Nigeria: Amid graft trial, chief justice suspended

             By Rafiu Ajakaye</p>    <p>LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday suspended the country’s chief justice amid controversies surrounding his ongoing corruption trial.</p>    <p>Buhari said the suspension followed an order Thursday of the tribunal which said Walter Onnoghen should step down and appear in court to plead to charges that he failed to declare some of his bank accounts and operated foreign accounts contrary to the laws governing public service.</p>    <p>In a speech, the president condemned Onnoghen for allegedly using his office to frustrate his trial, amid different courts giving rulings to halt the proceedings, saying such injunctions erode public confidence in the judiciary, warning “chaos” could ensue.</p>    <p>“Nigeria is a constitutional democracy and no one must be, or be seen to be, above the law. Unfortunately, the drama around the trial of the chief justice of Nigeria has challenged that pillar of justice in the perception of the ordinary man on the street,” the president said in Abuja, the capital.</p>    <p>“For it is certain that no ordinary Nigerian can get the swift and special treatment Justice Onnoghen has enjoyed from his subordinates and privies in our judicature.<br> <br> “In the midst of all these distracting events, the essential question of whether the accused actually has a case to answer has been lost.”<br> <br> The suspension came hours after Onnoghen said in a statement that he had not resigned from office. The government had told the tribunal that the chief justice should stand down for the trial to begin. </p>  <p>Buhari has already sworn in justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammed as acting chief justice in a step likely to draw mixed reactions from the legal community and political opposition, which had been supporting Onnoghen.</p>    <p>The trial and suspension of the chief justice adds to the long list of controversial steps Buhari has taken to tackle corruption in Nigeria since he came to power in 2015, with critics insisting he lacks respect for due process.</p>    <p>In 2015, Buhari’s administration charged the senate’s president with corruption, although he was later acquitted. In 2016, secret police made mass arrests of senior judges for alleged corruption.

Nigeria's former defense chief shot dead

            By Rafiu Ajakaye</p>  <p> LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) - Nigeria’s former defense chief Alex Badeh has been shot dead by gunmen near the country's capital, an Air Force spokesman said late Tuesday. <br>

“It is with a heavy heart that I regretfully announce the unfortunate demise of former Chief of Defense Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, who died today, 18 December 2018, from gunshot wounds sustained when his vehicle was attacked while returning from his farm along Abuja-Keffi Road,” Ibikunle Daramola, an air commodore, said in a statement.

“On behalf of officers, airmen and airwomen of the Nigerian Air Force, the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Abubakar Siddique, commiserates with the family of [Badeh] over this irreparable loss.”

Badeh was until his death one of the top army generals standing trial for corruption for allegedly siphoning arms funds meant to prosecute Nigeria’s counterinsurgency war.

He was first slapped with a 10-count charge of criminal breach of trust, abuse of office and money laundering in 2015 as the government of President Muhammadu Buhari investigated military spending under former president Goodluck Jonathan.

The corruption charges — a first against military brass in Nigeria — were later revised to a 14-count charge in July 2018 when the country's anti-graft body re-arraigned him. He pled not guilty to the charges.

The police are yet to issue any statement on the killing.

Nigeria's finance minister resigns over scandal

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Nigeria’s finance minister has resigned after a government panel confirmed allegations that she had submitted a forged National Youth Service certificate of exemption to the government before being appointed to her position.

Femi Adesina, a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari, said in a statement late Friday that the president has accepted the resignation of British-born Kemi Adeosun, who has been under pressure to step down after a local news website alleged that she had forged the certificate.

“The president thanked the minister for her service to the nation and wished her well in her future pursuits,” Adesina said in a terse statement, hours after the rumor broke of Adeosun’s resignation.

Minister of State Budget and National Planning Zainab Ahmed has been asked to oversee the key ministry, according to the statement.

A certificate from the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is required for anyone entering or being appointed to a civil service or public service career.

In her letter of resignation to the president, Adeosun said the exemption certificate had been received from a third party she thought had validly obtained it from the NYSC, a post-civil war initiative to unite the deeply fractured country.

The mandatory national service scheme was established in the 1970s shortly after Nigeria fought a bloody civil war that lasted three years. The war followed attempts by the ethnic Igbo to secede from Nigeria, but it was crushed by federal troops.

Established as a way of healing the nation’s wounds, it involves posting college graduates of the country’s south to the north and vice versa to deepen national cohesion.

It is mandatory for all college graduates below the age of 30, while fresh graduates above the age threshold are required to get an exemption certificate instead.

