The Futility of Judicial Panels

PLSCOPE BY Eddy Odivwri

PLOSCOPE with Eddy Odivwri

I have very little faith in judicial panels. Reason? They hardly lead anywhere. Oftentimes, they succeed in confirming what everybody had known or suspected before the panel was set up. That is where its essence ends.

At other times when government wants to be extra-formal, they toy with the idea of issuing a white paper after the panel has submitted its report. Again, White Papers are what they are: white paper, filled with powerless black ink.

Running through the records, I cannot readily know of any major national issue that was decisively dealt with because a judicial panel said so. Check. Can you find any?

In a way, Judicial panels are more or less like political tools used by those in authority to either haunt their perceived enemies or play to the gallery.

The latter applies to the setting up of the Human Rights Violation Investigation Commission, aka Oputa Panel, in1999; ditto the Panel of Enquiry on the Lekki Tollgate shootings by the military on October 20,2020, set up by Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Just as the Oputa panel ended up in sheer political smoke, so shall the Sanwo-Olu panel be.

Often times, such panels are set up under a euphoric atmosphere, essentially to sell the impression that government is concerned about the issue about which the panel is set up. And as always, the mere setting up of the panels seem to have a magical effect in calming the nerves of the people who believe that somehow, “the government is working on the matter” . But that’s where the work begins and ends.

I will cite five examples from federal panels of enquiry and one from a state panel of enquiry.

On May 29, 1999 former President Olusegun Obasanjo had become a civilian president. Given his past and the way he got elected, he needed to hit the ground running. And one way he thought this will be quickly appreciated was by setting up the Oputa panel, especially as it will expose the atrocities of the late Head of State, Gen Sani Abacha, his principal tormentor.

So, the Oputa panel gained lots of media traction at the time. The sitting sessions and the revelations thereof seized the headlines for months.

But what did the panel achieve aside mere revelations? Nothing, I dare say. We were told of how MKO Abiola drank tea in the afternoon ,and began convulsing and died.

The attempt to probe into how the June 12 (1993) election was annulled was futile. Gen Ibrahim Babangida, the chief culprit, refused to show up at the panel. Nobody could compel him. And that was the end of the matter. The panel wound up and submitted its report. Till today, we did not hear anything out of that panel again, as its report continue to gather dust in some cartons or shelves in the presidency.

Another example is the panel set up to probe then Vice President Atiku Abubakar by his principal, same Olusegun Obasanjo. The duo had fallen out and were fighting each other dirty. An EFCC investigation had indicted Atiku in 2007. Obasanjo did not want Atiku to run for the presidential election in April that year, since Atiku frustrated the success of the third term bid

He forwarded the EFCC report to the senate with the intent of getting Atiku impeached wherein he’d lose his immunity and then he would be arraigned and thus declared unfit to run for the presidential election. True to prediction, the senate indicted Atiku of diverting $145 million to companies where he (Atiku) had interest. The Senate panel thus ruled that Atiku was unfit to run for the nation’s presidency.

Determined to run, Atiku approached the court and after all the judicial slalom race, the court ruled that only the court of competent jurisdiction has the powers to indict anybody in the eye of the law. That ruling poo-poohed the senate’s indictment. Atiku went ahead to run for that election, even though the court ruling came few days or so to the election.

That ruling has thus established the fact that whatever any panel says or does is subject to the affirmation of the court of law.

Let me cite two more recent panels of enquiry: the Justice Ayo Salami panel that investigated the suspended Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu, and the Senate public hearing that reviewed the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

So, on the Ayo Salami panel, Magu was said to have grossly abused his office. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami had petitioned the presidency on the alleged gross abuses perpetrated by Magu, whereupon Magu was arrested and detained for ten days. While in detention, so much was being released to support the alleged atrocious acts of the former EFCC chair. The allegations were as wild as they were strange. The nation was shocked. He was being tried in a secret panel sitting in Aso Rocks.

But when Magu had access to the media, he refuted all the allegations and challenged his accusers to prove their allegations. All these were in July this year.

More than three months after the Salami panel has wound up and submitted (?) its report, the nation is yet in the dark. Magu remains suspended. His sins (if any) are held inchoate. Judicial panels? They take us nowhere.

I cite the last one being that of the NDDC. In the same last July, the senate organized a public hearing on the activities of the NDDC board. The revelations were reeky. The senate, nay the entire nation (save Akpabio and co) were up in arms against a ruinous and reckless board that was spending public funds with a valueless spirit. Every page of the books smelt of filth and fraud. The revelations from the principal players like former MD of the NDDC, Joi Nunieh, the sitting MD, Prof Kemebradikumo Pondei etc., were vexatiously putrescent, what with Pondei’s fainting drama. Everybody was aghast that such brazen sleaze could take place in a government that claims to tolerate no corruption. But here we are, almost four months after the “great revelations”, nothing has happened to those who mismanaged our commonwealth so criminally. In fact, the sitting MD is still in office, spending public funds still. It’s as if nothing happened. So what was the outcome of all the hoopla that followed the public hearing. What has the presidency done on the reports?

Little wonder some people say judicial panels are “burial ground” of issues of public concern.

My last reference is the panel of enquiry set up in 2015 by Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State to probe his predecessor, Rt Hon Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, who had fallen out with him. Gov Wike had accused his former boss of having mismanaged the proceeds of the sales of some major assets of the state. Amaechi had published the books of the state showing the details of the proceeds, how they were utilized etc.

But not unexpectedly, the judicial panel returned a verdict of guilt against Amaechi. Like Babangida, Amaechi had refused to show up at the panel. So, at the end of the day, the verdict remained what it was: a lip deep indictment.

