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Saving The Judiciary …That Confab’s View On Rogue Judges

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When, in his work, Don Quixote in England (1734) English Novelist Henry Fielding said, “I am as sober as a judge, he was unconsciously highlighting one of the most important attributes of men and women who sit in judgement over others. With powers as total as  to pronounce death sentence or solitary confinement, a judge must, at all times, embrace solitude as a bride, in weighing facts before him.
In carrying out such duty, what should be uppermost is justice. That is why the English Jurist, Lord Gordon Hewart, (IN Court, 1923. In Jackson’s The Chef) insisted, “It is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done”.
This expectation had in recent times become a scarce commodity in Nigeria as justice now seems to be exclusive reward of the affluent, high and mighty. It is no secret that corruption had infiltrated the judiciary to such disturbing  extents that very few consider courts as worthwhile avenues for dispute resolution. Infact, it is now commonplace for poor jobless youth to remain in prison as Awaiting Trial Members, for years, for a sin of wandering while a rich man, known to have embezzled billions of naira meant for others’ pension is merely slapped in the wrist and set free.
That there are indeed corrupt judges is not an issue for debate. But for how long should such judicial officers be allowed to mock the very temple of justice they swore to hold sacred?
This is why it came to very few as a surprise when the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Aloma Mukhtar said last week that there would soon be an annual evaluation of judicial officers, particularly judges and magistrates with a view to weeding the judiciary of criminals in glorious robes. That, in itself attests to the fact that corruption has indeed taken root in the judiciary.
As the last hope of the common man, the judiciary cannot afford to be below board. It cannot compromise truth for pecuniary benefits and for the same, upturn justice to favour the affluent.
Most importantly, judges cannot afford to lose their expected sober mien in adjudicating over the worries of men. For to do so will be to court anarchy which comes when men and women lose faith in the courts and resort to jungle justice to settle scores.
It is in avoidance of these and to protect the judiciary from itself that the National Conference Committee on Civil society labour, youth and sports recently proposed 50 years imprisonment and loss of official entitlements for judges convicted of corruption and perversion of justice. The committee in its report presented last week Thursday by its chairman, Mrs Bola Ogunrimade said that it was such proposal that revived the Asian nations.
“Judiciary officers convicted or found guilty of corruption and perversion of justice should be liable to 50 years imprisonment and loss of all official entitlements including gratuities and pensions.”
The committee also proposed the strengthening of National Human Rights Commission, anti-corruption agencies and National Orientation Agency by making them independent in appointments, operations and funding. “Otherwise some judges will continue to upturn justice in favour of the have’s over the have nots.
Not too long ago, a commercial cab driver whose wife was caught with an influential politician, and confronted the strange man was arrested and charged to court for attempted murder. The driver remained in ATM for months and by the time he was released, his wife had finally moved in with his tormentor. But because the cab driver had to sign an undertaking never to get close to his wife’s new boyfriend or lose his freedom, he had continued to lick his wounds up till this day.
What of the celebrated land dispute between the indigent son of a farmer and a wealthy trader? The trader made sure that the young man was remanded in prison awaiting trial for more than six months only to find, upon return, a mansion on his late father’s farmland, the subject of the dispute.
These are only few examples of how miscarriage of justice occur and how the higher bidders did everything to buy justice, through corrupt judges.
But perhaps the most dangerous examples of  miscarriage of justice are those involving political disputes arising from elections. Election tribunals are meant to right wrongs in the conduct of elections. But there are instances where those depended upon to do right place price tags on justice and in the end favour the willing and ready.
Often, politicians battle to win elections at all cost, take oath of office and pay through the state’s nose to defend a rigged election. Those who appear headstrong, and fail to meet necessary demands are shown the way out of office.
These are why even lawyers scramble for seats in Election Tribunals more because of the juicy packages that that kind of justice attracts than for the need to uphold truth. Infact, the temple of justice has become a shrine of corruption and the sacred blindfold of the innocent lady removed.
Such is the moral depravity that has permeated the judiciary. And so deep, only drastic measures like the options of the Chief Justice and the National Conference Committee on Justice can indeed check. But will these ever see the light of day? Why not.
After all, this will not be the first time the Chief Justice had lamented corruption and corrupt judges in the judiciary. Infact, not too long ago, some judges were suspected and others retired over related concerns.
However, what should also be considered as very worrisome are conflicting judgements on related issues. The legal tradition of referring to existing rulings on related cases is gradually being abandoned to meet the needs of the pay masters. So also are questionable injunctions and counter injunctions.
Today, it is commonplace for a judge to grant interlocutory injunction only to be countered by another injunction by another court of same jurisdiction.
These are why many believe that a lot needs to be done to cleanse the judiciary of the rot of corruption that has afflicted it. Reckless adjournments meant to frustrate lilitiqants is today common place, thanks to the rot. Another is the conspiracy of lazy lawyers and judges to protect high bidders.
Therefore, a re-orientation of the judiciary must be all-embracing, if any meaningful changes are to be expected. The judicial high command must strive to earn the trust and confidence of the ordinary Nigerian if it hopes to have facts concerning such rogue judges. Another is the ability to summon the needed political will to properly investigate, try and punish such corrupt judges without playing espirit de corp with such complaints and trials.
The judicial officers must themselves realise that unless bad eggs were fished out, they would share in the distrust and disrespect which often attend some courts on account of such corruption related deeds. Since oil that touches a finger quickly spreads to the rest, such self-examination will be helpful in the planned campaign.
However, it must be stated that  independence of the judiciary may be key to stopping  the occasional influence the executive arm enjoys over the judiciary. Even so, a good judge is depended upon to keep his head high above water, be sober and at all times defend justice. That would not only earn him respect and honour, it will, also discourage those who may seek to corrupt him to look the other way, fore-warned that the judge is indeed incorrigible.
My Agony is that Judges are part of the corrupt society that has lost respect for integrity, truth and honour. And so, some judges have become victims of the same rot which only few can resist.
Methinks the 50 year jail term for corrupt judicial officers will help check the steady drift of the temple of justice into oblivion.

