Senior Advocates of Nigeria, civil society organisations and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party have said the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), should be ready to account for his actions when he leaves office next year.
Their views came as a response to the President’s statement during his interview on Channels Television on Wednesday that anybody who asks him to come and give any evidence in any court when he leaves office would be in trouble because he already made sure all important issues are on record.
Asked by his interviewers what comes to his mind about 2023 elections, he said, “It’s not my problem.” Asked further if he had no interest in who succeeds him, he said, “No, let him come whoever it is. All important things I made sure are on record.
“Nobody should ask me to come and give any evidence in any court, otherwise, whoever it is would be in trouble because all important things are on record. I made sure about that. Important issues are all on record.”
But in their separate reactions on Friday, some senior advocates of Nigeria including Mr Femi Falana, Mr Ifedayo Adedipe, Mr Mike Ozekhome and Mr Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, said the constitution does not give immunity to former presidents, and so Buhari should be ready to be questioned when he leaves office.
Falana said he believed Buhari was misquoted in that part of the interview, noting further that the orders that could not be enforced against him at the moment because of his immunity would be enforced when he leaves office. He stressed that the President would be called to account locally and internationally.
Making reference to a recent report by The Guardian titled, ‘BPP kicks against award of ICTN contract to medical firm’, Falana said while still in office enjoying immunity from prosecution Buhari was already being indicted by a Federal Government agency.
The Guardian report quoted the BPP as describing as “embarrassing and illegal” the alleged award of the contract for the International Cargo Tracking Note to a health care firm. According to the report, the BPP maintained that the award of the contract breached the Public Procurement Act 2007.
Falana also made reference to several court judgments secured by an anti-corruption group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, against the Buhari regime.
He said, “Right now, he (Buhari) is already being called upon to give account not to talk of after he leaves office. These orders are going to be enforced.
“More accountability cases are likely to be filed between now and 2023 and thereafter. In view of the avalanche of petitions alleging extrajudicial killings by security forces, the Special Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is likely to open investigations that may implicate top officials of the Federal Government.
“While he is still in power, even the BPP is indicting him. People have gone to court to say, ‘You and (Rotimi) Amaechi can’t award this contract.’ Now he enjoys immunity; when he is out of office, he won’t enjoy any immunity. So, he should be expecting to be called upon to give account. And if the records are there, he will have to come forward to present the records. Those records are not in the public domain.
“Many of the times you request for information under FOI (Freedom of Information Act), they won’t reply. So, how can he say the records are there?”
Falana added that if nobody was in trouble “even now that he (Buhari) is in office enjoying immunity and has all the forces, instruments of oppression and intimidation and people are suing him, demanding accountability, when he is no longer in power, his immunity would have expired, so he could be called to account (for his actions) locally and internationally.”
Similarly, Adegboruwa told Saturday PUNCH that the President was already trying to blackmail his successor, noting that when occupants of the position of the President, Vice-President, Governor and Deputy Governor are automatically stripped of the immunity granted under section 308 of the constitution and they could be summoned by any court, according to the section 6 of the constitution.
He said,” What the President has said is purely emotional blackmail and is using style to threaten his successor, which is unexpected of a President that claims to be fighting corruption. The person fighting corruption cannot himself be running away from investigation or probe because that would be inconsistent with the President’s open declaration to be ahead in anti-corruption fight.
“The immunity granted to him is limited while in office, and once he concludes his tenure he can be arrested, like every other citizen. There is no law that protects an ex-public officer from being summoned by the court to give evidence or account of their tenure.
Under section 6 of our constitution, the courts are given the right and power to exercise jurisdiction over any citizen, and once the President completes his tenure in 2023, he should be expecting that a lot of times, he would be summoned to account for his tenure; the railway project, Chinese loans, humongous amount spent on electricity and we are only getting darkness and a lot of things the President has to account for, so he should be ready. As a matter of fact, he should be ready.”
