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N4.8bn audit report: Judiciary, again on the spotlight

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AKEEM NAFIU and TUNDE OYESINA write that five months after the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published a report, indicting the judiciary as number two after police on corruption radar, another damning report by the Auditor-General of the Federation has again put the third arm of government on the spotlight. This time, the report accused the judiciary of defrauding the federal government of N4.8 billion in three years

Five months after a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ranked the judiciary as number two most corrupt institution after police, the third arm of government is again being indicted in another report which spanned three years.
This time, the newest report released by the Auditor-General of the Federation has said the judiciary allegedly defrauded the federal government of N4.8billion in overpaid items and non-retirement advances.
Alarmed at this revelation, lawyers at the weekend were unanimous that a few judicial officers whose activities had branded the nation’s judiciary as corrupt must be exposed and weeded out of the system.
Apparently miffed by an audit report covering about three years by the Auditor-General of the Federation which revealed how the judiciary allegedly defrauded the federal government of N4.8billion through non-retirement advances, some senior lawyers yesterday asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen to immediately launch a probe into the alleged N4.8billion fraud.
In August, NBS said incident of bribery in the judiciary came at a close second after the police with prosecutors and judges flagged as being among the most corrupt. Prevalence of bribery in the judiciary especially among prosecutors, judges and magistrates, according to the report put prosecutor at 33.6 per cent and judges and magistrates at 31.5 per cent.
But last month, an audit report prepared by the Auditor-General accused the judiciary of misappropriating about N4.8billion between 2012 and 2015.
According to the report, the alleged N4.8billion fraud was perpetrated through ghost contracts, non-remittance of taxes, failure of senior court officials to retire advances collected for assignments and refusal to repay vehicle loans, the audit report revealed.
Besides, it accused court officials of overpaying for items bought as many payments made were without receipts while discrepancies discovered in transcript and analysis book contrary to extant financial regulation.
For instance, in 2012, the audit report showed that N985 million (N984, 907, 060) was not accounted for.
In 2013, officials could not explain what they did with N71 million (N70, 959, 696) and in 2014, N1.4 billion (N1,446,767,605) was allegedly misappropriated through unlawful insurance policies, failure to pay taxes and missing documents to back expenditure.
The audit report in 2015 showed almost doubled that of the preceding year as the audit report revealed that officials of federal courts could not account for N2.4 billion (N2,389,583,032).
It indicted senior officials of the federal courts of not retiring advances paid to them as they did not retire N265 million (N265, 127, 309) granted as personal advances to carry out repairs or render services.
The report alleged that some officials got as many as 21 advances despite failing to retire previous advances contrary to the provision of Financial Regulation 1405 which stipulated that “accounting officers are responsible for ensuring the prompt repayment of all advances by installment or otherwise.”
It is also stated in Financial Regulation 1420 that “it is the responsibility of all accounting officers to ensure that all advances granted to officers are fully recovered.”
However, the audit report which revealed the alleged N4.8billion fraud in three years came barely five months after the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published its report that judiciary was the second most corrupt institution in Nigeria.
With the audit report, corruption in the nation’s judiciary has again reared its ugly head. The audit report of the Auditor General of the Federation published said about N4.8 billion was either allegedly misappropriated or unaccounted for by officials of federal courts within three years.
Although the judiciary had dismissed NBS’ report, it admitted that “there is no denial of the fact that there are a few bad eggs in the judiciary, like in every other arm of government; at the same time, there are many honest and hardworking judicial officers and magistrates making the judiciary and the country proud.”
It went on: “The question that should agitate the minds of the people is the criteria used by the UNODC and the NBS to measure the level of bribe taking in the judiciary to grade it as the second largest receiver of bribe.
“For instance, what is the percentage of judges caught receiving bribe out of a total number of one thousand and fifty-nine (1,059) judges in both the federal and state judiciaries? What is the percentage of magistrates caught  taking bribe from an estimated total number of four thousand (4,000) in the country?”
However, barely five months after even as the dust generated by the NBS/UNODC report was yet to settle, another report alleging massive corruption in the judiciary had surfaced.
The report which allegedly emanated from the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation covering a 3-year period between 2012 and 2015 alleged illegal spending of taxpayers’ money by court officials in flagrant abuse of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Most of the money was reportedly said to have been siphoned through ghost contracts, non-remittance of taxes, failure of senior court officials to retire advances collected for assignments and refusal to repay vehicle loans.
Court officials were equally said to have overpaid for items bought and in other instances, many payments were made without receipts while wide discrepancies were also discovered in the transcript and analysis book, in contravention of the extant financial regulation.
A breakdown of the alleged fraud showed that in 2012 court officials could not account for N984, 907,060.
N70, 959,696 was said to have been misappropriated in 2013 while in 2014, the sum of N1, 446,767,605 was misappropriated through unlawful insurance policies, failure to pay taxes and missing documents to back expenditure.
However, in 2015, the audit report revealed that officials of federal courts could not account for N2, 389,583,032.
A common scheme said to have been employed by officials to steal funds was the award of ghost projects. Funds were released for projects that were either not executed or partially executed.
An instance was said to be in 2012, when the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal paid N20, 125,416 to five contractors for the supply of food supplements to judges and head of units.
However, an audit of the payment vouchers and distribution list made in respect of the supplements discovered that of 2,199 units of food supplement allegedly received; only 479 were distributed. Officials could not account for the balance of 1,720 units of food supplements valued at N15, 038,950.
The missing supplements were not included in the distribution list. They were also not physically available in the store as at the time of the audit.
The report indicated that on the whole, the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal could not account for N159, 906,776.
Also In 2012, officials of the Federal Capital Territory High Court were said to have charged contractors only half of the withholding tax for the N446,738,199 contract awarded for consultancy services for the construction of the FCT High Court Headquarters Complex, Wuse, Abuja.
“An examination of the relevant payment voucher revealed that instead of the 10 per cent mandatory Withholding Tax (WHT) for companies of N44,673,819 expected to be deducted at source and paid to the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) as directed by extant Financial circular, only 5 per cent withholding tax meant for individuals was deducted. Even the 5 per cent WHT was not fully deducted. Instead of N33, 336,909.00 only N21, 273,247.00 was deducted leaving a shortfall of N12, 063,662.00. On the whole, the sum of N23, 400,572.00 was under-deducted, thereby causing a loss of revenue to the government in violation of Regulation 234″, the report indicated.
The report also showed how contracts worth millions of naira were awarded in the judicial sector without Value Added Tax (VAT) and Withholding Taxes (WHT) deducted as statutorily required. About N47, 473,270 due taxes in this respect was said to have been unpaid within the period under review.

