NHRC would have nothing to hide really. Would you say a lot has changed since you left the commission?
Well, you would have to ask the management of the NHRC that question specifically. There may be circumstances, narrow though they should be, in which the commission may feel obliged to protect the confidentiality of some victims before it. That is recognised in the Standing Orders and Rules of Procedure and we provided there for how to deal with those. But that is the exception. As a general rule, the framework established by the Standing Orders and Rules of Procedure of the NHRC is openness and disclosure, not secrecy. That is very clear. That is what the current case in court is about – should the NHRC seek to become the DSS?
The usual Nigerian way would have been to communicate your reservations to them through other means apart from going through the court. Do you think that kind of reasoning is part of why Nigeria is this undeveloped?
When the NHRC begins to think it is the DSS, you have to accept we are in unusual times. I am not at liberty to determine for citizens what lawful means to use to defend the public space. The fact is the system of government founded on the voluntarily expressed will of the citizens which we are trying to build in Nigeria requires every citizen to be active and to be willing to take a stand on some things. The only limitation is that the means we choose should be legitimate. Perhaps, if I had been made aware of the Oath of Secrecy when it was still marinating with the commission’s management, I may have been able to make an informal approach to them. But by the time I learnt about it, it was already issued and members of staff were being obliged to sign up under pain of losing their jobs. You have to ask yourself why that level of bullying was needed. Is it all about protecting human rights or about things entirely unrelated to protecting human rights? In most cases, the protection of human rights needs the oxygen of disclosure not the methods of a secret cult. At least that is what I thought. When a Human Rights Commission resorts to the methods of a secret cult, questions must be asked.
Generally, there are concerns over this government’s disregard for the rule of law. Given your vantage position as a former chairman of the NHRC, how would you rate this government on respect for human rights?
We have creeping authoritarianism fuelled increasingly by a ‘weaponisation’ of laws and a diminution of institutions. It’s a cocktail that guarantees what someone has called ‘decentralisation of despotism.’ You have a situation in which a citizen does a Facebook post and he is abducted from Lagos and ends up being tried for treason and terrorism in Calabar under the most specious of charges. A student does a digital post and he is rusticated from University in Jalingo or Abeokuta. A young man in Port-Harcourt says something a Governor doesn’t like and the next day he disappeared from the streets of Rivers State and ends up in detention in Kaduna for over five months. Do I think President Buhari asked the governors to do any of these, no? Do I think he has enabled a situation in which these violations have become an essential feature of how our government works? Absolutely yes.
People have said Nigeria is gradually sliding back to what obtains during the military era, especially with the Operation Positive Identification that the court has now suspended. What do you make of that belief?
I share it. This positive identification thing is the most misplaced of them all. On the one hand we complain that soldiers are stretched. Many of them have been on the frontlines of the insurgency for nearly three years without rotation, because there are no replacements for them. There are also desertions. Yet, on the other hand, we ask soldiers to do the things that the police exist for. In any case, exactly how many Nigerians have access to identity cards? The official estimate is about one third. The reality is less than that. You want the Ardo in Lau (Taraba State) to be carrying ID card, right? Or perhaps the Bajju Boy herding cattle on the outskirts of Kafanchan? Or perhaps the fisherman in Ukanafun or Ikang (Cross-River)? What planet do these people come from?!
Would you say respect for human rights in Nigeria is improving or worsening?
Worsening, surely. The President has already told you that he has little tolerance for human rights and only cares about what he calls national security. The problem is those who don’t care about your dignity and rights can never make you more secure. See where we are and how we are. Is it an accident?
Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode has disagreed with human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, that President Muhammadu Buhari has a third term agenda.
Falana had on Thursday claimed that Buhari has a third term agenda. He spoke at the Colloquium and public presentation of ‘Testimony To Courage’, Essays in honour of Dapo Olorunyomin, a veteran journalist and the publisher of Premium Times which held at Neca Hall, Ikeja Lagos.
“The media must not be silenced. You may have a third term campaign soon. Very soon, they will destroy all possible opponents. And by the time they bring in the third term agenda, the media would have been gone. But we are not going to allow it. No dictatorship can defeat the Nigerian people,” Falana said.
