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Tanko Muhammad’s resignation and matters arising (2)

Muiz Banire > The Sun Articles  > Tanko Muhammad’s resignation and matters arising (2)

Tanko Muhammad’s resignation and matters arising (2)

They forget the suffering they had been enduring prior to that elevation. In a lot of courts, heads of courts hardly agitate the needs of their colleagues. A vivid example was during the last Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) strike on judicial autonomy. While a lot of us struggled actively for financial autonomy for the judiciary, particularly at the state levels, it is disheartening to watch the heads of courts not being on the same page with not only JUSUN but even the NJC sub-committee on financial autonomy. That is why today the issue of financial autonomy seems now to be in coma. If the heads of courts and other judicial officers had joined forces on the issue, I am sure that the situation would not be as it is today.

 

The fear of misappropriation expressed in some quarters, in the event of the grant of financial autonomy, is certainly not misplaced. It is to be addressed by the appointment of Court administrators who will be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the courts or any other such mechanism. This will insulate Their Lordships from insinuation of corruption and will enable them to focus on their duty of administration of justice. With the development at the apex Court that has generated so many conversations and debates, it is certain that all is not well with the judiciary.

 

I hope that other heads of courts will not permit such to rear its head at their levels. The time is ripe to embrace the principle of injury to one, is injury to all. The heads of courts must brace up against the other arms, recognizing the sacred position they hold. Courage is part of the essential attributes of a judicial officer. I am aware that since the unfortunate scenario of the ousting of the Honorable Justice Walter Onnoghen, a lot of judicial officers have become timid. This has given rise to politicians threatening and harassing the heads of courts with removal.

 

This must not be allowed to continue. More than ever before, the solidarity of the bar and the bench, as well as other stakeholders in the administration of justice and Nigerians in general is hereby demanded for the preservation of the independence of the judiciary.  No head of court must be allowed to be removed unlawfully or improperly again without all of us rising up to his protection. We can all rise or sink together. Enough of the desecration of the judiciary by politicians in the two other arms of the government. 

On the resignation saga, according to the President to whom the CJN’s resignation letter was addressed, the resignation was premised on ill health of the holder of the office who was meant to retire in December 2023. The truth or otherwise of this assertion has not been free from controversy. While it is the belief in some quarters that the premise is genuine, others believe that the resignation was forced on the holder due to allegations of massive corruption. From my vantage position as a former member of the National Judicial Council, I believe certainly that, all along, the former Chief Justice Tanko Muhammad had not been well. That the illness was negatively impacting the administration of the judiciary is a known and obvious fact. That it is the same circumstance that was impairing the service delivery and administration of the Supreme Court is a statement of fact. The question is, why has the issue not been raised and addressed since? Who bells the cat is an innate part of us as Nigerians? Remember the Yoruba proverb, enu mi ko ni won ti magbo pe iya teacher ku, implying that no one wants to be the courier of bad news.

That public officials in the judiciary enjoyed and took advantage of this ailment is equally no news. Now that the National Assembly wants to chase shadows by probing a sick man, one wonders how the legislators intend to go about this? I can forecast the scenario without even having power of clairvoyance that all that the culprit administrators need to contend is simply that, the former Chief Justice gave approvals to all their acts. Go ahead and try a sick man!  Those who want to probe, how many allegations of corruption have been made against their members and how many have they successfully probed? How many allegations of corruption in the Executive have been probed and culprits brought to book? It is all noise making.

All motion without movement. At the National Judicial Council where some measure of actions could have been taken, have you ever looked at the composition to realize and appreciate that it is the Chief Justice’s Council? Apart from the Chief Justice of Nigeria presiding over the Council, he practically single-handedly appoints all the members of the Council. Several calls for amendment of the Constitution to depict independent composition has not attracted the attention of the Legislature whose motive is always something else. Is such re-composition not a crucial task that should have been strenuously pursued by the Legislature?

