Nigerians should learn from South Africa over Zuma’s indictment
Nigerian lawyers have continued to react to the decision of South Africa’s highest court ruling that ordered President Jacob Zuma to, within 105 days, repay $16million he used to renovate his private residence.
Zuma had used the public funds to upgrade his sprawling rural residence at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.
Chief Albert Akpomudje (SAN) said the decision is one everybody should be proud of in Nigeria.
He said: “When you become too legalistic in some decisions, it doesn’t help society. You must feel the pulse of society.
“Such kind of decisions, if they are made in Nigeria, would be a big lesson and a warning to some people who think they can make use of public funds anyway they like.
“In fact, I am waiting for the decisions in all the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) cases, whether they would be able to secure conviction and the kind of sentences that would be passed. Giving an option of fine doesn’t help society at all.
“It is a welcome development.”
Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) insisted that public funds should be used for public purposes, saying if a public official’s house is not a public building, he cannot use public funds to renovate it.
“The court is simply saying that the public expenditure should be utilised as such. Using of public funds for private purposes occur everywhere in Nigeria, ranging from the federal to state and local councils.
“Maybe nobody has challenged that and caused the court to make a pronouncement on that. Section 308 of the constitution does not exclude such actions.
“You can sue the President or the Governor on his official capacity, because the money was used in their official capacity. It is in their private capacity that they enjoy immunity,” he declared.
Dolapo Akinrele (SAN) noted that a lot of countries are now taking strong action against corrupt government personalities.
He said: “It should be seen as a welcome development for Africa and particularly Nigeria, where President Muhammadu Buhari is pursuing a very vigorous anti-corruption agenda.
“I think that shows that nobody should be above the law.”
Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Charles Lambo, stated that South Africa is an advance democracy and more enlightened and the people know their rights.
The parliament, he added, is superior and at the same time, separation of power is in place.
“What Zuma did was that he got the funds without appropriation and as such, he deserves to account for it, because he cannot spend state funds for personal reason.
“As far as South Africa is concerned, the Supreme Court is the last hope of the common man and what has happened there is an eye opener that such action is no longer in vogue.
“However, it takes courage to deliver such judgment and as such, it must be upheld.”
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Olu Daramola, said it is rather sad that Zuma is not following the illustrious footsteps of his predecessors.
“He has been moving from one scandal to another. It is wrong for him to use public funds to furnish his private property.
“The court is absolutely right in ordering him to refund the money. Public funds can only be legitimately expended for public purposes.
“It is legally and morally indefensible for a leader, who cannot provide jobs for his people, to use public funds to provide obscene luxury for himself and his family.”
Former Dean, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Professor Abayomi Akinyeye, described what happened as a classical case of accountability.
According to him, if people are vigilant, they would be able to monitor their rulers, know their rulers, lifestyles and assets and hold them to account and explain why a huge amount of money belonging to the public should be spent on their private interests.
He said: “Our constitution has enough provisions. The state has the record of the money at the disposal of its rulers, but the snag is that we have no way of holding them into account.
“A lot of money is earmarked for ‘security vote,’ which is never accounted for, and it runs into billions.”
Akinyeye noted: “No case has been brought before the judiciary that they have not adjudicated, except they have mostly exonerated those who were accused, based on what was canvassed before them.
“It does not mean that they are teleguided here; it is only a question of personal attitudes and preferences of the court.”
He said if Zuma is found guilty of misappropriation, the opposition party has reason to say he should resign.
“There was already a precedent when they called on Mbeki to resign. Leadership is contextual. You look at the society you are leading. South Africa is the way it is because of multiracialism and they can easily hold their leaders to account.
“If they could get Mbeki to resign, it will not be difficult to get Zuma to resign,” he said.