IDEAS Radio 18 January 2019

 

Aghogho Oboh: All Right!  Welcome to Countdown 2019 on 99.3 Nigeria Info, where we discuss all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 elections.  You can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019NG, @RotimiSankore, @ideasradiong, @NigeriaInfoFM. This programme is also streaming live on Facebook as well as on Twitter.

 

On IDEAS segment Ayo Obe will be looking at IDEAS and issues around the judiciary.  She’ll be speaking with Richard Akinnola who is a journalist, and one of the co-founders of the Civil Liberties Organisation.  Richard Akinnola is already on line, Ayo Obe.

 

Ayo Obe: Oh great.  Hi, Aghogho, and my co-presenter Rotimi.  Richard?

 

Richard Akinnola: Yeah!

AO: Welcome to IDEAS Radio.

 

RA: Thank you.  … Thankyou.

 

AO: So, it’s great to have you on the show.  I should say that Richard is one of the real veterans when it comes to reporting on the judiciary in Nigeria.  And at the moment he’s publishing a news magazine on the corruption cases, called “The Corruption Cases Digest”, and in that he looks not only at the actual cases that are being brought on the issue of corruption, but also on corruption issues in our judiciary.  And that Richard is what we’re about to talk about today.

 

RA: Ok.

 

AO: So, I wonder as we all know, that there are specific issues relating to the situation regarding the Chief Justice of Nigeria who is the head of the third arm of government in the Nigerian constitutional set up.  And I wonder if you can just let me have your initial thoughts on the matter? From an IDEAS point of view, I should say.

 

RA: Well, I think it’s a good development in terms of the issue of probity in public affairs, so because no one is above the law, so I think we have to look from that perspective, from that background that it is good for our development.  So, but whether the way the whole thing was executed was ideal is a different thing entirely. But looking at it conceptually I think it was a good development in terms of probity and accountability, because whoever is in charge of the judiciary must come with clean hands.  So, but we have to look at different perspectives to the whole thing, from a moral, political and legal. So that’s my initial thoughts.

 

AO: Yeah, Richard, I mean when you say we have to look at it from the moral and the political, doesn’t that really undercut the idea that nobody is above the law?  Because when we look at the timing of this, the offences – if they are any – the offences that are alleged, are things that took place before the Chief Justice was appointed, and yet, suddenly two years later, they become the subject of what is said to be a petition by a non-governmental organisation.  And Richard, I know that you have been deeply involved in the formation of non-governmental organisations, and I wonder whether you’ve ever had such a quick response to anything that you’ve done as an NGO, as this particular NGO has had, when we are presenting this as a matter of “nobody is above the law”?

 

RA: Yeah.  Well, I think, from all I look at … from the way I’m seeing things, is the hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob.  There’s no way this NGO would have been able to have gotten all this information without the imprimatur of those in government or security forces.  Let me give an example: in 2015, an NGO wrote to the Code of Conduct Bureau, under, I mean, using the FoI and seeking for …

 

AO: That’s the Freedom of Information legislation?

 

RA:  Yes. … so, seeking for the Assets declared by then candidate Buhari and his VP, and Osinbajo.  And the Code of Conduct Bureau replied that they are not under obligation to give whatever may have been declared by the candidate at that time, and that they are not obliged to make it public or to give to any NGO or to anybody for that matter.

 

AO: So here we have a situation where, on one hand the Code of Conduct Bureau is protecting the privacy of people who have made Declarations of Assets, and on the other, we have an NGO which is apparently presenting a petition on the basis of what, the contents of a Declaration of Assets form made by a judicial officer?

 

RA: In fact, I mean when you look at the … how fast the whole thing went, that makes the whole event quite suspect.  First of all, the letter of the man, the petition of the NGO, was dated 7th of January.  It was acknowledged by the CCB on the 9th, that’s two days after.  

 

AO: Yes.

 

RA: Then, on the 10th, the charges had been drafted.  But the charges are dated 10th of January.  Meanwhile, the purported statement made by the CJN to the CCB was dated 11th.  In other words, the charges had been prepared even before the purported statement made by the CJN, and on the 14th the matter was already in court.   So, it shows that I mean, this thing was quite arranged.  It wasn’t just a coincidence. So there was a deliberate attempt to remove the CJN.  Because first of all, if … look at how, when Magu was brought before the Senate for clearance.

 

AO: Yes.

 

RA: Then the DSS wrote security report alleging some unsavoury things against Magu.  So, and he was denied clearance. Then subsequently, the whole process started again after some months, the same, another report was written by DSS Lawan Daura to Senate, and Senate refused to confirm Magu as the EFCC Chairman based on the security report alleging some corrupt practices, even though Magu, I mean, in his reply said that all those things were lies against him.  So in the … if DSS or any security agent had anything prior to this time, particularly in respect of these amounts in the CJN’s account, why didn’t they bring these things during the time of clearance? I mean they could have brought all these to the Senate before, because Onnoghen appeared before the Senate Committee on Judiciary before he was finally approved by the Senate. So during the period when he was acting as CJN, why didn’t they bring all these allegations?  So …

 

AO: Well there is … it is known that there was quite a long delay in the period between the time when the CJN was acting and the time when he was confirmed.  And of course, we know that speed of making appointments is not the hallmark of this administration; we remember how long it took to appoint ministers, and even as we are sitting here today, there are some governmental positions that still haven’t been filled.  I’m sure that if you were to ask Frank Kokori he would say that there’s nothing unusual in being asked to wait.

