Arrest Of Judges, A Success Story In Anti- Corruption War – Obono- Obla | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Arrest Of Judges, A Success Story In Anti- Corruption War – Obono- Obla

Posted: Oct 13, 2016 at 3:25 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Barrister Okoi Obono-Obla, the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution, in this interview with some journalists spoke on the on-going anti-corruption war and the recent arrest of some senior judges across the country. NSA GILL brings the excerpts:

A cross section of the populace believes that the anti-corruption war is overbearing. How would you react to this allegation against the need for the government to get the nation out of the current harsh economic situation?

That view is tendentious, and it is being peddled by the enemies of this government, detractors, or those who love corruption. You cannot expect the government to concentrating on anti-corruption alone. It is not possible. Let me ask this question: The President is the Chief Executive of the federation, and he has presidential powers; he has departments and extra-ministerial departments, ministries, commissions. What are the commissions responsible for fighting corruption: ICPC, EFCC, the Police to a certain extent, DSS, maybe the National Security Adviser, Code of Conduct Bureau. These are bodies that are principally responsible for fighting corruption. These bodies are independent by their own rights and are headed by competent Nigerians. These bodies are created by law, with different functions and responsibilities. So these are the bodies that are fighting corruption. To some extent, the Ministry of Justice is the anchor of the fight against corruption. So, if you say that the president is not addressing the economy, you are being mischievous.
The economic team is headed by the Vice President. There is also Udo Udoma, the Minister for Budget and Planning, the Minister for Finance is there and other ministers. But, what the president is saying is that we cannot involve the private sector, because if you involve the private sector, they will bring their vested interests.
The economic team is addressing the economy. They have done a lot of work and have put in place a lot if measures to address the economy. The Minister of Finance said recently that the worst of the recession is over. I think by first quarter of next year, you may begin to see the signs of the recovery. This thing is not peculiar with Nigeria. Japan has been in recession for the past 15 years. Recession is not economic depression, and it is not a death sentence. I don’t know why people are making it so much an issue. Even the hardship that we are talking about, the hardship is propaganda. There has always been hardship in this country. As an adult, for the past 25 years, there had always been hardship. It is not peculiar. May be, what people are complaining about is the blocking of the leakages through which money was being siphon out of the country. That is why there is no slush funds. People used to pay girlfriends N5 million and take them to Dubai, live extravagant life styles. You had people paying N5 million for school fees of little children because they want to show class.
So, the reality now is that because of the fall in the price of oil and the anti-corruption fight, they no longer have access to slush funds. Civil servants in Abuja no longer have access to slush funds, even the politicians and members of the National Assembly.  That is what is responsible for the feeling of hardship. But you know for the messes, they have always suffered from hardship perpetrated by the elites. So that is it. We are addressing the economic situation. Anybody who says the President is concentrating on corruption is speaking falsehood. The President does not interfere with all the bodies and commissions fighting corruption. He has allowed and given them free hand to fight corruption. The President is working and the vice president is taking care of the economy. It is mischievous to say that we are only fighting corruption. We are fighting everything. And you know that if corruption is not addressed, there will be no economic growth. Investors will not come into the country, and there will be a lot of leakages in the economy. So, corruption has to be addressed in as much as we are fighting to put in place a good economy. There is a link between fighting corruption and economic prosperity.

There are also those who feel that there has been so much prosecution and little or no convictions to really justify the fight on corruption. How would you react to that?

The Nigerian elite think we should have two standards of justice. It is very easy to put a poor man into trial and secure a conviction. But the elite will use everything to stall the trial. That is why you can see that it is unprecedented in Africa for senior judges, especially those of the Supreme Court, to be arrested for corruption. And people still say we are not fighting corruption. Judges are partly responsible. The corrupt lawyers are partly responsible because they block, they fight; they stall. If a big man is involved, they whip up sentiments like saying that the President is a Muslim fighting Christians, or the president is Fulani, he is fighting Ibibio, or the president is fighting Igbo, fighting Efik, fighting Anang. The elite, the Nigerian ‘big man’, they whip up sentiments and think that they are above the law. That is the problem. When you go after them, they whip up sentiments that the President is this and that. But the poor people go to prison every day and nobody talks about them. The elite will even manipulate the media.  Dasuki wants you to believe that the federal government is against the order asking for his release. It is a blatant lie. So, that is it. The Nigerian elite do not want the rule of law to reign in this country. But we insist that the rule of law must reign.

How could you give the success story of the anti-corruption fight so far?

