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Mixed Metaphors: Practical Leadership Questions By Sonala Olumhense

Did Presidential Candidate (PC) Muhammadu Buhari send a bribe to a judge in 2015?

The case: two years ago, during a controversy over the qualification for the presidency of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, some Nigerians went to court to get him thrown off the ballot, claiming he lacked the minimum education demanded by law.

Representing Buhari: Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Kola Awodehin.

On the bench at the Federal High Court: Justice Niyi Ademola.

At issue: N500,000, the amount allegedly given by the one to the other.

When the matter spilled into the streets last week, presidential spokesman Femi Adesina held up his nose as he broadcast the sainthood of his principal.  

Buhari, he said, could not have been involved in bribery because it was the same Buhari who, for three presidential elections until the fourth which he won, challenged his losses right into the Supreme Court.

Throughout those ordeals, Mr. Buhari was never found trying to compromise any judge.  In effect, he concluded, the man’s reputation “as a man of truth and integrity” remains impregnable.  

To back up his official outrage, Mr. Adesina then produced a statement handcrafted by Mr. Awodehin.  In it, predictably, the lawyer did not deny he gave the money to the judge, but he said, it was not on Buhari’s behalf.  It was a gift on the occasion of the wedding of the judge’s daughter.  

His words are interesting.  “It is a fact that the sum of money mentioned was personally paid by me as a friend to Mr. Justice Ademola as a personal gift…I am and have always been a man of impeccable integrity on and off the Courts and that such a record speaks always loudly for itself.”

The spokesman and the lawyer make the same error: seeking to persuade through emotional recourse to character.  But History explains the present no more than a childhood visit to the dentist guarantees against adult tooth decay.

The truth about human character is that temptation never takes a holiday, never ceases to ask, never stops looking delectable and perhaps even respectable.  That is why some people stumble.  That you have never fallen is no proof you will never fall. 

I am not concluding that Mr. Awodehin tried to bribe the judge, but neither the alleged friendship of both men, nor the lawyer’s explanation is comforting.  

“On and off the courts”?  I thought we were talking about the halls of justice, not Wimbledon or Eko Club tennis?  I would have expected “In and out of the courts,” or something like that.

And then Mr. Awodehin confirmed the money was “personally paid by me…” but you GIVE a gift—which he claimed to have been the objective—you don’t PAY it as you would a debt or a bill or, well, a bribe.

Of greater importance: ethics.  Why is it reasonable for a lawyer representing a client in a particular court to ever be found to have “paid” a sum of money to that judge?  Why?  When? Where? And How?  Isn’t conflict of interest or a semblance of it a terrible standard in the hallway and byways of justice?

One more point: Babatunde Adepoju, the lead State Security Service official in the investigations, said that Joe Agi (SAN), confirmed that a gift of N500,000 “was sent through Mr. Awodehin” to the judge.

There is an earth-shaking contradiction between money that was given—or paid, as suggested by Mr. Awodehin in his account provided by the presidency—and money “sent through” him.  I don’t care how funny you are, there is no process by which you send money through yourself to another.

As Time would have it, the same Justice Ademola is now on trial.  Not for affray.  Not for arson or murder.  But for corruption, along with his wife and Mr. Agi, facing allegations that include receiving cash and gifts of about N38.5m from Agi at time at a time the lawyer had cases in his court.  

One court.  One judge.  One lawyer.  N38.5m.  You wonder if Agi did business, or pleasure, in any other court.  

If he did, I would have asked how much, with whom and for how long.  But my interest, for the moment, is in that N500K, allegedly from PC Buhari in 2015, and the eyebrows it raises.  

In principle, if a lawyer gives a judge who is hearing his case money—any money—that ought to be interpreted as money aimed at influencing that judge’s decisions in that case, and both of them ought to be hurled before the law or their relevant professional body.

What stories of this nature demonstrate is that as a people we lack law and the capacity for justice.  It is a sense of right and wrong—not the flaunting of dirty wigs in a pretentious courtroom like prostitutes in a brothel—that is the foundation of justice.   

This is a wonderful opportunity for Buhari to demonstrate the legendary integrity of which his spokesman bragged.  He should condemn his former lawyer openly, and ensure his prosecution the same way others, like Rickey Tarfa and Agi, are being prosecuted.  

Nigeria’s whistle concerns. 

The Nigeria government’s whistleblower policy, announced two months ago, is credited with a couple of big breakthroughs in the nation’s chaotic search for transparency and accountability.  

As one who has urged the government to involve the public if it truly wishes to succeed in combating corruption, I support the policy.  But it clearly lacks tactical acumen.  

The government needs to take the policy beyond one bureaucratic announcement.  It should place it in advertising campaigns.  On the front pages of newspapers.  On mobile phones.  On television.  On the websites, including of all government ministries and agencies.  On billboards and posters.  

Similarly, it should make the scheme easier and more attractive.  For instance, it is far more important to obtain a tip than to register the personal data of the tipster.  A Reference Number that he obtains after submitting a tip, and for checking on progress, should be sufficient until the tipster qualifies to be paid, at which point he should be able to access his account, or open one, with that number.    

The government should remember that most Nigerians do not trust the government, its law-enforcement or the banks.  People would hesitate to expose themselves to a system that could visit mayhem on them for exposing a rich and powerful thief, or for receiving payment.  The government should eliminate those doubts, not nurture them.

Nonetheless, for my readers, here are the Whistleblower Portal; the Whistleblower phone, 09098067946; and the official FAQs.  The Ministry’s much-proclaimed website: [email protected] is, not surprisingly, inactive.

Pilgrim’s Progress: I commend Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for his unscheduled visit to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport on Thursday.  It was probably the first time a Nigeria leader has done so since the facility was opened in the late 1970s.  They are normally and hypocritically content with the presidential wing, where everything works.  

Prof. Osinbajo was personally leading the Ease of Doing Business ‎60-day Action Plan for business reforms‎, and his unannounced visit enabled him to see the airport in its full ugliness.  

He should fire the management, to permit a new beginning, and superintend a structure aimed at international competitiveness, not excuses.  Tiptoeing around systemic collapse doesn’t work, and our MMA—and the aviation sector—is the shameful proof. 

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense