17th September, 2012
Human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has criticised the national honours being conferred on serving public officials.
Falana, who spoke with P.M.NEWS on Monday shortly before President Goodluck Jonathan conferred honours on 155 Nigerians, described as illegal the conferment of such honours on serving senators, state governors, the Inspector General of Police and others still in public service.
According to Falana, “it is illegal by virtue of Section 10 of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and section 6 of Code of Conduct for Public Officers, contained in the 6th Schedule of the 1999 Constitution. It is illegal for any public officer to ask for, accept any gift or awards of benefits in the course of his/her duty.”
He said: “Under the law, the only gift a public officer can receive is customary gift, such as kolanut, not even chieftaincy title. You can’t take a honorary doctorate degree. Any other gift should be forfeited to the state .
“Since 1964, when the National Honours was enacted by Parliament, it has never been debased like now. It was Ibrahim Babangida(1985-1993) that started the devaluation when he gave Grand Commander Order of the Niger (GCON) to Samuel Doe at the time he was butchering Liberians.
“Babangida did that because the monster had named a school after him.
“Abdulsalami Abubakar(1998-1999) went to the ridiculous extent when he gave himself GCFR and 749 other people; someone in office for 11 months. I challenged the legality of the awards at the Federal High Court. When OBJ (Obasanjo) came, he cancelled the illegal awards and I withdrew the case.
“When the Olusegun Obasanjo administration started giving awards to people in office, we warned the administration it was making a mockery of the law.”
Falana further stated that awards to public officers were supposed to be given after the persons must have performed their duties and then government would consider whether they had performed well or not, to merit national honors.
“The purport of the law is to reward you for outstanding performance in office not for a duty you haven’t performed. In the First and Second republics, no public officer was ever honored in office,” he said.
According to him, in fairness to former President Umaru Yar’Adua, when Obasanjo gaveYar’Adua GCFR, even before he was sworn in as Obasanjo’s successor, Yar’Adua said publicly that he would have wanted the award to be given to him after he left office.
“In the case of Goodluck Jonathan, he got the National Council of States, an advisory body to give him GCFR, contrary to the law. The Council was a mere advisory body. It was a sitting President that ought to have given Jonathan the award, but Yar’Adua had died.
“After that, he resumed the illegal practice of giving award to serving officers including judges before whom the Federal Government has pending cases.
“The danger of this practice is staring government in the face because under the law, those who have behaved dishonourably, the president ought to retrieve the award as in the case of Bode George, who was jailed,Tafa Balogun,who was jailed, Dimeji Bankole, who is facing corruption charges in court and Mrs. Cecilia Ibru , who was jailed for mismangement of Oceanic Bank. But if the President had waited for them to end their tenure, this would not have happened.
“When Bankole was appointed Speaker of the House of Representatives, he had not worked anywhere else in his life.
“The awards have become ridiculous. They give it to traders, people who get waivers, etc. If you want to give national honours, it is those Paralympians who have done the nation proud that are deserving of the honour.
“No country does this anywhere in the world. You can’t be giving awards in a country that is being run aground.”
Falana further stated that any government that is serious about fighting corruption should have seized the schools such as the Bell’s University owned by Obasanjo and American University of Nigeria owned by Atiku Abubakar, which both of them acquired while they were occupying the highest public offices in the country.