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Why saints may not save judiciary, by Senate panel

By Mathias Okwe and John Akubo, Abuja
05 November 2019   |   4:30 am
Nigeria's judiciary has fallen so low that not even saints may salvage it, according to a Senate panel.The panel lamented that the judiciary came to this sorry pass with the attendant high level of corruption because of a paucity of funds.

• ‘Africa loses $50b to corruption yearly’
• Presidency, Sani differ on border closure

Nigeria’s judiciary has fallen so low that not even saints may salvage it, according to a Senate panel.The panel lamented that the judiciary came to this sorry pass with the attendant high level of corruption because of a paucity of funds.But the panel is hopeful that a special intervention fund could bring sanity to the third arm of government.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Micheal Opeyemi Bamidele (APC Ekiti Central), made these observations after a confirmation hearing session for Justice John Tsoho and Justice Benedict Bakwaoh Kanyip. Justice Tsoho’s nomination as the chief judge of the Federal High Court and Justice Kanyip nomination as President, National Industrial Court of Nigeria, were forwarded to the Senate for confirmation by President Muhammadu Buhari last week. Bamidele, in his remarks, which dwelt on the submissions made by the justices, said the judiciary was very vulnerable to compromise. He added that based on the realities on ground as regards the paucity of funds, not even a saint from heaven could take over the job of a judge and stay clean of corruption.

The panel chairman noted that no democracy could grow or survive with a compromised judiciary, thus the urgent need for a special intervention fund.“The problem at hand is that the judiciary is corrupt and it is time for Nigeria and Nigerians to rise up and rescue it with adequate funding. As it is with the nation’s judiciary today, even if saints are appointed from heaven to serve as justices and judges, it is only strength of character that can prevent them from being corrupt and dispense justice as required,” he said.

Bamidele, who made the comment in the presence of the two nominees and other justices, including Binta Nyako and Okon Abang, however commended President Buhari for increasing the budgetary provisions for the judiciary on a yearly basis.“Within the last four years, budgetary provisions for the judiciary have been experiencing a marginal increase under the current administration, but it is not yet Uhuru. The special intervention fund must come first before a consistent increase on a yearly basis,” he added.

Admitting the rot in the judiciary, the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council ( NJC), Ahned Gambo Saleh, on the sidelines said: “The welfare package for judicial officers in this country is nothing to write home about. Judges’ salaries were last reviewed in 2007.”He, however, added that if the so- called corruption in the judiciary was weighed against what was obtainable in other systems, the judiciary would still be a saint. Members of the Senate committee who attended the confirmation hearing session were Chukwuka Utazi, Gabriel Suswam, Bashiru Ajibola, Peter Nwaoboshi, Okey Jev and Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia.

In a similar development, the Vice President of Kenya, Dr. William Ruto,has identified corruption as Africa’s major threat to her growth aspirations, hence development of the continent would remain an illusion until graft has been dealt with.He made the submission yesterday in a keynote address at the African Economic Congress (AEC), in Abuja, where experts met to find a solution to the seemingly intractable growth challenges of the African nations.

Also, at the conference yesterday, the Special Adviser to the President on Economic Matters in the Office of the Vice-President, Dr. Adeyemi Dipeolu, and Senator Shehu Sani held different views on the closure of the nation’s borders.The Kenya VP declared that the huge illicit financial flows out of the continent was a product of corruption. He said the development remained a challenge to efforts towards socio-economic development of the continent.

“A major challenge that threatens our journey to ‘Building Africa We Want’ is corruption: this is a common challenge among African countries. It is estimated that Africa loses about $50 billion every year to illicit financial flows out of the Africa.”Ruto also identified unemployment as well as poor and inadequate infrastructure as other major challenges to the continent’s growth. According to him, youths constitute about 75 per cent of labour force in most African countries, therefore “tackling unemployment should be on top of the agenda of every African country.”

In his remarks, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, said that Africans were tired of their stories being told them by others and that it was time for Africans to rise to the challenge of developing the continent.On border closure, Sani wondered why the Federal Government would decide to take the action at a time when it just signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA). He said the objective behind the pact was trade liberalisation, insisting that the closure was not in line with the overall objectives of the agreement.

“A lot has been said about the AfCFTA, but I think what we need to remind ourselves is that the idea to integrate the continent economically is not a new one. The idea of an African free trade area is coming back to that reality that our future and destiny are tied to each other. But there are challenges that we have to be ready to face. One of them is what we are experiencing in the country today.

“You can’t sign an African free trade agreement and close your borders. I don’t know how to call black white. And you also have to tell yourselves the truth that if we are desirous of building a more economic future for our continent, then we have to sacrifice some of our irrelevant relationship with nations that are outside the continent,” Sani said.

But Dipeolu explained that the border closure was done in national interest, alleging that countries that have borders with Nigeria had failed to honour trade agreements. “I have a very straightforward answer which is that we have signed (the agreement) but we have not ratified. More importantly, the AfCFTA is trying to introduce a rule-based trading system in Africa. Now the very people who have already signed a previous agreement with Nigeria on customs cooperation and the rules that will affect transit of goods are not living up to those obligations.

“So you are not following on the things you have signed to and you want to hold me onto the things I have just signed to. What you will then have is that I will sign onto the AfCFTA and you will continue to do these things you are doing to undermine my economy by smuggling, dumping. “I think it is an opportunity to remind ourselves that all obligations must be adhered to. How do you explain that Benin with a small population will become second largest importer of rice after China? Government should ensure that the cooperation agreements that have been signed with other countries are respected.”