Question: As public perception is essential to whatever is being presented for consumption, how can this be related to the situation in Nigeria vis-à-vis the current standard of governance in the country – A.O. Equan
Justice Dahiru Musdapher, who succeeded Justice Katsina Alor as the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), did not tarry about expressing his intention of facing obvious problems of the judiciary on assuming office in September 2011. He publicly admitted that corruption posed a challenge to the nation’s judiciary in his inaugural speech shortly after his appointment as CJN, more especially when public perception and confidence towards the judiciary were not favourable. His remark that, “There must be zero tolerance to judicial dishonesty and corruption” summed it all. Moreover, with the “Katsina Alor versus Ayo Salami” saga being on many people’s lips about this period, there has been cause to seriously raise eyebrows on courts’ ability to dispense justice to the satisfaction of the citizenry.
Musdapher seemed to have been conscious of having a very short stay as CJN (about seven months), as at almost 70 years (the retirement age for all CJNs) time for significant efforts at reforming the judiciary was not on his side. This culminated in his submitting a bill to the House of Representatives requesting 52 alterations to the 1999 Constitution related to the judiciary, about the eve of his retirement. The crux of his submission is recommendations for amendments to the constitution and other laws to tackle corruption in the judiciary and minimize delays in the determination of cases.
Dahiru Musdapher’s recently appointed successor, Justice Aloma Mukhtar (the first female CJN), seems to have a slightly different view about stopping corruption in its tracks within the judiciary. At a time Nigerians prefer to see justice delayed and justice denied as being exactly what they should be – the same; Justice Mukhtar’s immediate predecessor made us realize that he was all out for establishing separate courts to deal with corruption-related cases, in order to reduce the number of years it takes to get final courts’ ruling and decongest them. She instead prefers having specially designated judges to try corruption and terrorism cases.
Even where the public realizes that both perspectives would likely rub off favourably, as part of good governance with the judiciary as stepping stone, what counts is for it to be perceived as a tier of the government where the practice of law is not turned to commerce-oriented vocation, but seen as value driven instead. This becomes relevant when the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, had ordered the release of 182 suspects on bail and recommended the speedy trial of 601 others. Presently, there are over 110, 000 cases pending before federal and state high courts. Within the two years available to Justice Aloma Mukhtar as CJN (she is 68 years), any introduction of a major reform within this tier of government will surely sway public perception favourably.
By way of reference, the two arms of the National Assembly (NASS), the Senate and the House of Representatives, will be treated jointly here. Public perception towards the present NASS (the 7th) since its inception in 2011 seems to be deviating slightly from the unsavoury ways of the 6th, even where some of the legislators in the immediate past NASS still comprise the membership of the current body. This stems from a glaring indication that NASS, to a large extent, is trying to steer clear of the ‘bad ways’ of the immediate past legislature. Considering that intension here is not to x-ray the ‘sins’ of the 6th NASS, but to focus on goings-on for better performance, the current legislature should concentrate on meeting what the people require and play down on issues which only favour the political elite, which many still view as the ‘stock in trade’ of the last National Assembly.
Anyone being referred to as a member of NASS nowadays often provoke an average Nigerian to ponder about one issue – Question of integrity. This is not a commendable way of perceiving the country’s lawmakers. It is clear that this impression is not illusory, but rather the outcome of happenings since the inception of democracy in 1999, and has refused to wane. It is the main reason for various unsavoury impression about this body – That the legislators are not really representing the people, and comprising of a ruling class, with all the powers but brushing the people aside; and above all, the public being fed up with the constant revelations of graft within this body. This seems the reason for the alleged upward adjustment to legislators’ financial entitlements, which made the rounds about the first quarter of 2012, not really coming as news to many. No member of NASS has come forward to deny this, at a time when about 70 per cent of Nigerians are classified as poor.
The public has no cause to doubt that the 469 members of the legislature gulp 25.1 per cent of the nation’s overhead, without any clear form of accountability. To any right thinking Nigerian, this is outrageous. No wonder, the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, did not mince words in pronouncing the National Assembly as being the country’s major problem. Even former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s description of the Nigerian legislature as comprising of thieves and criminals recently, did not yield any condemnation from even one member of NASS. Indeed, a form of Obasanjo’s vindication.
With one scandal or another and all about gratification, keen watchers see no significant pointer to NASS’ readiness to do away with corruption – Major illustrations being the out come of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Capital Markets and Other Financial Institutions probe into the activities of the Securities and Exchange Commission that culminated in it s chairman, Herman Hembe, being grilled in court; an ad-hoc committee on fuel subsidy of the same body having its chairman being fingered for allegedly helping himself with $620,000, out of purported $3million bribe. (To be continued)