Having lived and studied in the United Kingdom until she was 34 years old when she first visited Nigeria, Adeosun insisted that she had never set out to deceive the country but had been misled into submitting a forged certificate.

“Having never worked in the NYSC, visited the premises, been privy to or familiar with their operations, I had no reason to suspect that the certificate was anything but genuine,” she said.

“Be that as it may, as someone totally committed to a culture of probity and accountability, I have decided to resign with effect from Friday, 14th September, 2018.”

Nigeria's senate minority leader resigns

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Nigeria’s senate minority leader has resigned from his position amid speculations he might officially defect from the opposition party to the ruling party on Wednesday.

“This letter is to formally inform you of my resignation as the Senate Minority Leader with effect from August 4, 2018,” said Godswill Akpabio of opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in a correspondence to the Deputy Senate Minority Leader Emmanuel Bwacha.

His resignation comes two days after he met with President Muhammadu Buhari and another senior member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Bola Tinubu.

Local newspapers say Akpabio will be received into the ruling party on Wednesday in his oil-rich south-south Akwa Ibom state. A presidential spokesman has confirmed Akpabio is certain to quit the opposition PDP after he fell out with his political godson Emmanuel Odom, governor of the state.

Akpabio’s resignation is seen as a move to force Senate President Bukola Saraki to resign from his office following his defection from the ruling party to the PDP.

Although there's no local law requiring him to step down, APC stalwarts insist Saraki must resign since the ruling party still has majority in the Senate and ought to produce the Senate president in line with democratic conventions.

Saraki has ignored the resignation calls.

On Tuesday, masked security operatives were seen blocking access to the parliament building in the capital Abuja. Saraki had called a meeting of parliamentary leaders to hold on Tuesday amid pressures on the lawmakers to approve funding for next year's election.

Nigeria: Ruling APC chief withdraws from reelection bid

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – The head of Nigeria's ruling All Progressives Congress has officially withdrawn from his reelection bid at the party's convention slated for June 25, potentially averting what analysts had warned could be a bitter and fatal contest.

John Oyegun said in a statement late Friday that it was in the “interests of the party” for him to withdraw from the race, even though he had planned to run amid support from an influential segment of the party.

“I do not intend to be part of the problem for the APC to solve. It is for this reason that I hereby declare that I will not be seeking reelection,” Oyegun said.

He will however remain chairman until the convention, when a new leader will emerge.

Oyegun said he was party to the initial move to extend the tenure of the current APC leadership across the board in a bid to forestall a bitter contest and division arising from competitive congresses and convention just a few months before general elections, set for February 2019.

“If this decision was sustained, we probably would have achieved our objective. But we would only have succeeded also in postponing the evil days, as it were,” he explained. “In retrospect, I am inclined to agree with the viewpoint that even a young political party as ours needs to be subjected to the crucible of these contestations, which in any case, is the hallmark of progressive politics.”

A crucial section of the party is fiercely opposed to Oyegun remaining at the helm, accusing him of being weak and unable to enforce discipline among members, especially elected officials — partly a reference to how some APC members colluded with the opposition to deny the former its choice of parliament leadership.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who openly opposed tenure extension for Oyegun in the “interest of the law,” is believed to back another candidate.

Oyegun’s withdrawal is important for the party as it lessens the chance of it officially splitting into factions after the convention. A similar split of the then-ruling PDP led to its defeat at the polls in 2015. Already, a coalition involving top politicians and former leaders have ganged up against Buhari's 2019 reelection bid.

Nigerian: Buhari disputes added tenure for party brass

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Nigeria’s ruling party could face a stormy future ahead of next year’s elections as President Muhammadu Buhari called for the reversal of a one-year tenure extension recently granted the party chief and other top members.

In an address on Tuesday to the All Progressive Congress (APC) National Executive Committee, Buhari said the tenure extension violates the West African country’s Constitution and internal rules guiding party administration.

APC Chairman John Odigie-Oyegun is the major subject of the tenure controversy.

Last month, the committee extended the tenure of all its officials — from the state to national level — by one year, sparking grumblings from within the party. The tenure of the officials was due to end by June.

Some party bigwigs say fresh congresses in an election year may further tear the party apart and harm its chances. Many other prominent party stakeholders, however, reject the extension, calling it illegal.

Buhari seems to side with the latter, although he was privy to the extension in February.

“I have taken some time to review and seek advice on the [recent NEC] resolution and what I have found is that [the tenure extension] contravenes our party constitution and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the president told hundreds of top party chiefs and government officials in the capital city Abuja.