Lawyers speak
Apparently shocked that there could be a report indicting the judiciary, major stakeholders in the nation’s justice system including senior lawyers have expressed worry on whether the judiciary can truly live above board.
The lawyers – Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Wale Adesokan (SAN), Dr Abdul Mahmud, Emeka Okpoko (SAN), Chief Adeolu Okesiji, Monday Ubani, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa and Mohammed Fawehinmi were unanimous that an immediate probe must commence with a view to ridding the judiciary of bad eggs and bringing culprits to book.
Ozekhome said those behind the N4.8billion fraud should be exposed, investigated, derided, excoriated, prosecuted and punished adequately so as to serve as a lesson to themselves and others that crime was uncharitable even as no one was above the law.
He said: “The era of impunity should be over in the judiciary. Instead of taking a joint blame, any judicial officer that committed an offence should be made to face the music of such offence.
“For the coming year, the report showed that there is more work to be done by the judiciary so as to ensure that the integrity of the arm is sustained.”
Mr. Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria said judicial officers allegedly involved should be prosecuted and made to account for the missing funds.
He said: “Judges are not the accounting officers of the courts. The accounting officers should be made to account for the missing funds and prosecuted if it is established that the funds have been criminally diverted.”
To Adesokan, “the report is not conclusive. When an audit query is received, it is answered. Has the queries been answered? When an audit of an organization is done, questions that require answers were generated. So, as far as I am concerned, the audit report has generated questions in respect of the N4.8 billion which must be answered. Has it been answered? If yes, what were the answers? This is what we should address our minds to before jumping into any conclusion.
“I am not saying that there was no fraud but the audit queries must be answered and it would be on this basis that we would know how to react.”
Okpoko expressed concern over the delay in releasing the audit report.
He said: “Why would the Auditor-General wait till 2017 before releasing the report? Is that how things are done?
“Judiciary is an arm of government and corruption is not a peculiar thing to it. Corruption also happens in the other two arms of government- executive and legislature. I am not only bothered that this is being reported in the judiciary but also concerned that corruption is happening everywhere.
“You cannot single out the judiciary for vilification because it is a product of the Nigeria’s system. The rot is everywhere. Therefore, if there is any alarming situation, it is not only happening in judiciary, it cuts across.
“What is happening is a reflection of the deficiency in the orientation of the people. If corruption is going on in the judiciary, be assured that it is also happening in other arms of government. So, we should be alarmed at the rot everywhere and in every circle not only in the judiciary.”
Mahmud said the report had highlighted one of two things that must be looked into.
He said: “First, the corruption of the Judex, which is deep, goes beyond bribery of judges and magistrates. Here, we have a more serious case of criminal theft of revenues of the state by men and women who send ordinary citizens to prison for stealing things as small pots of soup. Don’t they have conscience?
“Second, that this revelation simply tells us that all facets of our national life, all branches of government, have their hands soiled. But, for the judiciary, all hands must be on deck to show corrupt officers the way out of the system. This will enhance sanity of the system.”