Whether the former Chief Justice of Nigeria retired on the ground of the allegations against him or on the ground of ill health, does not matter to me. What is significant is that he resigned. How many public officials have resigned when allegations, particularly of corruption, are made against them? ‘Off your mike’ is the answer. How many public officials are we aware of their ill health and are still sitting tight in offices? Let me not count the Ministers amongst other public officials, who are clearly infracting the ethics of public engagement and code of conduct as laid down by the Constitution and are still carrying on as if no Jupiter could arrest them. How many of them have done devious things or mismanaged situations leading to fatalities and have remained in office?

I can continue to multiply these situations demanding resignation but, to the annoyance and frustration of the public, the officials are proving to be above the law. Even those that resigned in the wake of All Progressives Congress’s presidential primaries recently, ensured that their cronies are appointed as replacements, thereby guaranteeing themselves continuity. Hence, for daring to resign, I don’t think vilification of the man should be the next agenda. If for nothing, stepping aside in the interest of the judiciary is sufficient ground to earn him accolades, that is, assuming without conceding that he stepped aside based on the allegations. Even if it be on the ground of ill health, his continuous stay would have continued to impair judicial administration in the country.

In a country where resignation from office is alien to our culture and DNA, when one surfaces or occurs, it deserves our commendation. With all sense of humility, I recall when the spurious allegation of giving a former classmate, who happened to be a judge and before whom, and in whose court, I had never conducted any official business, money for burial of his mother, I never hesitated in stepping aside from all offices I held then pending the conclusion of investigations. For me, it is a mark of honour and integrity that must be encouraged in our clan. Few examples from other nations, the equivalent of which we have multiples in our territory, will drive home this point. Just few days ago, precisely the 5th of July, 2022, two strong members of the British government cabinet, the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health secretary, Sajid javid resigned from government, stating unequivocally their loss of confidence in  Boris Johnson leading the country.

In Nigeria, this  remains a mirage as most cabinet members, having soiled their hands, most times, in the spoil of office  and are unable to do so, thereby ending  up with lamentations after exiting office. Is this a curse? Giorgio Napolitano, the President of Italy resigned on the 14th day of January, 2015 on ground of illness. How many of our public officials, with all manner of poor health impairing the discharge of their responsibilities, have resigned?  As recent as 2020, Dominic Cummings, chief strategist of Prime Minister Boris Johnson resigned for breaking Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. Several governmental officials violated this code during the pandemic period.

 

Was there any consequence? Cassam Uteem, President of Mauritius, resigned due to his conviction not to sign controversial anti-terrorism legislation. Sir Alex Allan resigned as the Prime Minister’s independent advisor on ministerial standards in November 2020, because the Prime Minister rejected the findings on Pritti Patel who was accused of having broken ministerial code following several allegations of bullying civil servants. I am sure you are conversant with this instance, if not other instances in our terrain, has there been any resignation?  Matt Hancock resigned as Health Secretary when caught kissing Gina Coladangelo in breach of COVID-19 social distancing guidance.

David Blunkett, British Secretary of States for Work and Pensions resigned after breaking the ministerial code.

MP Owen Paterson resigned from the House of Commons in November, 2021 amid controversy surrounding a report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that found he had broken paid advocacy rules. How many of these abound in our various Assemblies without any resignation?  Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland resigned for using his position to influence a passport application for one of the Hinduja brothers, who at the time was under investigation by the Indian government. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Prime Minister of France resigned after French voters rejected the government-supported referendum on the European Constitution.

In October, 2011, Secretary of State for Defence, Liam Fox, resigned from the cabinet after he mistakenly allowed the distinction between his personal interest and his government activities to become blurred. Of course, these infractions and worse kinds are daily and normal occurrences in Nigeria but done with impunity and no consequence. Thabo Mbeki resigned as President of South Africa after illegally interfering in the National Prosecuting Authority. Eliot Spitzer, Governor of New York, resigned after claims of involvement in a prostitution ring. In February 2012, liberal democrat MP Chris Huhne resigned from the cabinet when he was charged with perverting the course of justice over a 2003 speeding case. Is this not a familiar scene in Nigeria without any consequence?  In October 2012, Andrew Mitchell resigned from his post as Chief Whip following allegations made about his conduct during an altercation with the police at Downing Street.