Replying Falana, Fani-Kayode said Buhari did not have a third term agenda, but a Northern Agenda/
“My brother Femi Falani SAN has suggested that Muhammadu Buhari has a third term agenda. He is wrong. There is no “third term agenda” but there is a “northern agenda”.
“The plan is to ensure that another core northern Muslim from NE or NW takes over from Buhari to finish what he started,” he tweeted.
Governors from the South-West, South-South, South-East and the Middle Belt have vowed they will not donate lands in their regions for herdsmen settlements despite the latest threat by herdsmen under the aegis of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore.
The National President of the herdsmen group, Alhaji Abdullahi Bodejo, in a statement last weekend said governors who wanted peace in their states must establish herdsmen settlements.
“You are a governor and you want to enjoy peace in your state, you don’t need any long meeting, just create a particular area for the Fulani and equip them with modern facilities,” Bodejo said.
However, former President Olusegun Obasanjo in a swift reaction on Monday said it was a mistake on the part of Miyetti Allah Kautal Hore to tie the existence of peace in the states of the federation to the establishment of settlements for herdsmen.
But governors from the four geopolitical zones of the country who spoke with Sunday PUNCH lambasted the herdsmen group and said no amount of threat would force them to donate lands for settlements in their regions.
The governors who spoke through statements by their media aides said neither Ruga nor any other forms of herdsmen settlement would be allowed in their domains despite the threat.
Middle Belt governors kick
In the Middle Belt, Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State and Darius Ishaku of Taraba State said Miyetti Allah was only trying in vain, saying nothing would make the region give land for herdsmen settlements.
Reacting to the threat by Miyetti Allah last week that “no Ruga, no peace,” the Senior Special Assistant to Ishaku on Media and Publicity, Mr Bala Dan-Abu, said Miyetti Allah’s threat was unacceptable.
According to him, the Taraba State government’s stand against Ruga remains unchanged.
He said, “Our stand against Ruga settlement remains unchanged. We have a law in place prohibiting open grazing and establishment of ranches.
“This is the best practice in the world today. We are going to cooperate with all groups in the state in our quest for peace, so we call on Miyetti Allah to stop issuing threats. It is not acceptable for us in Taraba.”
Ortom, in his reaction, dared Bodejo to bring his herds of cattle to Benue and wait to see the consequences of flouting the state’s anti-open grazing law.
The governor said no part of Benue would be ceded to Ruga or cattle colony.
He said, “Recently, I heard someone who calls himself the chairman of Kautal Hore saying the governor would not know peace except they get cattle colony or Ruga.
“We have no query over his outburst if other states decide to cede their land to Ruga or cattle colony; we are in a democratic society.
“But let it be known to him that he is not part of Benue State, he cannot decide for us what we want in the state. We are in a federation but the federating units have the right to make laws for their states and Benue State has made law and anybody who trespasses will be decisively dealt with.
“Let him (Bodejo) come here (Benue) himself and bring his cattle; he will see what will happen to him. I will personally arrest him and the law will take its course.”
Nothing will change our mind on Ruga — S’South govs
Delta, Cross River and Rivers states said no amount of threats by Miyetti Allah would make them change their positions on Ruga.
The Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State, Mr Christian Ita, said no external interference could influence the state government’s policy on Ruga.
He said, “There is no way external interference can influence the policies of the state government. We do not have plans for Ruga here.
“We are governed by the interests of the people of the state. Our policies in Cross River are never influenced by external influence or pressure.”
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, who spoke through his Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, also said the state did not have land for Ruga settlement.
He said, “We have made our position known on Ruga and we stand by it. We do not have land for it or cattle colony and you are aware that part of our land is covered by water, so where are we going to get the land? You cannot give what you do not have.”
In Rivers State, a top official in one of the ministries, said the state had not changed its stance on Ruga.
The state government in a statement signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, Paulinus Nsirim, in July said Rivers had no land for the implementation of such a policy.
It noted that the state governor, Nyesom Wike, had prioritised commercial agriculture, hence all available arable land in the state would be needed to achieve food production and employment for Rivers youth.
The top official said, “We have made our stand known on this matter. If there is a change of position on Ruga, you will know. The Rivers State Government has not changed its position.”
We won’t allow Ruga —Ekiti, Ondo states
In the South-West, governors of Ekiti and Ondo states said they would not rescind their decisions on not having Ruga.
