The NBA general election is fast approaching, what are your expectations?
Well, the tenure of the present President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Augustine Alegeh will expire in the middle of this year. So, a new President will be elected in the next general assembly which will come up in July this year.
The post of the President under the NBA zoning programme has been zoned to the northern part of the country. We understand that the two people who are at the forefront are Chief Joe-Kyari Gadzama and A .B Mahmoud, both of them claiming to be endorsed by the Arewa group. Again, there is problem within the Arewa group adopting any single candidate. Consequently, the two candidates are now going to other zones, they were at the eastern zone just few days ago. I also understand that they will come to the western zone very soon. As a senior member of the Bar, I want to make two things very clear, one, that we are against monetization of any campaign. And that any of such monetization will go against whichever candidate is attributed to.
We know that the present regime and even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission are very much against what they described as anti-Bar activities by some senior advocates of the association. Many of them have been implicated in influencing some judicial officers not to do their work honestly as they should. We know that the common man rely on the judiciary to promote the Rule of Law and safeguard the society. Some of us also want to make it very clear that in the light of what is going on now in the country under the present regime, any of the candidates who refused to embrace the primordial ethics of the Bar will not only be exposed but will be made to stand down. So, they must make sure that there are no skeletons in their cupboards which the EFCC and other anti-graft bodies are determined to expose. This will make the Nigerian Bar Association to be truly independent capable of advising the government in a way that is devoid of any bad antecedent.
Two senior advocates have been charged before the Lagos high court for proving financial assistance to some judges. Is this development strange to you or is it a recurring incident?
It is not strange within the Bar. Many members of the Bar have known that over the years, at least in the last 40 years, a lot of the ethics of the Bar were being breached. They were being breached in the sense that they undermine the true meaning of law. They were being breach because many members of the Bar could see that the very principle which should be upheld by both the junior and senior members of the Bar are no longer being practiced due to influence from the society, the government and the polity. A lot of principles on which a nation should be built have been grossly undermined. Not only by lawyers but also by other professions who have gone down the drain in the sense that they were not doing what they ought to do. When I say profession, the military is a profession and in the last 50 years, the military has not acted in the way a true professional military should behave and this is obvious to everybody.
All the eight revolutions that we have had in the last 50 years have been largely military versus military. Right from Major Patrick Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu to Abdulsalami Abubakar/ Sanni Abacha, change of government has always been military versus military. The question is, has it ended? We are not sure it has ended. But, all these had undermined democratic principles for laying solid foundation for nationhood. So, Nigeria has not progress, and that is why most professions in Nigerian have not also progressed. The banking profession has not progressed, it was these banks that derailed the economy and ruined depositors in the Nigerian banks. Go to the banks today, most of the people are not professional bankers; they are just people that have been contracted out to organisations who hired them. So also is the profession of accountancy, auditors and the medical profession. So, the same thing affects the legal profession.
I am a lawyer but not all lawyers are good. We have got into a situation in this country where everything has become fast track; everybody wants to make money fast. You go to court to swear to an affidavit or file a process you know what you encounter there. So we are all encouraging President Buhari to sanitize the system. He is a military/ civilian, he still has military blood in him whether we like it or not. So we support him on the issue of anti-graft 110 percent. Let those who have looted the treasury vomit what they have stolen and face the punitive nature of the law. Let him recover as much as he can recover so that we can build a new nation. However, his attack on graft must be holistic, it must be all inclusive. It should cover past regimes at least from 1999, but if he can go beyond 1999 and the evidence are there, why not? But, it should not be done in a way that is partisan because if he does that, he will estrange many Nigerians.
As a senior member of the Bar, some of your colleagues are probably on the Bench. Is it wrong for a lawyer to assist a judge who has financial challenges?
It depends on what the assistance is. Let me give you an instance, if the mother of a judge or his daughter is undergoing a kidney transplant or something like that and the judge needs money, he should go to the government as a judicial officer. And that is why we are saying the judiciary should have its funding and not impoverished by the executive. If the Chief Judge goes to the governor of a state and tell the government about the situation a judge is undergoing, I do not see a state governor that will turn a blind to such request. It will be wrong for that judge to start approaching individual lawyers for assistance. But, if a judge wants the public to know about it, he could advertise it in the newspapers and appeal for funds from the general public. There are things that are worth doing but things that are worth doing should be done well. Things that are not done well are improper. So, if a judge’s daughter is marrying and we are invited to the wedding, we could buy a wedding card and a little gift, it may be a fan worth between N10, 000 – N15, 000. But, if I give him N8 million, that is perverse.
How do you see the National Assembly as presently constituted?
