* CSOs Rate His Govt Low On Open Governance
Abuja – Justice Ibrahim Auta, the outgoing Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, on Tuesday revealed why the court resisted attempts to prevent President Muhammadu Buhari from contesting the 2015 general elections.
Auta stated this on Tuesday in Abuja at a special court session to usher in the 2017/2018 legal year.
He said that the court stood firm by insisting that candidates be allowed to test their popularity at the polls.
“Despite all pressures to stop certain members of the National Assembly as a result of their abandonment of the party that brought them into power, the court insisted that every candidate must be allowed to test his/her popularity.
“Secondly, the attempt to stop the president from contesting was rejected by this court.
“This is because, we in the Federal High Court preferred a level playing ground to all candidates.”
According to him, it is this option and insistence of this court that has kept the country together during and after the election.
He further said that the nation owed the judiciary the debt of gratitude for the unity of the nation.
Auta also said that as part of efforts to enhance the speedy dispensation of justice, the court appointed 30 judges, saying that this has impacted positively on the court.
The outgoing chief judge disclosed that the appointment of 10 more judges of the court was underway as the process was already 80 percent complete.
He urged the judges to remain steadfast and firm by dispensing justice without fear or favour and always considering the law and not personalities when deciding cases.
Abubakar Malami (SAN), the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), in his speech said that the Federal High Court had contributed immensely to effective and efficient justice delivery in the country.
Malami, who was represented by the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, said an efficient and incorruptible judiciary was necessary to achieve meaningful development.
The AGF, who is also the Minister of Justice, urged the judges to deliver judgments in accordance with the law with firmness.
He pledged the support of his office in ensuring that the Federal High Court remained the court of refuge for the common man.
Joe Gadzama (SAN), who represented the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, said that the new legal year was an avenue for stock taking to review areas where mistakes were made with a view to correcting them.
He commended the nation’s judiciary, describing it as the best in the world, adding that the Federal High Court had the highest impact on the country.
Despite the existence of Freedom of Information Act (FoI), the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has been criticised as having low rating in open governance system compared to other advanced economies.
The criticism came from a coalition of civil society organisations such as the MacAuthur Foundation; African Centre for Leadership, Strategy and Development (Centre LSD); Open Society Initiative for West Africa; Media Initiative Against Injustice, Violence and Corruption, among others.
They lamented that more often than not government programmes and policies are still shrouded in secrecy, especially issues relating to budgeting, tax administrations, implementation of open contracting in public sector, disclosure of earnings in the extractive industries, among others.
This, they argued, negates the Open Government Partnership, which Nigeria was a signatory to but failed to domesticate in line with 69 other countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the UK and the United States.
All these came into perspective at a one-day roundtable on Promoting Accountability in Nigeria through Engagement and Implementation of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which held in Abuja.
They, however, attributed low response by the National Assembly, the Ministry of Justice, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), MDAs such as the National Orientation Agency, Bureau of Public Service Reform, among others.
In a lead paper presentation by Executive Director, Centre LSD, Otivie Igbuzor, he noted that development has continued to elude the Nigerian nation because those at the helm of affairs still were grappling with the challenge of effectively utilising resources to support equitable economic growth.
He argued that these challenges have persisted because there are ineffective service delivery and social cohesion making majority of government activities shrouded in secrecy and shrinking the space for citizens’ engagement.
He said, “The Federal Government in its efforts to deepen institutional and policy reforms joined the OGP in July 2016 as the 70th country.
“The OGP was formally launched in 2011 when the eight founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States) endorsed the Open Government Declaration, and announced their countries action plans.
“The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is governed by four key principles of transparency, accountability, citizen participation as well as technology and innovation”.
He observed that since Nigeria signed on to the OGP there has not been any concrete action plan to back it up.
In a remark, Edetaen Ojo, Executive Director, Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and co-chair of the Open Governance Partnership explained that the concept of OGP seeks to bring together government and civil society organisations as equal partners at both national and international levels in formulating and implementing governance reforms.
The CSOs recommended that government’s action plans in domesticating the OGP initiative should be centred on fiscal transparency, particularly in ensuring more effective citizens’ participation across the entire budget cycle.
They also noted that full disclosures in implementation of open contracting and adoption of open contracting standards in the public sector was necessary to allay concerns of citizens.
At the technical session, they noted that a national action plan must take into consideration the adoption of common reporting standards and tax initiative aimed at improving the fairness, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of the tax system.
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