‘It is corruption to disregard the constitution’
Uche Wisdom Durueke is an Owerri-based lawyer and a civil right activist. He is the president, Civil Liberty Organization (CLO) and the Centre for Peace Across Border. In this interview with COLLINS OSUJI, he speaks on topical issues bordering on politics, insecurity, the recent Supreme Court judgment on Imo governorship election as well as the United States immigrants visa ban on Nigeria among others.
There is this current clamour for the dismissal of the security chiefs in the country. What is your position on this?
The truth is that they have run short of that creative and strategic idea of fighting terrorism. There is need to bring fresh hands on board. And Nigeria is blessed with many great minds. So for me, I think that it is something that ought to have been done since. But the question is: is Mr. President really willing to go that way? For the national assembly that has so much supported the president to join in the call for their removal, it means that the situation is absolutely deplorable. I might be wrong in my conclusion but that is my opinion. I support the call that we have new security chiefs, and I think that in making the appointments, Mr. President should wear the lens of national unity and productive. I believe that in the Nigerian army, there must be some officers who are trained in fighting terrorism in different levels. Those are the kind of people he should appoint. The main security challenges in Nigeria are fighting terrorism and banditry. So, we need people who have special training and exposure to do those.
Do you think that the move to establish regional security outfit is a good development?
It is the people who are calling for regional auxiliary security support service to tackle insecurity. Amotekun and all such outfits are being set up as security support services. If I am the governor of Imo State or if I am to suggest to the South East governors, I will simply call it security support services. They are not there to take over the role of the Police, the DSS, the EFCC or the Armed forces. The creation of Nigerian armed forces is constitutional. Each time people express fear over such security outfits, I remind them that state Houses of Assembly cannot amend the constitution. So, they cannot create a regional force. Whatever thing they have is at the state level. I am in support of having State Vigilante Groups. The duty of these outfits, you will quite appreciate if you are traveling to Abuja, for those of us who travel by road. Wealthy Nigerians should also experience the pressure and stress of traveling by road even when they can afford to travel by air. It makes them connect with the rest of the society and appreciate the situation on ground better.
For instance, if you are traveling to Abuja through Auchi, you will see armed old men, who walk along the stretch of the road with their den guns. Because of their presence, those places are safer. What is happening in Bornu State, gave birth to the civilian JTF. The issue became so serious and the people decided to step-in in to help because security is a collective responsibility. So we should be bold enough to admit that we need a complimentary state based security service, no matter what you call it. When the situation in Abia State was so severe, Bakasi Boys came in. It helped in dousing the situation, although they were criticized as a result of their modus operandi, which infringed on the rights of many. One only expects that the current security outfits will have respect for the human rights of the people. This is because, we expect that the people would be trained and in training them, the police, the DSS and others would be involved.
Some see the emergence of these complimentary security outfits as an indication that President Muhammadu Buhari has failed to tackle insecurity as a former military chief himself?
On a very patriotic disposition, it simply makes one point, that our government is not getting it right as expected. At times, we fail exams not because we are not intelligent. We fail exams because we failed to work hard. At times we fail exams because we are careless. It happens in governance at times. If you have all the ideas and you cannot run with those ideas, for one reason or the other, you cannot perform very well. So for me, I think that what has happened should be able to make the government do its own internal evaluation. Nigerians have raised hypocrisy and pretence to such high height that today, it is affecting governance at all levels. You will see that a critical expression of a view is blackmailed as opposition. So, people around government are choking it. What do I mean by choking government? They are not allowing government to assess good ideas and for me, that is very critical. This government has some promises when it was campaigning in 2015. The government needs to go back and call up those promises and be real to itself. There is nothing wrong to do an internal evaluation.
One of the cardinal promises made by President Buhari was to fight corruption. To what extent do you think this government has fared on this?