 

Soye Wilson Jamabo

Justice  Aloma Mukhtar

Justice Aloma Mukhtar

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RSG, Not FIRS, Entitled To Collect VAT, Related Taxes In Rivers -Court

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The Federal High Court sitting in Port Harcourt has declared that it is the Rivers State Government, not the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), should collect Valued Added Tax (VAT) and Personal Income Tax (PIT) in the state.
The court, presided over by Justice Stephen Dalyop Pam, also issued an order of perpetual injunction restraining the Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Attorney General of the Federation, both first and second defendants in the suit, from collecting, demanding, threatening and intimidating residents of Rivers State to pay to FIRS, PIT and VAT.
Pam made the assertion while delivering judgement in Suit No. FHC/PH/CS/149/2020, filed by the Attorney General for Rivers State (plaintiff), against the Federal Inland Revenue Service (first defendant) and the Attorney General of the Federation (second defendant).
The court, which granted all the 11 reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, stated that there was no constitutional basis for the FIRS to demand for and collect VAT, Withholding Tax (WHT), Education Tax and Technology Levy in Rivers State or any other state of the federation, being that the constitutional powers and competence of the Federal Government was limited to taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains, which do not include VAT or any other species of sales, or levy other than those specifically mentioned in Items 58 and 59 of the Exclusive Legislative List of the Constitution.
The judge dismissed the preliminary objections filed by the defendants that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the suit and that the case should be transferred to Court of Appeal for interpretation.
Pam, who also dismissed objection raised by the defendants that the National Assembly ought to have been made a party in the suit, declared that the issues of taxes raised by the state government were issues of law that the court was constitutionally empowered to entertain.
He declared that after a diligent review of the issues raised by bothplaintiff and the defendants, the plaintiff had proven beyond doubt that it was entitled to all the 11 reliefs sought in the suit.
The court agreed with the Rivers State Government that it was the state and not FIRS that was constitutionally entitled to impose taxes enforceable or collectable in its territory of the nature of consumption or sales tax, VAT, education and other taxes or levies, other than the taxes and duties specifically reserved for the Federal Government by Items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Also, the court declared that the defendants were not constitutionally entitled to charge or impose levies, charges or rates (under any guise or by whatever name called) on the residents of Rivers State, and indeed, any state of the federation.
Among the reliefs sought by the Rivers State Government, was a declaration that the constitutional power of the Federal Government to impose taxes and duties was only limited to the items listed in Items 58 and 59 of Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
The Rivers State Government had also urged the court to declare that, by virtue of the provisions of Items 7 and 8 of the Part II (Concurrent Legislative List) of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, the power of the Federal Government to delegate the collection of taxes can only be exercised by the state government or other authority of the state, and no other person.
The state government had further asked the court to declare that all statutory provisions made or purportedly made in the exercise of the legislative powers of the Federal Government, which contains provisions which are inconsistent with or in excess of the powers to impose tax and duties, as prescribed by Items 58 and 59 of the Part I of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, or inconsistent with the power to delegate the duty of collection of taxes, as contained in Items 7 and 8 of Part II of the Second Schedule of the Constitution, were unconstitutional, null and void.
Lead counsel for the Rivers State Government, Donald Chika Denwigwe (SAN), who spoke to journalists after the court session, explained that the case was all about the interpretation of the Constitution as regards the authority of the government at the state and federal levels to collect certain revenues, particularly, VAT.
“So, during the determination of the matter, some issues of law were thrown up like, whether or not the case should be referred to the Court of Appeal for the determination of some issues.
“The court noted that the application is like asking the Federal High Court to transfer the entire case to the Court of Appeal. In which case, if the court so decides, there will be nothing left to refer back to the Federal High Court as required by the Constitution.”
According to Denwigwe, the court refused that prayer, and decided that the case was in its proper place before the Federal High Court, and was, therefore, competent to determine it.
Speaking on the implications of the judgement, Denwigwe said it was now, unlawful for such taxes as VAT in Rivers State to be collected by any agency of the Federal Government.
“In a summary, it is a determination that it is wrong for the Federal Government to be collecting taxes which are constitutionally reserved for the state governments to collect. The implication of the judgement is that the government (federal and state) as an authority under the constitution,should be advised by the judgement that it is the duty of all government authorities to comply with and obey the law so long as the court has interpreted it and said what that law is.
“So, in other words, the issue of Value Added Tax (VAT) in the territory of Rivers State and Personal Income Tax should be reserved for the government of Rivers State.”
Counsel to FIRS, O.C. Eyibo said he will study the judgment and advise his client.

