The ongoing matter regarding the trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, over non-declaration of assets has become one of the most controversial developments to dominate the country’s political space ahead of the 2019 general elections scheduled to hold in February.
The crux of the matter is that a civil society group, Anti-Corruption and Research-Based Data Initiative (ARDI), on the 7th of January 2019, petitioned against the CJN to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over his non-compliance to the Nigerian constitution regarding declaration of assets.
The petition reads in parts: “We hereby petition you on suspected violations of the law and the Constitution of Nigeria by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Honourable, Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen.
“Specifically, we petition you based on the alarming facts detailed below, all of which indicate that the leader of our country’s judicial branch is embroiled in suspected official corruption, financial crimes and breaches of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act”.
The organisation alleged that Justice Onnoghen made five different cash deposits in dollars into an identified Standard Chartered Bank Account, which was not declared to the CCB as part of his assets, being a requirement for a public office holder, especially of his status.
Following this, on Thursday, January 10, 2019, the Federal Government filed charges against Justice Onnoghen, accusing him of false declaration of assets.
The Federal Government said, against the provisions of the law, the Chief Justice only partially declared his assets in 2016 after the controversial crackdown on judges.
The government further said that the number one judge of the nation still failed to declare a series of bank accounts, denominated in local and foreign currencies, linked to him at a Standard Chartered Bank branch in Abuja.
In his response to the CCB upon receiving the query, the CJN said he forgot to update his asset declaration, after the expiration of his 2005 declaration.
In his words: “My asset declaration form numbers SCN 00014 and SCN 00005 were declared on the same day, 14/12/2016 because I forgot to make a declaration of my assets after the expiration of my 2005 declaration in 2009. Following my appointment as acting CJN in November 2016, the need to declare my assets anew made me realise the mistake.
“I then did the declaration to cover the period in default. I did not include my Standard Charted Bank account in SCN 000014 because I believed they were not opened.
“I did not make a fresh declaration of asset after my substantive appointment as CJN because I was under the impression that my SCN 000015 was to cover that period of four years which includes my term as CJN.”
Meanwhile, the trial which was billed to commence last Monday, had two-key hick-ups: Onnoghen, who was represented by a team of 47 senior lawyers, led by Wole Olanipekun, was absent during the first sitting, and the defence, as presented by Olanipekun, was that the court has no power to hear the charges at all, because due constitutional procedure had not been followed.
The Nigerian Constitution required in Section 292 that a serving judge must first be investigated and indicted by the National Judicial Council (NJC) before dismissal or trial for misconduct in open courts. The NJC regulates the Nigerian judiciary.
Olanipekun also argued that the tribunal summons to Mr Onnoghen was delivered to his personal assistant and not him personally, arguing that this was an anomaly and added to the reasons for his absence.
While the prosecution, led by Umar Aliyu from the Federal Ministry of Justice, views this as a mere distraction, Danladi Umar, the tribunal chairman, adjourned further hearing until January 22. He ordered that Mr Onnoghen must appear to be docked for the charges against him, as well as listen to arguments on whether or not the tribunal could assert jurisdiction.
Expectedly, there have been so many interpretations attached to the first ever trial of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, cutting across interests ranging from political affiliations, through ethnic considerations to professional standpoints, and personal opinions.
Going back memory lane, pundits express the belief that Onnoghen’s present travail may have started from the point of his appointment. Upon the retirement of the former Chief Justice, Mahmud Mohammed, in 2016, at the statutory age of 70, Onnoghen’s appointment suffered unprecedented delay by President Mohammadu Buhari. But he was finally sworn in as Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) on the 10th of November 2016.
There was however a prolonged delay in confirming him as the substantive Chief Justice, the position he rightly deserved as the most senior Justice of the Supreme Court.
The delay led to series of speculations from various quarters. Finally, on March 7, 2017, Onnoghen was sworn in as the 17th Chief Justice of Nigeria by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, in his position as Acting President.
Amidst the cheers from mostly the ruling party, APC, and the holes picked by the opposition led by the PDP in the timing of the allegation and the manner of its execution, certain salient points remain very clear, and hence deserve to be treated cautiously and rightly, if the country must progress without avoidable political ranscour capable of destabilising the current fragile unity of purpose.
Following some body language of the Buhari-led government regarding the execution of the anti-corruption fight, as exemplified by the President’s refusal to assent the amended Electoral Act, close watchers of Nigeria’s political terrain have already indicated that the Federal Government is doing everything possible to gag any suspected decentering voice.
The question is, if the President’s excuse for not assenting to the Electoral Act was to avoid destabilising the electoral process, even when assent would mean less room for rigging, why would he allow the Onnoghen matter to be so pursued unconstitutionally in a hurry and with about a month to elections?