“The APC Constitution Article 17 … limits the tenure of elected officers to four years, renewable once by another election,” he argued. “The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria … also prescribes periodic election for party executives at regular intervals which must not exceed four years.”

Buhari said the tenure extension opens the party to a legal logjam, as is already happening, and makes the APC seem lawless — things the president said he is unwilling to condone as its national leader.

Buhari’s position represents a serious upset for the party, which is already grappling with costly internal schisms less than a year to the general election in which the president is thought to want another term.

Many party big shots had rebelled against the tenure extension, while a state chapter has already filed a suit to challenge it.

Party spokesman Bolaji Abdullahi said the NEC meeting has set up a committee to discuss Buhari’s position, but added the officials affected remain validly in office until they are officially removed.

Nigeria sacks chief for delta region militants' amnesty

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Nigeria on Tuesday sacked the coordinator of a multimillion-dollar amnesty program set up to rehabilitate former militants in the delta region, with President Muhammadu Buhari ordering a probe into its activities.

“The president directs the National Security Adviser (NSA) to carry out a full investigation into the activities of the Amnesty Programme from 2015 to date, especially allegations of financial impropriety and other acts,” presidential spokesman Femi Adesina said in a statement.

Buhari also sacked the program coordinator Paul Boroh, a retired army brigadier general, and replaced him with Charles Quaker Dokubo, the statement added.

Dokubo, a professor of strategic studies, is director of research and studies at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.

Launched in 2009 to rehabilitate militants in the oil-rich delta in exchange for them renouncing violence, the program is allegedly bogged down by official sleaze.

Regardless, hundreds of former militants have been trained in various vocations under the program. The former militants also get monthly stipends from the initiative amid criticism that the handouts were unsustainable.

Critics also say the amnesty program does not adequately address the environmental issues in the area dogged by gas flaring and perennial oil spillage which constitute health hazards.

Nigerian public give mixed views on president’s record

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – On President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration on May 29, 2015, hope of a new dawn resonated across much of Nigeria.

Two years into his four-year tenure, Buhari now faces criticisms not only from Nigeria’s opposition but also from citizens who say not much has changed from the way the country was run under his predecessors.

"The president has failed to manage the public expectations that greeted his ascendancy. We feel there is need for the blame game to end and for the government to face the challenges of fulfilling its campaign pledges,” Idayat Hassan, head of the Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), a West African civil society think tank, told Anadolu Agency.

Hassan rated Buhari “average and headed in the right direction” overall. The president must also learn to communicate with the people, the activist added.

She was speaking on the sidelines of a town hall meeting in the capital Abuja last Friday. At that meeting, top civil society leaders and opinion makers questioned Buhari’s commitments or his ability to fulfil electoral promises after spending 884 days in office.

The meeting was organized by the CDD and BuhariMeter, an ad-hoc civil society initiative that tracks the president’s campaign promises, grouped under three main headings: the fight against corruption; security; and the economy. The event was sponsored by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).

At least four in seven participants were not exactly happy with Buhari, although they stopped short of calling him an outright failure.

“Governance is not a family or private matter. But we have the president handling issues like they are his private matters. It is an impunity for the president to set up a probe panel on corruption allegations against some officials and then fail to make the report of such a panel public,” Alhaji Garuba, a participant, yelled.

Many citizens share such sentiments. On April 19, Buhari suspended top aide Babachir Lawal and another senior security chief following allegations of corruption against them, ordering a probe into the charges.

The report from that probe was submitted to the president on Aug. 23 but Buhari has since been silent about its outcome.

A few other presidential appointees face similar allegations, although Buhari repeatedly asks their accusers to bring forward concrete proof. Claims of secret job recruitments by officials of the government have added to the outcry.

Garuba insisted the president failed to act on these corruption allegations against members of his kitchen cabinet, questioning his commitment to a campaign which is central to his persona.

– Supporters

Other participants at the meeting, however, said Buhari’s corruption fight has not been mere rhetoric.

“We have seen people hitherto considered to be untouchables now facing corruption charges. We have seen former governors now being sentenced to jail. I think we should concede these grounds to Buhari,” said Professor Ishaq Akintola, a panelist at the meeting.

Debo Adeniran, executive director at the Center for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), agreed.

“I will not be stampeded into parroting the views of the opposition about Buhari. Yes there have been challenges, especially from his own fractured political coalition, but the president has done well in the fight against graft,” Adeniran told Anadolu Agency on the sidelines of the event.

“He has shown that he doesn't care whose ox is gored. We have seen him deal with judges and top army generals, serving and retired, and even politicians from his party. We have seen people volunteering to return loot. Some of us believe we should support him rather than chastise,” he added.