Adegboruwa said although it was the duty of relevant statutory law enforcement agencies to study the report and deal appropriately with those indicted, President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration had failed to do a thorough job by stopping at 2015 in the report coverage.
He said: “There seem to be a deliberate attempt by the present administration to paint the judiciary in bad light and keep it in the bad books of Nigerians. As it is clear from the report, it covers 2012 to 2015, cleverly excluding the period of the life of this administration.
“In a situation whereby the Buhari regime has been asking Nigerians to assess it based on its own performance, one would have loved to see the performance index of the judiciary under this dispensation.
“It is clear to me by now, that the preference for impunity has pitted this administration against the judiciary, which is the most potent organ of government, established to check impunity and the excesses of the executive.
Okesiji noted that although he was yet to see the report, he said if the report was true, the judiciary should sit tight in 2018.
He said: “What this report portrays is that corruption is still in the system. I know the present CJN had commenced some anti-corruption campaign. To my mind, such campaign should not just be a lip-service but should be followed by serious implementation.
“The judiciary which meant to be the last hope of the common man should not be seen as otherwise else there may be a breakdown of the system where everyone will resolve to self-help.
“I think everything still stops at the table of the CJN. My Lord should look into the report critically and take necessary actions against those indicted. The judiciary is known for a self- cleansing mechanism, whereby it punishes anyone within its system that is found guilty of wrong doing.
“The judiciary should start the year 2018 on a new slate.”
Ubani said: “I think it is alarming that the audit report is coming out in 2017. I am wondering what the Auditor General’s office is doing in the area of accounts auditing. This is because this audit report is supposed to be made available every year.
“But what I found out and heard, though not confirmed, is that most times, all these agencies settle the Auditor General’s office to overlook all the lapses, stealing and corruption in the system. It is worrisome that despite the existence of the office of the Auditor-General, corruption still pervades everywhere in this country. I think, that office is not veritable to check incessant cases of corruption that are killing this country.
“Therefore, that an audit report, covering 2012 and 2015 was released in 2017 is an indictment on the Auditor-General. If it is true that it was discovered that this huge sum of money was misappropriated by federal courts in Nigeria between those years and we are just hearing about it, it’s an indictment on the Auditor’s-General office. If I have my way, I will solicit that the man should be prosecuted for aiding corruption.
“Then secondly, if it is actually true that such money was misappropriated, it portends great danger.”
Fawehinmi urged the Auditor-General to publish the accounts from where the reports were procured and individuals involved.
“The judiciary still remains the most underfunded among the three arms of government. The Auditor-General must have procured his reports from a particular set of accounts and I want to urge him to publish those accounts.
“Besides, he should also indicate which courts are involved. This is because as it is now, I know that at the Federal High Court in Lagos, apart from the renovation being done there, the Annex has been under construction for years and it seemed abandoned. So, it is necessary that we know those who took that money without any exception,” he said.

