The recurrent spectacle of assault on the judiciary, in recent time, is not only an embarrassment to administration of justice in the country, but a cause to worry, especially not only at a time a series of reforms introduced by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, are beginning to yield result.
First, like never before in history has agents of government intruded into the privacy of judicial officers in the dead of the night in the name of fighting corruption as witnessed on October 8 and 9, 2016 when no fewer than eight judges, including two Justices of the Supreme Court, were hauled into detention over allegations of bribery and corruption.
With the raid on the judges’ homes by government’s agents in 2016 and the subsequent detention of the judges under whatever guise brought the hallowed temple into disrepute.
The law is supreme and no one should be seen as above the law including its interpreter – the judiciary and, by extension, its officers. But due process under a transparent procedure must be followed.
As the judiciary is yet to recover from this onslaught by the executive, the worse has again happened in Abia State, where a group of lawmakers in tandem with the state executive, arrogated powers they do not possess and removed a sitting Chief Judge.
It is still ridiculous to again hear the lawmakers boasting that their decision to sack the Chief Judge is irreversible as if they have enormous power under the Constitution to wield such big stick on the Chief Judge or any judge without recourse to the judiciary’s highest hierarchy – the National Judicial Council (NJC), especially when its officers are involved.
NJC is the only body saddled with the responsibility of disciplining judicial officers found culpable of any misconduct.
For the lawmakers to sack the Chief Judge, Justice Theresa Nzokwe, while acting on a petition accusing her of misconduct, smacks of executive lawlessness and legislative recklessness.
The Abia State House of Assembly had, on January 26, passed a resolution suspending Justice Uzokwe following a petition allegedly submitted by a group, the Global Centre for Peace and Justice.
In the petition, the group accused Justice Uzokwe of tyranny and obstruction of administration of justice, gross misconduct, denigration of the Office of the Chief Judge and embezzlement, amongst others.
These, however, snowballed into the removal of the Chief Judge without any input from the NJC.
The removal of the Chief Judge has, again, raised the dust on how not to remove a Chief Judge. The Supreme Court had, in a unanimous judgement in 2012, ordered Kwara State to reinstate the Chief Judge, Justice Raliat Elelu-Habeeb, who was sacked in 2009 by former Governor Bukola Saraki.
The apex court said no governor was empowered under the 1999 Constitution to sack any judge, including Chief Judges, without the approval of the NJC.
Sections 292(1)(a)(ii) of the 1999 Constitution as amended explains how a judge of the state High Court or the Chief Judge can be removed from office.
It is unfortunate that the lawmakers who are supposed to know the nitty-gritty of the law are the ones breaking the law and that is why it looked bizarre for the Abia State House of Assembly to still declare that its decision to remove Chief Judge Uzokwe remains sacrosanct.
Its deputy speaker, Cosmos Ndukwe, said the decision was “in line with the constitutional responsibility bestowed on them by the 1999 Constitution,” even when the National Judicial Council had declared the Chief Judge’s removal unconstitutional.
We believe that rather than using their executive and legislative powers to promote good governance and abolish laws granting double emoluments and large severance benefits to former governors, the Abia State government is still boasting on its illegal act, denigrating the judiciary and displaying contempt for the rule of law.
We say that the National Judicial Council’s recommendations and verdict in the instance case must be complied with as its decision on the Chief Judge was a clear violation of Sections 292(1)(a)(ii) and 21(d) Part 11 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended), and a blatant attack on the integrity and independence of the judiciary.
It is crystal clear that no judge anywhere in the country can be removed without the involvement of the NJC regardless of the level of allegations of misconduct against the judge.
We believe that the House’s decision had infringed on the constitutional principle of separation of powers as constitutional provisions are to protect the judiciary from the political intrigues which such removal power often engenders.
The benefits of the integrity of the judiciary should never be supplanted by the temerity and excessiveness which political powers often breed.
And now that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu had complied partially with the National Judicial Council’s directive by swearing-in the second most senior judge in acting capacity, sanity should return to the state’s judiciary while we insist that a transparent mechanism also must be put in place to get to the root of the allegations against Justice Theresa Uzokwe.
NHIS: Another blunder from Buhari’s men
The sounds of discordant tunes from men within the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appear endless. While the country was still to come to grips with the recall of the sacked Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, the recall of the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf, surfaced.
Yusuf was, some months ago, suspended by the Minister of Heath, Prof. Isaac Adewole, over allegations bordering on corruption, insubordination and sundry issues. He was accused of spending about N860 million without approval.
Usman was appointed in July 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari. He took over from Mr. Olufemi Akingbade, who acted for almost two years after the former Executive Secretary, Dr. Femi Thomas, was removed a day to the exit of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The case was so serious that both the Senate and the House of Representatives set up committees to investigate the matter with a mandate to report back. Nigerians have waited for the reports, which have not been released, but Yusuf was restored to his position by the Presidency without the consent of the minister who suspended him in the first place.
