Buhari: Judiciary Not Doing Enough to Fight Corruption

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  •  President doesn’t have to consider federal character in all appointments, says presidency

Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has accused the judiciary of not doing enough to support the fight against corruption.

Speaking monday in Abuja at a workshop on the Role of the Judiciary in the Fight against Corruption organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, the National Judicial Institute (NJI), United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Commonwealth Secretariat, Buhari said the judiciary has not met public expectations in eradicating delays in the trial of criminal cases.

He said: “I am worried that the expectation of the public is yet to be met by the judiciary with regards to the removal of delays and the tolerance for delay tactics by lawyers.
“When cases are not concluded, the negative impression is given that crime pays.

“So far, the corruption cases filed by government are not progressing as speedily as they should in spite of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015, essentially because the courts allow some lawyers to frustrate the reforms introduced by law.

“This certainly needs to change if we have to make a success of our collective effort in the fight against corruption.”

Athough he recognised the tremendous efforts the judiciary has made to foster justice and accountability in Nigeria, he used the occasion to remind the judiciary of the persistent challenges confronting the criminal justice system.

The president reminded the judiciary of the special position it holds in the nation’s democracy and enjoined it not to allow corruption to thrive within its ranks.

According to him, in carrying out its role in the fight against corruption, the judiciary must remain impartial and most importantly, be seen to be impartial.

He said: “It is incumbent on the judiciary to analyse facts based on the applicable law without prejudice and penchant regarding the case they are dealing with, and without acting in any way that would favour the interests of any of the parties.”

Buhari noted that where judicial corruption occurs, the damage would be pervasive and extremely difficult to reverse.

“It undermines citizens’ morale, violates their human rights, harms national development and depletes the quality of governance,” he added.

He urged the judiciary to maintain its absolute independence, adding: “Judges should hear and handle their assigned cases without any external pressure or influence either by state powers, or by their hierarchical superiors, stakeholders or economic interest groups.”

He counselled the judiciary to take steps to ensure that it is not seen as being partisan and challenged it to be aware of the sensitivities of the public and to take steps towards avoiding even the shred of a doubt as regards its independence.

He said the judiciary was under duty to keep its house in order and to ensure that the public which it serves sees this.

He said Nigeria could not expect to make any gains in the war against corruption if the judiciary is seen as being distant from the crusade.

“This will not augur well and its negative effect will impact all sectors of society. The judiciary must fight delay of cases in court as well as fight corruption in its own ranks, perceived or otherwise.

“We expect to see less tolerance for delay tactics used by defence lawyers or even the prosecution in taking cases to conclusion,” he said.

While welcoming participants to the workshop, which was attended by the Chief Justice of Ghana, Hon. Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, and a former President of the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association (CMJA), Hon. John Z. Vertes, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, admitted that corruption could not be easily tackled without a transparent, efficient and speedy delivery of justice.

He said: “Tackling corruption is neither easy nor quick and it is a symptom of deep-rooted factors. The causes are complex and the means to control corruption are gradually being understood.

“There is no single magical solution, as is with most problems in development; it must be tackled simultaneously on all fronts, individually and collectively.”

However, the CJN warned that the judiciary could not act on its own without the support of all stakeholders in the justice sector.

He said: “The prosecution, defence, police and other parties must play their respective roles in ensuring that they obey all directions of the courts and act timeously in the interest of justice. In this respect, I must commend the ongoing efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ably chaired by Mr. Ibrahim Magu, for working tirelessly to ensure the resilient investigation and prosecution of corruption and other related offences.”

Meanwhile, following the rising outcry over the lopsided appointments made by the president since he assumed office last year, his media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, has defended Buhari’s appointments, saying it is not every time the president has to consider federal character while making appointments.

It is uncertain if Adesina was discountenancing the principle of federal character enshrined in the constitution, however, the presidential aide said: “Every other part of the country would be taken care of.”

Speaking as a guest on Sunday Politics, a programme on Channels Television, Adesina added: “There are some (appointments) that are not necessarily subject to federal character,” but did not provide details on the appointments exempted from the application of the federal character principle or if the constitution includes a waiver for such appointments.

He admitted that the appointments made by the president were indeed tilted heavily towards some regions, explaining that the selection of security chiefs was peculiar because hierarchy had to be followed.

“When it is the turn of a person to hold a certain office and you say because he is from a certain region, you then bypass him for another person, you have been unfair to that person and also to the system,” he said.

“The security system often times operates on hierarchy and efficiency. So if you have a senior person who is also efficient and because he comes from a certain region, you bypass him, I think you are being unjust and unfair to somebody,” he added.

Adesina also said it was unfair to accuse the president of not making enough comments about issues that concern Nigerians, but responding quickly to international matters.

Emphasising that the life of every Nigerian matters to the president, Adesina said Buhari does not fail to act when the need arises.

“It amazes me when people say they have not heard on this and that. What they expect is that the president will come out personally to talk on those things, which I don’t think is the thing to do,” he said.

“Why does the president have aides? Why does he have ministers? Why do we have officials in government? When they have spoken on those issues, I think we should consider that government has spoken on them.

“Yes, the president may have not adopted the style of other leaders, but the life of every Nigerian is precious to him,” he said.

Citing instances when he felt the president ought to have spoken to Nigerians, but failed to do so, the anchor of the programme asked Adesina if Buhari would be more engaging in the days ahead, to which the presidential spokesman said: “The president will do what is right and proper at all times.”

He attributed the slow implementation of the 2016 budget to the crisis in the Niger Delta region, saying the economy has been largely affected.

Adesina said negotiations with the militants had commenced in order to find a lasting solution to the hostilities in the region.

“Yes the budget has been passed. The intention is to implement that budget as much as possible but then the circumstances are making it difficult because projections are not being met because of what is happening in the Niger Delta and other parts of the economy,” he said.

“But as much as possible, the government would still adhere to that project as much as revenue will permit and allow.

“Every option is on the table. There was never a time anything was ruled out. All the options were on the table. You will recall that when some South-south leaders visited the president, led by King Alfred Diete-Spiff, he also disclosed that he had encouraged the security agencies to dialogue with the militants and the leadership of that region. So there was never a time that dialogue was ruled out,” he said.

On another note, the Presidency has assured Nigerians that the Muhammadu Buhari administration, which came to power on the plank of anti-corruption and good governance, will live up to its promises regarding those commitments.

Speaking on the decision of the government to submit the budget proposals of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to the National Assembly for consideration, which is a first in the Fourth Republic, the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, told State House correspondents yesterday that this was in line with the president’s wish to offer a more accountable and transparent administration.

“The laying of budgets for the MDAs, particularly those regarding the Central Bank and the NNPC behemoth was clearly unprecedented. The president is determined to make budgeting more transparent and more participative.

“It is all part of the reengineering of the entire processes of government for the benefit of the welfare of ordinary citizens,” the presidential spokesman explained.

Shehu quoted the president as saying that good governance was key to the nation’s progress and that transparency was the cornerstone of any government that has the welfare of ordinary citizens as its mantra.

“By responding positively to the demands of the National Assembly that MDA budgets be laid before it for scrutiny, a demand mostly ignored by past administrations, President Buhari has given a clear indication of his commitment to an open, transparent and people-oriented government for Nigerians.

“He has shown that he is not hiding any secrets. It is equally a mark of respect for the institution of parliament. Our hope and expectation is that the National Assembly, acting in the best interest of the nation, will allow the immediate operationalisation of the budgets, so that the momentum of growth of the economy which has begun to build up will be sustained,” said the spokesman.