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Re-instatement: NRC’s MD risks arrest

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Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos has threatened to issue a bench warrant against the Managing Director of Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), Mr. Fidet Okhiria, over his failure to appear before the court.
The judge frowned at Okhiria’s refusal to show up in court to face a committal proceedings slammed on him by a former employee of the Corporation, Benedict Iheakam, for allegedly disobeying a court’s order.
Iheakam had through his lawyer, Johnson Esezoobo, asked the court for an order committing Okhiria and NRC’s Secretary/Legal Adviser, Canise Oklahoma, to prison over their alleged refusal to comply with a court’s order handed down more than 14 years ago.

Justice Dan Abutu (Rtd) had on February 18, 2003, while delivering judgement in a suit marked, FHC/L/CS/926/95, ordered the NRC to reinstate Iheakam into its fold and pay all his entitlements.
At the last hearing of the matter, Oklahoma’s lawyer, Opeyemi Igbayiloye, informed the court of his meetings with Esezoobo but did not file any document before the court in that regard.
He said: “At the last proceedings, the court directed that our client should show cause why he did not comply with the court’s order. It is unfortunate that we did not have documentary evidence that there is a cause to resolve the matter and comply with order of court.”

In his response, Esezoobo while confirming Igbayiloye’s submissions regarding the meetings added that he was informed by the NRC’s legal adviser that the MD is currently in China.
Piqued by the development, Justice Olatoregun asked if Okhiria is bigger than the law.

“Order of the court must always be obeyed. He must not show himself to be above law. Is he too big to appear in court? I give him a week to obey court”, the judge said
The matter has been adjourned to February 21 for Okhiria to appear in court.

Justice Abutu had in his judgement held that a purported retirement letter of Iheakam, a Principal Technical Officer at NRC, dated November 1, 1994, is contrary to his contract of employment and is therefore unlawful, null and void.
The judge noted that NRC had sometimes in 1992, nominated Iheakam as one of those to attend a three-month Commonwealth sponsored course in Zambia.

“During the three months period, they were given $500 per month. The total amount for the three months was $1,500, given to them in Zambia currency. They were not given estacode, but were orally told that on their return to Nigeria, they would be paid all entitlements.

“I have carefully perused the standard conditions of service of the defendant, which govern the appointment of the plaintiff admitted as exhibit 2 in this case and I am unable to see any provision thereof, which permits the retirement of an employee for no reason.

“I hold that the retirement of the plaintiff is invalid, null and void. The plaintiff is entitled to continue to have right to be treated as an employee of the defendant, notwithstanding his purported retirement vide letter dated 1st November 1994 admitted as Exhibit 11A in this case.

“The defendant is hereby ordered to reinstate the plaintiff forthwith to its employment and to restore him to his rank as Principal Technical Officer 1(Metal) with full salary and all entitlements from October 1994 to the date of judgment herein.

“The sum of $21,285, being the total of estacode allowance for 93 days is hereby awarded for the plaintiff to be paid by the defendants,” the judge ordered.
The management of NRC has refused to comply with the court’s order till date despite losing out in all their motions to appeal the judgment from 2005 to 2014 when the last application was struck out for incompetence.