Rather than keep quiet on the matter or at best not insult Nigerians, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, came up with the lame excuse that Yusuf’s recall would not stop any investigation into his case by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Presidency had, in a letter it released, reinstated Yusuf without the consent of Adewole. Rather, Adewole was summoned a day after the controversial move, where he was told to work with the man he suspended.
The letter marked SH/COS/10/6/A/29 and signed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, informed the minister of health of Yusuf’s recall. According to the letter, he (Yusuf) had been “admonished to work harmoniously with the minister.”
Ordinarily, the position of the Federal Government could have been glossed over, if not that the idea of recalling men, who have been accused of corruption, is gradually becoming a dark spot for this present government. We recall that Yusuf failed to appear before the panel set up to investigate his involvement in the alleged corruption cases against him. We also recall that Maina was recalled controversially, forcing Buhari to set up an investigation into his recall. Till date, nothing has been heard of the outcome of the report submitted by the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita.
There was also the case of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, who was suspended and a panel set up by Buhari to investigate his alleged involvement in corruption allegations. Although he was relieved of his appointment reluctantly, nothing has come out of that investigation, except the mere invitation by the EFCC and his administrative bail two days after.
We note with sadness that the implications of these cases might be interpreted to mean a Presidency that protects its own. For a government whose one major policy plank is anti-corruption, the recall of the NHIS boss and the other cases mentioned clearly rubbishes whatever gains that have been made in the fight against graft. Rather, it arms the opposition and critics of government in the argument that the anti-corruption fight is just one of those strategies designed for the enemies of this government.
We accept the fact that corruption has, over time, dealt a major blow to the Nigerian system. We also accept the fact that one of the selling points of Buhari as a person is his perceived non-corrupt nature. But we submit that a situation where some people become sacred cows when allegations are levelled against them negates the spirit and letter of the anti-corruption fight.
One of the reasons adduced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his now famed letter to Buhari in January this year against the president was his feeling that the Presidency is shielding its own from corruption charges. Does the reinstatement of Yusuf not give credence to that assertion? Can those who re-instated Yusuf argue in good conscience that his recall was the most pressing decision in the Presidency? How do they convince Nigerians that the issue of anti-corruption is broad based and not targeted at the opposition? These are serious questions that need answers from the Presidency.
By the same token, how would Yusuf be working with his boss, Adewole, when he knows that he is not accountable to him?
In saner climes, Adewole ought to have resigned in protest by now. But being Nigeria, we do not expect him to resign, even though he has been told boldly that Yusuf, his subordinate, is his boss. We expect that the presidency should stop being disruptive of itself. Men within the Presidency should also stop undermining the administration through unnecessary favouritism. That way, they would not end up rubbishing the little legacies being left by Buhari, if any.
Saraki’s call, governance and the 2019 elections
In the past two weeks, preparations have gone into top gear by political actors towards the 2019 elections. With the release of the timetable for the elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), all political actors, both in the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other political parties, have revved up their political engines, gearing towards the general elections.
While that is on-going, INEC, on its own, is also preparing for the elections, registering more political parties.
The result of all these is that the battle for who becomes the president of Nigeria and governors in most states of the federation has started. Add that to the national and state assemblies, Nigeria again is on the march for its four-yearly ritual that started in 1999.
Perhaps, that was what the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, saw last week when he warned that governance should not be ignored for electioneering this year.
Saraki said: “This is my appeal: It is too early for 2019 politicking to override the legislative agenda and the larger work of governance. We have begun a good thing with the recovery of the economy as the core of our agenda. Let us see it to its proper conclusion.”
Saraki’s words of caution could not have come at a better time. It is also very instructive.
Coming at a period the security agencies in the country have their hands full with the mass murders that have happened in Rivers, Benue, Taraba, Borno, Nasarawa and Adamawa states since January in the form of killer herdsmen, Boko Haram insurgents, kidnappers and other forms of crimes that have made the country a theatre of blood, nothing could be more apt.
Apart from the killings, there are also the issues of the lingering fuel scarcity and, of course, the economic downturn that is almost becoming a part of Nigerians.
These are issues that should occupy the minds of government at all levels, going into the elections.
This is even more for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. For a government that would be seeking a re-election from Nigerians next year, the task is ardours and daunting. Nigeria must be stable for the elections to hold next year.
We recall that events in the run-up to the 2015 general elections that ushered in Buhari necessitated a postponement of the elections for some weeks on the advice of the then National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, just because of the menace of Boko Haram.
We also recall that the postponement of that election by the then Goodluck Jonathan administration was seen by the then opposition APC as a move to avert defeat. But when the election eventually held, Jonathan lost.
We regret to note that three years after that episode, going into the 2019 elections, the situation, unfortunately, has not changed much. The ominous signs that caused that postponement are still there, gaping at the nation. Although, the Federal Government wants Nigerians to believe that Boko Haram has been degraded and only attacking soft targets, the resurgence of terrorist herdsmen in parts of the country demands security agencies and governments to keep their eyes on the ball.
We insist that re-election for an incumbent government in a free and fair setting revolves around performance, delivery and the satisfaction of the people with what happened and would happen before the election.