The legislative aspect is a matter for the National Assembly, true federalism and fiscal federalism is a legislative matter. Is our constitution a Federal Constitution or a Unitary Constitution? If it is a federal constitution, then it should be truly federal. In a federal constitution the centre cannot rule over the local government. The 1999 constitution tells a lie about itself, Chief Rotimi Williams, one of our greatest lawyers said ‘’the 1999 constitution tells lie about itself when it says ‘’we the people of Nigeria”. There was never such thing because it was a military constitution. In actual fact, the military has manipulated the constitutional system in the country and gives us a constitution which is more suited to the military than the civilians. If you look at the constitution we have today, the 1999 Constitution which was drafted by the military. The 1999 constitution is tailored towards the military line. In the military, only one person is in charge at the top and every other person below obeys his command. Civilian are no brought up that way and that is why we have problem in the constitution and that is why we have problem in the polity. The problem of Nigeria is systemic, the system is bad. If you don’t change the system in Nigeria, if you bring the Pope to Nigeria, within six months the Pope will be corrupted, he would be influenced. If you bring the Imam from Iran or from wherever to Nigeria, within six months the Imam will be corrupted by our system because our system does not make for good governance.
What areas of the constitutional amendment would you want the National Assembly to focus on?
They have already set up a 38-man committee to look into the issue. Our position is that the issue of federalism is key to the existence of Nigeria. This is because, the 7th Assembly under David Mark had also proposed amendment to the constitution which former President Jonathan refused to sign because of some clauses which he objected to. The matter went to the Supreme Court and they came back for reconciliation but Jonathan’s tenure was over. So, the two documents of 2014 confab reports and the proposed constitutional amendments are now with the 8th National Assembly. So, they should start to discuss it immediately. The National Assembly should focus on the constitution while the executive is to fight terrorism and corrupt practices. We have six geo-political zones and each zone is more than any country in West Africa. The North East zone is more than Cameroon, Chad or the Republic of Niger. The North West zone is more populated than Ivory-Coast, Mali, Senegal or even Ghana. The South-West zone is virtually the richest zone in Africa. The country is being digitalized hence we cannot continue to behave in an analog manner. Other countries are advancing, why should we remain analog?
How do you see continued incarceration of the leader of Radio Biafra, Daniel Kanu despite court pronouncements that he should be granted bail?
What is the essence of detaining the boy? What is Radio Biafra? How many people listen to Radio Biafra? If it is aired in London and in the United States, is that the first time? During NADECO days Wole Soyinka, myself, Tinubu and Enahoro, we financed Radio Kudirat outside Nigeria and used it to tell the military that they must step-down and that we want democracy. Was Wole Soyinka charged with treasonable felony? The Federal Government is making a hero of this boy called Kanu. Most people don’t even know him before; I personal don’t know him or any of his family. I don’t even know the town he comes from, most Igbos don’t know him. Most Yorubas don’t know him and don’t listen to his radio. So, why should government disobey a court order that says he should be granted bail? He satisfied the bail condition but you refused to release him, thereby making the boy a hero. Now, everybody knows him and he is well known all over the world. People who don’t know what he was saying now want to know.
Are you saying Federal Government should have ignored him?
Exactly, I tell you, if there is a vote today among the Igbos, they will tell you they prefer a restructured Nigeria because the civil war was fought and they were forced to become members of Nigeria. It is now 55 years and most people who are governors today and members of the National Assembly are below 55 years. They were born after the civil war and not after the war like some of us. So, what the Igbos want is a restructured Nigeria and true federalism. If a state wants to have one million local governments, let them have it and pay for it. How can you have a state like Lagos with just 20 local governments and you give the federating money for just 20 local governments? Then you go to Jigawa and Kano, which used to be one state before and give them more local governments that is more than a whole region and you are giving them federal government money. The question is, is Kano or Jigawa more populated than Lagos? These are truths that we keep burying and it will kill the country if the right thing is not done. Nigeria will soon become a failed state.
As a senior member of the Bar, how would you assess the standard of the legal profession in Nigeria?
To some extent it has improved because we have more technical resources because of the use of internet. Now, you don’t need a whole library to research your law. You don’t need a law report of 10, 000 pages to read, you can easily programme it into you legal disk. It is faster now to research cases than before when everything have to be done manually. But those who are using them are those who are already experienced and who can afford it. The younger member of the Bar cannot afford this technology, price wise. Some of these disks cost about N100, 000. So, to that extend the practice of law has been revolutionalized but for the younger generation of lawyers to benefit from the system, I think the system of education should be strengthened. However, there are some of these young lawyers who are doing very well and are able to come up with very good judicial prepositions.
How can law be used to develop the country?
I have been very much interested in the affairs of Nigeria and see how we can change Nigeria for the better, so that we will have more development and progress in the country. The Ghanaians have been able to live up to standard because of the history they went through. They have to go through a revolution but we have not gone through a revolution. Now we have a constitution which most Nigerians disagree with which was imposed by the military. In actual fact, in the last 40 years the military has been ruling in Nigeria and have been able to manipulate the constitutional system in the country and gives us a constitution which is more suited to the military than the civilians. If you look at the constitution we have today, the 1999 constitution which was drafted by the military, is tailored towards the military line. In the military, only one person is in charge at the top and every other person below obeys his command. Civilians are no brought up that way and that is why we have problems in the constitution and that is why we have problems in the polity.