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Row over reordered sequence of elections

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AKEEM NAFIU writes that although lawyers were at the weekend unanimous that the National Assembly was constitutionally empowered to make and amend laws for the good of the country, they, however, faulted the assembly’s committee on Electoral Act (amendment) Bill for a reordered sequence of 2019 general elections

 

 

Notwithstanding last week’s disagreement among members of the National Assembly on a report of an amendment carried out on the Electoral Act which reordered sequence of the 2019 general election, lawyers at the weekend expressed disgust for the National Assemblymen to dabble into the issue when the elections were already near.
They said the amendment was carried out in bad faith while querying the rationale behind the lawmakers’ action for the amendment.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on January 9 at a news conference in Abuja released guidelines and schedule of operations as well as the time-table for the 2019 elections.
Its chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu, said the notice of the general election would be out on August 17 in accordance with Section 30 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 which provided that the notice of election be made not later than 90 days before the elections.
Besides, the INEC chairman said the conduct of party primaries including resolution of disputes arising from the primaries would take place between August 18 and October 7.
Yakubu said: “The campaigns of political parties for Presidential and National Assembly elections should begin by November 18 while that of governorship and House of Assembly is December 1.”

According to Yakubu, the last day for the submission of nomination forms by political parties for the presidential and the National Assembly elections was December 3, while the governorship and the House of Assembly was December 17.
However, going by the schedule and guidelines, the presidential and the National Assembly poll would hold on February 16, 2019 while the governorship and the House of Assembly elections were fixed for March 2, 2019.
But, these guidelines and time-table for the 2019 general election as released by INEC on January 9 had already set the stage for an unending clash between the National Assembly and the electoral umpire over which of them had the power to actually fix time-table for a general election following an adoption of the National Assembly’s committee report which had reordered sequence of the 2019 elections.
The adoption of the committee’s report had reversed the time-table already released by INEC.

Following the adoption of the reordered sequence of elections, the presidential election would no longer hold on February 16, 2019 should President Muhammadu Buhari give assent to the proposed bill.
Although the adoption of the reordered sequence of the elections had caused a sharp disagreement among member of the National Assembly, it is believed that such tinkering with the sequence of the elections would no doubt trigger an unending legal disputes ahead of the 2019 general election especially when such adoption was coming a few weeks after the assemblymen amended the Electoral Act 2010 with an inclusion of Section 25(1).

The amendment would now reorder the sequence of the elections to begin with the National Assembly, followed by the governorship and the state Houses of Assembly and ending it with the presidential election.
However, a twist was added to the development when the House of Representatives began a process to amend the Electoral Act 2010 with the inclusion of Section 25(1) in the law.

This was to reorder the sequence of the elections, to commence with the National Assembly, followed by the governorship and State Houses of Assembly, and presidential as last.
This, however, countered the sequence announced by INEC which had put the presidential and the National Assembly elections first and the governorship and the states assembly second.
The exercise reached its climax last week when the National Assembly Conference Committee on Electoral Act (amendment) Bill adopted the reordered sequence of the 2019 general election.

The Chairman of Senate Committee on INEC, Suleiman Nazif, insisted that the bill did not in any way violate any provisions of Section 76 of the 1999 Constitution which empowered INEC to fix dates and conduct elections.
He said: “Empowering INEC to that effect was duplicated in the bill just as powers conferred on the National Assembly by Section 4 (2) of the Constitution were exercised in relation to rescheduling of elections.”

Nazif was of the view that the inclusion of Section 25(1) which changed the sequence of election different from the one earlier released by INEC had not violated any provision of the laws governing the operations of the electoral body.
He was echoed by the House of Representatives’ chairman Committee on INEC, Edward Pwajok, who said that the House concurred with the Senate on the issue because of the need to give credibility to the electoral process.
Pwajok said: “The sequence of election provision in the bill is not targeted at anybody but aimed at giving credibility to the electoral process. This is by giving the electorate the opportunity to vote based on qualities of candidates vying for National Assembly seat.

“Whether it would be assented to or not by the president, as far as we are concerned, remains in the realm of conjecture for now but if such eventually happens, we will know how to cross the bridge.”
According to Pwajok, the National Assembly would have no option than to go ahead and adopt the reordered sequence of the elections should President Buhari refuse to sign the amended bill.
A Senator representing Kogi West Senatorial District and member of the committee, Dino Melaye, also shared the same view.

