Pantami: Between Honour and Responsibility

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By Onikepo Braithwaite Email: onikepo.braithwaite@thisdaylive.com Twitter: @TheAdvocatesTD

Last week, those in charge of the railway in Egypt were sacked by their government, after two train derailments occurred within a period of one month – no excuses. Closer to home, Kemi Adeosun, the former Minister of Finance, resigned from her position in the face of her NYSC Certificate scandal. Yet, here we are today, with a Chairman of the Code of Conduct (Misconduct) Tribunal publicly engaged in “two fighting” and still very much in his job, debating whether an individual who has been publicly denounced as a religious extremist who may not be averse to violence, should still be a part of our Government!

‘Pantamigate’

The fact that the Executive continued with Mr Pantami’s nomination, even after they were apparently informed about his appalling views by the DSS before his name was forwarded for confirmation, is not just shocking and condemnable, it is thought provoking. Notwithstanding, Mr Pantami was able to easily scale through the rubber stamp Senate screening process too! Worse still, was Mr Garba Shehu’s attempt to defend the indefensible, by the statement he issued last Thursday on behalf of the Presidency, concluding that Mr Pantami will not be sacked. Watching an interview of Mr Shehu on Channels TV the following day, was nauseating. What I saw was partiality and discrimination in favour of Mr Pantami, contrary to Sections 17(2)(a) and 42(1)(b) of the Constitution. Mr Shehu trivialised Mr Pantami’s fanatical, fundamentalist and radical views, comparing them to Mrs Adeosun’s Certificate and Babachir Lawal’s grass cutting scandals, labelling those as criminal, while he identified Mr Pantami’s simply as youthful exuberance. Tah!

Meanwhile, an earlier interview of investigative journalist, David Hundeyin, effectively substantiating the claims against Mr Pantami, was damning, to say the least. And, for the avoidance of doubt, for starters, inciting hatred and violence against non-Muslims, fits into the offence of Exciting hatred between classes contrary to Section 417 of the Penal Code (Northern States) Federal Provision Act, which is punishable with imprisonment of three years or a fine or both.

Let me state for the record that, Islam is a religion of peace (Quran 5:16, 4:128, 2:205). It is the unreasonable, the extremists, the violent, the bitter, those filled with hate, and possibly the mentally unstable, who have a penchant for misinterpreting the Quran for their own twisted purposes.

Mr Pantami claimed to have made those vicious, inciting statements ‘against infidels’ (imagine using such a nasty nomenclature in the 21st century) when he was ‘much’ younger; I thought maybe it could have been when he was a child, still a pupil at ‘Makaranta Allo/Ile-iwe Kewu’ (Arabic/Islamic School for children) like my grand nephew who just turned 10 years old, and has been attending one for a few years. According to Mr Hundeyin, when he made those undesirable statements, Mr Pantami was 33 – the same age as Jesus Christ when he was crucified (and Jesus Christ certainly left an indelible mark in the world – over 2000 years after his crucifixion, he is celebrated as a global household name), a year older than General Yakubu Gowon when he became Head of State of Nigeria. A good number of Muslims believe that it is acceptable for 13-15 year old girls to be married, how then, can a 33 year old man be adjudged as being impressionable or too young to know what he was saying or doing; in fact, he should most definitely be seen as a wise old man!

Mr Pantami and the Presidency conveniently maintain that he has repented? Tah! Again! Yet, initially, he tried to deny the allegations levelled against him when they came to light, but was forced to recant in the face of overwhelming evidence stacked up against him. The only thing Mr Pantami is sorry about, is being caught out! And his repentance does not go beyond an attempt to save his job. As for repentance and forgiveness, these are between an individual and God, a Church or Mosque affair; it has no place in governance; therefore, the Federal Government/Presidency is not in a position to absolve Mr Pantami of his sins. A statesman must have moderate views about issues like religion; clearly, Mr Pantami does not fall into this category, and it is an insult to the intelligence of Nigerians, and to the many lives which we have lost in Nigeria (and in the world) due to religious intolerance/crisis, for Mr Shehu and this administration to try to reduce such a serious matter as this to a witch-hunt against Mr Pantami, because he has descended on some data services scammers who do not like him and want to get rid of him!

