A few hours after resigning from office, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, lawyers, civil right groups and some branches of the Nigerian Bar Association on Monday called for the probe of the erstwhile Chief Justice of Nigeria, Ibrahim Muhammad.
They unanimously said that the allegations against the former CJN should not be swept under the carpet.
Muhammad’s resignation was made public on Monday morning. According to reports, he tendered his resignation on the grounds of ill-health, barely a week after 14 Supreme Court Justices, in a joint petition, levelled grave allegations of maladministration and financial impropriety against the Bauchi State-born jurist.
The news of his resignation caught the nation unawares on Monday morning as his media aide, Ahuraka Isah, who initially denied it, subsequently confirmed the development.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), swore in the next most senior justice, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, as the acting CJN at the Council Chambers of the State House, Abuja.
The President, who noted that he received the resignation letter of the outgoing CJN with mixed feelings, conferred upon Muhammed the national honour of Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger.
In an unprecedented development in Nigeria’s judicial history, the Supreme Court justices had in a leaked letter, accused Muhammad of abandoning his responsibilities and diverting funds meant for the running of the Supreme Court.
They complained about their accommodation, vehicles, electricity tariff, supply of diesel, internet services to justices’ residences, training for justices and epileptic electricity supply to the court.
They accused the CJN of receiving their demands without acting “after several persistent requests” to hold a meeting which was finally held on March 31, where a welfare committee was set up.Among other things, the Supreme Court Justices demanded to know what had become of funds set aside for the training of justices, alleging that they were denied the usual two to three international workshops annually.
But in his response, the jurist, who was elevated to CJN on January 25, 2019, after his predecessor, Justice Walter Onnoghen, resigned over false asset declaration charges at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, blamed “a devastating economic crunch,” for his inability to meet their needs.
Muhammad’s reaction to the allegations was contained in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Strategy, titled, ‘State of Affairs in the Supreme Court and demand by Justices of the Supreme Court.’
While berating his colleagues for bringing their complaints to the public, Muhammad claimed that the apex court under him had been discharging its responsibility despite the cash crunch facing the establishment.
Muhammad was sworn in being the most senior Supreme Court justice following an ex-parte order of the CCT on January 23, 2019, which suspended Onnoghen from office.On July 17, he was confirmed by the Senate as the substantive CJN and subsequently sworn in by Buhari.
The Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association, Makurdi branch, Maimuna Ikwulono, in an interview with The PUNCH, submitted that the allegations against the retired Justice should be investigated “so as to help administration of justice.”
Ikwulono, the first female NBA chairman of the Makurdi branch, said that the impropriety and administrative inefficiency levelled against the jurist should not be swept under the carpet.
“Nobody can say that those issues raised be swept under the carpet because we are looking for a solution. Certain things are being done that are hampering the justice administration process, that is affecting judicial responsibilities.
“It is incumbent on the relevant authorities to look into it to stop the wrong to have smoother administration of justice. It is not out of place to look into it,” she said.
Also, the Chairman of the Ilaro branch of the NBA in Ogun State, Talabi Oluwantonwo, told one of our correspondents that the former CJN should be investigated.
Oluwatonwo expressed shock at the speedy manner the executive accepted the resignation letter of the CJN without probing him on the allegation.
He said, “We were told that he resigned this morning. However, there are allegations against him bothering on corruption, he should be probed first.
“They should probe him first before accepting his letter of resignation instead of giving him a national award.”
Also, a former Secretary of the NBA, Asaba branch, AF Bridebra, endorsed the demand for an investigation of the Supreme Court under Muhammad.
Bridebra, who spoke in an interview with The PUNCH in Asaba, stated, “If there is any place we need transparency, it is the judiciary. The man (Muhammad) should be probed.
“The man was rumoured to have been involved in corrupt activities, so he should be probed. Not only him but it should be extended to all Supreme Court judges and NBA.
“The judiciary, as far as I’m concerned, is dying. Every state judge needs to be investigated; this is the beginning of the End-SARS revolution in the judiciary.”