It did not stop President Muhammadu Buhari from appointing and re-appointing Amaechi as Transportation minister, who in turn had gone ahead to maximally perform in developing and growing the transportation infrastructure in the country.

In the ongoing Lekki tollgate panel of enquiry, I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the finding. But the fact that it is already dogged by tons of controversy like the Nigerian Army refusing to respond to summon by the panel, Gov Babajide Sanwo-Olu first saying there were no fatalities, then later agreeing one, two persons were killed to saying the powers that brought the soldiers were beyond him to eventual admission that he takes responsibility for all the violence that took place, the army (81 Division) admitting that it was invited by the Lagos State government, whereas, the Justice minister, Abubakar Malami, says those who shot at peaceful protesters on Tuesday October 20, 2020 may have been hoodlums who merely wore army uniforms; and the claim by the LCC that the camera stopped recording at 8pm on the day the soldiers invaded the protest ground… , all go to show that it is a panel that may lead us nowhere, what with the fact that it would last for six months! I can almost bet with my career that by the end of the year, Nigerians would be focusing on several other matters and not on the same Lekki tollgate shootings. Meanwhile, we are just being entertained by the nerve-wracking revelations of how savagely brutal the SARS men were.

In all, it does appear like Panels of enquiry are not only opportunities for creating job for retired judges, they are indeed mere tools in the hands of politicians and rulers to satisfy narrow interests. Would the Lekki tollgate shooting panel be different? We wait!


The Thrown-Out Trump

Eddy Odivwri

As at Wednesday night, the outcomeof the American election was yet foggy. But there were heartwarming indications that the bully called Donal Trump was on his way out of the White House. Joe Biden had garnered 248 to Donald Trump’s 214 in the Electoral College. Biden would need 270 to win. As at Wednesday night, he looked nearer Victory than Trump. I pray it so happens to shame those religious fanatics who were matching in support for Trump in Onitsha and Owerri. Such weird fanaticism for one who called you a shit-hole country, one who solely stood against your sister—Ngozi Okonjo_Iweala’s bid for the WTO job.

Trump deserves just one thing: Be thrown away to save the world from his reckless presidency. It is interesting that he had declared himself winner long before all the votes got counted. What a desecration of an ancient tradition. Away with the foul-mouthed Bully.

Regulating Social Media…An Uphill Task

Eddy Odivwri

Did you hear that the northern governors met and endorsed the move to regulate social media operations in Nigeria?

Yes, I am not surprised. Didn’t they claim also that the “EndSARS protests were aimed at toppling the Buhari administration? Didn’t they also even say they need SARS, the dreaded and disbanded police unit?

It is worrisome that the northern governors are almost always wanting to prove that we are not one country.

But they say they are patriots.

Tell that to the marines. With such patriots, we don’t need traitors.

They argue, like establishmentarians, that social media has been grossly abused. That unless there is a check on how it is being used, it could cause much greater problem to the country in the nearest future. So they posit that the regulation move is aimed at rescuing the nation from the precipice of destruction and socio-economic upheaval.

Go and tell them, the greater threat to nationhood and collective peace is bad governance as manifested in nepotism—wherein all plum jobs and appointments are given to people from only section of the country; lacking in foresight—wherein hundreds of thousands of young Nigerians graduate from the universities every year but there is not a single plan of how to get them employed; that the issue of prolonged insecurity caused by the commerce involved in the business of fighting Boko Haram is a bigger threat to national peace than whatever the use of Whatsapp and Facebook is put.

Tell them that the cancer called corruption is what has shrunk us as a people like this, 60 years after, not Twitter or Telegram

My friend, tell them that the troubles posed by the menace of Fulani herdsmen who kill, rape and kidnap unarmed people at will is a far greater source of danger than Twitter and Instagram posts. Tell them that…

(cuts in) Enough! Am I your messenger? Look, we must admit that some of the messages that are tweaked, spinned, edited and shared on social media have indeed misled many people to taking divisive actions that could threaten the unity of this country. Indeed, those who don’t wish this country well, always capitalize on the platform of social media to spread either fake news or sow evil seed in the minds of the gullible.

You got it: “in the minds of the gullible”. How many Nigerians are gullible?

No, I think the question should be, How many Nigerians are not gullible? You know that many of these ill-posts, be they videos, pictures or comments, go virile as soon as it contains elements of rebellion, division, hate speech, inflammation and violent plans. And that is why the federal government is saying, they will not shot down social media altogether like countries like Egypt etc., but that its use will be regulated to ensure that those who deliberately spread fake news and raise false alarms that could cause a breach of public peace, are either prevented from doing so, or they are made to account for their flippancy.

It’s all bunkum. Have you asked yourself, how indeed, the Federal Government would be able to censor the people in the use of the social media? Do they have the requisite technology and expertise? Can’t you see it will further lead to the waste of scarce resources when they begin to hire foreign consultants to block the assess of Nigerians to the outside world?

I need you to agree with me that there are extreme cases of abuse in the use of social media.

It is not only social media that has been abused in this country. Many politicians have abused their privileged positions and offices at the detriment of the rest of us. So have we banned or regulated public office? Look, always remember that water kills, but everybody still drinks water.

So what are you implying?

I am telling you that doing anything against free flow of information will not only be difficult, it will trigger problems far greater and more toxic than the one it is aimed at solving.

Ask yourself how the government will stop Nigerians in the Diaspora from sharing information at their disposal to Nigerians at home? How? Just how?

And do you know there are people who do legitimate business and earn income using the social media?

Such legitimate and enterprising users of the social media will have nothing to fear. The regulation proposed will not hurt their business interests.

It is a Brought-in-Dead idea. It cannot and won’t work here. They should concentrate on instituting good governance and upholding the ethos of justice and fairness everywhere. That is the solution, not strangulation of social media.