Adegboruwa noted that in the countries Nigeria copied its democracy from, some presidents had had to waive their immunity to be probed. “I think if the President has nothing to hide, he should be the first person to attend court if there is any matter that seeks to interrogate his tenure in office.”
Also, Adedipe said Buhari could be compelled to appear before a law court after leaving office.
He added, “I don’t want to agree that he does not want to be held accountable, of course he can be compelled to appear in court after his tenure ends. He can be summoned, the law of evidence permits that, and the constitution does not extend the immunity to after office.”
Also, Ozekhome said the statement made by the President showed a mindset of disdain for the rule of law and was unacceptable.
He added, “President Muhammadu Buhari loses his immunity enshrined in section 308 of the 1999 Constitution by May 29, 2023. He becomes an ordinary citizen liable to be subpoenaed to ‘answer any questions’ from any court of law. He can never run away from it. He said all important things are on record. It’s all well and good. But where clarifications or evidence are required, he is subject to being invited like any other citizen to come with answers.
“Indeed, he is more obligated than other citizens because he is the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This kind of statement shows a mindset of disdain for the rule of law and due process. It is not acceptable at all. I humbly condemn it.”
Meanwhile, 83-year-old senior advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke, said the President had the impetus to say such because no former Nigerian President had been questioned after leaving office.
He said, “It is a tricky situation. Normally if a President resigns or leaves office and does many things wrong, the succeeding government can call him to come and account for what he did while in office but because it has not happened maybe that is why the President is feeling that way.
“For instance, he said a former President spent billions of naira on power and he asked the question where the electricity is now. We know the president he was referring to and today he hasn’t called on him.
“Another angle is that he is sure of himself that he has not stolen and he doesn’t need to be called upon. But don’t take it as the correct version of what can happen.”
Speaking to the fact that none of the ex-presidents had been invited to account for their actions, Adegboruwa said it was due to the conspiracy between the elite and the leaders. He said any president that has nothing to hide should be able to extend its probe to anybody.
He stated, “The fact that no ex-president has been brought to book as is being done with Jacob Zuma in South Africa and in other places shows that there is a conspiracy between the elite and our leaders and there is no difference indeed between them.
“They only use the political parties to pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians and create seeming division, but when it comes to protecting themselves, looting and personal benefits, they rise up to protect themselves. That is the indication, not that there is any law that forbids any ex-president from being summoned.
“It is to show that the people who succeed their predecessors are also in the same game and even probably worse, and so the fear is that if they do it to their predecessors, their successor would also do it to them. So, the fact that no sitting president has dared any ex-president means therefore that no president has been clean. Otherwise, if you have nothing to hide, you should be able to extend your probe to anybody, including ex-presidents.”
CSOs disagree with President
Some civil society groups have also expressed reservations over the President’s statement.
The Deputy Director, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Kolawole Oluwadare, who cited section 308(1)(3) of the Constitution, explained that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) does not give immunity to any president or governor once of office. He noted that the probe and prosecution of former South African President, Jacob Zuma, after he left office should be a good example for Nigeria.
He said, “Immunity leads to impunity, which is antithetical to the fundamental principles of the rule of law. Accountability of political leaders whether during the period of office or when out of office is entirely consistent with the Nigerian Constitution, international human rights and anti-corruption treaties to which Nigeria is a state party.
“The South African example shows that it is good practice for citizens to demand accountability from their leaders. In South Africa, a panel of inquiry chaired by senior judge Raymond Zondo was established in 2018 to examine allegations of high-level graft during Zuma’s nine years in power from 2009.”
“Nigeria cannot and should not be an exception. In 2023, the tenure of the President (Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.)) and several state governors will come to an end. It will serve the rule of law and public interests for Nigerians to seek accountability for how these high-ranking public officers discharged their constitutional oaths of office.”