 

But I would like to look …  because on this segment of the programme we try to look at the Integrity issues, the Ethics and Accountability issues, and I wondered there … two  … It seems to me that there might be two integrity sides to this. There’s one which is the integrity of the legal process by which the Chief Justice is being arraigned, or being sought to be arraigned, and then there’s also the integrity side of the behaviour that is alleged.  How do we … is this really just going to be a matter of the strict legality and, you know, technical issues regarding the law, or are we able to separate that and look at it from an integrity perspective with regard to the Chief Law Officer, the Chief, the head of the Judiciary in the country?

 

RA:  You see, the whole … this issue of Integrity and morality cannot be taken in isolation of the whole political gamut in Nigeria.  And don’t forget that when the man was acting, and there was no official information while the acting period was a bit prolonged and he was not confirmed until I think after the President went for medical and it was the Acting President then who eventually swung him through, and of course, there was lots of … and  some senior members of the Bar were writing and saying that there was no reason why the man should not be confirmed, and of course, there were insinuations, you know, we’re in a very …

 

AO: Febrile atmosphere

 

RA: … Yes, and there were insinuations that well, in the past twenty years, all the CJN’s have come from one part of the country, and that this was the first time …

 

AO: And they’ve all been appointed in accordance with the next most senior person.

 

RA: Precisely.  Precisely. So, and that this was the first time in which the next person, the confirmation is being delayed, and there were being insinuations perhaps it’s because he’s from the South, and they don’t want a Southerner .  So that again brought a different dimension to the whole thing. And the same scenario is playing out again, because the petition by that NGO, I mean, there’s one line in that petition that says that “… in view of … that the election is coming and that the judiciary is important for the pre-election and the post-election period”.  Again that raised some alarm that perhaps the whole thing is being orchestrated because they want to get this guy out because of post-election petitions. Perhaps. That’s, these are mere conjectures, but again, because of the peculiarity of Nigeria, that may not be ruled out. So it’s possible that …

 

AO: But you see, even if it’s not going to be ruled out  even if there are politics at play, aren’t we in a situation where – and as I said, we have to look, we need to talk about  the integrity of the process itself – but behind process, behind politics, is the issue of the integrity at the top of the judiciary.  How do we stand in that regard in Nigeria? Are we in good moral standing?

 

RA: Well I believe so, because I think unfortunately, the judiciary has been demonised in Nigeria as being corrupt which is unfair, and I strongly feel that many judges in Nigeria have integrity.  I feel so. So, you just have some few ones that are not living up to expectations. So but we cannot now use examples of the few ones to judge everyone and say well make a blanket …

 

AO: But don’t you think that as long as we leave the …  that as long as there’s a miasma hanging over the entire judiciary, and this situation where convictions are obtained and then they are overturned on appeal on what appear to be technicalities, don’t you think that in the – I wouldn’t even say the court of public opinion – but in the moral court of integrity, that it means that the good are going to be smeared along with the bad, and we end up in a situation where the bad hide under good reputation of some, and we are left in a situation where we don’t know whether it’s the few good or the few bad and the many good or the few bad … and the few good and the many bad, because the whole situation becomes blurred.

 

RA: It’s a matter of process.  It’s a matter of process. Ok, take for example, in, on October 7th 2016 when DSS stormed the houses of some …

 

AO: … some judges

 

RA:  … some Supreme Court, some of them High Court and broke down doors, and  … I mean, and intruded some security men, and so, that was an event that actually, I mean, would have … has its own backlash.  Because don’t forget that judges are not spirits, they are human beings. So, and there’s a possibility, that: If you want to humiliate us, then we will fight back.  And that’s why I keep on saying that we need to be very careful in this war on corruption in the judiciary. It has to be methodical. I’m of the view that if the …

 

AO: You’re saying that the war on corruption in the judiciary needs to be methodical rather than what … sensationalist?

 

RA: Yes, because when DSS stormed the judges’ houses, there was this media razzmatazz, that, I mean, humongous amount of money had been found, this and that.  And I know that if EFCC had undergone that kind of operation, it would have been more successful because they are more professional. So, and when DSS had that operation, I feel that they have destroyed a lot of evidence, and there’s no way they can secure a lot of convictions based on it.  Eventually, only two of the judges were brought to trial …

 

AO: And even those were all, all of those were overturned on appeal, is that not the case?

