The onetime Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Kwara State, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Titus Olasupo Ashaolu, speaks with our JUDICIARY CORRESPONDENT, KAYODE ADEOTI, on the need for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to remain an unbiased umpire in the conduct of the 2019 general elections. He also spoke on the suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Samuel Walter Onnoghen (CJN) by President Muhammadu Buhari. Excerpts:
For some weeks now, the issue of the CJN’s suspension by the presidency has been generating debates among members of the public, what is your take about it sir?
Personally, I’m not saying CJN is not corrupt nor corrupt, this is simply because, there are charges against him. But what I see as many other persons, is, there are provision of the constitution that must be followed before such a suspension can be done. After this, then, two-third (2/3) of the National Assembly must give consent to it. Such a person, before he’s tried, a petition must have been forwarded first to the NJC. Any charge against a judicial officer must first go to the NJC who will scrutinise, query and investigate the charges before any action is taken. On this matter, the charges went straight to the CCT. The process is not good, we have three arms of government, the executive, legislature and the judiciary, none of the arms must lord itself over the other. The way I see it is like the executive is making itself Supreme over all others. At the executive level, the President cannot just be removed; there are provisions of the constitution that must be adopted. A committee of about 7 members supposed to be set up and then recommendation will be made through this committee to the National Assembly.
Will you say the way this present government fights corruption is politically inclined?
I’m not commending government with its style, there should be balancing in the war against the menace. Corruption should not be fought in such a way that people will think you’re witch-hunting or attacking the opponent, as you’re investigating those on the other side, your side should be investigated too. Charge anyone presumed guilty to court. Though all accused are presumed innocent until contrary proved. The way I also see it, government is using media to fight the war, and that is why there is always nothing more after the person accused of corruption has been arraigned in court.
There seems to be lots of tension and violence in Nigeria, especially in Kwara, Lagos states and some other places as 2019 general elections draw near, how can things be managed?
The bodies that are in charge of the election will determine largely its success. If a body like INEC do the proper thing, there will be no problem. For instance, election remains about two weeks, the Presidency now remove the head of the judiciary, that development can cause problem. The Niger-Delta people are not happy, they can cause problem there. The way the executive or legislative do things can make the election peaceful or instigate violence. Though we may not be able to rule out problem outrightly.
Looking at steps INEC is taking, especially on issues of court order, what will you say of the umpire?
INEC have to do things in a proper way, though we may not be able to judge them for now because election has not been conducted. But if they tilt toward a political party or rigging, that can cause lots of problems. For now, I cannot say they’re upright or not. During election period, there may be problem. Some of the limitations the electoral body is introducing, like the aspect of making the phone service go off during the election period, if that is done, it means all of us will be in the dark, we won’t know what is happening in other places, it is only the end result that we will see, that process will not be OK. We cannot rule out the impact of media in election, it makes things easy, when we know what is happening at various polling booths during the exercise, goes a long way to curb rigging. During the time of Mashood Kasimawo Abiola, before election was concluded, we knew what will be the result because everything was done in the open. No means of communication can cause lots of problem.
This present government said it has made remarkable success in dealing with Boko Haram insurgency…?
Till now, we still have them on rampage, I don’t think they’ve succeeded but they’re trying. Though just trying is not what is enough at this critical stage. Almost immediately he (Buhari) came in, he said the insurgency will be wiped out and that he will relocate the army barrack to Maiduguri, the abode of Boko Haram then. In fact, I thought then that within six month, Boko Haram would become a thing of the past.