Some of Buhari’s actions can’t be defended —Opadokun
The Convener of the Movement for Value Restoration, Chief Ayo Opadokun, speaks with BAYO AKINLOYE on the recent arrest of judges, President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance and alleged conspiracy of the North against the South-West
In April last year, you said President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory at the presidential poll was a new beginning for Nigeria. Do you still believe that, given the state of the natio
I still believe that his emergence represents a landmark in Nigeria’s epoch. I am still convinced that his emergence has saved Nigeria from going under – much more rapidly than it could have been.
I believe that given his private and public profile, Nigeria has moved away from going over the precipice. I am sufficiently convinced that on the scale of probability, it is fair enough to give him (President Buhari) a pass mark in view of the challenges he met when he got into office. About two things particularly strike me when discussing Buhari; for example, when considering his private and public life, I have noticed that he is not a relay runner but a marathon runner. You can see the evidence of this in what is happening to us today. His commitment towards the fight against corruption has remained unrelenting. Whether or not he has achieved the goals he set for himself when he was making the promise to kill corruption before corruption kills the country is a different matter entirely. This is because he is not in control of all the instruments that could make him either to win or lose the war (against corruption).
Given the kind of government we run (based on) separation of powers, as Montesquieu presented it – that is, the executive, legislature, and the judiciary – the executive is expected to implement the laws made. The executive does not make laws; it is an aberration. Such a role was appropriated under military dictatorship. In fact, the military constituted itself into all the three arms: Their so-called select junta group, the Supreme Military Council, the Armed Forces Ruling Council or whatever nonsensical name that motley crowd called itself. Not only that, the Supreme Military Council, headed by the Commander-in-Chief, made laws through decrees, it constituted itself as the judiciary. That was how the military desecrated and frustrated the separation of powers and that emboldened dictatorship in all forms. So, in the circumstance, what we are talking about is that the fight against corruption is being frustrated by the Nigerian judiciary. And, when I talk about the Nigerian judiciary, I am talking mainly of a section of the bench and the bar, which have provided a haven for the politically exposed, their loyalists, sympathisers, acolytes and confederates. They have ruined this nation. I’ll give Buhari a pass mark for being unrelenting and undaunted to date in spite of obstacles put in his way.
When a president, about four times, publicly expressed reservations about what the Nigerian judiciary has been doing as regards corruption, serious-minded people ought to have been cautious. When it comes to the anti-corruption crusade, I will give President Buhari a pass mark; that he is acting genuinely from a strong-willed position – if he cannot eliminate corruption totally, it can be reduced significantly.
Do you think he has performed poorly in managing the economy?
I have no doubt in my mind that objective analysts will consider what the state of the nation was when Buhari assumed power in 2015 before apportioning blame. So, the cry that the change people sought (and Buhari promised) has now become an albatross does not reflect that things have been bad long before Buhari came into power. The current situation of the country is a cumulative effect of several years of terribly-managed economy, wrong economic policies, shenanigans and political stunts; an objective comparison of what the state was before Buhari came into power and what the situation is, economically, now. Leaders should remember that as of the time (former President Goodluck) Jonathan was leaving office, what Nigeria was paying to import fuel was more than what Nigeria was earning from crude oil export. Also, remember that before Buhari took over from Jonathan, salaries were owed across the states, including (by) the Federal Government, for about seven months. The Nigerian (foreign) reserve was reduced to a ridiculous level in the last three years. That was the state of the economy and I think that it is apparent what the government is doing to radically change the situation.
The Nigerian political operators – wickedly and dishonestly – have failed to tap into all major available resources in the country. They concentrated all their attention and actions on the money secured each month from crude oil earnings. Therefore, when the only source of income suffered a terrible hit as the price of crude oil, from $100 plummeted averagely to $38 per barrel, a negative implication was unavoidable. The Niger Delta Avengers made things worse when they began to bomb oil facilities in the country, thus reducing the capacity of the country to produce oil at a maximum level. If anybody is complaining that their life is worse off since Buhari became president, he is speaking out of ignorance or (seeking) to commit mischief. The most vociferous critics of Buhari’s handling of the economy are mostly Peoples Democratic Party elements – the party members and the beneficiaries of a government that ran the country aground.
But the reality is that the Nigerian masses – the so-called voiceless – are suffering and complaining of hunger, high cost of living and low standard of living. Do you think those people are Peoples Democratic Party elements too?
