The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah, said yesterday Nigerians witnessed the worst phase of corruption under the last administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
He also lamented the fact that the country currently shared its sovereignty with bandits and terrorists, in view of the pervasive insecurity in Nigeria.
Kukah spoke as human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, cautioned President Bola Ahmed Tinubu against sending wrong signals in his anti-corruption fight, stressing that some of those who have visited the Presidential Villa in recent times are currently being tried for looting.
This is even as former President Olusegun Obasanjo noted that the nation’s democracy is not delivering dividends to the people, just as elder statesman, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, suggested that sitting judges should not be allowed to preside over election tribunals.
Kukah, in his keynote speech at the 60th Call-to-Bar anniversary celebration of legal icon, Aare Afe Babalola, in Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State, noted that though corruption did not start under the last administration, it amplified it in moral, financial and other terms.
We won’t join issues with him—BUHARI’S AIDES
But aides to the former President, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Buhari will not join issues with “a drowning man.”
One of the aides said: “We will not join issues with him. What are the facts and figures he provided?”
But in his remarks, Kukah said: “We have seen the worst phase of corruption in Nigeria, Femi Falana, my friend here will speak about that because he has published a series of articles talking about what happened under the Buhari administration.
“They were not the ones who caused corruption but I think in the last administration, we saw the ugliest phase of corruption, whether in moral terms, financial terms and other terms.’’
The clergyman lamented that Nigeria is sharing its sovereignty which is guaranteed in the constitution with bandits and other terrorists.
He said nobody is excited now about being a Nigerian, even if they were a president or senators, adding that the country is literally being held hostage by people who threatened the very existence of the nation and its democracy.
Kukah said a lot of Nigerians had lost faith in the judiciary but noted that he considered the judiciary a victim the same way every other institution in Nigeria was suffering a crisis.
According to him, Nigeria should not yet assume that it is a democracy but, instead assume that it is matching towards democracy, which means rebuilding “after the kind of mess the last administration has left the country.”
Bishop Kukah said it is time to rebuild the country, adding that no matter what happened at the Supreme Court concerning the election, he is convinced that Nigerians had put the “ugly past” behind them.
Don’t send wrong signals in your anti-corruption fight, Falana cautions Tinubu
Also speaking at the event attended by former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, and the Ooni of Ife, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, asked President Bola Tinubu to refrain from sending the wrong signal, saying there had been several high-profile politicians with looting cases in court who had been visiting the Presidential Villa.
“Some of those who are going in and out of the Villa are standing trial for looting the treasury of this country.
‘’No, wrong signals must not be sent to our people and the international community,” the senior lawyer said.
Appealing to the President and his government to “show leadership”, Falana declared that “right now, we’re in trouble as a people”.
He added: “There is somebody here who was our president. If you were accused of corruption and your case was before the EFCC or the ICPC, you would not be appointed to a position of authority. We must go back to that era.”
Citing First Lady Oluremi Tinubu’s remarks at the 2023 Presidential Inauguration Inter-denominational Church Service in May, which said “God has blessed my family; we don’t need the wealth of Nigeria to survive but to do the right thing’’, Falana urged the President to lead an anti-corruption crusade.
He argued that with the President leading the anti-corruption crusade, Nigeria could “take its rightful place in the comity of nations”, as the largest concentration of black people on earth.
He decried the level of corruption in the country, describing it as having assumed a “very dangerous dimension”.
According to him, the situation is such that highly-placed public officers steal money meant for building hospitals as people die on the roads.
“They steal money meant for ecology, to fight erosion, to re-forest certain parts of the country. So, when a country gets to that stage, corruption is now a crime against humanity,” Falana said.
How Nigerians can fight corruption under Tinubu — FALANA
In another forum, a Webinar Series N0 9 held by the Rule of Law Development Foundation, Falana urged the government of President Tinubu to “promptly provide the leadership to ensure that the Whistle Blower Bill, Witness Protection Bil and the Federal Audit Bill are presented and passed by the National Assembly.
Falana said: “In order to promote public accountability, the Office of the Accountant-General should resume the publication of monthly statutory allocations to the federal, state, and local governments. The monthly disbursement of ecological funds should also be published.
“Assets declared by all public officers should be published to enable citizens report illegally acquired wealth. Former governors in the Senate and those who may be in the Federal Executive Council should not be paid pension while receiving salaries and allowances from the Federal Government.
“To empower citizens to fight corruption, the Federal Ministry of Justice should summarize and publish all anti-corruption laws and distribute them to members of the public.
“There should a general salary review for all public officers and civil servants and direct cash transfers should be made to the 133 million who are extremely poor.
“The Peoples Bank should be re-established and revitalised to afford indigent citizens the opportunity to apply for soft loans.
“In its manifesto, the All Progressive Congress claims to have ‘a zero-tolerance approach to corruption — rooting out dishonest public servants and imposing tough sanctions, including jail sentences.’ The Muhammadu Buhari administration made the fight against corruption one of its three cardinal programmes.
“The Nigerian people were made to believe that the Federal Government would frontally confront the menace of corruption.