The state Commissioner for Information, Muyiwa Olumilua, said “In Ekiti State, Governor Kayode Fayemi has said categorically that he is not embracing Ruga.
“Whatever Miyetti Allah said cannot change what the governor has said. He has said we are not accepting Ruga, we are not giving out land for Ruga.
No. We are not going to backtrack. That is what we have said and it is not going to change.”
The Ondo State Commissioner for Information, Mr Donald Ojogo, also said the state did not have any land to donate for Ruga.
“First, the position of the state in respect of Ruga remains. The state is not donating land for Ruga. More importantly, Ruga as an idea has long been jettisoned by the Federal Government,” he said.
Miyetti Allah’s threat won’t change our stand — S’East govs
In the South-East, the Enugu State Commissioner for Information, Mr Chidi Aroh, said the state government was still standing on the resolution of the South-East governors that there was no land for Ruga in the zone.
The South-East Governors’ Forum had in a resolution issued at the end of its meeting in Enugu declared that the zone had no land to donate for Ruga or for the National Livestock Transformation Plan.
It went further to ban the movement of cattle by foot in the region, describing it as the point of conflict of herders with the farmers and natives.
The Chairman of the forum and Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi, who read the position of the governors to journalists, said, “The fact remains that no South-East governor has donated any land or intends to donate any land for any of the two programmes for lack of enough land in the entire South-East.”
Speaking to Sunday PUNCH, Aroh said Miyetti Allah had not issued any threats to Enugu State and others in the zone.
Ohanaeze, IPOB berate Miyetti Allah over remarks
Meanwhile, the apex Igbo sociocultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, has condemned Kautal Hore’s president’s comments, describing it as capable of destroying Nigeria.
Ohanaeze described Miyetti Allah as a terrorist organisation and urged the Federal Government to deal with the body for peace to reign in the country.
The President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said, “Miyetti Allah is used to inciting, and unlawful comments but they have not been arrested. They are not questioned.
“They fight farmers, kidnap them, destroy their farms, take over their farms and occupy them. Nobody cares. They import foreigners into Nigeria, secure registration for them in our national identity scheme. Nobody cares about it.
“But my own children said they wanted Biafra and they declared them a terrorist organisation. There is one law for the goose, one law for the gander.”
But the spokesperson for the Indigenous People of Biafra, Emma Powerful, in a statement said the group was ready for the herdsmen.
Also, the Chairman, Delta State Forum of Kingdoms President General, Prince Igwe Nzekwe, condemned Bodejo’s comments, saying they could cause chaos and divide the country.
Some lecturers at the University of Ibadan allegedly involved in illegal financial transactions will soon be arraigned, premium time report.
This newspaper reported how the financial transactions of a conference meant for the department of mechanical engineering, were allegedly done without transparency.
Amongst those accused of involvement are two professors, Miracle Oyewola and Dare Ademola, who headed the department from 2011- 2012 and 2012-2016 respectively.
In 2018, Chukwuemeka Diji, a PhD holder who succeeded Mr Ademola, wrote the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), demanding an investigation into the ‘corrupt practices’ in the department.
He asked the commission to compel the university to probe the organisation of the Energy, Technology and Management (ETM) conference and its account since 2012- 2016.
Our’ correspondent gathered then through an official of Guarantee Trust Bank that the account existed between 2012 and 2017, two years after the implementation of Treasury Single Account policy.
TSA policy, which forbids any government parastatal from running a separate bank account, was implemented in 2015.
Meanwhile, Leke Oluwole, the current Head of Department, defended the embattled professors when this reporter confronted him in June.
“The department was running an account before the implementation of TSA. Then when the treasury single account came, we ‘migrated’ the account to the school account. SERVICOM has looked at it and they have holistically done everything,” he said.
When this reporter contacted the Oyo/Ogun zonal commissioner for ICPC, Stephen Pimor, in July, he promised that the agency will ensure a thorough investigation.
‘Victimisation’ of whistleblower
Mr Diji, whose salary was being deducted after he left office in 2017, also alleged that he was being victimised for revealing some of the shady activities.
On July 7 we report how the senior lecturer has been experiencing ‘illegal’ deductions from his salary since September 2018.
He was later dismissed from the university.
It gathered that the decision to terminate Mr Diji’s appointment was communicated by the University Senior Staff Disciplinary Committee (SSDC) on July 8.