The answer seem, to be in what critics of the administration have adduced from the unfolding scenario: that Mr Buhari was behind the move to remove a Chief Judge of Southern origin in order to replace him with a judge from his northern region who would be more amenable to political influence.
In the words of Charles Omole, in a message to Premium Times, ”The timing of the indictment is suspicious. The speed with which it is being pursued strengthens the suspicion as it is uncharacteristic of the slow approach of this administration to act on even far more crucial matters in the past three years.”
The onus is thus on Mr President to prove otherwise: That his whole heightened drama over Onnoghen is not just for the February 2019 elections, even as non-declaration of asset is against the law. The only way to do this is to allow the law take its full course.
Still On Security Votes
When Mr Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), spoke at the induction programme for returning and newly-elected governors, he did not mince words in accusing governors of misusing security votes.
He alleged that some governors deliberately fuelled insecurity in their states just to collect more money as security votes.
He noted that some of the governors “now covertly promote insecurity as justification to inflate their security votes.”
Magu also alleged that there was a link between corruption, banditry and terrorism.
His allegations were contained in a paper, titled, “Imperative of Fighting Corruption/Terrorism Financing in Nigeria.’’
Magu told the session that a debate on the legality of security votes enjoyed by the governors was ongoing.
“We have also seen evidence of theft of public resources by some state governors, cashing in on the insecurity in their states.
“Insecurity has also offered the required oxygen for corruption to thrive as evident in the $2.1bn arms procurement scandal involving top military commanders both serving and retired.”
A study carried out by the University of Nigeria, agreed with Magu on the abuse of security votes.
The study is titled “Legitimising Corruption in Government: Security Votes in Nigeria.’’
It was authored by Obiamaka Egbo, Ifeoma Nwakoby, Josaphat Onwumere and Chibuike Uche, of the Department of Banking and Finance, University of Nigeria.
“The tendency among Nigerian politicians, particularly the executive arm at the various levels of government, to manipulate security issues for political and economic gains is widespread.
“This has been fuelled by the abuse of security votes, an ‘opaque fund’ reserved for the executive which is not appropriated, accounted for or audited through the legislature.
“ Sometimes, a state governor could (mis)appropriate as much as N100 million monthly as security vote.
“Such slush funds are channelled into the secret funding of militias and gangs of government enforcers.’’
The appropriateness or otherwise of security votes was at the centre of discourse at the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) second Quarterly Anti-Corruption Policy Dialogue Series.
The dialogue focused on Accountability for Security Votes.
ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, who spoke, agreed with Magu that security vote is an easy and attractive route for stealing public funds.
According to him, it is also a veritable avenue for abuse of public trust, escalation of poverty and underdevelopment and ironically the escalation of insecurity.
“It has pushed up insecurity somehow, that is not to say we do not need security vote.
“In the 2019 budget as appropriated, for example, 162 Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) had money appropriated for them as security votes.
“These MDAs span boards, centres, committees, ministries, commissions, councils, hospitals, schools, law enforcement agencies, obviously the armed forces and intelligence offices.”
Owasanoye said that the number and categories of MDAs given security votes, suggest that something was wrong with the parameters for determining those who are entitled to security votes.
“This then provokes some question as which MDAs are entitled to security votes and how should security votes be accounted for?
“It is clear from our present approach, that we do not have any rational principle being followed at the moment.
“If there is one, I will be happy that my ignorance will be diminished and removed,” he said.
The chairman explained that it was clear from the current approach to budgeting for security votes, that no principle was being followed.
He said that this is clear from the quantum and range of sums appropriated in the 2019 budget for MDAs, where the lowest amount for security vote was N3,600, while the highest amount was N4.20 billion.
“What on earth can anyone do with N3, 600, and I am not talking of an individual.
“If the N3, 600 is the security vote of an individual, most likely it will take him from somewhere to his house. That is the safest place to be.
“But what on earth can an agency do with N3, 600 as security vote, as appropriated?”
With this disparity, what then should security votes be used for?
Owasanoye opined that it was pertinent because MDAs with budgets for security votes also have separate budgets for other security related matters, such as the production or procurement for security or defence equipment.
“In the case of defence and core security and law enforcement agencies, some of these items and the votes are undoubtedly justified. But the quantum and use is open to scrutiny,” he said.
He, however, explained that it was apparent that security vote was not for any of those other security items mentioned, because they were often separately covered in the budget.
“There is the erroneous impression that security votes are not being accounted for with our recent experience as a country, that almost lost a geo-political zone to insurgency.