In 2014, Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary resigned following pressure relating to the results of an investigation into her past expenses claims. Another normal in Nigeria without consequence! Stewart Hosie, Deputy Leader of the SNP and MP for Dundee East, resigned after it was reported he had been cheating on his wife. This is a routine occurrence in Nigeria without any implication. Amber Rudd, Home Secretary resigned on allegation involving maltreatment of the windrush generation. In December 2018, Labour MP, Fiona Onasanya was convicted of perverting the course of justice for lying to the police to avoid a speeding fine.

She was expelled from her party and in January 2019 she was imprisoned for three months. Onasanya refused to resign as an MP, making her the first sitting MP to be imprisoned in 28 years. She was subsequently recalled by the petition, the first MP to be removed by this process since it was introduced in 2015. Liberal democrats Home Affairs spokesman, Mark Oaten resigned after it was revealed by the News of the World that he paid rent boys to perform sexual acts on him.  In 2004, Beverly Hughes resigned as Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Counter-Terrorism when it was shown that she had been informed of procedural improprieties concerning the granting of visas to certain categories of workers from Eastern Europe. Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson resigned as Prime Minister of Iceland due to  scandal of Panama papers.

In April, 2016, South Korean Prime Minister resigned over ferry sinking. In 2014, Theresa May announced her resignation on May 24, 2019 following repeated attempts to get her Brexit withdrawal deal passed through parliament. Stanislav Gross, Prime Minister of Czech Republic resigned in April, 2005 due to corruption allegations over the privatization of Unipetrol. In 2011, Naoto Kan, Prime Minister of Japan resigned due to the Fukusghima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Henry McLeish, first Minister of Scotland resigned over allegations of improper financial dealings in 2001. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, President of Bolivia, resigned during massive protests against the government’s economic policy on October 17, 2003.

One can continue to recount such instances ad infinitum across the globe.  Similar or worse cases have occurred in our country without the public officials involved blinking an eyelid. As demonstrated above, in virtually all other jurisdictions, resignation is considered as the first option in any allegation of impropriety. It is not the case, in most of the instances alluded to above, that the allegations were proven, but the mere smear of the allegations always forces the office holders to resign or step aside, at the barest minimum, for proper investigation of the allegations. When would such become a norm in our environment is the urge and task that we face? It is only in a country like Nigeria that it is like a taboo to so do. The challenge certainly is not unconnected with the collapse of the our virtues, values and morals. Eni to loju ni oju n ti, is the Yoruba proverb. No one can shame the shameless.

There is definitely no national ethical code in the nation. The country has lost the sense of right and wrong and everything has suddenly become relative.  Tribal, religious and ethical colorations have now been associated with crimes. On Wednesday the 29th day of June, 2022, it was reported that terrorists attacked Shiroro and killed 43 persons including 30 soldiers and 7 mobile policemen while many Chinese and Nigerians were abducted by the terrorists. No official of government has seen any failure of governance on their part and to allow the nation to be led by more responsible and ready individuals by resigning their offices which they have badly managed. An average of fifty Nigerians loses their lives daily, amongst multitudes in the den of kidnappers, and still no relevant officials, including the Head of the Country have deemed it fit to resign. What a Nation! So, where we occasionally find resignation, regardless of the circumstances that might be attributed to it, I think we need to commend and salute such instance and person. This is because it is a scarce commodity in our nation. The foregoing I consider, as some of the germane matters arising from the resignation of the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria and for which, I hope that we either take lessons from, or interrogate further. Adieu!

 

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