When this newspaper sent enquiries to the Vice-Chancellor, Idowu Olayinka, for the premise for the termination, he said Mr Diji violated the university rules.
Mr Diji appealed the decision of the committee and denied the allegations of lackadaisical attitude to work.
Although nothing has ensued out of the appeal, Mr Diji has vowed to pursue justice on the ETM scandal and other cases of alleged corrupt financial practices in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
A reliable source in the ICPC who did not want his name in print because the information is not yet official said the commission has concluded its investigation and the lecturers will soon be charged to court.
“Those lecturers will soon be charged to court,” the source said.
Mr Primor, the ICPC official, declined to comment on the investigation.
Let me begin my presentation tonight with a short WhatsApp story which I find very instructive. I am recounting it with slight editing, of course. Here it goes:
Usually, my mother would leave some pieces of meat for the person packing her plates after every meal. And that chore I performed diligently. But my motivation to pack her plates were those leftovers. On a particular day, I noticed that the plates were empty so I just walked pass since there was nothing to ‘encourage’ me to pack them to the kitchen. Or at least so I thought. Apparently moved by a sense of duty, one of my brothers went to the table and packed the plates. My mother thanked him and while he engaged both hands in carrying the plates, she asked him to open his mouth. When he did, my mother put a very big chunk of meat in his mouth! At that moment, it occurred to me that I was only checking the plates; I didn’t watch out for the hand. The plates were empty, but my mother’s hand was full! That lesson has never left me!”
I am sure many of us would recollect moments like that in our lives but let me conclude the story with the words of the writer: “The reward for packing some plates of responsibilities and duties may not be visible on the plates but wrapped within the faithful fingers of devotion, dedication and selfless service to humanity. Many people walk pass their fulfilment by looking the other way from obligations simply because the plates seem empty of reward. If you miss the blessings of being responsible to your siblings, clients, partners, friends, colleagues, etc. the best that the anointing oil will do is to fry your head for dinner in the canteen of frustration. So, be eager to pack the plates you find on the table of responsibility: at home, in the office, within the associations you belong, everywhere…”
We are gathered here tonight to celebrate with someone who evidently packed the plates of responsibility at every epoch in her life. Exactly 40 years ago, Hon Justice Cecilia Mojisola Olatoregun bagged her L.L.B Degree from the then University of Ife and did her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme immediately after. Her working career started in 1981, as a state counsel in the Oyo State Ministry of Justice, before going into private practice.
In 1986, Mrs Olatoregun joined the Oyo State Judiciary as a Senior Magistrate ll where she served for a period of five years. I am not here to read her CV but so remarkable has been her career progression that from the rank of the Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court and the Admiralty Marshal of Nigeria, she was elevated to the Federal High Court Bench in 2000. And in the course of her 19 years’ sojourn at the court, Justice Olatoregun has delivered several landmark judgements. The two books in her honour attest to that. But the real message is this: If at any point in her career Justice Olatoregun had adopted the attitude of waiting for some leftovers in the plates before performing her duties, I am almost certain that we will not be here tonight. So, effectively, we are gathered here to celebrate with someone who parked the plates.
I don’t know what qualifies me to be here but I am aware that dinner speeches are not supposed to be long. As I told the celebrant when she first contacted me many months ago, this is a ‘come and eat’ affair and we must keep it strictly so. However, this is an opportunity to share some concerns with the men and women who hold the power of life and death over ordinary citizens like me. And it is not in my nature to waste such opportunities.
On 10th December 2015, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Lagos State branch, held its annual dinner at Muson Centre and I was the guest speaker. The theme for the dinner was “Undressing Themis” which, as I explained, could be taken as either the basis upon which justice is founded or an attempt to reflect on the several ways lawyers put Themis to shame by their professional conducts. That night, I interrogated a question British lawyer and Queen’s Counsel, Mr. David Whitehouse, said he was once asked. It had to do with whether he would defend someone he considered guilty of the offence to which the person was charged. I deliberately chose the topic because I knew that among the lawyers I would be addressing that night, some must have, at one point or another, defended people they knew were guilty of the offence for which they were charged.