 

RA: Yes.  Justice Ademola’s one on no case submission, then the matter went to the  Court of Appeal, last month the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. Then Justice Ngwuta was charged to court, both at the Federal High Court for corruption, then at the Code of Conduct for false declaration of Assets.  Then came Justice Nganjiwa’s judgment at the Court of Appeal, which stated that a serving judicial officer cannot be put on trial without first going through the procedures of NJC. And when Justice Ngwuta’s case again came up at the CCT, the CCT had to discharge him based on Nganjiwa’s Court of Appeal judgment.  So that’s where we are now.

 

AO: Well, that’s where we are as regards the law, but as I said, but in the eyes of people who say that if judges are depending on technicalities and being judged by their colleagues before they have to answer to criminal charges, does it mean that a judge can murder his wife and can’t be arrested until the NJC has already dismissed him?  Because doesn’t that raise the presumption then, that if the NJC acts, it’s already decided on guilt. And then you expect the person to come and face a criminal trial and have a free, a just and impartial procedure when the NJC, which is presumably made up of judges and members of the legal profession, has already pronounced: Well, as far as we’re concerned, you need to be sacked!

 

RA: I think the Nganjiwa’s judgment, the Court of Appeal made that distinction; that if a judge is involved in murder or manslaughter or stuff like that, it’s not covered under this particular judgment.

 

AO: So it’s not in the course of their work as a judicial officer?

 

RA: Precisely.  So that it is not covered.

 

AO: Ok

 

RA: So for example, even before this recent happenings, I recall that few years ago, I mean, about fifteen years, about twenty years ago, Justice Anyebe, I think of Benue High Court, was charged for culpable homicide of his son and he was convicted.  He was convicted. So even though the conviction was upturned at the Supreme Court on technical grounds, I think er, but he was convicted.

 

AO: But then doesn’t that mean then, that even if we are saying that these cases are confined to the … in the course of their work as judicial officers, that they still face that hazard that by the time, if they are to face criminal charges, they would effectively have already been pronounced upon by their peers?  Or is it that whether or not their peers acquit them, that the state can still take up any criminal matters against them?

 

RA: Ok, let me give an example of Justice …

 

AO: I’m sorry, we don’t have so much time, so it’s …

 

RA: Ok.  Let me give an example of Justice Ajumogobia.  Justice Ajumogobia was undergoing trial …

 

AO: But that case is still going on …

 

RA: Yes.  But after the Nganjiwa’s case, the case was dismissed based on Justice Nganjiwa’s Court of Appeal judgment.  But then the case now went to NJC, and NJC sat on the petition and dismissed Justice Ajumogobia, paving way for his trial to continue.

 

AO: Yes, you see, and the point then, is the … is that judge going to get a fair trial when they’ve already been dismissed?

 

RA: Why not?

 

AO: Well, because the … you’re already coming with a pronouncement of: Whatever it is, we’ve found you somebody who should have been, should be removed as a judge, and now you’re going to face trial for something that you did as a judge, a criminal trial.

 

RA: I think it’s just like a case of No Case submission.  If you bring a No Case submission and the court your No Case submission that you must go and enter the witness box and make your defence.  That does not mean that you are eventually going to be found guilty.

 

AO: Oh yes, but if you had been somebody who had been …  supposing they had decided not to remove the judge, and then, the trial … would the trial still be able to continue?

 

RA: No.  No, because Nganjiwa’s case that you must pass through the process of the NJC, and whether you are cleared or not, if you are not cleared, then you face your trial.

 

AO: But if you are cleared by the NJC, does that mean that the rest of the State has nothing …

 

RA: Then, you go on trial.  You go on trial. But again, there’s this argument too, saying that the CJN is chairman of NJC, that how can the NJC try administratively, try CJN, but I say that look  …

 

AO: Well I think judges recuse themselves on …   

 

RA: Yes, Deputy Chairman, there’s a Deputy Chairman …

 

AO: … when they have an interest, but I would say also in the eyes of the public, the integrity of the process is still compromised because of the belief that many judges stand to gain from a decision, you see …

 

RA: I agree with you.

 

AO: Well, I’m afraid that this discussion is getting, we’ve exceeded our time.  And I would have loved to continue. But I can see that I’m getting … I’ve far exceeded my time. So I want to thank you very much Richard for giving us some insights.  

 

RA: Alright, Ok

 

AO: I mean, obviously, as I say, you’ve been involved with the judiciary and reporting on judicial cases, and some of us in the legal profession, we are beginning to feel that …

 

RA: Thanks so much

 

AO: … the public are coming up with this view of the profession and the judiciary.  But in the end, that’s where we have to go if we want to resolve issues in a non-violent way.  So I want to thank you very much Richard for coming on to IDEAS radio.

 

Please, if you have any views, you can contact us on @ideasradiong, and you can check us out on our website and we’re putting up some of our past programmes and the links to the YouTube broadcast of them.  So please, keep in touch with us. Thank you very much Richard

 

RA: Alright.  Thanks so much, alright.