The Chairman of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law, Dr Monday Ubani, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “Resignation does not stop investigation, if they so desire. One is that there must be the desire to look at the allegations raised by his colleagues, especially on issues of mismanagement of resources.
“The acting Chief Justice was one of those who supported the petition so he should look into it and have unbiased personnel to unravel it. We shouldn’t sweep it under the carpet but investigate it. Yes, he resigned on health grounds but it doesn’t stop probing into the finances of his administration if there is an extreme need for it.”
On the conferment of a national honour on him, Ubani said this could be withdrawn if he was indicted by a probe.
The judiciary workers said they had been vindicated by the happenings in the judiciary which indicated that it was yet to enjoy autonomy.
The National Treasurer, Judiciary Staff Union Staff of Nigeria, Jimoh Musa, stated, “With the complaint (by the Supreme Court Justices) and response, you will know that there is no autonomy even at the federal level. And now that they have woken up from their slumber to cry out for us to know, I think JUSUN will join hands and make sure the autonomy sees the light of the day.”
Some Senior Advocates of Nigeria also called for the probe of the former CJN.Rasheed Adegoke, SAN, explained that the former CJN should be investigated to set the records straight.
While commending Muhammad for resigning from office, the senior lawyer argued that the judiciary as the hope of the common man should be above reproach.
He stated, “If we want to set things right, there’s nothing that says that he should not be probed. If there had been allegations of misdeeds under his administration, the essence of the probe is to ensure that the records are even clean so that people will know what actually transpired.
“Were his colleagues who wrote the petition just making unnecessary noise or there was substance in what they were talking about? Only a probe will bring that to the fore.”
Another SAN, Ifedayo Adedipe, said the allegations against the former CJN should not be laid to rest because he resigned.
He said he must be investigated and brought to book if found guilty of the allegations levelled against him by his colleagues.
Adedipe said, “The reason Nigeria is not making progress is that there are no consequences for bad behaviours. Is this how other countries run their affairs? So, because he has resigned, if he has committed an infraction he should be allowed to go?
“People might as well be committing infractions and be resigning. If it is true that he has committed an infraction, particularly being the head of the judiciary, he should answer for it. We must leave sentiment out of our everyday activities.@
Lekan Ojo, said the rule of law does not support anything worthy of investigation to be swept under the carpet, noting that the Buhari regime “has zero-tolerance for corruption.”
He noted, “Those in charge of any investigation into his tenure will be in the best position to know whether there is a prima facie case to probe him; we stand for the rule of law.
“Certainly, the rule of law does not support anything worthy of investigation to be swept under the carpet. I know the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has zero-tolerance for corruption. If the government is of the opinion that there is a very good ground to probe any public officer, I’m sure the government will not hesitate to do so.”
Professor Samson Erugo, SAN, observed that the latest developments in the judiciary called for sober reflection, adding that an investigation into the situation was not out of place.
He added, “I suggest we remove sentiments from the current crisis at the apex court. The crisis is quite unusual, and calls for sober reflection. The now retired CJN Justice Tanko Mohammed should be commended for the courage to resign to pave the way for change. The average Nigerian public officer would have remained to fight the system using inherent pitfalls. I agree there should be an investigation to identify the unusual challenge leading to the memorandum by the ordinarily conservative Justices of the Supreme Court. The probe is not necessarily with a view to punish anyone, but to correct the system and effect positive change in the institution.”
Emeka Ngige, SAN, who described the CJN’s resignation as a welcome development, commended him for his courage. He added that the Auditor-General of the Federation should discharge his responsibility.
Speaking on the call for a probe of Muhammad’s tenure, he said, “We have audit departments in all government departments, so the Auditor-General of the Federation should do his work. Do not call it probe: at every financial year, there should be an audit of government expenditure, whether judiciary, executive or legislature, so the Auditor-General should do his work, it is not probe.”
An Abuja lawyer, Dr Daniel Makolo, also supported the call for an investigation of the allegations against the retired justice, insisting that the report of the probe should also be made public.
But a member of the NBA, Lagos branch, Kunle Anifowose, argued that it was premature to pin the allegations of embezzlement on the ex-CJN.