He said that while date for election was within the prerogative power of the electoral umpire, extant laws had also given schedules for such elections as sole responsibility of the National Assembly.
“So, contrary to reports and comments by some Nigerians on the reordered sequence of election, National Assembly has not overlapped its boundaries,” he said.

But INEC insisted that it had the sole power under the Electoral Act 2010 to fix dates for elections as released on January 9 as it was a follow-up to the announcement of dates for the elections that was earlier made on March 9, 2017.
INEC chief Yakubu said the commission had arrived at the schedule of activities after its meeting held on the same day.
He said: “In a clear departure from past practice when dates were

announced close to elections, the commission decided that henceforth our Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on the 3rd Saturday of the month of February of each election year, while governorship and State Assembly elections will hold two weeks later.

“When the end of tenure of the FCT Area Councils coincides with the general election, the FCT Council elections are to be combined with the governorship and State Assembly elections.
“By these decisions, the commission has fixed Saturday, February 16, 2019 as the date for Presidential and National Assembly elections while governorship and the States Assembly elections will hold on Saturday, March 2, 2019.

“Since the tenure of FCT Chairmen and Councilors will end in 2019, the Area Council elections will also hold on Saturday, March 2, 2019. Consequently, while other Nigerians elect their governors and members of States’ Assemblies, citizens in the FCT will elect Chairmen and Councilors for the Area Councils.”

Meanwhile, the Senate last Wednesday passed the conference committee report on amendment to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Act.
The passage of the report was followed by dissenting voices calling for points of order within the chamber.

The amendment to the electoral act, if approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, will uphold the change in the order of election as adopted by the lawmakers.
The federal lawmakers want their election held first in 2019, before that of the state lawmakers and state governors, with the last being the presidential election.

Since 2003, the presidential and National Assembly polls were being held first on the same day, followed by governorship and state legislative polls on the second day of the general election.
The House of Representatives was the first on January 23 to amend the Electoral Act and effect a change in the order of the 2019 general election.

The change recommended by the lower chamber came barely a month after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the time-table for the general election.
The amendment by the House was made at the Committee of the whole House, presided over by Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun.

The lawmakers amended the Act while considering the report of the House Committee on Electoral Matters which proposed amendment of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
The House amended Section 25 of the Principal Act and substituted it with a new Section 25 (1).
According to the section, the elections shall be held in the following order: (a) National Assembly election (b) State Houses of Assembly and Governorship elections (c) Presidential election.
Similarly, Section 87 was amended by adding a new Section 87 (11) with a marginal note “time for primaries of political parties.”

Lawyers speak
Apparently fumed at the engineered reordered sequence of elections by the National Assembly, lawyers at the weekend said the assemblymen erred by their action.
Notwithstanding the National Assembly’s view on the reordered sequence of the elections, lawyers were unanimous that neither Mr. President nor the National Assembly had legitimate powers to dictate to INEC on how it would organize and conduct general election.

To them, since INEC would always rely on its powers as guaranteed by the Electoral Act 2010 and its guidelines without recourse to the other arms of government, the power to roll out guidelines and time-table for the general election was exclusively within INEC.

Besides, the lawyers in separate telephone interviews with New Telegraph Law at the weekend while acknowledging that the lawmakers were indeed empowered by the provisions of Section 4 of the Constitution to make and amend laws, said the rationale behind the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 and the purported adoption of the reordered sequence of the elections was self-serving.

For instance, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Chief Mike Ozekhome, believes that nothing stops the National Assembly from altering the election sequence through an amendment of the Electoral Act.
He said: “What the National Assembly is not allowed to do is to change this law less than six months to any election. We still have 14 months before the election, so they can amend the law to change the order.

