Barrister Maxwell Opara is an Abuja-based lawyer, human rights activist and politician. In this interview, he says the federal government should look into the rot in the judiciary for it to achieve much in the anti-corruption prosecutions. He also spoke on the merger of the anti-corruption agencies and the standard of legal profession. Excerpts:
The Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, recently cautioned about the declining standard of law education and legal profession.
My position still remains what I have been advocating for. In the first instance, there are some law faculties in our various universities that are not qualified for the study of law going by the standard of infrastructure, library and quality of lecturers in the faculties. Imagine a situation where in the whole university, you can hardly see somebody with a PhD Law and no professor of law. Secondly, the Council of Legal Education should rise to the challenge by monitoring what is happening in the various faculties. I have seen a situation whereby a particular university upon realising that the Council of Legal Education was coming for accreditation, went to hire some lecturers to be accredited. Immediately after their accreditation, they paid them off.
They had to go to some chambers in town and individuals to hire books and display them on the shelf. And as soon as the panel of investigators left, they took the books back to their owners. Who is fooling who? Also, most of the time, the funds for development of law programme in the universities are diverted either by the vice chancellor or dean of the faculty. They don’t make use of the funds and nobody asks questions. These are the challenges.
Another challenge is the post-UME examination. I will be going to court to challenge it because it is unknown to law. It offends the JAMB Establishment Act. It is either the National Assembly amends the act or they scrap the post-UME. Also, the idea of parents forcing their children to study law when they are not interested in the course is also a factor in the dwindling standard of law education. You can see the number of failures in the just released Bar examinations – over 40 per cent failures.
The FG has announced plans to embark on mass prosecution of alleged corrupt public officials. How so you see this?
They cannot do much without sanitising the judiciary. I am a lawyer and I know that when somebody is arrested, investigated and arraigned in court, what the person needs to do is just to go and get a very sound lawyer and that is it. I would like the judges to live up to expectations.
Before now, if an accused person applies for bail and a judge adjourns the application for hearing, he will order for the remand of the accused person in prison custody. But today, somebody will be arraigned and his lawyer makes an oral application for bail, there and then the judge will grant the application on ‘personal recognition.’ Or most times they will remand in EFCC custody. Sending the person to prison custody will enable the man feel the pinch. A lawmaker, Farouk Lawan was sent to prison and on getting there he appreciated the condition there. That is why he intervened to refurbish the prison.
I want to use this medium to advice the members of the Peace Committee who are trying to stop the prosecution of corrupt public officials to steer clear of this fight. If anybody feels that his or her rights have been violated, they should go to court.
It has been suggested that a merger of the EFCC and ICPC will make them more effective. What is your view on this?
From the point of cost of governance, I think they should be merged. But you cannot do it by fiat. The EFCC and ICPC were established by Acts of the National Assembly. So it is the duty of the National Assembly to amend their acts to create the grounds for merging. However, whether you merge or not – because there is no difference between six and half a dozen – the results will depend on the person that heads the institution; we are talking about strengthening the agencies. So if the merger will strengthen them, I support it.
How do you see the upsurge of human rights violations by security agencies in the country?
Let me start with Amnesty International’s report earlier in the year. I think the organisation should realise that where your right stops, another’s begins. Before now, the terrorists have been killing soldiers – who have families and dependants – nobody raised an eyebrow. Now, the soldiers have gone after them, and you are talking about human rights. We should know that soldiers have their rules of engagement. For Amnesty International you may have a good case and raise it at the wrong time. Are you asking the soldiers not to shoot or to go and confront the terrorists with bare hands?
That said, we should stop involving soldiers in civil operations because they have a special training; they are trained to kill. Development Control use soldiers for demolition of buildings. At Kuchibena in Gwarinpa, soldiers ordered women to roll on the ground and other gross violations. Even the Madonna University torture should be condemned. We know the new defence chiefs will do something in the area of reorientation of our soldiers.
How do you assess the present government so far?
I want to encourage Nigerians to support this government. It is a new government and President Muhammadu Buhari is doing his best. I will advice him to constitute his cabinet as a matter of urgency. He should prove to the international community that he is indeed for change. He should not recycle the people responsible for our problems; those who have been in government for donkey years. Let him bring people of integrity; people who are ready to work; seasoned administrators. This will go a long way.