“The people of Africa believed that Nigeria was prepared to lead the continent in the fight against corruption. Hence, member states of the African Union unanimously appointed President Buhari as the Champion of Anti-Corruption in Africa.
“But shortly thereafter, Nigeria disappointed Africa as the war against corruption was defeated by the government itself. Many politically exposed persons who were charged for money laundering running to billions of Naira were either freed by the anti-graft agencies or by the courts on technical grounds.
“It is on record that the President did not sanction many members of the cabal and the cabinet who were indicted for criminal diversion of huge public funds.
“As if that was not enough, a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, teamed up with highly corrupt elements to sabotage the anti- corruption campaign.
“On a regular basis, the Justice Minister filed nolle prosequi applications to terminate the trial of corrupt officials and thereby frustrated officials of the anti-graft agencies from fighting corruption.
“Thus, the rate of official corruption has increased phenomenally. While confirming Nigeria’s poor ranking in the corruption index, Mr. Garba Shehu, former presidential spokesman, says it is a reflection of Nigerians and not President Muhammadu Buhari.
“That is an official acknowledgement of the failure of the crusade against corruption. Obviously dissatisfied with the manifesto of the APC, the candidate of the party in the 2023 presidential election, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu decided to prepare his own manifesto.
‘’In the 80-page document, the APC presidential candidate promised to support the ‘existing anti-corruption institutions’ and address the underlying issues of corruption in the oil industry.
“Apart from planning to commend and protect bona fide hard-working members of the civil service, Asiwaju undertook to continue ‘the process of weeding out ghost workers, as well as ghost projects and expenditures from the system.
“In a recent public event in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Asiwaju explained how he hoped to fight corruption in the judiciary.
“Upon his inauguration as President of Nigeria, Asiwaju suspended the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Godwin Emefiele and the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa. Both public officers have since been detained without trial by the SSS.
“Even though no reason has been adduced for the arrest of both suspects it is alleged that they have been linked with corruption and other economic crimes. President Tinubu removed fuel subsidy and approved the floating of the naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
‘’According to the President, both policies are designed to curb high level corruption.”
“It is submitted by virtue of section 15(5) of the Constitution, the Nigerian state is under a mandatory obligation to abolish corruption and abuse of power.
“Every citizen is legally obligated by virtue of section 24(e) of the Constitution to render assistance to appropriate and lawful agencies in the maintenance of law and order.
“The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, and other anti-graft NGOs have won many cases in the area of public accountability.
‘’As the judgments were ignored by the Federal Government, we call on President Tinubu to ensure that they are obeyed forthwith.
“Apart from continuing to engage in public interest litigation to expose corruption, CSOs should encourage citizens to take advantage of the Freedom of Information Act to demand accountability.”
We have no democracy that delivers dividends to Nigerians – OBASANJO
Also speaking at the event, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo said Nigeria’s brand of democracy does not deliver dividends to the people.
According to him, democracy, good governance must lead to the welfare and wellbeing of the people, particularly the common people. He said: “In the American constitution, every person is born equal not every citizen, and they enjoy the constitutional right. But with us, the constitution is breached.
“We have no democracy that delivers the dividends of democracy. And if your democracy does not deliver, anything goes.
“Most of the people who are supposed to manage the constitution are the ones who undermine the constitution. Your democracy must deliver the dividends of democracy.
“I believe that constitutionalism, democracy must be for the welfare and wellbeing of the people.
Leadership at all level requires certain things – character, understanding, knowledge, sacrifice and if these are not there, we are deceiving ourselves. All these must lead to welfare, and prosperity.’’
Obasanjo hailed the legal icon, Aare Afe Babalola, for his contributions to the development of his community, state and country at large, adding that he had made things better than he met them.
“You have met this world at a point, you have met your community at a point, you have met your family at a point and what you have done is that what you have met you have made it better than what you have found,” Obasanjo said.
The former Nigerian leader said one lesson he learned from Aare Babalola was that he never rested, even after many years at the bar, noting that he had at a time he should be resting and relaxing established a university and made it one of the leading universities in the country.
“That is a lesson that we should all learn. Whatever we are given to do and whatever we agree to do or whatever we make up our mind to do, we should put the best of ourselves into it and make it the best that it can be.
‘’You have made this university the best that any university can be in Nigeria, I appreciate that,’’ the former President said.
Sitting judges should not preside over election tribunals – AFE BABALOLA
In his remarks, Aare Afe Babalola said judges who preside over election tribunals should be separate from regular court judges to avoid the halt of cases unrelated to elections, and suggested that retired judges and respectable SANs should constitute tribunal judges.
The legal luminary, who is the proprietor of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, ABUAD, said the judiciary needed a total overhaul.
“Our judiciary today needs a total overhaul and you cannot do it without a new constitution. I have about three cases myself in respect of matters arising from the university.
“For the past four years, these cases have been on. We have some judges here, the headquarters won’t be able to sit for many months because they are handling what they call election petitions.
“Election petitions should not be handled by sitting judges, they should be decided only by the committee set up, consisting of senior advocates and retired judges. In that case, regular courts would not close down,” Babalola stated.