He is not known to be lily-livered, as he never shies away from controversy. In the perilous times of military dictatorship and autocracy, Dr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN dared the then authorities, by challenging their human rights violations, which led to the birth of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). The former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, has continued to soldier on. Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi recently sought his views on the state of the nation, the judiciary, corruption and why the IPOB agitation cannot be simply wished away
|Learned Silk, what informed your decision to file the fundamental rights action against the Federal Government in 2010, citing the breach of Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution as your ground? What is the position of the case? Do you really expect to get justice from the action? Or what is your expected outcome, since you are not a proponent of restructuring? Or was it just a way of legally ventilating the frustrations of the South East Zone?
There are a number of factors. First, as a matter of principle, if you are from the South East, looking at the Constitution of Nigeria, Section 14 that provides for equal participation and inclusion. I can see that going back to the end of the war, the South East has been excluded. Right from the last appointments of the NNPC Board, where there is no South East person, it is inexplicable. That ought not to be done.
Secondly, I have always thought about what the late Gani Fawehinmi, SAN always said, that if you compare what Nnamdi Kanu is doing, agitation on the streets. Gani’s methodology has always impressed me, use the courts to ventilate anger, in your rights. Whether I am going to go anywhere is a big issue, because ever since then, the case has not even been heard. Not one single hearing!
They just don’t want to hear the case, because its been seven years now, and it has come before four judges, I dare say from the North. It has not been heard.
The case is very simple. Section 42 makes a clear provision that, there shall be no discrimination on three grounds, gender, ethnicity and religion. So if you look at the appointments at NNPC, clearly it is discriminatory and offends Section 14 and that is part of the grievance that we now see manifesting in the agitation for Biafra.
No. I don’t like the word restructuring, because it has been abused, misunderstood and set out of context. The real question is, what is the legal framework that Nigeria needs, to ensure that its diverse peoples are included? That legal framework is the Constitution. The second question is, what type of Constitution does Nigeria need? Nigeria needs a Federal Constitution.
If you look at the Constitution, it has 98 items of power. 60 are exclusively that of the Federal Government. The other 30 are on the concurrent list, with the Federal Government having the first bite. So, really, the State Governments have no power at all. Therefore, there will be problems. They are now having all sorts of strikes. So, I ask, is there nobody advising the President? That is the problem, the underlying cause of Nigeria’s hypertension, is over-concentration of powers at the centre. That is why I say, restructuring may not necessarily be the right word to use. Whereas, restructuring may be part of the configuration, I like to use a more simple word, which Prof Nwabuaze, SAN has corrected. I was using ‘devolution of powers’, but Prof Nwabueze said devolution of powers, refers to a unitary structure. The proper appellation for Nigeria’s problems, according to Prof Nwabueze is ‘redistribution.’
You don’t devolve, because ‘devolve’ means to give, and the Federal Government has nothing to give. So, it is to ‘redistribute.’ All the Governors, Local Governments and the Federal Government, each carry responsibilities. Think what would have happened, if the Federal Government has no role in hospitals, health, education and housing. Because they cannot provide it. But the Federal Government spends 80% of our resources on 30% of the population, paying salaries. So, these
are issues that must be taken into account, when we are discussing restructuring. We must also take into account, economic governance.
The way it is done, is to have governments create policies, and then the government must make sure that there are Regulators. Then you have modules of government, the Executive, the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Regulators. The Regulators will regulate the area of business operations that the Federal Government has allowed the Private Sector to play a role in. For me, that is part of the restructuring. You know what will happen? If we restructure in the way that Ohaneze and the Yoruba Leaders of thought think, the result is that we will transfer the inefficiencies at the centre, to the States.
So you must first restructure the mind. I agree entirely with President Obasanjo, that our minds have to be restructured. So that when you go in, it will be a major attitudinal shift. The Private Sector has to play a role in anything that will make Nigeria go forward.
You are on record to have cautioned the Federal Government not to re-arrest Nnamdi Kanu, the self-proclaimed leader of IPOB. But he violated every term of his bail conditions. What informed your position on Nnamdi Kanu?
Because its no longer a legal question. That is the truth. Its now a politically hot potato. My worry was that, if he was re-arrested he would have posted a credible threat. He could have organised any band of unemployed disaffected youths and create mayhem. Rather than that mayhem, what I thought the Federal Government should do, was to look for ways to appease.
When Acting President Osinbajo was presiding over these matters, he started very well. He had called the South East leaders, and they were talking. That led to the South East Governors talking to Kanu. They were supposed to meet on September 15, but suddenly you create a force called Python. Just look at the name! You then throw these troops into the fray. So, the mayhem that has been created, is totally avoidable.
Re-arresting Kanu would not have helped, because they lost. They would have just kept quiet, because he is due back in court in October. Bring an application, that he has violated his bail terms. That is it! That is why his re-arrest would be a big error.
