Kolawole Olaniyan, the legal adviser of the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London, has criticized former president Olusegun Obasanjo for insulting Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos. Obasanjo had described the judge as “ignorant and stupid” for directing all past civilian presidents from 1999 to account for the loot recovered from the late military dictator, Sani Abacha.

According to The Punch, the judge had issued an order of mandamus directing the federal government, through the attorney-general of the federation, to compel the regimes of Obasanjo, Musa Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan to publish the details of the recovery and spending of the Abacha loot. Reacting to the development, Obasanjo expressed discontent and openly criticized the judge.

They said the money recovered from Abacha, I should account for it. What stupidity! The man who asked for it, the man who gave the judgment or who answered them are all stupid, with due respect. “I don’t keep account; all Abacha loots were sent to the Central Bank of Nigeria and every bit of it was reported to the minister of finance… But again, it shows ignorance, total ignorance, which is lacking and you wonder, are these people educated?” the ex-president wondered. In a statement issued on Thursday, June 2, Olaniyan noted that Obasanjo’s criticism of the judge was not only an attack on the judiciary but also on the Freedom of Information Act. The lawyer said that judges do not give judgments based on their “whims or fancies” but based on the facts presented before them and on laws and established judicial principles or legal precedents. “If judges have to decide cases on the basis of what politicians or someone else wanted the law or the result to be, the very principle of the independence of the judiciary would be forfeited. “While it’s within Obasanjo’s right to disagree with the judgment or even criticise it, calling Justice Idris “stupid and ignorant” simply for doing his job amounts to inappropriate political criticism as it threatens the judge’s independence and integrity,” he said.

Olaniyan described Justice Idris’ judgment as “a great victory for transparency and accountability in the country”. He added that President Muhammadu Buhari would only do well to instruct the attorney-general of the federation to ensure that the judgment was enforced to the letter. “Nigerians do not demand infallibility from their leaders and institutions, but it’s difficult to accept the proposition that a judge granting Nigerians the right to know what their leaders and government are doing is “stupid and ignorant.”

“Nigerians indeed have a right to compel their public officials, particularly the high-ranking among them like Obasanjo, to keep the avenues of information open, so the public can know and evaluate their work, accomplishments and dereliction, regardless of whether they are in or out of office,” he said. A few weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari said that he would reveal the names of people who had voluntarily returned looted public funds. However, some political heavyweights led by Obasanjo waided in and warned the president that naming looters might set the nation on fire.
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