Speaking in the same vein, a lawyer and activist, Victor Giwa, lauded Muhammad for resigning on health grounds.
He noted that the allegations against him bordered on maladministration and not financial malfeasance. “So, the anti-graft agencies should allow the system to be unless where there are specific allegations of financial crime,” he submitted.
Meanwhile, the NBA Chairman, Port Harcourt branch, Prince Nyekwere, said the allegations of corruption levelled against the retired CJN remain to be proved.
On his part, the Chairman of the NBA, Okrika branch also in Rivers State, Emmanuel Eremie, said for the CJN to voluntarily step aside meant those allegations were weighty.
“It means the allegations are weighty. But the implication is this: We look up to the Supreme Court as the oracles of the law, and would not want them to wash their dirty linens in public.
“They can constitute an administrative probe panel and do the needful, just to save the image of the legal profession,” Eremie said.
The Chairman, Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership, Debo Adeniran, also stated that the former CJN should be probed.
“It is a good thing he honourably resigned and didn’t allow himself to be thrown out like Onnoghen but then, apart from the NJC, the Body of Bencher, the anti-graft agencies should do their separate jobs on him and at the end of the day, he should be given adequate punishment, if found guilty. This is necessary to serve as deterrence for others,” he submitted.
In her reaction, the Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Mrs Idayat Hassan, said the centre would go beyond calling for just probes.
She said the situation demanded an in-depth look into the implications on the judiciary and above all, on the democracy in Nigeria.
She further added that while the resignation of the former Chief Justice was honourable, it was worrisome that it was happening close to the 2023 elections.
The Convener, Human Right Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, noted that no Nigerian should be above the law and hence, the allegations against the former CJN should not be swept under the carpet.
The Chairman, Transparency International, Nigeria, Musa Rafsanjani, said the development presented an opportunity to remove the secrecy in the judiciary “because there’s too much secrecy in the judiciary spending,” adding that Nigerians needed to know how funds were managed and spent in the judiciary.
He also said reforms were also necessary to tackle the conditions that made judges give contradictory judgments.
ICPC keeps mum
When asked if the Independent Corrupt and Other Related Offences Commission would probe the allegations against Muhammad, the commission’s spokesperson, Mrs Azuka Ogugua, declined comment.
“We don’t disclose our plans or investigations; when we are ready to carry out a probe, we would do it and inform you,” she said.
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LASG DEPLOYS MORE BODYCAM FOR LASTMA PERSONNEL
To enhance transparency in traffic management and enforcement, the Lagos State Government has deployed more body cameras to the Lagos Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) personnel.
The event which took place at the weekend during the visit of the Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Hon. Sola Giwa to the LASTMA headquarters at Oshodi, Lagos State had the LASTMA Personnel issued more body cameras with the pledge to keep them working for increased credibility and confidence in the delivering of effective traffic management and enforcement.
Explaining the reason for the redeployment of the gadgets, the Special Adviser stated that the Babajide Sanwo-Olu administration has brought lots of technological innovations to address the transport challenges of the State of which the body camera was one, for accurate traffic management among many other benefits.
Expressing his optimism of the bodycam to be able to deliver authentic traffic law violation reports or complaints as the case may be, Giwa further assured that the bodycam will provide accurate validation of any tale rendered by both the Law Enforcement Officers and Motorists, adding that the pictorial evidences will also help in investigating complaints lodged by aggrieved motorists.
On the operation of the camera, the LASTMA General Manager, Mr. Bolaji Oreagba assured that the LASTMA Officers have been duly trained on the usage and so are capable of handling the gadget adding that the camera would have a significant effect on deviant behaviour on the road.
He further explained that the bodycam initiative is a win-win procedure for both the Law Enforcement Officers and Motorists as the regular arguments on traffic laws violation will be put to rest through detailed recordings.
A LASTMA Officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity at the gathering informed that what thrills Officers the most about the gadget is the fact that it provides another layer of security by dissuading would-be attackers from carrying out their heinous crimes knowing they would be captured by the bodycams.