I have never said the PDP elements are the only complainants; I said (they are) the most vociferous. The ordinary man on the street must feel the pain; when sinners are being punished, the righteous will also share in the punishment. It is the collaborative efforts of the wicked and ungodly political operators that have ruined the economic system and brought us to where we are today. To Buhari’s credit, there are no more long queues at filling stations; secondly, we do not pay any fuel subsidy anymore. Right now, the country is paying for several years of poor economic policies that turned out to benefit multinational agencies. We have some of the best arable lands. We need to take bold steps on agriculture. It is capable of saving this nation from its current economic crisis. Some of my Israeli friends, who had visited Nigeria, said the country is the real land flowing with milk and honey stated in the Bible. We need right policies consistent with the modern state of the world, technologically. We have been unlucky with the kind of people who have governed us. They are not interested (in doing the right thing). Because of the dangerous and lawless characters we have had in government, no proper attention was paid to agriculture. Today, our people are hungry and thirsty; we can’t even provide potable water for them.
It is not less than two years of Buhari’s administration that has led to the current economic crisis and the hunger that is in town; and I can see that the Federal Government is taking some critical steps to resolve the economic crisis.
We need to stop the policy of sending our produce to Europe. We need to expand the base of our manufacturing capacity, making it possible to provide more jobs, have enough to eat, export and earn revenues in foreign exchange. In the long run, the naira will greatly appreciate.
What will you say is Buhari’s shortcoming so far?
I will not say Buhari does not have his faults; I believe that he is tardy in some policy measures. I believe that there are few things he has done that cannot be defended. For example, the serious allegation against his Chief of Staff or the Secretary to the Federal Government, who was alleged to have collected N500m from MTN. Those ones ought to be in jail by now. Similarly, if it was true that Gen. Tukur Buratai was the procurement officer (of the Army) and was allegedly involved in the arms scandal, there is no way anybody can defend him (that he is innocent), when it was clearly identified physically that he bought a property of over a million dollars in Dubai. How much does he earn as salary? He said it (the money) was from his wife. They should stop making a fool of us. But he (Buhari) is in government; it might be (that) he has better and additional information than we do. However, he needs to make sure that the image and prestige he has earned over the years are not tarnished.
As a legal practitioner, what do you make of the arrest of some judges by the Department of State Services across the country?
I fully endorse what the DSS did. It (the arrest) ought to have happened long before now. It is part of my worry that President Buhari, in order to please critics – to present himself to them now as a converted democrat – has left undone what he ought to have done. Come to think of it, the DSS is a state agency set up for the protection of the state. When the act of omission or commission of judges tends to impact negatively on the nation’s security, the DSS has a constitutional responsibility to act. I believe that was what they did in that circumstance (of the judges’ arrests).
Contrary to your opinion, some Senior Advocates of Nigeria have said the DSS wasn’t established to carry out such an action against the judges.
I dare say that is not the opinion of the majority of Nigerian lawyers. It is the opinion of a section of the so-called senior lawyers and I say this authoritatively. The DSS is an agency set up to protect the state.
Does it not bother you that only a statement was made concerning monies retrieved from the homes of these judges and that there are no exhibits presented to the public or the media as is characteristic of Nigerian security agencies?
What are you saying? They (DSS) have made declarations. Are you saying those things are not available? Are you the judge? Let us clarify this matter; there is a fundamental dimension to this issue. It is not a joke. I believe that most of the criticisms, both from some judges, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria, and the so-called senior lawyers, are misplaced aggression. I dare say it is a hypocritical stand. The sting operation by the DSS was engineered by their own misdeeds. Do the judges have constitutional immunity? Certainly, there is none. These acts of the DSS cannot be correctly said to be targeted at the Nigerian judiciary. Saying otherwise is tantamount to an immoral interpretation of what has happened. There are elements, a few of them, in the Nigerian judiciary – the bar and the bench – who are doing everything to destroy the image, honour and integrity of that institution. If they are rooted out, it is in the best interest of the majority. It is corruption that has held Nigeria down.
The proponents of the rule of law are the senior lawyers. Some of them are being prosecuted for depositing money into judges’ bank accounts – judges who preside over cases they have an interest in. There are many other cases like that. What has the Nigerian Bar Association done about that? The corruption didn’t start today.
