21 December 2012

Nigeria's Survival Under Threat - Musdapher

The immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher, Thursday warned that the Boko Haram insurgency and other social upheavals threatening the survival of the country were indicators of a failing state. Speaking at the second anniversary lecture and book presentation of National Mirror in Lagos yesterday, Musdapher expressed worry about the scourge of terrorism overwhelming the security establishment and the disintegration of the nation's moral fabric.

He said: "More than ever before in the history of Nigeria, the scourge of terrorism poses great challenges to the Nigerian state.

"Our slide into anarchy has assumed dangerous dimensions perhaps beyond the capacity of our security agencies to deal with the menace effectively.

"Boko Haram insurgency, political violence, corruption, nepotism, tribalism, indiscipline, abduction and kidnappings, armed robbery, murder and extortion, bombings of places of worship and innocent Nigerians are all indicators of a failing state.

Former CJN, Dahiru Musdapher

"These social upheavals clearly threaten the survival of the Nigerian nation and we all have a duty to rise and stem the tide."

In his paper titled: Media and the judiciary: The necessary symbiosis, Musdapher, who was the guest lecturer, told the audience comprising members of the legal profession, government officials and the media that the country was in a grave situation that required the best collective effort to surmount.

"Our capacity to investigate, arrest, prosecute and convict those found guilty of contravening our laws is evidently weak and compromised; yet no one is held responsible.

"There is no objectivity in national discourse. Most newspaper articles and reports reveal an underlying sentimental pull that seems to outweigh the values of simple decency.

"If a person is accused of wrongdoing in Nigeria, his kinsmen are quick to relegate his clear transgressions to some kind of conspiracy against one of their own. "Corruption and nepotism is supported and encouraged by its benefactors at the expense of all others. When a person occupies a position of authority, he is expected to help his own.

"The same people that complain about the impropriety of others become even more blatant when their so-called turn comes.

"How can we become accountable to our misdeeds under such circumstances?

"How can we continue to run a political system that seems to tacitly accept, promote and encourage the very 'corruption' we all complain about?

"Today, we have media houses and newspapers that blatantly promote sectional interests and ideas in line with the narrower interests of their preferred constituency against the Nigerian nation.

"Nigeria is clearly a nation at war with itself. The path we are treading is a threat to the continued peace, unity and prosperity of this land we call our home.

"Our media has a great responsibility to properly inform and educate the public on the real causes of our problems. The media must throw out subjective ideas that promote division and corruption in Nigeria. This is not the Nigeria we inherited from our predecessors, this is not the Nigeria we envisioned as young men. Favouritism, nepotism and tribal sentiments have made it impossible to run a merit driven system.

Hard work, brilliance, honesty and integrity in our dealings is no longer rewarded. Rather we celebrate mediocrity soaked in the corruption we claim is our common enemy. I am scared and deeply worried. The situation is grave and the media, the 4th estate of the realm has a big role to play in this crusade."

The retired jurist queried how the country could continue to run a political system that "seems to tacitly accept, promote and encourage corruption."

It has become commonplace for one to read of "an Igbo presidency' or a 'Northern presidency' etc in line with a tacit approval of outright nepotism by majority of Nigerians. The mere acceptance of Rotational Presidency in our polity leaves me with the conclusion that Nigerians do not really believe in the unity of our dear nation.

After over half a century of independence, it would have been expected that Nigerians would be more inclined to support a President based on his qualities and capacity to uphold his Oath of Office for the benefit of ALL Nigerians; irrespective of his geopolitical area of origin, ethnicity or religious beliefs.

Alas, sectional and tribal affiliations have become the primary factors considered in choosing our leaders rather than competence, credibility and capacity. I sadly submit that the institutionalization of 'rotation' as a means to ensure fairness between the various ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria reveals a naked ethnic or geopolitical mistrust. However, the mechanism adopted to address that mistrust invariably promotes division across ethnic and religious lines, supports corruption and promotes disunity, peace and progress in Nigeria.

Musdapher spoke at the gathering that included the Group Managing Director of Global Fleet Oil Limited and Publisher of the National Mirror Newspapers, Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim, OFR; notable lawyers such as Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) and Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) and other top government functionaries.

The ex-CJN, whose lecture was punctuated with intermittent applause, also advocated the creation of a separate judicial institution to be responsible for the investigation of allegations of misconduct, corruption and enforcement of judicial code of conduct for judicial officers in the country.

He said: "As I have argued on several occasions the time has come for the creation of a separate institution responsible for investigating allegation of judicial misconduct, corruption, enforcing the code of conduct for judicial officers, discipline and removal.

"Please consider that thoroughly investigating petitions and allegations of impropriety against judicial officers as well as contraventions of the Judicial Code of Conduct is too cumbersome for the National Judicial Council when viewed against the other responsibilities of the council.

"Besides, an independent institution with adequate statutory safeguards may be better positioned to deal with the issues of discipline and removal as opposed to an institution that is largely managed by those it is supposed to regulate.

