A Nation in Bondage

The 10th annual Gani Fawehinmi lecture provides a forum for lawyers, human rights activists and other religious leaders to air their views on ills ravaging the country

By Chinwe Okafor  |  Jan. 27, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

THE 10th Gani Fawehinmi Annual Lecture provided the opportunity for lawyers, activists and other critics to vent their spleen over the ills that are ravaging the country even as it marks its centenary anniversary. The topic for discussion was “Nigeria at Centenary: A Nation Still in Bondage? The participants, who spoke on issues ranging from injustice, corruption at all levels of government to poor leadership among others, also made suggestions to lift the country out of its bondage. Ayo Salami, retired Justice of the Court of Appeal, who chaired the event organised by Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja Branch in Lagos, said the country will continue to suffer injustice except the people in position of authority uphold the truth.

Ubani
Ubani

Salami, expressed regrets that people who are dishonourable and unfit to be judges get into the main stream and makes it to the highest level of the judicial career. He said that the problems of the nation’s judiciary would remain unresolved and compounded for a long time because Nigerians naturally do not want the truth to be told. “Whoever dares to tell the truth is marked for destruction and then one wonders where lies the hope of the common man in getting justice in this corrupt minded world.” He added that part of his ‘sins’ as a serving judge was that God helped him throughout his career to resist all temptations to be influenced by anybody in dispensing justice. “My conscience is intact and my relationship with my God, to whom I am accountable, is sacred and also intact.”

While speaking on his travails during his service years, he said that the National Judicial Council, NJC, set up a commission known as Auta Committee to make recommendations on the council’s investigative panel report which was meant to humiliate him but God turned the humiliation to vindication because the Auta Committee adopted a laughable procedure by introducing a completely new dimension to the case without giving him any hearing at all. He, however, suggested a five-point approach to repositioning the nation’s judicial system, calling on the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, to cease to be the chairman of the NJC so that occupants of that office would stop taking advantage of its powers as chairman of the council, as enshrined in the constitution, to abuse the office.

Bakare
Bakare

He suggested that each of the federating states should be allowed to have its own Court of Appeal and Supreme Court to better adjudge on respective disputes and appeals on matters falling within their legislative competence and also suggested that federal and state high courts and the National Industrial court should be vested with the same jurisdiction to avoid high cost of litigation and delays arising from contentious issues of jurisdiction. He said members of the NJC should not accept executive appointments, including executive briefs during their tenure and in no circumstance should justices appointed to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court on ground of Sharia or Customary Law be permitted to participate in Common Law as well as Constitutional Cases.

Tunde Bakare, a pastor and the Convener of Save Nigeria Group, who is the guest lecturer of the occasion, said that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration raised the bar of corruption in the country, notwithstanding his “supposed achievements” in office. He said that Obasanjo himself raised the mountain of corruption to an unimaginable level, adding that the media was censored, outspoken critics were targeted and judicial decisions were subjected to executive interpretations. “As apathy set in among the electorate, General Obasanjo, knowing fully that he could not foist third term agenda on Nigeria, imposed a sick president on the nation through a fraudulent election,” he said.

He suggested that the federal government’s proposed national conference must be made a people-driven constitutional conference where the defects in the nation’s federal structure could be corrected in a new constitution that truly belonged to the people, adding that the conference would be an opportunity for Nigerians to return to the dialogue table with the aim of renegotiating and restructuring the country. He also urged Nigeria’s statesmen to work towards  the success of the conference instead of focusing on the 2015 general elections.

A cross section of the audience at the occassion
A cross section of the audience at the occassion

He said: “If we do not do the needful in 2014, there may be no 2015. If we dedicate ourselves to restructuring our nation at this opportune time, the outcome will be the emergence of credible leadership that will ensure a Nigeria that works. The past leaders have kept Nigerians in total bondage for years and the country is yet to attain some measure of freedom even with the coming of democracy in 1999 because genuine liberty was not attained as at then. Not with a culture of corruption, impunity and sectional interest that pervades every sector and every level of the social cadre; not with pseudo-federal structure that constrains the birth and development of true nationhood and the capacity of the constituents to develop at their respective paces; not with institutions that serve the interest of a privileged few who have cornered the resources of our country.

According to Bakare, genuine liberty could not be attained with “a Constitution that was forced on the people by the military and which gives fundamental human rights with one hand and takes them away with the other; not with a judiciary that will set free perpetrators of multi-billion naira theft and send pepper and onion thieves to jail; not with legislatures that consume the greater percentage of the country’s recurrent expenditure, making laws that have no bearing on the welfare of the people and defending positions like child marriage that perpetuate socio- economic bondage; not with executive government that have continued the culture of  plunder, looting the treasury through various schemes from the security votes of state governors to fuel subsidy by the federal government,” Bakare said.

However, Onyekachi Ubani, chairman Ikeja branch Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, called for a fair devolution of powers that makes for efficiency which he described as the ultimate purpose for the general well-being within the federation.