He said further that all high-ranking public officials, including presidents and state governors, since 1999 should be ready, willing and available to account for the management of public resources during their administration. This, he said, would send a powerful message to incoming leaders that the public office is a public trust, and that rendering account is part and parcel of the job.”
Oluwadare added, “One important legacy President Buhari can leave is to urgently propose a constitutional amendment for the removal of the immunity clause in the Nigerian Constitution, so that citizens can pursue cases touching on allegations of corruption against sitting presidents and governors.” ,, “This is consistent entirely with the notions of the rule of law and the public trust.”
Also, the convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said the President would be held accountable after leaving office whether he likes it or not, adding that it was obvious the President was looking for a successor that would not probe his government.
He said, “What the President has done is in two folds. First, he does not want to show accountability and take responsibility. One thing we must tell the President is that he has said his own but we would hold him accountable for all of his deeds. They would either hunt or justify him.”
The Coordinator of the Northern Alliance Movement, Yahuza Getso, also described the President’s statement as shameful, saying it’s a subtle warning to his successor not to probe him.
He added, “This is a subtle way of warning his successor against probing him. This is the same way he clamped down on those critical of his administration. It is obvious a lot is wrong in his administration.
“He has not respected the rule of law, there is corruption going on under his watch and there is total failure in all the sectors. He would be held accountable for all these. He’s the one Nigerians voted for. That subtle warning won’t stand. It is a shameful statement.”
The Executive Director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre, Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said accountability is a two-way thing and Nigerians have a right to demand accountability after Buhari leaves office.
She noted, “The people can hold him accountable; it’s not a matter of choice. The President cannot bar the rule of law from taking its course after his exit. The best advice for him is to leave a legacy in the minds of the people that will be long-lasting; the time is now because not much time is left.”
Also speaking with one of our correspondents, the Director Media and Advocacy, The Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education, Armsfree Ajanaku, said, the President must understand that bequeathing a free, fair and credible general elections in 2023 is one achievement he must strive to record for posterity sake.
Ajanaku said this should be Buhari’s primary focus and not avoiding accountability after office.
“On whether he does not want to be accountable after office, it is not just about keeping records. Those who held office at his pleasure may claim that what they did was at the President’s behest. If such instances come up, the President must be prepared to let the nation know the truth about what transpired. He can’t just say he would stay aloof and offer no explanation should it be needed,” Ajanaku added.
The President, Ecumenical Youths Association, Daboikiabo Warmate, also said the President could not avoid giving account of his stewardship after his tenure, adding that since he claims to be a man of integrity, he ought to welcome such a probe.
Warmate added, “We will demand explanation on those things we have been silent about during his time as President. Buhari has only one option and that is to give Nigerians explanations for all his failed promises. Also, the President’s admittance of his age affecting his performance is quite true, with what Nigerians are going through.
“The question is, did Mr President not know that age is not on his side before offering himself for such gigantic responsibility? Nigerians need to learn from this. Mr President’s response to the question about what comes to his mind about 2023 elections is quite unfortunate.
“We are not asking for a successor from Mr President but an electoral process that will address the issue of voter apathy. It’s a good thing that the President does not have interest in who succeeds him because of what Nigerians have experienced. When he leaves office, as always we will hear the truth about all the truth and lies told Nigerians during his tenure.”
Buhari never takes responsibility – PDP
Meanwhile, the PDP has said it is not surprised by the President’s plan not to take responsibility since he had revealed that as an old man, he works only between six to eight hours a day thereby leaving his job to others to do.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Debo Ologunagba, said, “His statement shows a man who does not like to take responsibility, whether on matters of security or economy, and he is never aware of anything. Even when people are dying, he says he is not aware. He is never aware. He works only six to eight hours a day and that is why the country is comatose.
“The job of a President is 24/7 and that is why when his phone rings at 3am, he is expected to answer the call. But sadly for Nigeria, we have a President who works only for about six hours.”
SOURCE: THE PUNCH