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Buhari’s anti-graft war faulty, selective – Ajulo, rights activist

An Abuja-based lawyer and human rights activist, Dr. Kayode Ajulo, speaks on the outgone 2021 and some policies of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, among other issues in this interview with BEN OGBEMUDIA

2021 was fraught with issues of banditry, kidnapping, and all sorts of criminalities, do you think the Federal Government did its best to address the myriad of issues?

There is no gainsaying that insecurity in Nigeria is ubiquitous and no place is safe to stay in the country. However, the attempt of dialogue with these bandits by security agencies raises some concerns. I have been compelled to ask if we should condone criminality and violence while rewarding these hoodlums with amnesty as attempted by law enforcement agencies.

Any society that chooses to reward impunity or bribe those that take up arms against the state and its citizens is creating leeway for the collapse of the corporate existence of the nation which may, in turn, force us to live in a Hobbesian state of nature.

This attempt at dialogue may be deconstructed as apparent helplessness of Nigeria’s security agencies which may, in turn, make Nigerian citizens resort to self-help. Thus, the government must take the bull by its horn by employing legal mechanisms to resolve the fundamental issues of unlawful killings, kidnapping, and human rights violation and not attempt to sweep them under the guise of amnesty and if there must be amnesty there must be genuine repentance.

So, how would you score President Buhari in 2021?
Taking President Buhari’s administration to the scoreboard would not change the reality of things. One has to look through the eyes of the common masses to access this administration. The Nigerian odyssey since 2015 has been pockmarked by fierce battles in various fields of endeavour including security, economy, and industry.

These days, devilish insurgents straddle the Northeast region, reigning imperiously as they perpetrate heinous acts of cruelty on hapless citizens and even expanding the reach of their devilish actions to the nation’s capital in Abuja. Not even the Police Headquarters or the Abuja office of the United Nations was considered unassailable by these fiends. We cannot forget how the capital city was enshrouded in dark clouds of anxiety and tension as no one knew when or where the merchants of terror would strike. Security checkpoints and armoured patrols dotted the streets, blighting the scenic beauty and peace for which Abuja had hitherto been known.

On the economic front, an epidemic of avarice-powered looting had ravaged the country’s vaults. The perpetrators were bold in their banditry, aided by powerful people in government. The national psyche had taken a rough tumble and morale was at an all-time low when you took over the reins of leadership. For the Seeing Eye and the discerning mind, it was no enviable task that you were saddled with as Nigeria, our Nigeria, was in dire straits, crying for reform. For you to be a hero in Nigeria of now, just criticise this present administration.

One of the things I think I need to tell the president is to look at the people; he has to be pro-people. It is very simple, not you alone that can talk to the president. The essence of government is to be responsive to the hues and yearnings of the people.

The aspiration of Nigerians is so simple. They want infrastructures to make things better. Imagine if railway now is working, the road is okay, imagine power sector is working; many industries will come to Nigeria, a lot of people will be employed and when you employ people, you’ll see that this unemployment rate is low and when the unemployment rate is low, Nigerians will be happy. Well, I believe in the future of this country and my staunch support remains unflinching for the growth of this country. Thus, there is a call on every stakeholder from all walks of life to remain united and participate in every forum to ensure the sustainability of the future of our dear country.

Corruption has been one of the cardinal points of President Muhammadu Buhari, has he successfully tackled it?
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is one that came with a lot of hopes, beliefs, and expectations for Nigerians. Chiefly amongst the aforementioned is the confidence reposed by Nigerians in the administration of its ability to rid the country of corruption which has eaten deep into every sphere of the country especially its public sector.

You would recall that during the 2015 electioneering campaigns President Muhammadu Buhari, made the anticorruption war one of his administration’s agenda. Upon his election and subsequent swearing-in as President on 29th May 2015, President Buhari focused on the anti-corruption war by re-jigging the headships of key Federal Government’s anti-corruption agencies to wit: the EFCC; Department of State Security (DSS); Nigeria Customs; Nigeria Immigration and Prisons Services; the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA); Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); the Armed Forces Services Chiefs and Nigeria Police Force; among others. Consequently, a plethora of corruption petitions necessitated Federal Government anticorruption agencies to ferociously beam their searchlights on corruption.

At this juncture, I am compelled to note that the success of Mr. President’s fight against corruption can only be tested with the litmus test of a reasonable man who is a neutral party. This is on the heels that some pundits especially people of the opposition believe that Mr. President’s war against corruption is against the opposition party.

They averted that the methodologies of implementing the anti-corruption war of President Buhari administration are not only faulty but they are also whimsical and selective. Also, Mr. President’s handling of the anti-corruption fight has been tagged by many as autocratic and without a faithful adherence to the letters of the law.

There are insinuations that a cold war brewing between the EFCC and the AGF recently over the independence or not of the Commission to investigate certain alleged corrupt cases; what is your position on this?

Until the time of this interview, I am not aware that there is any ‘cold war’ between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) over the independence or not of the Anti-Graft Agency. It is imperative to state pronto that the duties of both the EFCC are delineated from those of the AGF. For clarity, the duties and obligations of the EFCC are governed by the Economic and Financial Commission (Establishment) Act 2004. Section 1(b) of the enabling Act provides that the Commission shall be “the designated Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in Nigeria, which is charged with the responsibility of coordinating the various institutions involved in the fight against money laundering and enforcement of all laws dealing with economic and financial crimes in Nigeria”. See also the case of DANFULANI v. EFCC & ORS (2015) LPELR-25899(CA). Furthermore, Section 6 prescribes the functions of the Commission which include liaising with the Attorney General of the Federation in the eradication of economic and financial crimes. Instructively, Section 43 of the EFCC Act also provides that the Attorney General of the Federation may make rules or regulations concerning the exercise of any of the duties, functions, or powers of the Commission under the Act. On the other hand, the function of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation as the Chief Law Officer is also provided for in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended). Section 174 of the Constitution provides that the Attorney-General of the Federation shall have power – (a)​to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court of law in Nigeria, other than a court-martial, in respect of any offence created by or under any Act of the National Assembly; b)​to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other authority or person, and (c)​to discontinue at any stage before judgement is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by him or any other authority or person. From the foregoing, I do not see any overlap in the functions of the office of both the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on the one hand and the Attorney General of the Federation on the other hand.

