Chief Gani Adetola-Kaseem SAN attended the University of Lagos, faculty of law as a part-time student in 1974 and graduated in 1979. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1980 and elevated to rank of senior advocate in 2002. In this interview, he speaks on the volume of cases before the Supreme Court, election tribunals among others. Excerpts:
Going by the volume of appeals before the Supreme Court, do you share the view that the court is overburdened?
It is neither here nor there, people have advocated for the creation of constitutional court. I am handling a case as to whether the decisions of the National Industrial Court should be appealable and if appealable, should they end at the Court of Appeal? There is a school of opinion that says it’s better for the apex court to hear appeals from the National Industrial Court so that the law will be more certain. However, there are others who say employment matters should not be allowed to linger too long in court.
They argued that people should be able to know their fate early and move on with their lives. Today, cases stay long in court that litigants become so frustrated and many of them die and do not reap the benefits of the case. There are some matters that are so personal and when the litigant dies the matter dies with them. There are some that when the litigant dies another person can be substituted for him. It is a very serious jurisprudential discussion as to in what circumstances should appeal be allowed to proceed to the apex court and in what circumstances should it be stopped at a certain point.
For instance, I started a chieftaincy matter in Ogun State High Court in 1994 and it was recently determined against us by the Supreme Court. However, I did not think the matter ought to have been determined against. Unfortunately, at the time the matter was determined by the apex court, all the litigants but one had died. Even the lawyer who was defending the case from the beginning died before the matter got to the Supreme Court. When you look at that type of scenario you find that, it is not a pleasant thing for cases to last so long in court. So, there must be a way of reviewing it such that cases can be taken quickly in court.
Will you advocate for various divisions of the Supreme Court?
It may be the workload and it maybe that the Supreme Court needs reorganization. But, I do not support the idea that we should have various divisions of the Supreme Court. We cannot afford to have conflicting decisions from the apex court, it will lead to chaos. We had that experience from the Court of Appeal when different divisions of the appellate court gave conflicting decisions on the same subject matter. It’s a matter of reorganizing these courts to make them work speedily. There is need to appoint more judges and equip the court with modern facilities.
Eight years after he was arraigned, the Supreme Court recently ordered a former Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye, to submit himself for trial on corruption and money laundering charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. What does this portend for our judicial system?
Such a thing should not be encouraged, because it could lead to delay in justice. Justice delay is justice denied. We should be able to embed it in our rules that interlocutory appeals should not be allowed stop hearing of the substantial suit. Criminal matters should be disposed-off speedily.
How will you assess the quality of judgment from our courts?
The quality of judgment you get from the judiciary is a reflection of what you get from the presentations from the Bar. Nobody is expected to know all the law. Although, we often say to judges that the law resides in their bosoms, but the truth is that a judge is not expected to know all the laws. He must be assisted by the presentations of lawyers. So, if the presentations coming from the Bar are poor, unless the judge is extremely lucid and industrious he may also turn out a watery judgement.
Having said that, it would not be fair to our judicial system to condemn, wholesale, judgments from our courts. We have seen cases where the court of first instance will come to a decision, the decision will be affirmed by the Court of Appeal but upturned by the Supreme Court. This does not necessarily mean that the court of first instance and the Court of Appeal justices are not learned, it is just their perception of the case.
We have also had cases where a High Court will decide a matter and Court of Appeal will disagree but the Supreme Court will affirm the judgement of the High Court.
However, we have to look at the length of time cases stay in court. A lot of cases should be subjected to Alternative Dispute Resolution rather than litigation. Not all matters ought to go through process of litigation. For instance, commercial cases from my experience are better resolved through arbitration or mediation than litigation.
Some have said the powers of CNJ should be whittled-down. Do you agree?
Some have said the CJN is becoming too powerful, the only thing that can be done to whittle-down the powers of CJN is to ensure that most members of NJC are not his appointees, so that the council is not dominated by those who the CJN appointed. Once that is done, the NJC will be able to come up with some balanced decisions.
Several months after judges were attacked in Ekiti State, no suspect has been brought to court by the police. Are you comfortable with that?
A situation where you have impunity at whatever level is dangerous for any system. Can you imagine a judge sitting in court and not feeling secured? He is not having confidence that he can make pronouncement without having to look over his back. It’s unfortunate and it tells a lot about our political system. Judges need protection.
I sympathize with judges. I did not accept judicial appointment when I was officered some 25 years ago for many reasons. For every case a judge decides he makes an enemy. The executive controls the law enforcement agents. The federal government in particular controls the police. Even at the state level, police commissioner has minimal commitment to the state government. A situation where a state governor and the president are linked, they can manipulate the security system to suit their purpose.
If the governor of Ekiti was not in the same party with the president, would he have done what he did and nothing would have happened? It is barbaric, there are no two ways to describe it, when people misuse security machinery for their political advantage. They forget that they are in office today; they may not be there tomorrow. Some of us are not mature enough to distinguish between state interest and personal interest. So, it is better to build strong institutions, institutions that work where everyone will be secure.