Absence of inclusive society responsible for agitations- Osinbajo

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Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has attributed the upsurge in agitations in the country to the failure of the state to create an inclusive society under the existing constitutional arrangements to guarantee the security of lives, livelihoods and liberties by the agencies saddled with the responsibilities of maintaining law and order.

Prof. Osinbajo also stated that one of the greatest challenges to the national development in Nigeria today was the issue of insecurity. The Acting President who stated this Friday at the opening session of the Golden Jubilee Conference of the Nigerian Association of Law Teachers at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, Anambra State, stated that corruption had led the country to terrible depths of misery.

He said, ´In the past two years we have unearthed cases of embezzlement of public funds that show that if we could recover all that was stolen we could easily double our external reserves. That level of corruption is an existential threat to any nation.

“The abject poverty of millions in every zone of our nation, the absence of good roads, schools, hospitals, is largely because some have pocketed the common wealth. “Boko Haram for example could have cost us less-loss of lives of our brave soldiers and over 20,000 civilians- if the government and military authorities had not corruptly enriched themselves with the funds to purchase platforms, equipment, uniforms, and pay allowances.

“About 2.3 million persons in the North East are displaced from their homes and their livelihoods today, thousands of children cannot find their parents. “This is why the vast majority of our people are confused about our system of justice especially in its response to the stealing of public resources. How, for example, does it take so long to prove in court that a man earning a civil servants salary has billions in his bank accounts? The gradual loss of confidence in our administration of justice system is a real threat to social cohesion.

“Almost daily you hear on radio and read on social media how easy it is to jail a man who stole a goat or a phone within months and how difficult it is to prosecute a public officer who has stolen billions of public funds.

“Consequently we must redefine the offence of corruption and our approach to its prosecution, taking into account its profoundly destructive impact on lives and property. Such an offence is worse than homicide; it is a crime against humanity. The approach of the trials must be time bound.

“In many judicial systems more often than not in serious cases part of the reason why bail is not easily granted is because the trials are time bound and usually not longer than six weeks. Dilatory tactics on the part of lawyers is sternly viewed, adjournments are usually not allowed or if so at great financial and professional cost to the lawyers on either side.

“Today the most obvious cases of corruption are interminably delayed; indeed the strategy of many defence counsels is delay. In a recent UNODC study, about 43% of judicial officers surveyed reported that the main causes of excessive delay in our courts were “ploy by parties”, “requests for unnecessary adjournments” and “interlocutory applications to protract proceedings” and it was similarly found that most adjournments were caused by the absence of the accused, the defendant, their lawyers or of a witness.

“This suggests that the stakeholders in the justice sector are mostly responsible for the problem of delay in the administration of justice. The delays in our system of justice are becoming a source of derision of our trial system by judges in other jurisdictions.

“In 2014 for example, an English Court of Appeal decision- IPCO (Nigeria) Limited v. Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation [2014] EWHC 576 (Comm), the Court ruled that a pending challenge in a Nigerian court to a US$340 million award should not be a bar to enforcement in London, because the Nigerian proceedings could take “up to a generation” to be resolved. The Court also described the Nigerian judicial system as being bedeviled by “catastrophic” delays.

“Our system of justice is clearly under siege; most of it is self-inflicted – delays by counsel, weak control of proceedings by courts, and corrupt practices, a subject which in and of itself is a matter of serious concern. “We as law teachers must ask ourselves whether our legal system can survive and serve its purposes to society without a serious and incisive rethink and reconsideration.

“So, how should the state react to our other security challenges, the Boko Haram terrorist activities in the North East, tensions in the Niger Delta, herdsmen and farmer clashes, and threats of secession and counter threats of forced excision. In addition are the overarching issues of poverty, unemployment and corruption.

“First we must recognize that a lot of these agitations center around the alleged failures of the state to create an inclusive society under existing constitutional arrangements, to guarantee the security of lives, livelihoods and liberties by the agencies charged with maintaining law and order and to build trust around the rule of law and the system of administration of justice.

Agitations and absence of inclusive society

“First, on the matter of inclusion and inequalities, there is little doubt in my mind that the provision of the basics of life to the largest number of our people remains the greatest source of tension in the polity.

“The daily struggles of many, for healthcare, a means of livelihood and the absence of a socially just means of ensuring that many, especially young people, have access to education and jobs provides a constantly replenished pool of young malcontents, ready to be recruited into any sort of Army, whether it be of kidnappers, terrorists, or violent or antisocial agitation for one cause or the other.

“Besides, the constant agitation for share of national resources, is a product of individual-elite- deprivation, taken up by ethnic nationalities and socio-cultural groups. Each group views the other with suspicion when it comes to matters of resources, and government appointments.

“As it is at the Federal level, so it is at the State level. In my state for example, the Egba and Ijebus in Ogun State are constantly arguing over who is getting a better deal in government appointments or infrastructural development.

“Unfortunately, in order to give our campaigns greater acceptability and resonance, we often characterize them as ethnic or religious agitation. The right to a decent existence, to education, healthcare or jobs must not depend on how loudly my ethnic or religious group agitates; no, these are my rights as a citizen of Nigeria.

“It is the failure of the State to deliver on these essentials of life and livelihood that compels our people to run to their tribal and religious camps to seek succour by way of agitation for basic rights and services.

“Unfortunately, it is the same elite especially the political elite, who fail the people by the wastage and embezzlement of their funds who are at the forefront of pretending that their deprivations are caused by other ethnic nationalities. Hunger, poverty not a tribal, religious issue “Having gone round this nation to its villages and settlements, everywhere in the course of the campaigns, and after, there is no doubt in my mind that poverty has the same character in Bodinga Local Government in Sokoto State as in Ayanmelum Local Government here in Anambra state; poverty on an Ibo man is not more dignified than on a Hausa Fulani man. Hunger is neither a tribal or religious issue. “o the question for us is how to resolve these issues. First is to place responsibility where it rightly belongs.

“It is the business of government, by that I mean the executive, legislature and judiciary to provide the enabling environment for the quality of life that people expect.

“Indeed the constitutional obligation to do so is clear. Section 14(2 ) (a) says that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through the Constitution derives all its powers and authority ; and assures that (b) the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. This is crucial.

“Whereas the classic overriding obligation of the State is Security our constitution places Security and Welfare on the same pedestal as the primary purposes of government. “Coming from this perspective, the fundamental objective must become the founding principle for legislation, executive action and the observance and enforcement of the rule of law.

“For example, the provision of section 16(1) (b), 16(2)(b) and (d) which provide respectively as follows: “the control of the national economy(shall be) in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice, equality of status and opportunity; (b) that the material resources of the Nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good; (d) that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare for the disabled are provided for all citizens.”

“These directive principles must be regarded as justiciable in order to realize the Nigerian dream. “It is the duty of our association to champion this important pillar of our national development. Governments must be compelled to show by budgetary provision and executive action how they have complied with this constitutional imperative. Often in government, the issue of how to adequately provide for the poor, create jobs and welfare for those who cannot work becomes an ideological debate.

“The classical view had always won the argument namely that when you enable private commerce and industry, jobs will be created and that direct job creation and social welfare schemes are wasteful and achieve little. This is the so called trickle down approach.

“However in the current Federal Government the argument is being won by those who believe that government has a central role to play in the provision of social welfare. That extreme poverty is not only immoral, it should be illegal.

 

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