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90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says about 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.
The commission’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated this while featuring on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday,
According to him, although the sector is monitored via the special control unit, more needed to be done.
According to Bawa, “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate.”
He said there are so many issues involved, but that they were working with the National Assembly to stop what he called “the gate keepers” as there would be reduction in looting if there is no one to launder the money.
Bawa, the EFCC boss, gave an example of a minister who expressed interest in a $37.5million property a bank manager put up for sale.
He said, “The bank sent a vehicle to her house and in the first instance $20million was evacuated from her house.
“They paid a developer and a lawyer set up a special purpose vehicle, where the title documents were transferred into.
“And he (the lawyer) is posing as the owner of the property. You see the problem. This is just one of many; it is happening daily.”
The EFCC chairman also revealed that he receives death threats often.
Asked to respond to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent “Corruption is fighting back” expression, Bawa said he was in New York, USA, last week, when someone called to threaten him.
“Last week, I was in New York when a senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation.
“The young man said, ‘I am going to kill him (Bawa), I am going to kill him’.
“I get death threats. So, it is real. Corruption can fight back,” he said.
On corruption in the civil service, he said there were a lot of gaps, especially in contracts processing, naming “emergency contracts” as one.
Bawa said, “A particular agency is notorious for that. They have turned all their contracts to emergency contracts.”
However, he said, EFCC has strategies in place to check corruptions, one of which is “corruption risk assessments of MDAs”.
According to him, “I have written to the minister and would soon commence the process of corruption risk assessments of all the parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to look at their vulnerability to fraud and advise them accordingly.”
Asked if the scope of corruption in the country overwhelms him, Bawa, the EFCC boss said, “Yes, and no.”

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We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says his administration has spent N9billion in upgrading structures and installation of new equipment at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH).
He said the fact that 40 per cent of the 2021 budget of the state is dedicated to provision of quality healthcare delivery was a further demonstration of the priority placed on the sector.
Wike made the explanation at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a Renal Centre at RSUTH, last Friday.
The governor said he made promise to Rivers people that the best would be provided to them in all sectors of the society within his capability because of the mandate they gave to him.
“As we came on here, I just looked around and I see the changes in this teaching hospital. I can say that we have put not less than N9billion in this teaching hospital.
“If you look at the budget, the health sector alone, what it’s taking from the Rivers State Government is not less than 40 percent of the 2021 budget.”
Speaking further, Wike said the state government cannot afford to implement free medical service programme in the present economic circumstance.
While dismissing the request for a subvention for RSUTH, Wike, however, commended the chief medical director and his team for their commitment to turnaround the fortunes of RSUTH.
“I have never seen anywhere that health services can be totally free. They’re telling me that people who come here can’t pay. I have never declared that this state is going to take over the health fees of anybody.”
Also speaking, the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who performed the flag-off, noted that Wike’s achievements in the health sector in particular, surpass what former governors of the state had done.
Sekibo said that the governor has given equal attention to every section of the health sector by providing complete health infrastructure that was positioning the state as a medical tourism destination in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, lauded Governor Nyesom Wike for his interest in the health of Rivers people.
He noted that the renal centre, when completed, would become another landmark development project in the health sector that would handle and manage all kidney-related ailments.
In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Friday Aaron, commended Wike for approving the renal centre.
Aaron explained that chronic kidney disease was a major burden globally with estimated 14 million cases in Nigeria.
According to him, over 240,000 of these cases require renal replacement therapy in the form of dialysis and renal transplant.
The CMD said the building that would house the centre was expected to be completed in six months and consists of two floors.
The ground floor, according to him, would house the haemodialysis unit with eight haemodialysis machines.
He further explained that the first floor of the centre would house the surgical component where most of the sophisticated equipment for kidney transplant would be installed.
Aaron said Wike has released the funds required to build, equip the centre as well as for the training of personnel locally and internationally.

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