Adekunle Ojo is a former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with AKEEM NAFIU, he speaks on President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter to the Senate, NLC’s demand for wage increment, FG’s extension of whistle-blowing policy to proliferation of arms and sundry issues
What do you make of the controversy being generated by the letter transmitted to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari, which referred to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as Coordinator of Nation’s Affairs?
I think the bulk which to me still stops at the desk of the President must have been caused either deliberately or otherwise by his letter writers or speech writers. This is because I know from experience that most of the drafts and the writings are done for him.
It is not expected that the president will be the one that will sit by the computer and be drafting letters. All he needs to do is to make his intent known to whoever is responsible for the task. I expect that he must have read through and if for any reason he didn’t read, that’s too bad for the situation.
Having said that, I think it is unfortunate that that kind of language was used because such a language is unknown to the Constitution. However, what matters to me is the intent of the letter. I will rather see the intent of the said letter more to what the Constitution wants which is an Acting President.
Nothing as far as I am concerned has happened that is beyond the ordinary. Apparently, the president knew what he was talking about and the Senate also appreciated the purpose and intent of the letter. The man who is to take-over also understands what is expected of him. So, we should not be bothered about the language used by the president in the letter.
Is the appointment of the EFCC chairman one of those the president can make without recourse to the National Assembly as provided for in Section 171 of the Constitution?
Well, I have actually read Section 171 of the Constitution and the issue is where the law is specific, you cannot read meanings to it. Now, if you read that particular section of the Constitution with the enabling laws setting up the EFCC, which is the EFCC Act, there was no conflict at all.
Basically, the lists of persons that the president can unilaterally appoint are his personal staff. These include the Chief of Staff, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and others in that regard. This set of people are working with him and for him.
He can remove them at any point in time if he wishes. Unlike the EFCC chairman, he can hire and the moment that is done, somebody ratifies. Also, before the person can be removed from office, that body that ratified must be involved. To that extent, I want to say that the appointment of the EFCC chairman does not fall within the class of persons whom the president can appoint without recourse to the National Assembly as envisaged by Section 171 of the Constitution.
Therefore, for the person to be substantially appointed to that position, there must be Senate’s approval. However, I would not say that the retention of Magu by the executive in acting capacity is illegal. This is because the law does not specify how long he could remain in acting capacity.
The president can retain him for as long as it pleases him before subjecting him to Senate’s approval. But having been rejected following his nomination by the president, his rejection is not final. If the president sees him as the most appropriate person to head the antigraft agency even after his rejection, he can still be renominated. Some people were talking about morals but I don’t know where such comes out in all of these.
If we are talking about morals, I can tell you that even the Senate as presently constituted lacks the requisite moral to screen the man. Majority of the lawmakers have issues with the EFCC and as such there is no way they will not be biased in the assignment.
Therefore, as far as I am concerned, nothing is amiss. The president nominated the man and he was rejected but Senate’s rejection is not final. There is nothing legally wrong in Magu continuing in Acting capacity despite his rejection by the Senate.
Are you in support of suggestions that prosecuting agencies of government should prioritize cases to handle particularly in view of losses being suffered by the Federal Government in the prosecution of some high profile cases?
Well, my opinion in all honesty is at variance with majority of our colleagues who had expressed displeasure at the spate of losses. This is because I believe that if the courts were set up to convict at all cost, then, we have not achieved anything.
If the essence of having the courts is for the prosecuting agencies of government to bring up people that should be tried, then, it is not a bad idea. The court should be seen as an arbiter that settles rifts among contending parties. In all these, I think we need to develop our judicial practices.
If the cases were lost as a result of shoddy preparation, it’s so bad. Besides, the prosecuting agencies do not have to win all cases and the losses have shown that there were no cases against those individuals that were cleared by the court. Winning cases in court is not a matter of sentiments, morals and at all cost.