"I strongly believe that the creation of such an institution is the only way to properly focus on the problem of judicial corruption in Nigeria as it has been adopted in several common law jurisdictions."

Musdpaher also x-rayed the relationship between the judiciary and media and argued that it was necessary for the third arm of the government and the fourth estate of the realm to co-exist in a healthy and productive relationship.

He added: "Fundamentally, it is important to understand that the powers or freedoms enjoyed by both the media and the judiciary are mutually reinforcing.

"While the courts, through various pronouncements and decisions, properly define the rights and freedoms of the media under our laws, it is the media that project and often times reinforce public confidence in judicial action.

"This unwritten arrangement is a crucial link in every democracy and when it fails the result is anarchy."

He said now more than ever, there was an urgent need to understand the importance of this crucial relationship and make constructive efforts to optimise it.

The eminent jurist regretted that unfortunately today, there were media houses and newspapers that blatantly promote sectional interests and ideas in line with the narrower interests of their preferred constituency against the Nigerian nation.

The immediate past CJN also said if the country wanted to sustain a society built on the rule of law, public confidence in the judiciary must be restored.

Stating that despite the occasional disagreement, he noted that a free press and an independent judiciary must work together to foster a society committed to the rule of law.

He said: "The rule of law cannot exist without open justice and deep public confidence in the judiciary and the administration of justice. And the media is essential to building and maintain that public confidence."

Musdapher said one of the features of all societies sharing a cultural commitment to the rule of law was public confidence in the justice system and the judiciary.

"Unless members of the public respect the courts that administer the law, they will not settle their disputes through the courts. They will not obey court orders."

Proffering suggestions on how to build and maintain this public confidence, the ex-CJN said there was the need to appoint competent judges who observe the highest ethical standards of integrity.

"One must educate youth and the public generally about the justice system and what judges do. One must ensure that the public has access to justice. But fundamental to maintaining and building confidence in the judiciary is publicizing what judges do," he stressed.

Admitting the crucial position of the media as intermediaries between the legal system and the people it serves, Musdapher enjoined the media to always publish balanced and fair reports at all times.

The highpoint of the event was the formal book presentation in which the dignitaries and top public functionaries participated.

The Osun State Government bought 40 copies of the book for N1m while other states however declined to name figures for copies bought.

Also speaking at the event, BarristerJimoh Ibrahim formally paid glowing tributes to Justice Musdpaher and said he had no doubt that the knowledge of the audience would be better enriched at the end of the lecture.

He, however, observed that the judiciary needed to cleanse itself saying that "the kind of decisions coming out from our courts are sometimes questionable."

He cited an example of a woman who sought and obtained an ex-parte order on behalf of her child against the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, and in the process restrained the university from proceeding with a matriculation ceremony.

He said sarcastically that one might need to get an order from the court sometimes in the future in order to co-habit with his or spouse.

His words: "I am worried, if we allow this kind of things to happen in our judicial system, we will get to nowhere."

Reviewing the book, "For Law, For Country: Conversations with the Bar and the Bench," a former newspaper editor and the immediate past information Commissioner in Edo State, Mr. Louis Odion, captured the essence of the book which he said was part of efforts "in search of more durable bench and rugged bar."

He said: "The book speaks to the bankrupt system that enables the appointment of 'Mr. Atanni Je', a deceiver in the first place along with his many conniving servitors on the bench and, of course, the unscrupulous ones in the bar ready to defend the indefensible."

Odion said a society could endure a bad law, but no community could survive a bad judge for too long. "If a law is bad, the nation ultimately looks to the good judge to interpret its crooked letter in a manner consistent with the spirit of justice."

Theoretically, the book is a compilation of 70 interviews conducted by the National Mirror newspaper in the last two years with leading voices in both the bar and the bench.

It is sub-divided into four sections. Part one deals with the 'strong and emerging voices' and Part Two is a parade of 'lawyers in academia'. Part Three deals with 'Senior Advocates of Nigeria' while Part Four is reserved for 'Judges and Justices'.

Odion noted that in the 337-page book, all the hard questions are asked and frank answers given.

Dignitaries at the event, among others, included the representatives of the Lagos State Governor BabatundeFashola, Mr. LateefIbirogba, who is the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy; Ekiti State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Hon. FunminiyiAfuye, represented the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. KayodeFayemi and the Ogun State Governor, Mr. IbikunleAmosun's representative and Commissioner for Information and Strategy, AlhajiYusuphOlaniyonu.

Others are, Hon. Sonni Anyang, who represented the AkwaIbom State Governor, Dr. GodswillAkpabio; Dr. AdelekeIpaye, the representative of the Osun State Governor, Ogbeni- RaufAregbesola; the representative of the Kano State Governor RabiuKwankwanso and the Special Assistant to the Katsina State Governor, AlhajiSadaSalisuRumah.

In attendance also were the Chief Executive Officers of NICON Insurance, NigeriaRe, Global Fleet Oil and Gas, Global Fleet Industries, NICON Luxury Hotels, Energy Bank in Ghana and Sao Tome and Principe, Newswatch Newspapers among others.

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