It will be recalled that the Germany made body cameras which was launched in year 2021 by the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu have been found to work effectively for 12 hours without a blink, as the battery life span is strong and durable for the use of the Law Enforcement Officers.
While lauding the LASTMA Officers for their renewed commitment at ensuring the State continue to witness tremendous improved traffic management, the Transport Special Adviser thanked the entire LASTMA workforce for a warm welcome he received at the headquarters.
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LASG DISBANDS M.O.T ENFORCEMENT TEAM
The Lagos Ministry of Transportation has placed an indefinite ban on the operations of its enforcement team tagged M.O.T Taskforce.
The Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Mr. Sola Giwa, stated that the decision was reached after a thorough appraisal and review of the enforcement teams operating under the Ministry of Transportation.
Giwa explained that the ban is part of measures initiated to streamline transport enforcement activities in Lagos State to achieve the required effectiveness in line with global best practices, warning that the ban is not an excuse for drivers to disobey the traffic laws of the State.
The Special Adviser averred that Traffic Management and Transportation is a cardinal pillar in the T.H.E.M.E.S Agenda of the administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, stressing that the readjustment of the enforcement strategy was to enhance service delivery to the people of the State.
He, therefore, enjoined the general public to report the activities of any unauthorised enforcement team still operating with the tag M.O.T Taskforce to the Ministry of Transportation for prosecution.
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One million compatriots died to keep Nigeria together — Buhari
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday in Abuja said Nigeria has gone through all troubles from January 15,1966, to date which resulted in the killing of a million of the citizenry in order to keep the country together.
He also urged political leaders to stay focused and uphold the ultimate objective of promoting interest of the country, saying “we are Nigerians, God willing, we remain Nigerians, and Nigeria shall remain one.’’
Speaking when he received former state chairmen of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, at State House, Buhari noted that the passion and zeal to improve the livelihood of Nigerians, which culminated in creation of the political party, had not dwindled, calling for more steadfastness as Nigerians.
He said the self-centeredness that led to the loss of about a million lives between 1967 and1970 must not be allowed to repeat itself.
While noting that the CPC was founded on the bedrock of patriotism and loyalty to the unity of Nigeria, the President said: “Our main objective is the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We are human beings. We have our weaknesses, but I can assure you that the patriotism in us is hard earned.
”We have gone through all the troubles from 15th of January 1966 to date. You know what I mean by this, we have killed a million of ourselves in order to keep this country together.
“I don’t think there can be any practical experience more than that. We are Nigerians, God willing we remain Nigerians and Nigeria will remain one.”
He urged all members of defunct CPC and political leaders to always be mindful of the larger picture by working towards preserving the unity, peace and integrity of the nation.
The President thanked former chairmen of the political party, which was merged to form the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, for always highlighting the achievements of the government, admitting that some areas will surely get more attention.
“I am delighted to welcome the forum of State Chairmen of the former Congress for Progressives’ Change to State House today. I accord great significance to this visit as it demonstrates a determination and commitment to identify with our administration.
“This visit recalls the solidarity with the successes that we have recorded in critical areas of our society. The visit also affords us the opportunity to discuss other issues of interest to the forum.
“I commend members of this forum and all members of the legacy party-CPC, for their continued dedication to the ideals of democratic governance that we all believed in.
“The doggedness with which we pursued our vision and goals that culminated into the success we recorded remain like bright stars in the history of our dear nation,’’ he added.
He said he was particularly grateful for the unalterable belief members of CPC and, by extension, the Nigerian electorate, had and still had in him as demonstrated in their unalloyed support for his electoral struggles which reflected in the results he consistently recorded at the polls over the years.’
Describing the President as the patriarch of the CPC’, the Chairman of Forum of State Chairmen of the defunct CPC and former chairman of the party in Niger State, Umar Shuaibu, said the party had maintained all its structures across the country, assuring President Buhari of their loyalty, especially in the forthcoming elections.
Shuaibu commended the President for providing strong leadership over the years, particularly in remaining balanced, fair and above board on electoral issues.
“Before you, the opposition was arrested and maltreated, but it is no longer so. You did not deny them what they denied you when they were in power,” he said.
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