The Nigerian judiciary used to be an institution of beauty. We are among the best in the Commonwealth. Once upon a time, the Commonwealth was proud of the Nigerian judiciary that it could request the services of some of our highly-talented jurists, like Sir Udo Udoma, who became Chief Justice of Uganda; the late Dr. Akinola Aguda, who served in two central African countries; Dr. Olu Onagoruwa had a similar experience writing the constitution of one or two African countries; Justice Taslim Elias, former Attorney General of Nigeria and former Dean of Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, served in the World Court. Prince Bola Ajibola also served at The Hague. We had testimony of the credibility of our judiciary.
The judiciary has been bastardised since the advent of the military, particularly from the commencement of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s regime. It is not proper for anyone now to accuse a state agency, concerned with the protection of the security of the state, from doing its job. We were here when the Nigerian judges, these so-called senior lawyers and elements on the bench, collaborated to ensure that politically-exposed people provided were a haven to escape (prosecution). We have many cases involving ex-governors, now sitting in the federal legislative chambers, buried in courts; a conspiracy between the bench and the bar. Lawyers go to court with ridiculous motions and judges give ridiculous rulings. A judge even said one of the ex-governors must not be investigated any longer – he cannot be investigated and he cannot be arrested. That is why cases like that remain in limbo. These ex-governors, facing criminal charges, are the ones making laws for the country. How can they make laws for the good governance of our country?
What about the National Judicial Council?
The National Judicial Council, first of all by the law that sets it up and its composition, is a compromised one. A situation whereby the sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria is the chairman of the NJC is a compromised situation. It (NJC) cannot be independent and it has not proved to be independent. There are many instances, but let me give you one or two examples where the NJC failed the test of integrity. Once upon a time, we had a judge called Justice Aloysius Katsina-Alu, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria. He wanted the case of Sokoto governorship election tribunal disbanded by a President of the Court of Appeal, who has a constitutional right to set up election tribunals. Do you remember the case involving the chief justice and Justice Ayo Salami? Because Justice Salami refused (to disband the tribunal), Katsina-Alu arrested the delivery of the tribunal’s judgment; that judgment has not been delivered to date and on the basis of that, Salami was suspended from office. Till his retirement, he was barred from office.
The constitution allows the Chief Justice of Nigeria to be the chairman of the NJC and he is the one to constitute members of the council. Even though there are organs that ought to be represented in the NJC, he is the one to write to them to nominate representatives. He can influence those to be nominated. For example, there is a judge, who has been alleged to be in a N500m deal with the Chief Justice of Nigeria. The DSS provided the (audio) tape of his (judge’s) confession along with some other evidence to the NJC, but he was cleared (of any wrongdoing). People are accusing Buhari that after about two years in office, he has not been able to get anybody convicted despite his well-proclaimed anti-corruption stance. Is this the kind of judiciary that will ensure this? Look at the ridiculous and highly condemnable thing that is happening at the Code of Conduct Tribunal; the so-called senior lawyers keep bringing one frivolous motion or the other. They are the ones who are busy conniving with these so-called compromised judges to provide havens for corrupt elements in our society, particularly the politically-exposed persons and their surrogates. Which rule of law are they protecting?
Are you saying the former Chief Justice of Nigeria is complicit in these corruption allegations in the judiciary?
If he’s not complicit (in corruption in the judiciary), he had dithered. To all intents and purposes, if you are not supporting them (corrupt lawyers and judges), certain steps ought to have been taken. I have great respect for the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria but I do not think he is saying the totality of what he knows. These ones (judges) who were arrested, their matters have been with him for a long time. What did he do to prove that he was serious about turning things round in the judiciary? We have not heard the last of the Rivers (State governorship election) matter. There are challenging matters concerning the performance of the National Judicial Council.
What do you make of the alleged gang-up against Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and how it relates to the Yoruba?
I am sorry, I will not respond to that question. I am not involved in partisan politics.
But you are a member of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere.
I was its general secretary for 15 years – I left the group in 2001.
But you still have an affinity with the Yoruba people.
Yes; I am a Yoruba nationalist.
Some people feel what is happening to Tinubu in the All Progressives Congress is an attempt by the North to trample on the Yoruba nation.
I don’t believe so. I don’t want to respond to that because I think people just make self-serving statements. It is not my cup of tea. I am not prepared to offer any opinion that pertains to that for now.
It appears you do not agree with the views of some people that the North is trying to undermine the South-West. Don’t you believe that?
I don’t. You have to examine the lifestyle of those who are making such a statement. Where are they coming from?