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Corruption: Obasanjo lambasts NJC, says NASS stinks more

•Reveals secret probe of about 40 judicial officers •Says about $30billion foreign loans will mortgage Nigeria's future •Tells Buhari to fix economy, stop blaming past administrations

FORMER President Olusegun Obasanjo has lambasted the National Judicial Council, blaming it for corruption in the judiciary.

The judiciary has been widely criticised for being involved in corrupt practices in recent times, especially after the recent arrest of judges.

Obasanjo did not also spare the National Assembly, asking rhetorically, if the Judiciary is being cleaned, what of the National Assembly, which stinks much worse than the Judiciary?

Obasanjo said “budget padding must not go unpunished. It is a reality, which is a regular and systemic practice. Nobody should pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians.”

However, Obasanjo charged that “the good eggs within the Judiciary must be proud of themselves and we must not only be proud of them but also protect them and their integrity.”

Former President Obasanjo, delivering the keynote at the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture, also advised President Muhammadu Buhari administration to stop blaming the past administration for national woes, saying it is the leader’s duties to clear off inherited mess in the system.

Stressing matters concerning the judiciary, Obasanjo said three weeks before the first three judges were arrested for corruption, he was talking to a fairly senior retired public officer who told him ‘The Judiciary is gone, the National Assembly is gone, the military is sunk and the civil service was gone before them; God save Nigeria.’

Obasanjo said he could only reply with a loud amen.

It was three weeks after the encounter he said the process of saving the Judiciary began.

Obasanjo, who gave a startling revelation on what may soon befall the judiciary, said “if what I have gathered is anything to go by, there may be not less than two score of judicial officers that may have questions to answer.”

He said “that will be salutary for the Judiciary and for the nation.”

AS he said: “Let me comment on recent issues concerning corruption and accountability. Three weeks before the first three judges were arrested for corruption, I was talking to a fairly senior retired public officer who put things this way, ‘The Judiciary is gone, the National Assembly is gone, the military is sunk and the civil service was gone before them; God save Nigeria.’

“I said a loud Amen. Three weeks later, the process of saving the Judiciary began. And if what I have gathered is anything to go by, there may be not less than two score of judicial officers that may have questions to answer. That will be salutary for the Judiciary and for the Nation.

Obasanjo, who said he felt concerned for the method used in the arrest of judges, however, blamed the National Judicial Council for corruption in judiciary, saying there would be no better option if there would be clemency in the system.

“While one would not feel unconcerned for the method used, one should also ask if there was an alternative. The National Judicial Council, NJC, would not do anything as it was all in-breeding. As now contained in our Constitution, the President of Nigeria cannot influence or make any appointment to the Judiciary at the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court level,” Obasanjo said.

He faulted the system and constitutional back up for NJC which Obasanjo said limits presidential powers on matters concerning the judiciary.

According to Obasanjo, “He (the President) can only transmit the decision of the NJC to the Senate even where Senate confirmation is required. The Constitution which was heavily influenced by the Judiciary ensured that. And yet a drastic disease requires a drastic treatment. When justice is only for sale and can only be purchased by the highest bidder, impunity and anarchy would be the order of the day and no one would be safe.

“A drastic action was needed to save the situation, albeit one would have preferred an alternative that would serve the same purpose, if there was one. In the absence of that alternative, we must all thank God for giving the President the wisdom, courage and audacity for giving the security agencies the leeway to act. And where a mistake was made in the action taken, correction must take place with an apology, if necessary.

“There is virtually no corrupt Judge without being aided by a member of the bar. The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, has the responsibility to clean up its own house and help with the cleaning of the Judiciary. It is heartening though that some members of the NBA have recently called for judicial reform. Such reform must be deep, comprehensive and entail constitutional amendments as appointment and disciplines of Judges are concerned.

“May God continue to imbue the Executive with the necessary wisdom and courage to clean the dirty stable of the Judiciary and the Bar for the progress and the image of our Nation. It must also be said that the good eggs within the Judiciary must be proud of themselves and we must not only be proud of them but also protect them and their integrity.

“If the Judiciary is being cleaned, what of the National Assembly which stinks much worse than the Judiciary? Budget padding must not go unpunished. It is a reality, which is a regular and systemic practice. Nobody should pull wool over the eyes of Nigerians.”

Speaking on the present administration, Obasanjo advised President Buhari to stop dwelling on the past, rather, he should concentrate on clearing the inherited mess.

“Now that we have had change because the actors and the situation needed to be changed, let us move forward to have progress through a comprehensive economic policy and programme that is intellectually, strategically and philosophically based.

“It is easier to win an election than to right the wrongs of a badly fouled situation. When you are outside, what you see and know is nothing compared with the reality.

“And yet once you are on seat, you have to clear the mess and put the nation on the path of rectitude, development and progress leaving no group or section out of your plan, programme and policy and efforts. The longer it takes, the more intractable the problem may become.”

Obasanjo also faulted Buhari’s plans to take about $30billion loan.

“I am sure that such a comprehensive policy and programme (that will move Nigeria forward) will not support borrowing US$30 billion in less than three years. It will give us the short-, medium- and long-term picture.

“Adhocry is not the answer but cold, hard headed planning that evinces confidence and trust is the answer. Economy neither obeys orders nor does it work according to wishes. It must be worked upon with all factors considered and most stakeholders involved.

“The investors, domestic and foreign, are no fools and they know what is going on with the management of the economy including the foreign exchange and they are not amused. The Central Bank must be restored to its independence and integrity. We must be careful and watchful of the danger of shortermism.

“Short-term may be the enemy of medium- and long-term. We must also make allowance for the lessons that most of us in democratic dispensation have learned and which the present administration seems to be just learning.”

Obasanjo warned against mortgaging of the country’s future with needless borrowing, saying “if we borrow some thirty billion dollars in less than three years, we would have mortgaged the future of Nigeria for well over thirty years to come.”

“Again, now we are being told the projects will pay themselves when we know damn well they will not. If we borrow some thirty billion dollars in less than three years, we would have mortgaged the future of Nigeria for well over thirty years to come.

“There may also be the problem of absorptive capacity which will surely lead to waste. A careful scrutiny of the projects with prioritisation and avoidance of waste and taking into account avoiding bunching of debt service in future especially when no one can accurately forecast the global and national economy will indicate less than thirty per cent of the foreign loan being requested as prudent.

“We must not be unmindful of internal borrowing either. It impacts somewhat differently on the economy but it must not be allowed to crowd out the ability of the private sector to borrow to grow the real economy which is to lead us out of the recession.

“We must be hard and harsh on those who stay outside, whether they are Nigerians or expatriates, and piece inside our economic house through smuggling, dumping and cheating on duty payment and lying on custom classification. We must make our neighbours realise that encouragement of acts to undermine our economy by allowing their countries to be used a smuggling route and dumping grounds for entries of unwanted commodities into Nigeria will be treated as an act of hostility.

“We must be ready to close our borders with such neighbours to protect our economy. We must also empower customs to close the shops and factories of cheaters and immigration to deport hostile expatriates within our midst. The act of underpinning and destroying our economy should be regarded as an act of hostility and treated as such.

“If we do not fix the economy to relieve the pain and anguish of many Nigerians, the gain in fighting insurgency and corruption will pale into insignificance.”

Read full text of Obasanjo’s speech: Nigeria Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Governance and Accountability