Eminent Nigerians, including former Nigeria’s head of state, General Yakubu Gowon; former President Olusegun, Ekiti State Governor Biodun Oyebanji, and Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, yesterday urged the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to lead the war against corruption in Nigeria.
They spoke in Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, during the colloquium organised to mark Afe Babalola’s 60th year at the bar. They also extolled the virtues of elder statesman, Aare Babalola (SAN) as he celebrated his diamond jubilee at the bar. The legal luminary is founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti (ABUAD).
At the well-attended event, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah delivered a lecture entitled, “The future of constitutional democracy in Nigeria: Imperative of a new constitutional order”.
Kukah stated that corruption thrived in the last administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari just as he lamented that Nigeria is sharing its sovereignty with bandits and other terrorists. He said that Nigerians witnessed the worst phase of corruption under the last administration.
Bishop Kukah noted that even though corruption did not start under the last administration, it amplified the scourge in various ways. “We have seen the worst phase of corruption in Nigeria. Femi Falana, my friend here, will speak about that because he has published a series of articles talking about what happened under the Buhari administration. They were not the ones who caused corruption, but I think in the last administration, we saw the ugliest phase of corruption whether in moral terms, financial terms and other terms,” Kukah said.
The clergyman lamented that Nigeria is sharing its sovereignty with bandits and other terrorists, adding that nobody is excited now about being a Nigerian – whether they are the president or senators – as the country is literally being held hostage by people who threaten the very existence of our country and the nation’s democracy.
Kukah noted that a lot of Nigerians have lost faith in the judiciary, but added that he considers the judiciary a victim the same way every other institution in Nigeria is suffering a crisis, saying the “last administration left the country in a mess”.
The bishop said it is time to rebuild the country, adding that no matter what happens at the Supreme Court concerning the election, he is convinced that Nigerians have put the “ugly past” behind them. On his part, Falana also decried the level of corruption in the country, urging the president to take action.
He said, “The level of corruption in Nigeria has assumed a very dangerous dimension. We have a situation whereby highly placed public officers steal money meant for building hospitals, people are dying on our roads, money for ecology meant to fight erosion are also being stolen. “President Bola Tinubu must show leadership and lead an anti- corruption crusade. Wrong signal must not be sent to the people and the international community”.
This is just as Obasanjo again accused members of the National Assembly of giving to themselves hefty salary packages. Obasanjo further stated that democracy will not be appreciated in the absence of good governance. “Democracy doesn’t mean anything to any man who is hungry, whose life is in danger or whose property is being destroyed.”
On the remuneration of federal lawmakers, he said: “By the Nigerian Constitution, the revenue mobilisation and fiscal commission was supposed to fix their salaries and emoluments but they set the constitution aside and decided to fix their own salaries. Even if it is constitutional, it is not moral; it is neither constitutional nor moral.”
Obasanjo also applauded Afe Babalola for his contributions to the development of Nigeria, saying that he has impacted many lives and made things better than he met them. The former president said he had learned from Babalola a lot as a man who never rested even after many years at the bar, establishing a university and making it one of the leading universities in the country.
“That is a lesson that we should all learn whatever we are given to do and whatever we agree to do, or whatever we make up our mind to do, we should put the best of ourselves into it and make it the best that it can be. You have made this university the best that any university can be in Nigeria, I appreciate that,” he said.
On his part, former head of state General Gowon and Obasanjo described Babalola as an elder statesman who has contributed greatly to the development of Nigeria.
Afe Babalola, in his submission, said the country needs a new constitution that will make all parts of the country develop at their pace, “a true constitution without regional bias”. The legal luminary also suggested that Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) and retired judges should be engaged to handle election petitions and not sitting judges.
According to the nonagenarian Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), judges who preside over election tribunals should be separate from regular court judges to avoid the halting of cases unrelated to elections. The legal luminary further said the judiciary needs a total overhaul.
“Our judiciary today needs a total overhaul and you cannot do it without a new constitution,” he said. “I have about three cases myself in respect of matters arising from the university. For the past four years, these cases have been on. We have some judges here, the headquarters won’t be able to sit for many months because they are handling what they call election petitions. Election petitions should not be handled by sitting judges, they should be decided only by the committee set up consisting of senior advocates and retired judges; in that case regular courts would not close down,” Babalola stated.
The event attracted a host of dignitaries including former President Obasanjo, Lagos lawyer and rights activist, Mr Femi Falana, SAN; former Commonwealth Secretary-General Emeka Anyaoku, Ekiti State Governor Biodun Oyebanji, former SGF, Yayale Ahmed; former minister of justice and attorney general, Akin Olujimi (SAN), former Ekiti state governor Chief Segun Oni, traditional rulers, members bar and bench among others among others.