Why Buhari Can’t Drop General Appellation, By Adegboruwa | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Why Buhari Can’t Drop General Appellation, By Adegboruwa

Posted: May 21, 2015 at 12:49 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa is a Constitutional lawyer and a man who is totally sold out to activism. As a matter of fact, he started his activism right from his days at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife). He has instituted many suits in court to challenge actions and inactions of government, agencies and parastatals, all in the interest of the public. On Tuesday, May 19, 2015, Adegboruwa issued a statement threatening to sue the President-elect, General Muhammadu Buhari, should he go ahead to drop the title of General from his official status from May 29, 2015 when he will be sworn-in as democratically elected President. Adegboruwa insisted that Buhari is an Army General for life and as such, cannot drop the title from his official status. Having staged a coup to dethrone a democratically elected government, and benefited and is still benefiting by collecting salaries and remuneration both as a retired General and former Head of State, Buhari, in law, cannot drop the title from his official status, he argued when Senior Correspondent, TUNDE OPESEITAN, spoke to him on this and other issues affecting the polity. Excerpts;

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa

What informed your threat to General Muhammadu Buhari on his decision to drop the title of general from his official status because many will feel that the title of general is not appropriate in a democratic setting?  

You see, the title general and the fact that it is not a glorious thing to carry into a democracy is a confirmation of our statement all these years that military has no business in politics especially when they are still serving. And what we are doing to compel Buhari to continue to retain the title of general is to discourage young military officers to know that it does not pay to stage a coup; to tell them that this will follow you wherever you go when you sieze power by force and take over civilian rulership when you were actually trained to be a general fighting war. So, what we are doing is to make a statement to discourage young officers in the Army, Air Force, Navy to face their pure professional calling. There is pride in retiring as a warrior; there is pride in retiring as a professional soldier. But when you leave your professional calling and dabble into politics by seizing power, it will follow you for the rest of your life and when you come back to come and be a civilian, we will not allow you to pull a wool over our eyes and think that you are a born again dictator. So, that is the reason why it is important that even if now that we are in a democracy, those who have contributed to the woes of our life through military dictatorship cannot escape their history.

In your statement, you also alluded to the benefits being enjoyed by former presidents like three official vehicles to be changed every four years; three drivers to be paid by Federal Government; five security personnel; free medical treatment for ex-presidents and their families both in Nigeria and abroad; well equipped, furnished office accommodation and well-furnished living accommodation not less than five bedroom duplex; thirty days annual leave, diplomatic passport for life and free telephone, among others. Is that not too much in a country like ours?        

You see, we did our best to discourage this when it was being implemented by General Abdusalami Abubakar. He forced this law on us to compensate his fellow generals and that is the danger of military rule. This law was made under a military dictatorship. We had no contribution and we had no say in it to approve so much money for generals. As it is now, all generals who have been past Head of State are earning double pension. Buhari is earning pension from the Nigerian Army as a retired general; he is earning pension from Nigeria as a past Head of State and we are talking about corruption; and we are talking about running an economy that will be transparent to allow our common wealth to go round. How can that happen? So, he (Buhari) should use himself as an example by publicly denying to collect double salary. You are collecting salary as a retired general, you are collecting salary as a retired Head of State and you say you want to fight corruption and then all these monies you will not give it up and yet you want to drop the title general and now that he is a civilian president, he is also collecting salary as a civilian president, ah ah that will be too much! It then means that he will be collecting salary in three places. Retired general, past Head of State and now serving President and you want to fight corruption, he has not started at all, truly.

Away from that, what would you suggest to the incoming government to do in bringing about quick dispensation of justice?

I think we must commend President Goodluck Jonathan even though his regime has been quite challenging in the area of justice administration. About last week, he signed the Administration of Criminal Justice Bill into law, that has given us a leap ahead from the Criminal Code of 1945 mostly used to administer justice in this country and I think it is a commendable thing. So, it is for Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who is the Vice President-elect to take hold of that law and ensure that across our courts in all the land, there is great renovation; there is great package for judicial officers; to ensure that there I computerised system so that judges are no longer writing proceedings in long hand; so that you can go to a court and obtain the record of proceedings in that court that same day; that the process of appeal is expedited to the point that we don’t spend eight years from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and another ten years to the Supreme Court. I will recommend that the President-elect should allow his vice to bring the innovations that God gave him while he was Attorney General of Lagos State to bear across the land so that we can enjoy dividends of democracy because you can also not fight corruption without an efficient court system.

Many have called for the decentralization of the Supreme Court or breaking of the apex court into each of the six geo-political zones that we have in the country. Do you agree? 

