Activist lawyer, Uwemedimo Nwoko who was called to the Bar December 1992 is the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Akwa Ibom State. In this interview, he speaks on capital punishment, election disputes, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) among other issues. Excerpts:
Would you subscribe to the use ADR to resolve election matters?
It will be a good idea but I doubt if it will work. The parties and participants in most election petition disputes are always taking very stiff positions. It is like there is only one way out and the one way is the ticket. The only issue that can be used to resolve the matter is the mandate. It is difficult to use ADR in the sense that the man who owns the mandate is not holding it for himself. He is holding it for the people and so he has nothing to offer the other party in exchange for that mandate, knowing fully that he is going into office. So what will he offer the other side? Every candidate for an election is carrying the hopes and aspirations of a large crowd of supporters behind him. If he goes into ADR what will he be bringing back to his large supporters. Before you know it he would be accused of betraying his supporters and being a sellout. He would end up with a bad name. The conclusion would be that he has been settled. I would recommend it but I have strong doubt as to the efficacy of ADR to election matters.
Where the election matters are taken to court and it is the court that determines who wins an election, would you agree that it is the court and no longer the people that determine the winners?
No, I will not because the court has no business with the choice of who carries the mandate of the people. The only involvement of the court is that after the electoral umpire, which is the INEC conducts election, and declares a particular person a winner, where somebody is dissatisfied with that, that dissatisfaction is based on certain allegations and the constitution opens a window for him to ventilate that dissatisfaction and he goes there to ventilate it; the court has no business with who eventually emerges as the winner of the mandate at stake.
If the court finds that the mandate was given to the wrong person, it can collect it and give it to the right person or where the mandate is questionable; it can nullify it and let them go back for a real contest. That is the extent to which the court can go. It would be wrong to say that it is the court that chooses the people to hold the mandate.
How do you relate this to the decision in Senator Akpabio’s case?
Someone came to court and said that Akpabio was not qualified; secondly, that his election should be nullified on grounds of non-compliance to Electoral Act 2010 and, or corrupt practices. When they were calling evidence, they did not call any evidence relating to corrupt practices and the court pointed that out. It is not enough to raise allegations; you must have facts to support that allegation. At the end of the day they only tried to call evidence in respect to non-compliance and completely abandoned all evidence relating to corrupt practices.
What is your reaction to that decision?
It was a well marshaled decision. The judgment is a product of exemplary courage. Each of the issues brought before the court was addressed. From the issue of non-qualification to contest to the issue of corrupt practices even to the witnesses called by the parties. The petitioner called 17 witnesses, the respondent called 23 witnesses and the court was able to analyze the witnesses called by both sides before coming to conclusion. It was a judgment worth the salt and the judges should be applauded.
What is your take on capital punishment?
I support capital punishment. The circumstances and situations where a person is wrongly convicted may be like one in a million and it hardly happens. It should not be because there is a mere speculative possibility that a person may have been wrongly convicted that somebody who has taken another person’s life or has committed a capital offence would be let to go, particularly in the type of society we are living today.
Capital punishment is meant to serve as a deterrent.
Has capital punishment really served as a deterrent?
To some extent it has, you may not be able to have scientific measurement of the extent it has served but it has because I come from a community where violent actions are used to settle scores. If you check through the criminal law you will see that there are a lot of murders from the part of the country which I come from. I know that there are people who restraint themselves just because of the government and the circumstances they would have faced.
These days it is difficult to have successful partnership in law practice that would survive the founder. What is wrong with partnership in law practice?
The average person in Africa and particularly Nigeria does not act in such a way that trust should be reposed in him. So when two friends want to form a partnership, you find that one way or the other some undercutting, and not very straight forward action tended to undermine the relationship and make them to wonder why they should continue with the partnership will crop up.
The problem is our character, even within two brothers who are lawyers, you may find out that they cannot run the same office.
I run a partnership with my younger brother which we are trying to make a family partnership. I pray that we succeed. We are also building it into the consciousness of our children that we are building it on trust and love. We have done it successfully but we pray that our children will pass it on to their children.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi never had a partnership. He put it in his will that when he died his law firm should be dissolved, the books should be given out to institutions and he did not expect anyone to continue with his law firm. But you can talk about Chief FRA Williams, he has two SANs in the family but are they working together? That is in our character. But when you travel abroad you find law firms carrying on for more than 100 years.