“But, beyond it, it is more responsible and more politically correct to put lesser elections first before the biggest election. The little masquerade first dances in the village square before the biggest of them all comes out.
“It will have a negative effect if you hold the presidential election first before others. Others like governors or senators would want to go where the president had gone so that they would not be in opposition.
“Not only that, the person who has won the presidency can decide to muscle others and remove those they don’t want within one week.

“So, let the small elections come first, which will make the presidential candidate to lobby, work very hard and go down to the remotest parts of Nigeria to campaign, because he cannot take anything for granted. So, I think the National Assembly is right in terms of political correctness and morality.”

But another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Seyi Sowemimo, disagreed with Ozekhome’s view.
Sowemimo while acknowledging the power of the lawmakers to make laws for the country, berated them for putting their interests above those of other Nigerians they claimed to represent.
He said: “Definitely, if they alter the time-table that INEC has done, they are acting in bad faith. The situation of the country is one that public office holders no longer act in public interests. As we have it now, the lawmakers are only interested in having their own elections when their interest will be protected.

“The lawmakers are entitled to make any law, even when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it is acting within the law, the National Assembly can change the law. They are the lawmakers and they can change the law to suit themselves.

“However, what I think is more important is to focus on the fact that what we are dealing with is a political matter. It is one in which all the parties are interested in having a time-table that serve their best interests. The lawmakers will want their own election to occur when their interests will be protected.

They would not want to support some other people in other elections and those ones succeed and when their own time comes, the rules of the game would have changed.
“So, I think the action of the lawmakers is more of political expediency than any other thing. The lawmakers are trying to adopt a political strategy. They make the laws and whatever the law is at every point in time they can always alter it to suit their purpose.”

Sowemimo was echoed by a rights activist, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, who noted that the silence of the law in mandating the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to fix the order of election was what the legislature now exploited to stipulate the order in which election will be conducted.
However, ogunye berated the legislators for changing an electoral law for selfish reasons and political survival in office.

He said: “There are issues that have arisen in the action of the lawmakers. This is because we can debate the reasonableness with respect to all the members of the National Assembly of the act that they have done. Why will you stipulate the order of elections and then not allow INEC to exercise its discretionary powers as to the order in which elections should be held? What is the good reason behind this action? INEC should fix the election date and when we are saying this, the implication is that it should fix the order in which the election is to be held.

The silence of the law in mandating INEC to fix the order of election is what the legislature is now exploiting to stipulate the order in which election will be conducted. If you ask me, that shouldn’t be the business of the legislature.
“What I think the National Assembly is trying to do is to protect the interest of its members who are interested in contesting election and those who are members of the ruling party who will soon fall out and all of that.

“What they are trying to do is to put the presidential election last. In which case, it would not be possible for the executive branch of government and the party leadership to compel them and coerce them to work for the candidate of their party, indeed, presumably, the current president.

“So, they want to secure their position first and leave the current president if he is going to contest election in the cold to sort out himself. This is bad for party politics. Look, you don’t change an electoral law for selfish reasons and political survival in office. It is an indication that the lawmakers are allowing personal interest and consideration to override their sense of duty to the country. There is no good reason to stagger the election that way.

“With this arrangement, we are going to spend more money and shut down the economy for at least a month, among other attendant implications. This is ridiculous. The Nigeria people do not exist for legislators. But on the contrary, the legislators exist to serve the Also speaking in that line, lawyer and National President of the Campaign for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwumadu, disclosed that the action of the lawmakers was self-serving and self-centered.

He was of the view that the promulgation of the Electoral Act 2010 has put the burden of specific business of general management and conduct of elections in Nigeria on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He said: “If you take it from the angle of the constitutional provisions of the core mandate or responsibility of the legislature, you will be tempted to argue that the lawmakers are at liberty to do what they have done. The legislature under Section 4 of the Constitution is empowered to make and amend laws. With this, one may think that the lawmakers are in order to make laws reordering the sequence of elections.

“However, if you take a closer look at the Act of the National Assembly already promulgated by the same legislature, which is the Electoral Act 2010, you will found out that the specific business of general management and conduct of elections in Nigeria is the sole responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). If this is the case, you cannot isolate the issue of the sequence of elections from that global responsibility of INEC.

