Daniel Bwala is a member of the Lincoln’s Inn London. He is an academic and public affairs commentator. In this interview with TUNDE OYESINA, Bwala speaks on the looters’ list, its legal implication as well as the twin problem of lobbying and cronyism in the country’s judiciary
What are your thoughts on the alarm being raised by a former CJN, Justice Mariam Mukhtar, that lobbying and cronyism have become prevalent in judicial appointments in the country, corroborating a view by retired Justice Clara Ogunbiyi (JSC)?
Well, I cannot speak on the details of what the Honourable Justice Ogunbiyi said and what the former CJN said because these are issues within the precinct of the judiciary. However, I can speak on politics that is associated with virtually everything in our national life in Nigeria. For instance, the point Justice Ogunbiyi made that she was going to be elevated to the Court of Appeal, but the then Chief Judge of Borno State did not give his support. While I may not know the details that were there, but one thing is clear; Borno State is one state where the majority (the Kanuri) followed by my tribe, most of the times try in almost all facets of life to oppress our people.
Our people are the ones by privilege exposed and educated, but politically and numerically, they are not. So, anytime anything is happening to someone from that part of the state, there is always some manipulation by the majority to stop them.
And I can even attest to myself that during my undergraduate days when we had a national competition; I came first in Nigeria and a colleague of mine from Bauchi, represented Nigeria in the UK. We came 2nd in the entire world. When we came back, we were recommended to our respective states’ governor for scholarship abroad. My other colleague from Bauchi got scholarship from his state. But in my state, because I am not from the majority tribe, I was denied the opportunity to even see the governor let alone getting scholarship. So, I have in my own honour and struggle go through all the things that I have gone through to come to the point where I am today; I was able to go for my Master’s degree, I was admitted to the English Bar. I have been able to do everything today by God’s grace, never by the political efforts of the majority tribe.
So, if that happens in other aspects, then it can also happen in the legal landscape; I’m not surprised.
Secondly, with regard to lobbying; lobbying in itself is not a crime, especially in politics, in National Assembly matters. It is a legal means by which interests of a group are aggregated and articulated. But when it comes to an individual lobbying for something that affects him, which is where the dichotomy is; that is where it becomes wrong, especially in our legal profession where integrity and merit are paramount. Therefore, I agree with the former CJN that lobbying is very bad in the judiciary.
Even at the Bar, people lobby to become Senior Advocates of Nigeria and people lobby to be made judges. It is a terrible situation in Nigeria because when you dig deep into lobbying, what you would end up finding is that while “lobbying” on the face value is not a crime; but so many things go behind what is considered as lobbying; it can be bribery, it can be suppression of merit, it can be promotion of certain tribe or religion as criteria upon which a favour is to be given.
Recently, President Buhari was in Lagos on an official visit with the Vice President, where they said the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government would continue to tell Nigerians about the corrupt activities of the immediate past government of President Goodluck Jonathan. Three years down the line in the life of the Buhari-led administration, shouldn’t the blame game stop?
I have on several occasions, warned the APC not to focus on the past administration as the talking point leading to 2019; the reason you were voted into power is to change what had happened. I went to my village at the last Christmas; and the people kept complaining that it was corruption that brought us to where we are. So, when the people are aware, why do you go about talking about it? If you continue to build on the narrative of constantly making reference to the PDP, then the PDP in countering it would then say okay, since the APC cannot solve the problem, they (PDP) need an opportunity to resolve the problem.
I said the APC should focus on what it has achieved. For example, the Treasury Single Account (TSA) has stopped massive corruption in the system; they are supposed to emphasise more on it. The N-Power programme has created job opportunities. Take a look at the school feeding programme. They are supposed to talk more on all these and talk about what they can do to improve on that. What about the increase in foreign reserve? What about the anti-corruption fight? They are supposed to talk about it. Why are they not talking about it? Therefore, it is lack of focus for them to continue to talk about past administration’s failure when they are on the saddle, and they are supposed to correct whatever it is that is the problem of the past.
What is your reaction to the list of alleged treasury looters?
The Federal Government’s action on this is subjudicial. Definitely, it is. When a matter is before the court, you are supposed to allow the matter to come to an end. You see, what the PDP did was to put a trap; they baited the APC and the APC fell right into it. Now, to counter the APC’s list of alleged looters, the PDP has released its own list which it said is three times longer than APC’s. And the list of looters by the PDP is credible.
When a matter is in court, you are not expected to talk about it. You are being prejudicial. First of all, somebody who has stolen and is charged to court is presumed innocent until proven guilty. When you go ahead and say the person has looted; you have made a judgment out of the situation.
For instance, Justice Adeniyi Ademola was charged, against all weight of evidence, he was discharged and acquitted. Secondly, when the PDP published its own list, the burden has now shifted to the EFCC to make sure that they investigate the list that was published by the PDP. This is why people believe that our institutions are being controlled by the government, otherwise, with the PDP list, the anti-corruption agencies are supposed to swing into action and investigate the persons on the list.
Now the popularity of the EFCC will go down because it will then be clear to everyone that it is ‘persecution and not ‘prosecution’.
Now that it seems the APC and the PDP are peopled by alleged looters, shouldn’t Nigerians look up to the “Third Political Force” as we approach the 2019 general election?
I intend to run for the Senate in my state and I am most likely going to run under a party supported by the Third Force. I believe in the philosophy of the Third Force. And Nigerians should look towards them. But the Third Force should be swift and fast enough to bring candidates ahead of time for Nigerians to make up their minds.
You don’t have to wait until the ruling party declares its candidate. If I’m thinking about you and you have not declared your intention and I give my support to Mr. B, by the time you come out, it might be too late because Nigerian politics goes with commitment.
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