Well, I do not support the argument about decentralising the Supreme Court in breaking them into zones. The reason is because currently the Court of Appeal is decentralised. There is virtually a Court of Appeal in every zone and virtually now in every state. Yet for example in Lagos, I have cases that have spent five years without hearing in spite of that decentralisation. So, the problem we have with the appellate system is not about breaking the court, it is to make their system efficient; to appoint ore judges. There are two panels in Lagos, and in most cases, both panels are not sitting because they don’t have enough personnel. I was in Ibadan last week, there are two panels at the Ibadan Court of Appeal. The second panel was not sitting because of lack of adequate personnel. So, it is not just about decentralising in terms of physical location. If we appoint hundred judges in the Supreme Court and build enough courts for them in Abuja and they are sitting day to day, the cases will move. They can now rotate their sitting and one day, move to Port Harcourt and take all the appeals in Port Harcourt division. They can move over to Lagos; they can move over to Kaduna and so on. When you spread them like that, the issue of decisions, because that is what we are experiencing in the Court of Appeal now, will be addressed. Enugu division will give a judgment today, by the time Lagos gives another judgment tomorrow, there is conflict and it creating crisis in our judicial system. So, we need to maintain that simple uniform Supreme Court that will have a final decision on all issues without conflict because it will be cantankerous if we begin to have conflicting decisions of the Supreme Court which is supposed to be the final court. It will throw us into serious legal quagmire. So I think that the solution to the Supreme Court and the efficiency of the appellate system is to appoint more judges; give them facilities; build more courts so that all the appeals will be expeditiously determined. I have a 2006 appeal in the Supreme Court that there is no date for hearing and there can be no date because they are still hearing 2004 and 2005 appeals in this year 2015. So, the problem is not just locating courts, appointing more judicial officers will be appropriate. In a country of 180 million people, we should not have less than hundred judges of the Supreme Court and we should not have less than ten courts sitting on the same day and at the same time.

You are known for filing cases to challenge government at all tiers and arms. What is your driving force?

Well, the motivation is from the desire that I have been raised by the society as somebody who knows the law and wish to assist people who also have challenges I had when I was being raised but I don’t have enough financial power to do that. I mean to give scholarship; to send people to school; to empower people and all that. I don’t have enough financial resources personally to do that. So, my motivation for filing such cases is the desire to contribute towards the society to make it better; to open the frontiers; to remove all limitations; to take away barriers by which people can access their destiny. That I can do by looking at laws that impede development and growth; by looking at systems and policies that are not encouraging people to achieve their potentials. So, what I do is to try to use my own knowledge and experience to break down those barriers and ensure that people access justice; ensure that people are able to excel according to their given talent and opportunity. I like that there should be equality; that it is not based on who you know or godfatherism before you are able to get all the things that God has granted to us in this nation. That is the driving force and I’m not paid by anybody. I don’t also belong to any political party. I run this with my own resources and with the strength that God has given me. That is all.

As we speak, many states are owing workers salary ranging from six months to thirteen months. What do you think can be done to address this very serious issue? 

Well, I think the challenge we have is that governors have been made to become larger than life. The problem is that the Houses of Assembly of the states have no independence. They have no voice; they cannot monitor the governors; they cannot check their excesses. And the governors have also muzzled the judiciary such that any court than can look up to any governor is seriously dealt with. And that is why they have become larger than life and there is nobody to check their excesses. When a governor is buying a private jet and his staff have not been paid; salaries have not been paid and the governor is using the resources of the state to buy private jet, then there is a problem in respect of that. So, I think that in this dispensation, it is for the All Progressives Congress (APC), according to their manifesto, to monitor the activities in the various states. I will just give you an example, under the then Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Alhaji Lateef Jakande was governor of Lagos State. When he was defending his budget at the Lagos State House of Assembly, Chief Obafemi Awolowo was there. Awolowo came to Lagos and sat down there and ensured that every policy of the party was implemented and reflected in the budget of the governor i.e free housing, free education. And he (Awolowo) did that in all the states where UPN had their governors to ensure that they did not disgrace the party in terms of its policy. He went to Ondo State and ensured that when Adekunle Ajasin was presenting his budget, he was there and ensured that the policy of UPN was reflected in the budget of Ondo State. That is a leader. You don’t just acquire leadership by title or becoming richer than you won state. I think that the challenge we have is that our people are hero-worshiping our leaders in such a way that they just become larger than life and are dolling little little things to people because of poverty. So, it is important that in this new dispensation, the leadership of the party, especially Major General Muhammed Buhari (Rtd) should ensure that all the promises he made to Nigerians are reflected in all the states not just in the federal.