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‘I had uneventful first court appearance’

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Funke Adeoye, an alumnus of the University of Benin (UNIBEN), was called to the Bar in 2013. She tells AKEEM NAFIU how her journey into the legal profession began

 

Background
Funke Adeoye is an associate lawyer at Azright Legal, a full service law firm in Abuja. She was called to the Bar on November 28, 2013. Adeoye, who attended Gladys College, Ketu, Lagos and LL.B at UNIBEN, is an associate of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIarb) UK as well as a member of Young International Council for Commercial Arbitrators (ICCA).

I am ‘Funke Adeoye (Mrs), called to the Nigerian Bar on November 28, 2013. I currently practice law at Azright Legal, a full service law firm in Abuja. I am also the Executive Director of Humans Behind Bars Aid Initiative, a social-profit organization that offers legal, medical and restorative aid to women and juvenile awaiting trial in Nigerian Prison.

I had my O’levels at Gladys College, Ketu, Lagos and my LL.B degree from University of Benin. I am an Associate of Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIarb) UK as well as a member of Young ICCA (International Council for Commercial Arbitrators)”.

Why law?
I chose to study law because I love writing, reading and talking. At the time I made my choice, law seemed like the best option suitable for my ability.
Speaking on challenges confronting her as a female lawyer, Adeoye regretted inability of some male clients to distinguish between professionalism and their dealings with female lawyers. This she said had made her to always assert her stance in every discussion with male clients.

“In my experience, people especially the male folks consider female lawyers to be incredibly smart, and at times some male clients find it hard to draw the line between a professional and a pleasure seeker. Most times, I have to go out of my way to assert my stance that I am a female, I have brains and beauty but I never mix business with pleasure,” she said.

Though she managed to move a motion for substituted service on her first appearance as a lawyer in court, Adeoye could not forget how she was frightened on her first appearance in court while trying to announce her appearance.
She said: “My first solo appearance in court was uneventful. I had accompanied my senior colleagues quite a number of times before my “baptism”. Apart from having cold and shaky feet before I announced my appearance, every other thing went well. I overcame the shaky feet as soon as I announced my appearance and went straight up to move my motion Her fond memory revolved round an event in 2016 where her determination helped in securing freedom for 20 persons accused of murder.

She relived the memory this way: “One time in 2016, while I was practicing in Lagos, My senior colleague asked me to stand down a criminal matter we had both been handling at a Federal High Court presided over by Hon. Justice Abang. The prosecution counsel had informed my learned senior that he had an emergency and will be late for court and my senior colleague had a contentious motion to argue at the High Court.

“My lord had always granted us the grace of standing down the said matter as we had 20 accused persons arraigned and the courtroom was very small. I went to court and announced my appearance, after which I intimated the court on the state of things. The court’s words after my plea to stand down the matter was resounding “stand down refused, counsel go on with your case or I will adjourn this case till after vacation”
The accused persons at the time had been denied bail and had been in prison for close to two years. We were lucky to have a day-to-day trial and an adjournment since vacation was never contemplated.

So, despite my not been mentally prepared to go on with the trial, I called our next witness to the box (one of the accused persons) and went on with examination-in-chief and tendering of documents. In the course of that, the prosecution counsel appeared suddenly and cross-examined the witness why I made my objections where necessary.

Needless to say, the court commended my grit in front of my senior colleague and other lawyers at the next adjourned day. Today, the accused persons have been discharged and acquitted of all the charges filed against them which included but not limited to murder, pipeline vandalisation and conspiracy and every time I think of it, I can’t help but smile that I fully participated in letting justice run its full course.

On her dream judiciary, Adeoye said she envisioned a truly independent judiciary devoid of executive or legislative interference which is willing and ready to apply technology in dispensing justice.
She said: “A judiciary independent of the other arms of government (executive and legislature) as well as a judiciary that would make the most of technology in swift dispensation of justice is the judiciary of my dream.”

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