Religious extremism is one of the main causes of most of the insecurity and violence that we see worldwide today; and an administration that condones, excuses and harbours a religious bigot like Mr Pantami within its ranks, not only opens itself up for its purpose, credibility and integrity to be questioned and scrutinised, but for external observers to wonder whether indeed, Government is not partly responsible for the violence that Nigeria is presently experiencing. We don’t need that. Is Mr Pantami the only capable Computer Scientist in Nigeria? Even if he is cleverer than Einstein, in a decent society he would not be eligible to hold public office. Should an extremist occupy such a sensitive position, and have the data of all Nigerians on his fingertips? I ask again, why would Twitter want to locate its offices in Nigeria? Why would any FDI be attracted to Nigeria? Does Government not see that apart from the Chinese, most other foreign investors are divesting and leaving?

The last time I checked Sections 10 and 38(1) of the Constitution were still in place; the former provision proclaiming that neither Nigeria nor any of its States shall adopt any State religion, while the latter entitles us to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom to change and propagate our religion. These provisions are unequivocal. The logical conclusion is that, Mr Pantami should either resign, or be relieved of his position with “immediate effect and automatic alacrity” (à la Chief Eleyinmi of Village Headmaster).

NASS’ Show of Shame

As for the Clerk of the National Assembly or whoever was responsible for such a show of disrespect to our colleagues – members of the NBA who went to try to mediate regarding the ongoing JUSUN strike action, locking them out of the National Assembly (NASS) for two hours until they were finally addressed, still outside in the parking lot I might add, not even by the leadership or members of NASS – NASS must be condemned for their behaviour. I consider the incident not only to be an affront on the legal profession, but an insult to all Nigerians. By virtue of Sections 76, 77 & 78 of the Constitution (amongst other provisions), members of NASS are elected by we the people; they are our representatives, in office by virtue of our votes, but they seem to have completely forgotten this crucial fact. I watched a video clip in which Learned Senior Advocate, J-K Gadzama, said the NBA had written a letter informing NASS of NBA’s impending visit, and yet, instead of receiving our members graciously, they were treated so shabbily. It is my hope that this kind of uncharitable display by NASS to our members, will never repeat itself.

JUSUN Strike: Constitutionally Speaking

As the strike action of JUSUN has stretched into its third week, I decided to look more deeply into the provisions of the Constitution to understand the dispute better – the more I looked, the less I saw! My main submission is that, however it is achieved, the Judiciary must be independent, and to achieve this goal, it must be financially independent. A situation in which Chief Judges of States or heads of court have to go cap in hand to Governors or the Presidency to solicit for funds, is unacceptable, and must stop now.

Section 6 of the Constitution provides for the Judiciary; Section 6(5)(a-i) lists the Superior Courts of Record, while Section 6(5)(j-k) mentions the other courts authorised by law to exercise jurisdiction on matters which NASS and State Houses of Assembly respectively, can make laws. My humble submission is that, though not expressly listed, courts like the Magistrates’ Court, District Court, Area Customary Court, and the Sharia Court are the other courts authorised by law to exercise jurisdiction on which the various State Houses of Assembly can make laws, and therefore, fall within the purview of Section 6(5)(j-k). Section 6(5)(a-k) of the Constitution can therefore, be translated to mean that the superior and lower courts constitute the Judiciary, and a community reading of Sections 6(5)(a-k) and 81(3)(c) means that any amount standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, shall be paid to the National Judicial Council (NJC) to be disbursed to the heads of the courts. See also Section 162(9) of the Constitution which also provides for the payment of any amount standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the Federation Account to the NJC, for disbursement to the heads of the courts. See the case of Mudiaga-Odje v Younes Power System Nig. Ltd (2013) LPELR-20306 (CA). The aforementioned provisions seem to mean that the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation is responsible for the funding of all the courts (Judiciary), though the type of funding is not stated therein.