Well, I think international ratings have answered this better. Have we improved? We have not. And if we have not improved by the ratings of the international anti-corruption bodies, it means that we have not curbed the issue of corruption. You cannot fight corruption when you do not believe in the totality of due process. This government must be sincere to itself and confess that it has not respected the constitution. If you do not have absolute respect and regard for the constitution, it is corruption. As far as I am concerned, corruption is abuse of position and power, either in the public or private space. So, a leader is like a sailor in the high sea using the compass to navigate. The moment he destroys the compass or distort its operations, the ship will not sail well. That is the problem we are having in the issue of fighting corruption in Nigeria. There is a kind of profiling going on. Some people, no matter how corrupt they are, if they cross carpet in terms of their political lining, allegations of corruption against them gradually dies down and we don’t talk about them again. I don’t want to start mentioning names but at least, there is a politician in Balyesa state, whose numerous properties suspected to be proceeds of corruption were seized when he was in PDP. Since he moved to APC what has happened? Such incident is not helping the fight against corruption in the country. Some people have tried to blame the court and I disagree. You cannot blame the court. You don’t blackmail the court. The courts are set up by law and the courts are there to interpret the law. The court will give judgment in corruption case in line with the evidences and the law. If we must fight corruption, we need to equip the anti-corruption agencies. So much focus has been on EFCC and I think that it is wrong. We need to equip the police to the level we have equipped EFCC, so that the police can also do anti-corruption work. If you talk about numbers or spread, you will find out that police is more and they are everywhere. Interestingly, corruption is also everywhere. So we need to look at the police force again and equip them well. Also, we need to ensure that we curb those things that lure people into corruption. So, on the issue of corruption, I think that the crescendo has dropped and is dropping.
What is your concern about the recent US ban on Nigerians immigrant visa?
The ban is on people going to reside there or live permanently. And for me, we should be thinking about how to build our own country. We should take advantage of this opportunity to develop our country. Do you know the level of brain drain that we are suffering in this country? Do you know the number of doctors we have lost in the health sector as well as engineers? And how many of them are willing to come back? Thank God for the legal practice. I am not saying this because I am involved. We have been able to develop it in this country and it is running and will run better. So for me, I think it should forewarn government on its diplomatic approach to issues. That is very important for us. I heard a committee has been set up and I ask myself, what will the committee be doing?
So you are saying that Nigeria instead of lamenting over the restriction, should rather take the advantage to develop the country?
That is my position. There is no need hiding the truth. Some of our best brains are the ones going there to live. It is bad.
What is your take on the Supreme court judgment that sacked Emeka Ihedioha as Governor of Imo State and replaced him with Hope Uzodinma of All Progressives Congress (APC)?
When the judgment was given, I told my colleagues that when Supreme Court gives judgment, it is often very important for you to calmly read through the judgment in order to appreciate it because, at times some of their judgments represent the law. Also, it can set a momentum in terms of policy because that is the final court. Well, looking at the judgment, some concerns have been raised. But going through the judgment, you will find out that the Supreme Court was more concerned with the issue of the exclusion of the result from those polling units. Obviously, that was the thrust of the case of the appellant; that the results from those polling units were excluded and they ought not to be excluded. He prayed that they should add them for him. An appeal is determined by the appellant’s notice of appeal or grounds of appeal. You won’t determine an appeal base on what the respondent is saying. The respondent answers to the appeal except there is a cross-examined appeal, for instance. And a cross appeal will not be on the same issue of an appeal. There are issues that people have raised and one cannot overlook some of them. Part of the criticism was that a policeman tendered those results. In terms of results, the law says it has to be tendered by polling agents or presiding officers. But it seemed as if the thinking of the Supreme Court was not in respect of that particular point because from what I gathered, the results were admitted at the trial Tribunal and it overlooked them. That is the basis of the criticisms of the judgment. But for me, admission of those polling units determined the issue. I think that the Supreme Court looked at it and said, was there election in those places? These results have been generated from those places. Having generated those results from those places, there was election. Under the electoral Act, when election is held, you distribute results and give a copy to security agents. The police and party agents would be each given duplicate copies of the result. The essence of this is to ensure transparency and accountability. So I think maybe that was the thinking of the Supreme Court. They conclude that the petitioner has an evidence to show that indeed there was elections in those places and therefore merited victory.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has filed an application for review. Do you see any prospect in that request?
