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Human nature and constitutional corruption

By - - [General ]

As Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Onnoghen was accused of failing to report all his assets in the sworn declaration he submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). Confronted, he admitted guilt, explaining that he forgot to include about one billion Naira, hundreds of thousands of dollars, British pounds, and euros in bank deposits plus more than fifty landed properties across the country. He was charged to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

In a jiffy, fire erupted from political, ethnic, religious, and professional partisans. South-south governors counseled the CJN against appearing before CCT. He took the advice. With the impasse, CCT ordered the President to suspend him and appoint an Acting CJN pending the resolution of the case. He did.

Thereafter, heaven and hell broke lose. The president has always been a closet dictator and now he’s come out in the open, they pronounced. The head of a separate branch of government cannot be removed by the head of the executive branch, they argued. It can only happen if, and when, the National Judicial Council (NJC) in its wisdom, after its own investigation, concludes and advises the President to remove the CJN or any judicial officer. Per the constitution, the complainants are right.

NJC has been used effectively even if unethically in the past twenty years since the 1999 constitution was foisted on unsuspecting Nigerians by the military. It was used in the most infamous case of Justice Ayo Salami, then President of the Court of Appeal who the PDP loved to hate for his discipline and judicial temperament. President Jonathan accepted the recommendation of NJC then headed by Justice Katsina-Alu who had fallen out with Salami over a directive which the latter had considered inappropriate. Jonathan suspended Salami and, bowing to his PDP leadership pressure, he never reinstated him even after the same NJC reversed itself.

But now, we have a case of another CJN in the eye of the storm. Does the constitution anticipate the crisis it has created? NJC is headed by the CJN who also appoints its members. Is there an expectation that a CJN could be indicted by the NJC over which he presides? Even if it is possible because there are members with the courage of a lion, do we expect the CJN to deliberately place himself at risk? Self-preservation is the first law of nature. Predictably, CJN Onnoghen canceled the meeting of NJC indefinitely. If you can’t meet, you can’t investigate. Unless reason intervenes and institutional integrity prevails. Hopefully, it will.

Our constitution assumes the best angels of our human nature to prevail in circumstances where the worst has thrived since the beginning of the fourth republic. In our present predicament, decency would prescribe resignation on the part of the CJN who has admitted to wrongdoing in the matter of asset declaration. On many levels, it is regrettable that he has chosen the path of ignominy. Coming to the table of equity with clean hands is not an empty demand. The highest judicial officer, who has himself ruled in favor of CCT as the exclusive judicial body for matters of asset declaration cannot possibly have any more justification for sitting tight in the face of a d**ning accusation, especially after admitting guilt.

But again, that is what decency mandates. Unfortunately, it is not an endowment that many in public life can lay claim to, especially in our clime. More regrettable is that a pattern of exploiting the loopholes in our constitution has been established at least since 1999. We are therefore not on an uncharted territory.

Since 1999, our institutions have failed to prevail against the weakness of human nature parading as strength. When people are weak and cowardly, they hide behind the facade of democracy to instill harm and hardship. The constitution provides for emergency powers for the president. We are aware of how this was used between 1999 and 2007 by a born dictator. We now have a case of the kettle calling the pot black.

We have a constitutional provision for impeachment of the executive and legislative leaders. We also know how that has worked in the last twenty years with a president who cannot tolerate any inkling of opposition to his self-regarding desires. Those who applauded the strongman approach then, or stood by without lifting a finger of restraint, are now protest leaders against presidential abuse of power.

So far in this self-inflicted crisis, we have conflated process and substance to the detriment of the latter. The substantive question remains, what is the source of the huge funds in the account of the CJN? Can he account for the funds based on his personal salary and investments? Or has he been corruptly enriched by individuals and groups seeking justice from his court? Is he in some conspiratorial cahoots with the opposition to thwart the will of the people as the ruling party alleges?

These questions deserve satisfactory answers. Assume that he did not “forget” to declare all his assets, shouldn’t a government that prioritizes fight against corruption investigate the source of those assets?

By a twist of fate, as this matter engages national attention, Transparency International (TI) released its 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) which is part-encouraging and part-discouraging for Nigeria. While the country moved up four point from 148 in 2017 to 144 in 2018, it retains the same score of 27% that it received in 2017. But while this may appear encouraging, the full picture points to something else.

Although, just a handful of African countries rose to or above a 50% score, quite a few out-scored Nigeria, the self-declared giant. Seychelles scored 66% while Botswana and Cabo Verde had 61% and 57% respectively. Sierra Leone had 30% since 2016. Togo dropped from 32% in 2017 to 30% in 2018. Ethiopia is at 34%; Zambia at 35%; Niger at 34%; even Liberia that Nigeria helped liberate from a corrupt dictatorship is at 32%.



TI postulates that “undemocratic regimes undermine anti-corruption efforts”. Unfortunately, even in a democracy such as Nigeria, corruption could be fatal to democratic institutions. Patricia Moreira, the Managing Director of TI puts it thus: “Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.” And they won’t until so-called political and professional elite, who benefit from the proceeds of corruption and shamelessly hide behind democracy to undermine its institutions, desist or are made to face the music.

Focusing on Nigeria in particular, TI advises President Buhari to “veto legislation that weakens laws to fight corruption.” It also calls on the Nigerian Senate to uphold the Code of Conduct as it now stands…. It should apply to the proceedings against Senate President Bukola Saraki.” The statement adds that the “law should apply to everyone equally.”

The intervention of UK, US, and EU, as well as the effort from some quarters to get them involved, is a sad twist of irony. The same group that insisted on national sovereignty in the horrific days of military dictatorship now rush to seek foreign intervention against national anti-corruption efforts.

But before you ask for a loan of outfit from someone, you must prudently ensure that what they put on is an indication that they have extra to loan. Electoral corruption is not a monopoly of the global south and the Muller investigation is evidence. In 2017, the US President fired FBI director James Comey to take off the pressure as the FBI investigates Russian intervention in the election that brought the president to power. What about a case of a Secretary of State who has statutory responsibility for umpiring an election in which he is also a gubernatorial candidate? And he refused to recuse himself. That happened in 2018 in Georgia, USA.

But seriously, why are these countries interested in our democracy now? You probably still remember their prediction for Nigeria, come 2020. With our present suicidal raw partisan and ethnic chauvinistic stance, it is most likely going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that’s the way they want it. If we let them.


http://thenationonlineng.net/human-nature-constitutional-corruption/


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13 Comments Nigeria News
emmanabis• 5 months ago
Shuu
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Olite1996• 5 months ago
alright
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Irphilippe• 5 months ago
Okay
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Danson92• 5 months ago
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Jabless• 5 months ago
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Racheal• 5 months ago
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emmanabis• 5 months ago
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Iamajtofunmi• 5 months ago
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olakunle031009• 5 months ago
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yetty031009• 5 months ago
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innkayobami• 5 months ago
Good piece
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Fatimabello• 5 months ago
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Abiodun• 5 months ago
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