The Confusion

Then, the confusion really began. Somewhat contrary to or a further qualification of Section 81(3)(c), Section 84(2), (4) & (7) of the Constitution lists those entitled to remuneration, salaries, and allowances in the Judiciary charged upon the Consolidated Fund of the Federation, thereby excluding judicial officers of the lower courts, and limiting those entitled inter alia, to judicial officers of the superior courts and the recurrent expenditure of their judicial offices, that is, the cost of running the courts. The staff of the superior State courts are support staff, part of the cost of running these courts. Do their salaries form part of the recurrent expenditure referred to in Section 84(7), though they are listed as members of staff in the public service of their respective States in Section 318 of the Constitution?

Does this mean that the State Governments are the ones responsible for the capital expenditure of their State superior courts and all the expenditure of the lower courts, whether salaries, remuneration and allowances, capital or recurrent as per the provisions of Section 121(3)(b) of the Constitution, to be funded from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the various States, and paid directly to the heads of those courts? The foregoing constitutional provisions, are not clear on this; Section 121(3)(b) as if to create more confusion, only states that any amount standing to the credit of the Judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State should be paid directly to the heads of the courts, with no mention of the NJC or the type of expenditure.

The Constitution however, again, shows itself to be an imperfect document riddled with inconsistencies, when in Part I Paragraph I National Judicial Council, Powers of the NJC, Section 21(e) Third Schedule to the Constitution, it also provides that the NJC should collect, control and disburse all moneys, capital and recurrent, for the Judiciary, neglecting to mention where the funds should emanate from, whether Federal or State. This provision does not distinguish between superior or lower courts. If this is so, does this mean that by virtue of this provision, all Judiciary expenditure, whether capital or recurrent, whether superior or lower courts, should be disbursed to the all heads of the courts by the NJC?

Conclusion

In my humble opinion, the judgement delivered in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/667/13 JUSUN v NJC, AGF & 70 Ors on 13/1/2014 per A.F.A. Ademola J. is simply a regurgitation of Sections 81(3)(c) and 121(3)(b) of the Constitution, and does not address or resolve the controversy and inconsistencies created by the foregoing constitutional provisions which I have highlighted above.

Unfortunately, apart from the aforementioned one, I have not yet had the benefit of reading the judgements obtained in the other matters relating to the financial autonomy of the Judiciary. But, it is obvious that the provisions of the Constitution leave us with several inconsistent scenarios on the funding of the Judiciary, and it would be unfair to lay all the blame for the lack of judicial autonomy because of the lack of financial independence, solely on the Governors; the Federal Government (having not fulfilled all its obligations as well) and the inconsistent provisions of the Constitution, are also culpable.

From a community reading of all the above-mentioned provisions, it may be safe to conclude for now, that it is clear that the salaries, remuneration, and allowances of the judicial officers of the superior courts and the JUSUN Staff manning these courts, and all their other recurrent expenditure, should be paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation through the NJC to the heads of the courts. For the lower courts, it is implied that they are the ones who fit into Section 121(3)(b), since they are excluded from Section 84(4) of the Constitution, and the State Governments should fund them completely – pay the judicial officers, their JUSUN Staff, all their capital and other recurrent expenditure.

The bottom line is that, it is a foregone conclusion that the Constitution must be amended to achieve clarity and uniformity, as far as the funding of the Judiciary is concerned. In the case of Danstarcher Turnkey Contractors Ltd v UBN Plc (2015) LPELR-24631(CA), the Court of Appeal held that the rule of interpretation of statutory provisions should always be construed as a whole, and should be given an interpretation consistent with the object of the entire statute. Sadly, the object of the provisions of the Constitution with regard to the Judiciary and its funding, are somewhat hazy. The matter of the centralisation of payments even to Superior State Courts on one hand, and the clamour for restructuring and devolution of powers on the other hand, are at variance – however, this is a story for another day!

This brief overview which I have given, is only the tip of the iceberg; the beginning of the discourse. My dear colleagues, kindly, share your opinion on this matter which affects us all.