The year 2022 is an election year, the coast seems not clear particularly over the refusal of Mr. President to accent to the Electoral Act. What do you think will become of the whole situation?

One of the cardinal reasons for the refusal of Mr. President to assent to the Electoral Bill was hinged on the belief that Direct primary should not be imposed on political parties as the Constitution of some of these political parties does not impose Direct Primary. Suffices to note that Section 87(1)-(2) of the Electoral Act provides that “A political party seeking to nominate candidates for elections under this Act shall hold primaries for aspirants for all elective positions: the procedure for the nomination of candidates by a political party for the various elective positions shall be by direct or indirect primaries.”

In the bid to make inclusive internal democracy prevalent in the nomination of aspirants for elections, the joint session of the National Assembly propose direct primary as the only mode of nominating candidates for elections. However, this position did not augur well with some state governors for selfish reasons. In response, it is pertinent to state that direct primary aligns with Section 223 of the Constitution which has imposed a duty on political parties to elect their officers through democratic elections. What is more, President Buhari was a beneficiary of direct primary for the presidential election in 2019.

It is my position that direct primary would allow for grassroots politics and involvement. Moreover, the determining factor of a democratic society is: Power belongs to the people which is the true representation of democracy which was defined as “the Government of the power for the people and by the people”. Whether you do direct or indirect primary, there are still problems. If the rule of law will not be followed, if there would be no internal party democracy, then either mode would still be not effective.

Sometime early this year, there were ripples between the Nigeria Bar Association and AGF over an amendment to lawyers’ rule of practice in the country, has this been resolved?
It is imperative to recall that during the heat of the debacle concerning the purported amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, I promptly pointed attention to the relevant portion of the Legal Practitioners Act, particularly Section 1 of the Act which establishes the General Council of the Bar.

One of the functions of the General Council of the Bar as indicated in Section 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act, 2004 is as follows: “It shall be the duty of the Bar Council to make rules from time to time on professional conduct in the legal profession and cause such rules to be published in the Gazette and distributed to all the branches of the Association”. My position at the time was that it is only the members of the General Council of the Bar forming the quorum that can determine whether due consultations were made before the amendment of the Rules. Now the Attorney General of the Federation who is the Chairman of the General Council of the Bar has revealed that there was no proper consultation before the purported amendment of the Rules. By this statement, I believe I have been justified in my earlier propositions.

The EndSARS findings/reports have remained ‘controversial’ since the government is not interested to do anything about it. What is your position on this matter?

Firstly, it is important to commend the various state governments including the Federal Government for setting up tribunals/panels on the backdrop of the #EndSARS protest. I will also commend the Judicial Panel of Inquiry set up by the Lagos State Government for their wealth of industry and dedication.

While I have some reservations about some members of the Panel who ought not to be part of same, my attention has been drawn to some arguments in some quarters to the effect that the Judicial Panel of inquiry set up by the Lagos State Government was illegal on the footing that the Panel investigated federal officers. As a prefatory, it is imperative to state that a careful look through the provisions of the second schedule to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), Tribunal of Inquiry is not one of the items in the Exclusive Legislative List or the Concurrent List. Hence, the same is a residual matter within the legislative competence of the State government.

This extant position of law was enunciated in the case of Fawehinmi v Babangida (2003) 3 NWLR (Pt. 808) 604 where the Apex Court held that: when it is remembered that the 1999 Constitution has made no provision for Tribunals of Inquiry as did the 1963 Constitution in Item 39 of the Exclusive Legislative List and item 25 of the Concurrent List, it follows that to repeat me on the point, the power to make a general Law for the establishment and regulation of Tribunals of Inquiry in the form of the Tribunal of Inquiry Act, 1966 is now a residual power under the 1999 Constitution belonging to the States. What is more, it is instructive to note that under Section 1 of the Tribunal of Inquiry Laws of various States, the State Government has the power to constitute a Tribunal of Inquiry to inter alia inquire into the conduct of officers of the government.

Similarly, it is the Law that a police officer/Military Officer in Nigeria is capable of enjoying a dual status. When he is complying with the directions of the Governor of a state concerning the maintaining and securing of public safety and public order within the State he is an agent of the State and not an agent of the Federal Government even though he is a servant of the Federal Government and the result of their investigation may result in a prosecution under the State Laws. See the cases of MILITARY ADMINISTRATOR OF KWARA STATE & OTHERS V. LAFIAGI (1998) 7 NWLR (PT. 557) 202, 213; OKOROMA & ANOR V. UBA & ORS(1998) LPELR-6405(CA).

The Lekki toll gate massacre was a crime committed against the law of Lagos State and under the law of murder in Lagos State, there is no immunity for soldiers and policemen. From whatever angle you look at it, the present panels set up by the various states in the Federation are constitutional, legitimate and are empowered to inquire into the various allegations of human rights violations allegedly committed by the personnel of the Nigeria Police Force as nothing in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria precludes them from doing so.

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