Judiciary helpless when it comes to government – SERAP

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Tokunboh Mumuni is the founder of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). He was called to Bar in 1990, after which he was trained by late Mrs. Bisi Olateru-Olagbegi.
In this interview, he speaks about the Department of State Services (DSS) invasion of the National Assembly (NASS), the organs of government, among other issues. Excerpts
What is your reaction to the invasion of the NASS by DSS?
Tokunboh Mumuni: In a democracy there are three arms of government. The legislative arm, judicial arm and the executive. None of the arms should act either directly or indirectly, whether subtly or not, to constitute a threat to the activities of the other arms. That to me is what is important about a democracy.
I learned that the police said they were not involved. With the sacking of the DG DSS, it means that it was the DSS that masterminded it. As things turned out, the DSS had no authority to embark on such action, and such should not have been permitted.
SERAP has issued out a number of ultimatums. What has become of them? 
Mumuni: When we issue ultimatum, it is either what we have demanded for is met or not, and we go to court. We are in a number of court cases, based on ultimatums we have issued.
SERAP’s last ultimatum was on the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun. What is the update on that?
Mumuni: In the case of Kemi Adeosun, we first of all wrote that in matters of this nature, the appropriate government establishment (NYSC) must talk to Nigerians. It is not fitting that a government that talks about accountability should now grow quiet in a matter as weighty as the alleged forgery of a certificate. We now wrote to the NYSC that unless they speak to Nigerians on what is happening, we will go to court. Then we demanded for her certificate from the NYSC. We went to NYSC to produce the certificate, and since they failed, we have gone to court on this particular issue.
What about the minister? Is she not the one who is supposed to submit her certificate? 
Mumuni: The news around town is that the minister submitted a certificate which is alleged to be false. Because the woman graduated at the age of 22, there is no basis for her to ask for exemption. The law is that if you are below 30 years, you have to serve and if she asked for exemption, she would not have been qualified and the certificate that was issued would have been through some subterfuge. The NYSC has no reason to grant her one. It is either the certificate was forged or it was issued in unconscionable and terrible error.
Would you say that the judiciary is well funded?
Mumuni: The funding of any organ of government is a matter of competing needs. No arm of government can have all the funds that it completely needs to operate. The next question is how do we prioritize out of the competing needs?
In Nigeria, we have continued to do terrible prioritisation. I believe that money spent on judiciary can never be money wasted. That is why government must take from other irrelevances that they spend on. For example, allowances of political hangers on. All those monies in those places that are not too important should be diverted to finance the judiciary. I am not saying that all monies should be used to finance the judiciary. But we have to start setting our priorities right.
In view of the siege on the NASS, should lawmakers be given immunity so that they can perform their functions?
Mumuni: It is not the lack of immunity that will not allow the law makers do their work. Let us first of all come to terms with what the work of lawmakers is. I don’t see the invasion of the NASS as a hinderance to the work of the lawmakers. Remember that the President called them back to look at some important matters and that took them three weeks. If it were matters that directly affects them, they won’t go on vacation. These lawmakers have passed eleven bills within an hour if you look at their trajectory. So, why would you go on vacation when it should be in two days’ time. Things could still have been done within two days. Let us first be sure that the senators are ready to do their work. I don’t support immunity for them. All over the world, immunity has never been granted to any law-making institution.
Do you agree that all the legislative time the Senate President spent in the courts and the Code of Conduct Tribunal, before he was finally exonerated at the Supreme Court would have been used to do better things?
Mumuni: Those entitled to immunity all over the world are the executive, never the legislature. The 1999 constitution says that when the Senate President is not there, the Deputy Senate President can act and when both of them are not there, members may choose another Senator for proceedings. So, there is no basis for immunity for legislators.
Our courts go on vacation during public holidays. In view of the court congestion, do you agree that the vacation is too long?
Mumuni: That has been there since colonial period. In judiciaries all over the world, vacations are taken. What I don’t want is the use of precious judicial time in attending conferences and valedictory services. What I would prefer would be, if there would be conferences put it at 4: 00pm and any other ceremonies you can put it at weekends. That to me is the appropriate thing to do, because any system is about the people.
Do you agree that the trial of Bukola Saraki was a waste of public fund?
Mumuni: In criminal matters, cost is never awarded, unlike a civil case, because you will be penalizing the State. In criminal matters, the principle is that time does not run against the State. The State is entitled to pursue the matter.
We are going into a new legal year. What is your assessment of the 2017/2018 legal year?
Mumuni: The judiciary is trying to pull its weight. When President Buhari started, he said that the Judiciary was his headache. Now the judiciary is performing  its responsibilities under the law. Nobody expects a rubber stamp judiciary. If the President was expecting a rubber stamp judiciary, that is not the way to go when matters are brought before the court. The symbol of justice is a blindfolded person holding a balance scale. That is to say that he does not even see the person before him. Matters should be decided based on evidence presented before the court.
Compared to what Buhari said when he came in, the judiciary is now pulling its weight and doing its work according to law. When the judiciary makes a pronouncement against the government, it is doing its work. For example, SERAP has obtained series of judgments concerning matters that affect the federal government, but they have not obeyed.
Does this mean that the courts are helpless? Look at the case of Dasuki and El Zak-Zaky, and now SERAP. Is that not impunity?
Mumuni: Impunity on the part of the government who had a case against it and is not complying with the order of the court. So, the federal government is guilty. The judiciary must be seen to be working and I see that the judiciary is working. But the Judiciary is helpless when it comes to the government side. In matters between citizens they deliver their judgments and it is enforced. In matters between SERAP and government, the machinery for enforcement still belongs to the executive. Late Gani Fawehinmi obtained judgments against government and found a way of enforcing it. But not all lawyers are like Gani Fawehinmi.
Some people believe that government is not sincere in its anti-corruption war. How do you view this?
Mumuni: Sincerity of the government is a matter of fact. But the narrative that the government is witch-hunting the opposition, the question would be, do you have anything to hide? Anybody that has done anything that is criminal should be prosecuted, regardless of party affiliation.
It is because we have failed to enforce our laws over time that Niger Delta took us for a ride. We gave them immunity and Boko Haram came. We should see crime as crime.
We must form the habit of enforcing our laws at all times, and when we do that, we can say that we have a working system.
What is your take on the Unexplained Wealth Order (UWO)?
Mumuni: I don’t believe that we are not ripe for the UWO. My concern is, are we ready to apply UWO against all persons, so that we don’t leave room for speculations?
Culled from dailytrust