I prefaced my intervention with the story of a junior partner in a big law firm who was sent to court in a case involving a friend of his boss accused of misappropriating public funds. After days of trial, the case was won with the man discharged and acquitted. Excited about his success, the young lawyer sent a terse text message to his boss from the courtroom: “Justice has prevailed.” The senior partner, who knew the real facts of the case, misinterpreted the text so he replied: “Appeal immediately.”
Now to come back to the question posed to Whitehouse, this was his reply: “There is a huge difference between knowing someone is guilty and suspecting or believing they’re guilty. The first case I tried as a recorder with a jury, I was certain that the defendant was guilty at the end of his evidence. Then he called a completely independent witness who proved beyond any question that he was totally innocent. I was wrong and it taught me a very important lesson, which is that it’s not for me to make up my mind. So I try to keep an open mind at all times.”
If Whitehouse had ended his defence at that point, there would be no issue. It was what he said next that I find rather interesting: “I am not going to prevent my clients from having a fair trial because I personally suspect, as I sometimes do, that they committed the crime. The real thing is: can the prosecution prove it so a jury is sure they committed the crime?”
So, for the lawyer, the issue is not whether a client committed the crime for which they were charged but rather whether the prosecution can prove the case. This then brings me to the converse and I am delighted that there are several eminent jurists here tonight. Does it mean that Judges also acquit someone they suspect may have committed the offence? I am sure many would have done that given the preeminent position of English jurist, William Blackstone that it is “better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” This then brings me to the second question: Do Judges also convict defendants they have a hunch did not commit the offence but in which the case against them was proved beyond reasonable doubts?
These, I believe, are dilemmas that every Judge must contend with at some points in their career. That judges or members of the Jury, where it is not trial by bench, can never be certain is perhaps why in Scotland there are three verdicts available in criminal trials. The first is Guilty; the second, Not Guilty, and the third, Not Proven. While ‘not proven’ and ‘not guilty’ are both acquittals, there is a stigma attached to the latter which inherently says that although we are letting you go, we are not exactly sure of your innocence.
I have gone to this length to show the dilemma Judges face, not only in Nigeria but across the world since they are human. In Nigeria, there are several other challenges that our men and women on the bench confront almost on a daily basis. So, I salute all our Judges who are seated here tonight. However, there is an issue that worries me and I want to seize this opportunity to highlight it: The attachment of stringent bail conditions that are most often designed to keep applicants in jail. That these conditions apply mostly to those being prosecuted by the government raises questions that touch on the integrity of the bench in Nigeria.
In August this year, the bail application of a former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) National Chairman, Professor Maurice Iwu, was set at N1 billion with two sureties in like sum. One of the sureties, according to Justice Chuka Austine Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Lagos, must own a landed property in Lagos while the other must be a professor or a civil servant not below Grade Level 16. Both sureties were directed to furnish the court with the statement of their bank accounts, showing a minimum balance of N1 billion.
With that cumulative sum of almost N3 billion (in cash And value of property) for Iwu to regain ‘temporary freedom’ pending trial, it came as no surprise that the former INEC Chairman, standing trial on a four-count charge bordering on money laundering to the tune of N1.2 billion, spent more than a week in Ikoyi prison before the bail conditions were perfected. And it is only because of his status in the society that he could meet such conditions. Across the country today, there are hundreds of people who have been granted bail by court yet languishing in prisons because they cannot meet the attached conditions. As I speak, the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Mr Omoyele Sowore remains in incarceration, several weeks after he was granted bail by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu and despite the variation of the terms by another Judge. The challenge is that the conditions attached to both bails are so stringent that many believe they were contrived to keep Sowore in jail.
The issue of attaching bail conditions that are difficult to meet, especially for offences that are not capital, should indeed be of concerns to critical stakeholders in the justice sector. But let me also state clearly that because bail is a discretionary matter, there are contentions about it in several countries. As one writer has put it, bail is based on two conflicting demands. One, the requirements of the society for being shielded from exposure to whatever risks posed by the accused person. Two, the fundamental canon of criminal jurisprudence founded on the notion that an accused is innocent until proven guilty. The idea of Bail is to blend these two conflicting claims of public interest and individual freedom. But there is a bigger issue. While pre-trial detention has always been with us in Nigeria, with thousands of citizens wasting away their lives as awaiting trials inmates, some pervert incentives have been created by the manner courts now dish out bail conditions to criminal suspects.