“Whereas billions of dollars were appropriated for security, but diverted by corruption to matters like engaging prayer warriors demands that we reflect very closely and ask ourselves whether we can afford to continue on the same trajectory of lack of accountability for security votes.
“We need security votes; we should give the votes to those who deserve to have security votes and we should demand some framework for accountability,” he said.
On his part, Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai, said that security vote was subject to audit and “if it is not done, it is wrong”.
He said that the votes were not votes for defence and were also not meant for the armed forces.
“Strictly speaking, if you look at security votes in the true context, it is not meant to tackle insecurity.
“We have funding for Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. If you have budget lines for these services and organisations, then why security votes?
“However, it can be used for security; but it is not meant to solve insecurity,
“There are other votes which are constitutional which include the contingency fund,” he said.
Buratai explained that even though there was security vote that was generally applied, it must follow the Public Procurement Act 2007.
The chief of army staff said that if security vote was made constitutional and proper guidelines set out on utilisation, the issue will be laid to rest
Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, described security vote as the budgetary or extra budgetary allocation ostensibly for security, received by the President, Governors and Local Government Chairmen.
This allocation he said, is spent without legal obligation to account for how it is spent.
Fayemi said that security votes have not been widely accepted by citizens, because of the assumption that such funds are being abused by state governments.
He said that the problem really is not about the security vote but about its usages and the character of the people administering it.
“Security votes attract more attention because of the seemingly non accountable nature of the expenditure under the budgetary provision.
“There is widespread belief that the appropriation of security votes in Nigeria is unconstitutional and thus illegal.
“This is not correct because in the Nigerian constitution, the executive is entrusted with the responsibility of preparing a budget which is then sent to the legislature for ratification.
“The fact that huge amount of monies are routinely being budgeted and expended in the name of security vote does not make it an illegal practice
“The act of approving any sum allocated to such a heading, covert or overt, legalises the concept. The insinuation that such money is not budgeted for is not true,” Fayemi said.
Like Magu said, the legality or otherwise of security vote is ongoing, and must continue until it properly defined. The earlier the better to avoid misuse and diversion of public funds in the guise of security vote.
Sharang writes for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Grudges Not Healthy For Our Music Industry –PMAN President
Voombalistic Uncle P, National President, Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN), says grudges among Nigerian musicians is not healthy for the music industry.
Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) is an umbrella organisation that guides, protect and promotes the interests of musicians in Nigeria.
Dr Obi Okwudili Casmir, popularly known as Voombalistic Uncle P, who spoke with our source in Lagos, advised musicians to shun grudges to avoid resentment in their relationships.
“Grudges amongst musicians is not healthy for our industry and will only create further resentment in their relationships as musicians and may affect what we represent or present to the public.
“Being emotionally immature when composing or writing your songs means you can not control your emotions or reactions towards your colleagues.
“Having quarrel is a fact of life amongst best of friends but you don’t take it too hard on yourselves because it might graduate to what happened in the case of 2pac and Biggie.
“I advise we settle our differences internally if we have any, rather than taking them to the studio and then streets/homes. That doesn’t project us in good light,” he said.
It was gathered that Nigerian rappers Jude Abaga popularly known as M.I and Olanrewaju Ogunmefun (Vector) are currently expressing grudges against each other in songs which had been trending on social media platforms.
The grudge, which reportedly began over supremacy in the rap category of the music industry, has being described as publicity stunts, while some saw it as real disagreement between the two rappers which had been brewing over the years.
Rescind N5,000 Fee For National ID, PDP Tells Buhari
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yesterday, charged President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to recind the N5,000 fee for national identity cards immediately.
The PDP in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the new fee is repressive and an attempt by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government to further impose hardship on the citizens.
The opposition party noted that the idea of an ID card fee is offensive to the sensibilities of Nigerians, as it amounts to stripping Nigerians of their constitutional rights in their own country..
“Our party holds that issuance of national identity card to citizens, as an obligation of the state to its citizenry, must remain free as established by the PDP. The N5000 levy must be immediately rescinded before it triggers restiveness in the nation.
“Already, the fee is generating tension in the country as Nigerians have continued to register their rejection in the public space.
“The PDP notes the increasing penchant of the APC administration to impose all sorts of taxes on suffering Nigerians.”
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari has signed five bills passed by the 8th National Assembly into law, Mr Umar Yakubu, his Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives) has said.
Yakubu who made the announcement at a news conference last Wednesday in Abuja, said that the Acts were to ensure good governance in the country.
The bills include the Obafemi Awolowo University Transitional Amendment Act, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University, Bauchi Amendment Act, the University of Maiduguri Amendment Act, the National Fertiliser Quality Control Act and the Nigerian Council of Food Science and Technology Establishment Act.
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