Instructively, last week, two former governors alluded to the fact that elections would not be won merely by propaganda and mere promises.
The national leader of the ruling APC and former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, said: “Mr. President won the 2015 election on a platform that included economic recovery, job creation and improved welfare for workers.
“But we must insist on a better life for our people. As such, the electoral politics of 2019 cannot be played as if a game that has no end other than itself. Here again, we must insist on politics having a nobler and larger goal than just registering certain people into the fraternity of office holders.”
A former PDP Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, stated that the 2019 general elections would not be won on lies and propaganda from a political party.
Nigeria, he said, as a failed state, has been made more manifest in the APC’s three years government.
That is exactly the point Saraki made at the return of senators to the New Year plenary.
We maintain that governance and not elections and re-elections should be of prime importance now. Nigeria has not moved much in the last three years that the APC took over from PDP. The frenzy for the election must be subdued by visible performance by those currently saddled with the responsibility. As things stands currently, the elections, if it comes now, may be a disservice to the ruling party. That is not to say that the major opposition PDP would appeal to Nigerians more. The truth is that the two major parties need to convince Nigerians on their value for the 2019 elections.
Enough of these killer herdsmen
Each passing day, Nigeria has witnessed the killing of her citizens in cold blood. Hundreds of people have been killed, many others wounded and battling for their lives. Not even children and pregnant women are spared in this orgy of violence perpetrated by armed herdsmen across the country.
Just on Tuesday, February 13, 30 herdsmen, wielding dangerous weapons, invaded Akure South Local Government Secretariat in Akure, the Ondo State capital, chased away the workers and paralysed activities at the council. The attack in Akure came a few days after the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Sulyman Abdulkareem, accused herdsmen of poisoning the university’s dam with chemicals.
The herdsmen also destroyed the varsity’s multi-million naira research and training farms by illegally grazing on the campus. The university has given the herdsmen notice to quit its campus. The violent herdsmen have not spared security operatives. SARS commander, policemen, and Civil Defence officers have been killed in Benue, Nasarawa, Oyo and other states.
On January 1st, 73 people were brutally murdered and their homes razed in Benue State as Nigerians were ushering in the New Year. The violence had all the telltale signs of a band of terrorists, but the attacks have been linked to some marauding herdsmen who were apparently resisting the Open Grazing Prohibition Law, which was enacted in Benue State recently. Prior to the enactment of the law, the people of Benue State have been under constant siege of the herdsmen for several years.
The massacre in Agatu, Benue State, is still fresh in our memories. The herdsmen have tactically seized Benue State and several other states in the Middle Belt as grazing reserve for their cattle. These herdsmen, many of who bear arms, operate with impunity and have shown neither regard for the rights of farmers nor remorse for the pains that they usually inflict on these agrarian communities.
These herders and their cattle have become harbingers of violence, misfortune, bloodletting, sorrows and tears wherever they set their feet, because their quest for pasture and water for their animals have often brought them in collision with the locals. For nearly a decade, the contest for land by herdsmen seeking control of cattle routes and grazing reserves has pitched them against crop farmers, not just in the Middle Belt, but across the country.
A good number of herdsmen have relocated to the Southern Nigeria in the same search of water and green pasture for their cows. Here, the conflict has even been fierce because of urbanisation and socio-cultural differences.
These herdsmen have been linked to several bloody attacks on local communities in Enugu, Abia, Delta, Edo, Ekiti, Ondo and Oyo states. They have been accused of leading their cattle to graze on farmlands, thereby trampling upon the crops and destroying valuable farm produce. It is regrettable that each time the herdsmen strike on communities and lives are lost, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria (MCBAN) has always risen to their defence by describing these acts of violence as reprisals. In some instances, Miyetti wants us to believe that the itinerant armed herdsmen must have been victims of cattle rustlers and have no other option than to seek revenge. In many instances, we have been told that the average Fulani herder holds his cows so dearly that they could raze a whole community and kill as many people as possible just to avenge the loss of a cow.
At other times, we have been told that the killer herdsmen are not part of the indigenous Fulani population, but must have been herders from other West African countries. It is also very embarrassing that the Federal Government has continued to handle these incidents with kid gloves.
The Police have treated the bloody attacks of the herdsmen as petty crimes, which do not deserve much attention beyond advocacy for peaceful coexistence among the populace. Also, the Nigeria Armed Forces and the intelligence community have simply looked the other way while Nigerian citizens are mowed down by a visibly armed group. The deployment of troops to the affected states is a welcome development.
We also commend the initiative of National Economic Council (NEC) in the setting up of Yemi Osinbajo-led committee peopled by governors to find a solution to this national crisis. We are of firm belief that this challenge requires a holistic solution now or anarchy will be let loose upon the land.
It is not enough for the Federal Government to commiserate with victims and order the deployment of the military or police to a village attacked by the herdsmen to restore law and order. Government must identify the root cause(s) of the problem and summon the courage to confront them. We strongly believe that the best way to prevent these clashes is to develop ranches where the herdsmen could breed and raise their cattle.
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