I cannot say whether there is prospect or not. I heard that the date for the review has been adjourned. So I am going to be guided on that, being a matter that is in court so that I don’t make a comment that appears to be subjudice. At this level in practice, it will be silly on my part to do that. But the Supreme Court does not play God and because it does not play God, it is not infallible, but the point remains that Supreme Court is the final court. Whatever thing it says is the law, no matter how you look at it. Now, on the issue of judicial review, it is not a simple exercise. I don’t want to comment on what is before the Supreme Court.
Are you saying that the Supreme Court could overrule the judgment of the Tribunal and Appeal Court?
We all know about the case of Peter Obi in Anambra. He lost at the Federal High Court, Enugu and he lost at the Appeal Court and he went to the Supreme Court. The case was upheld and he was declared the winner. And that changed the electoral landscape of our country. So, the Supreme Court is not bound by the judgment of the Tribunal and Appeal Courts, otherwise it loses its essence. But there is what is called current judgment. When a lower court and in this case, the Tribunal gives a judgment and the Court of Appeal affirms it, when you go to the Supreme Court, it is a concurrent judgment. You can argue that based on the law and even disputed facts a certain decision ought not to have been given. That is the time you can persuade the Supreme Court to give judgment differently in your favour. I appreciate the point in respect of this matter that the Tribunal gave a judgment and the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. For me, what I found as a distinguishing factor on the side of the Supreme Court is; they are saying the numbers are high enough that they could sweep the pendulum to one way or the other. That becomes a serious issue that can now warrant looking at the judgment again. For me I think that’s what happened in this matter. Like I did say, there are issues you can identify in every judgment you read, even if it is from the House of Lords. There is what is called ratio decidendi, that is the reason for the decision. And there is what is called obiter dictum. It means comments made by the side in the course of judgment. So the ratio in the judgment of the Supreme Court is the acceptance of those results and giving validity to them.
What is your expectation from the present government of Hope Uzodimma in Imo State?
Governor Hope Uzodimma must stand up to fight corruption in Imo State. The truth is that we had abuse of governance in the state in the last eight years. Contracts were given without due process and proper documentation. We don’t know who the contractors are. I think that one of those things that he needs to do is to ensure due process in governance. That for me, is a way of fighting corruption. For instance, the previous governments made pensioners to run round and update papers. I beseech him to activate what has been done and use that in paying the pensioners than subjecting these old men and women to another round of verification. But nothing stops him in trying to put in place mechanisms to ensure those who have passed on so that families don’t keep getting that money. But that can be done without exposing them to the elements – the sun and the rains. And then, there is need for him to restore the vitality, credibility and intelligentsia of the civil servants. During the time of Governor Rochas, the civil service was on its lowest ebb. No government will succeed without a virile and viable civil service. The civil service is like the brain box of every government. Watch what happened in respect of President Trump. You saw the public servants coming out to say things even against the President. That’s the kind of civil service that is productive, independent and that would do its job because there is security of job. We cannot do it here without creating jobs. There is a whole lost of human resource. You find that many of our people are leaving because we don’t have job. I think that the Governor should create jobs. And part of what I suggested was that the Governor with his think tank should be able to put in place a viable triple P legislation, that is Public, Private Partnership law that it can use to market Imo nationally and internationally. and said this is the legal framework. You see people talk about people, foreigners coming to invest in the state, I say before the investors come to invest, they need to look at the legal framework. If there is no legal framework or the legal framework is weak, they will not come because they need to assure themselves that they are not playing with their capital. So I think that the Governor, if he can put this in place, it will help him.
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