Having previously been derided for his alleged rigidity and autocracy, many claim Buhari might have been blackmailed by his own past into not acting decisively on issues, to avoid being called a dictator.

But there are other issues against him, including the slow pace of the administration. More than two years into a four-year mandate, several government boards have not been constituted and decision-making has been sluggish.

Despite emerging from its worst recession in nearly three decades, analysts say the economy remains in danger.

Tope Fasua, head of Global Analytical Consulting — an economic think tank — said the president's handling of the economy is below par.

Whereas the president has claimed credit for diversifying the economy, Fasua said no such thing is taking place:

“If you want to grow or diversify an economy, you should identify and concentrate funding on things that people spend their money on. That is not happening. We are still fixated on oil,” according to the economist who was a panelist at the meeting.

Peter Ozo-Esan, a labor leader, agreed with Fasua.

“We will like to see the administration aggressively pursue policies that will cause inclusive growth and massive employment. This is not happening on the scale needed to pull the country out of the wood,” according to Ozo-Esan.

The labor chief said the infrastructure needed to support any economy remains lacking or in poor state and not enough is being done to fix it.

Regardless, the president got applause on the social investment program of his administration. Under the program, hundreds of thousands of people considered to be extremely poor get a $14 monthly stipend.

“This program is real and has helped several families,” Hajia Hamza Zumaye, executive assistant to the governor of central Nigeria Plateau, remarked.

“So is the school feeding program, although one believes the implementation could be better handled and there has to be mechanisms to ensure sustainability,” she added.

How has Buhari fared in tackling the country's security challenges? Many speakers gave him a pass mark in the handling of Boko Haram insurgency.

But the president was blamed for widening divisions among the country's ethnic groups and the resurgent secessionist agitation in the mainly Igbo southeast region. His handling of the farmers-herdsmen crisis was also adjudged poor.

“Much more needs to be done. Claims that the insurgents have been defeated are at variance with reports of people still being killed in the northeast,” Professor Nuhu Yaqub, a former university vice chancellor and chair of the event, said.

Perhaps nothing better sums up the public opinion on the president's performance than a warning for him to urgently restore the ebbing hope in his ability to not just fight corruption and stabilize the economy but to also unite the people of his country.

Nigeria’s Buhari awaits doctors’ order to return home

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – President Muhammadu Buhari, who has been away in London to treat an undisclosed ailment since May 7, has said he is now fit and only awaiting his doctor’s order to return to his country.

“President Buhari says there is tremendous improvement in his health; indeed, he wishes to return home, ‘but I’ve learnt to obey my doctor’s orders, rather than be the one issuing the orders. Here, the doctor is absolutely in charge’,” according to a statement by his media team which visited him on Saturday.

Accompanied by photographs of Buhari and his media team exchanging banters in London, the statement also quoted Buhari as thanking his country folks and other Africans for praying for his recovery.

The visit by his media team is the fourth such delegation from Nigeria in the last few weeks as tension mounts back home over the health status of the 74-year-old leader. Opposition figures and recently some Christian clerics have called on him to resign if he is too weak to continue in the saddle.

On Monday, a daily sit-out of dozens of activists calling on him to return home or resign began in the capital city Abuja. The government has dismissed the gathering as ill-motivated, insisting that Buhari has violated no law since he handed over power to vice president Yemi Osinbajo.

A counter pro-Buhari rally was also staged during the week, with its organizers alleging that the sit-out was a plot to derail the ailing president’s anti-corruption agenda.

Nigeria: President’s wife seeks to quash health worries

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Amid mounting calls for Nigeria’s president to seek medical care abroad, Muhammadu Buhari’s wife is asserting that he is not as sick as some have speculated.

“I wish to inform everyone that his health is not as bad as it’s being perceived. Meanwhile he continues to carry out his responsibilities during this period,” Aisha Buhari said in a Twitter post confirmed by her spokesman Wednesday.

“As it may come to your notice, he (met) with Minister of Justice and Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation NNPC this evening,” she added, thanking the people of Nigeria for their prayers.

Her comment came a day after Bisi Akande, a top ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) chieftain, expressed worries that Buhari’s health crisis was affecting the running of the country. He accused unnamed people around the president of wanting to frustrate the rule of law.

On Monday, a coterie of top civil society activists called on the president to seek medical attention abroad.

The 74-year-old leader has seldom been seen outside the presidential villa since he returned to the country in March following a 49-day medical vacation in London. He has repeatedly missed the weekly Cabinet meeting, fueling rumor of worsening health.