For the first time in the history of Nigeria, the Supreme Court Judges were arrested, and will likely be arraigned in court. Is that not a success story? For the first time in Nigeria, the government has shown a tremendous will to prosecute, even those who are in APC.  The Senate President was arraigned for alleged forgery and also arraigned for allegedly falsifying his asset declaration form. These are the success stories.  We have blocked all the leakages through the TSA; I tell you that it is the fight against corruption that made the federal government to discover that the salary wage bill of the Air Force is bloated. And right now, a committee has been set up to look into the salary wage bill of the Armed Forces because we had an Air Force General who pleaded, “Don’t court martial me. If you give me a soft landing,   I will tell you that the Air Force is a small force. But in the Army it is massive. In the Navy it is massive. If we can have an excess salary of N5 billion a month in the Air Force, what of the Army?” The Air Force General told us he would assist us to block the leakages; that he can help us save up to N80 billion every year from leakages in the salary of Armed Forces. Because of that, a memo was made to the Federal Executive Council and a committee was set up by the Minister of Finance to be able to block that leakage.
We have saved billions of naira from ghost workers. There is fear in Abuja. Nobody behaves anyhow. All the massive estates were built with slush funds and they are there unoccupied. So, corruption fight is not just about prosecution, but about blocking the leakages through which monies are being siphoned out of the system. So, you don’t take a view from the stand point of securing conviction to judge the fight against corruption. Even in America, it takes a long time to secure conviction. Here, we have put in place a machinery to ensure that there are convictions.
Also, since we came in, we have developed a strategic plan on Prosecution 2016 to 2019. It is unprecedented. We have come out with four documents; National Guidelines on Prosecution, Code of Conduct for Prosecution, National Policy on Prosecution, then a Bill is now before the National Assembly for a Special Criminal Court that will address squarely the issue of delay in criminal trial. We are going to establish an administration of Justice Monitoring Committee, which is established pursuant to Section 407 of the Administration of Justice Act 2015, essentially the arm of the committee is to reduce issues of congestion and the issues of criminal cases are speedily dealt with. We have also developed a document, Manual for Plead Bargaining.

What would you advice the elite as regard the success of the anti-corruption crusade?

There are a lot of policies to ensure that convictions are secured. It is not easy. But, as  I have said, the Nigerian ‘big man’ must change his mentality and subject himself to the rule of law. When he is being asked to render account of his stewardship, he should surrender. He should not bring lawyers who will come and stall processes and progress. And the Judges pander to these lawyers because money has passed under the table. We need fearless judges, knowledgeable judges, incorruptible judges and God fearing judges. We also need the cooperation of all the institutions involved in the administration of criminal justice. We have also put in place a National Prosecution Coordinating Committee to complement the efforts of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP). So, these are all the things we are putting in place. It will not be something that you start seeing result immediately. But may be in six months or one year’s time, you will see the results. We are working very hard and we will secure a lot of prosecutions. All the governors that were investigated from 2003 to 2011 that were not charged, we are going to charge them. Everybody who has broken the law will be charged. Before there was no will to prosecute, but we now have the will to prosecute.

The federal government which you said now has the will to prosecute has recently withdrawn the charges against the Senate President, his deputy and others. Now people believe the prosecution team did not do a good job in the first instance. What is your take on this?

I don’t agree that we did not do a good job, may be the police did not do a good job. The Department of Public Prosecution that is under the Federal Ministry of Justice does not investigate cases. In the United States, the Department of Justice investigates cases. But in Nigeria, they don’t investigate cases. We rely on the Police and other agencies. So, the credit should go to the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation for withdrawing a charge that would have ended in non-conviction which would have affected the image of the government and some would say the government is malicious. So, there should not be any celebration about withdrawn charges. We withdraw charges any day when we see that it is a waste of resource to put somebody on trial. We withdraw because we do not investigate. The police investigate. So, at the end of the day, we now have to look at it. If we see that it may end in non-conviction, the lawyer has to act in good faith by withdrawing. That is why Section 174 Sub-section 3 gives the Attorney General the power to withdraw any matter pending in any court in Nigeria against any person. The credit should go to the Attorney General. There is nothing unusual about withdrawing of the charge just because these people are ‘big men’. That is why I said we cannot have two standards of justice in Nigeria, one for the ‘big man’ and one for the poor.
We are making successes in the anti-corrupting fight. You have heard that all the people who were involved in the budget padding have been dismissed from service. As a matter of fact, the EFCC is investigating senior civil servants for these crimes. In last year’s budget, there was a lot of padding and one of the persons making noise now, we have evidence of how he benefited N1.5 billion through budget padding. Now, this government is investigating budget padding. Is that not a success story? In the National Assembly, they are talking about themselves and accusing one another of corruption. It is as a result of our fight against corruption.
Even the arrest of the Supreme Court justices is unprecedented. I say again that we cannot have two standards of justice. When a ‘big man’ is arrested we make noise and whip up sentiments; but poor people are arrested every day for offences that are not as grievous as those of the ‘big man’. What is wrong with arresting judges for corruption and arraigning them in court? The DSS followed due process. They got a warrant and they are free to carry out their operation at any time. The ‘big man’ should not do anything and get away with it in this country. The poor people are being arrested every day and nobody talks about them. Everybody should be subjected before the law. If the President does not have immunity, he can be arrested. The Senate President was arraigned and put to trial. So, what is wrong with the arrest of Supreme Court Justices? Therefore, there is nothing unconstitutional about the arrest of the Supreme Court Justices.