Early this year in Abuja, someone I know was granted bail by a court but with the usual stringent conditions. It was in the process of trying to meet those conditions that I learnt of a thriving industry within the federal capital territory. There are ‘Bail consultants’ in Maitama and Asokoro districts of Abuja who rake in hundreds of millions of Naira every year by acting as bail bond agents. They ‘lease’ out the title deeds of their property to perfect bail for defendants at scandalous fees. Since their documents are submitted in court all the time, that means these people are well known, or at least they must be.
Demanding between ten to a hundred million Naira just to stand surety for accused persons is for me very ridiculous but that, I learnt, is now the growing price in Abuja. And with that, several families now contribute to these bail contractors, almost in the same manner they contribute to pay ransom to kidnappers. I therefore hope that our courts are not setting these stringent bail conditions to keep some fat cats in business. Besides, commercializing justice through a court procedure by producing professional sureties, who must evidently be known to these courts, cannot be right. Yet, I have learnt in recent days that this practice is not restricted to Abuja; it is all over the country. I understand also that there is also an industry around senior civil servants who serve as sureties in court and they collect huge sums of money to provide such ‘professional’ services.
Before I conclude on the role of Judges in this matter, it is important to highlight other associated problems. After the application for bail has been granted in court, processing the release of the defendant/accused person is another challenge, leading to a situation in which criminal suspects are often punished for offences for which they may eventually be discharged and acquitted.
While we must put an end to these sordid practices which impede criminal justice administration in Nigeria, let me now speak briefly on the role of Judges before I take my seat. Ordinarily, bail is a pre-trial requirement in which a defendant is compelled to enter into a guarantee that a certain amount of money would be paid or property forfeited should they flee from trial. What is therefore contemplated by bail is to “procure the release of a person from legal custody, by undertaking that he/she shall appear at the time and place designated and submit him/herself to the jurisdiction and judgement of the court,” according to the free online legal dictionary.
While pre-trial detention may be important for law enforcement arms in the conduct of their investigations, release on bail is critical to the rule of law because once denied the accused, it would mean that their guilt has been affirmed even without court trial. Although Judges have discretionary powers when it comes to bail, the requirements of the law are that granting bail to an accused or remanding them in custody should be based on the risk of such a person absconding, offending, or obstructing justice. In Nigeria today, the critical issue is how this discretionary power is being applied; which is why I believe we need a reform in that direction.
I stated from the outset that in interrogating the issue of Bail in our country, I am restricting myself to the role of Judges and the courts. That is deliberate. Bail, we all know, is the biggest industry for the police. While the law states that it is free, once you are arrested in Nigeria, even if for something as ridiculous as singing in your house, and you are dragged to a police station, you must ‘drop something’ to regain your freedom. That sadly is the unwritten code with the police in Nigeria and these seems to be nothing anybody can do about it. But of concerns here are the conditions for bail being set by our courts, especially as they relate to cash or property bonds.
To the extent that Judges are supposed to be neutral arbiters in the settlement of disputes, regardless of the parties involved, I do not think it is right to be using bail applications to tip the scales of justice. Except in exceptional cases, the courts should not be giving bail conditions that they know cannot be met. Since the essence of demanding a surety is to ensure that the defendant returns to court for the remainder of the criminal justice process, I believe that the eminent jurists seated here tonight should reflect on what bail has become in our country today: An indeterminate jail sentence being given to an accused person before being found guilty of any crime!
As I congratulate Justice Olatoregun once again on her retirement, let me add that I am also aware of the hostile environment under which Judges operate in Nigeria so I must salute your courage and doggedness. In the run up to the last general election, for instance, our courts were able to say very loudly to the ruling party at the centre that it is only when the rules and regulations governing elections are binding on political parties and other critical stakeholders that Nigerians can begin to repose confidence in the system. So, our Judges deserve commendation and I commend them. If I therefore sounded harsh in my presentation, it is not out of disrespect or that I do not appreciate the critical role you are playing. It is just because to whom much is given, much is expected. With the enormous powers held by Judges, it is important that they understand that even they are not above parking the plates.
Thank you very much for listening and good evening.
Being a speech delivered by Adeniyi, Chairman, THISDAY editorial board, during the retirement dinner in honour of Cecilia Mojisola Olatoregun, judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos, on November 8, 2019.