By and large, my position is that cases should not be won at all cost. It is also not because of the absence of a centralized prosecuting body that government is losing cases. Let all the prosecuting agencies of government continue with their assignments. Cases also need not to be prioritise by prosecuting agencies.
This is because the way these cases are, it will be difficult to do so. There are cases that should go to the customary court, while some will go to the Magistrate and High Courts. If we have all of these, it means that cases are already prioritize. To see a crime and close your eyes to it will amount to indulging evil in the society.
So, every case that is worthy of being prosecuted should be prosecuted. It is also clear from the court’s decisions that we have had on these lost cases that investigation is a major issue. Ibori was convicted in the United Kingdom despite being cleared in Nigeria. That is a reward for thorough, technology-driven and high powered forensic investigation. Prosecuting agencies of government should ensure that proper investigations are conducted before an accused person is charged to court.
Many Nigerians have questioned the rationale behind the setting up of Nnamani-led panel on electoral reforms when the report of the Uwais-panel that carried out similar assignment was never implemented by the government. What is your take on this?
We have a lot of things going wrong with us in this country. Assuming that what the Nnamani’s panel was asked to do is to just look at the Uwais-panel’s report and advice government appropriately, it would look as if we are revisiting what we had before and it would have been a welcome idea. Alternatively, government officials who are holding political offices can also be asked to look into the Uwaispanel’s report and offer advice to the government.
These are more reasonable things to do rather than wasting the country’s resources in setting up another panel to carry out a task similar to what has been done in the past. In essence, if you don’t set up committees, money will not be wasted. So, to me, all of these committees that we are talking about appear like windows through which money can be filtered so that people who are supporters of government can be rewarded. Unfortunately, the Nnamani panel has not come up with anything that is much more credible than the recom-mendations of the Uwais-panel.
In actual fact, the Uwais report was adopted by the Nnamani panel. So, what is the purpose of constituting the panel? I think it’s high time we started looking at things from a more profitable angle rather than having to repeat an assignment that has been carried out in the past.
How do you see the extension of the whistle-blowing policy to proliferation of arms by the federal government?
There is nothing new in this policy. It is the civic duty of every Nigerians to report any criminal act to the appropriate authority. That is what was referred to in a more common language as ‘informant’ system. But with this whistle-blowing policy, it would appear that we are living in a country where almost everyone can be bought. It has been taken beyond the level of just an informant. So, basically, the whistleblowing policy is an advancement of what we used to have in the past.
However, what is not clear to me is how someone that reported the piling up of arms and ammunition will be rewarded. I want to advice that government should look for a better way of appreciating whistle-blowers instead of just giving out certain percentage of the money recovered.
I felt that with this arrangement, people were just being rewarded for doing their jobs. Besides, when the issue of the recovered money becomes a subject of litigation, the fund cannot be dissipated until the conclusion of the court’s case. So, the point at which the whistle-blower will be paid his or her percentage will be an issue. There are a number of ways through which whistle-blowers can better be appreciated by government. One of such is by giving them national award. But above all, I am in support of the whistle-blowing policy of government.
It seems we are heading for another labour-government dispute as the NLC and its allies are demanding a new wage increase of N56,000 but government is saying there is no money to meet up with such a request at the moment. How can we avert impending dispute?
Labour agitations in Nigeria are centered on one issue over the years and this is nothing but increment in salary and slave wages. But my fear is considering the present state of the economy and the level of inflation in the country, if minimum wage is increased to N100, 000, it will still remain a slave wage.
My position is that we should look beyond minimum wage and look at living wages. Let us assume that government is ready to take care of the housing needs of its workforce as well as the educational needs of their children, then, workers will be relieved of a large percentage of their worries. Although, I am not averse to the payment of N56,000 but I don’t think it can take any worker home for a month in the present day Nigeria.
So, in order to alleviate workers’ sufferings, government should look beyond just the increment in minimum wage but see how their lives can be improved upon by being responsible for some of their needs.