Some are accusing this present government of tribalism in favour of the North and acute marginalisation of the South East, also in terms of official appointments. But going from when you instituted your action in 2010, it seems that this trend did not start today under the Buhari Administration, but had been a trend from the past. What could be the reasons for this? The other side of the argument is that former President Jonathan who is from the South-South Zone had plenty of time to right these wrongs, but did little or nothing about them. Why was the agitation not as much then? That this agitation is simply a rouse to distract, discredit and destabilise this regime. Kindly comment on this.
Hans Morgenthau talks about Realpolitik. You know this problem goes back to 1960. It’s a long standing problem. There was a time, that the South East was viewed as the stronghold of the Nigerian federal process, in terms of appointments and all of that. Unfortunately, we had the civil war and that civil war, was wrongly viewed and perceived to be an Igbo coup. The man who led it was not an Igbo man. He was only Igbo in name. If you hear his accent, complete Northerner. I was born in the North, and I know. He had Northern troops. Northern troops went to Sardauna’s house and hijacked him. The coup was popular, because all the Ministers were stealing money. But once they sat down and found out that the affected people seemed not to have come from the South-East, it changed. That is the source of the problem from which we haven’t come out. That led to the coup, counter-coups and Ojukwu saying that he would not respect Gowon, who in fact with Danjuma, took part in the killing of Ironsi. These were all the problems. Then we had the Aburi Accord, which I think if we had respected it, we would have had no problem.
But immediately Gowon went back into the aircraft and showed the document to his Permanent Secretaries, they said ‘what have you done?!’ you have lost Nigeria!’ But if you read the Aburi Accord, which I have re-read, that was Nigeria’s first restructure. It returned power to the regions, that the Federal Government had taken from the regions in the first place.
Then who lost the war? The Igbos. Whoever loses a war pays. I hope you know that Japan is still paying up till now? Germany is still very much affected. So, there is a psyche of defeat. You don’t bring your vanquished to the table for a discussion and give him anything. Even as Gowon tried his 3Rs, Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation, defeated people are not on the table. It takes a lot of time.
I remember that Chief Awolowo had at the time, exchanged money, no matter how much money an Igbo person had, you were only given 20 Pounds in exchange. So, on the informal non- governmental side, the Igbos have done very well, by coming back. But on the government side, they haven’t, not out of any deliberate process of government, because they were out of it. All the policemen that were in the Nigeria Police Force, were asked to go. All the soldiers were asked to go. So that disparity manifested and carried on.
So, there was nobody who deliberately said ‘lets do affirmative action and allocate things to the South-East’. All the promises were just promises and were not carried through.
You are therefore, right to say that it didn’t start under Buhari. It has always been there. The person who had a chance to correct it was Jonathan, because he was in bed with the South-East. But unfortunately, the South-East political leaders were charlatans. They went there with Jonathan, sat with him, enjoyed themselves and completely neglected the South-East. Whether it is Peter Obi, or Pius Anyim, all of them. So, nothing changed!
In fact, the people that I blame the most, are the South-East political leaders, from Ekwueme down. They have done absolutely nothing! So, today you have a President Buhari, who is not very broad in his vision and he doesn’t give a hoot. He is just disappointing people. He has exacerbated the problem. But Jonathan carries a lot of the blame, for failing to correct the problem of marginalisation.
The Yoruba Summit which held in Ibadan on September 7 issued a communiqué on what is acceptable to the South-West Region. For example, return to regions, regional constitutions, revenue sharing formula 50 – 35 -15 to the States that own the resources, then 35 amongst the other States, and 15 to the Federal Government. What is your view about this? Do you support this, especially the issue of revenue sharing?
Yes I do. But you see there is nothing new about what the Yoruba Elders said at Ibadan. I was at the National Conference with many of them. They said all that we have been saying. I am tired of talking. That is why I decided generally that, media discussions, television chats are all useless. Because everywhere you go, there is nobody that is listening. Civil society has not got the power it had, to create pressure. So, yes what they said is right. But can it be implemented? That is why I go back to the issue of restructuring.
You have to look pragmatically at what is on the ground. The North has a completely different view about Nigeria, from the South. The North likes big government. Because when they look around, they have no resources. So government appointment is their resource.
So, if you turn around to shrink the government and power which they are holding, they will not listen. The first point is not for us to be talking to each other. At the Ohaneze Strategy Committee, I made a point and said ‘you see all of us sitting at this table, we know! But how do we sell it to the North?’ because, if the North doesn’t buy into it, no amount of resolutions passed by Igbo or Yoruba Elders will help. The key challenge is to go to the North, and persuade them that there is a need to talk and we present our issues, and ask them ‘what do you think about it?’
Because, there are going to be two important questions which Bola Ige posed ‘since 1914, we haven’t done well. Why? Is it because we have not really sat down to agree?’ We were first amalgamated by the colonial powers, and then controlled by the military power. So, we can decide actually not to continue Nigeria.
The USSR which people thought would live forever, lasted only 60 years and it broke up. But a lot of the independent countries, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania are doing very well! Russia is doing very well. People at that time thought no, no, no! That USSR is down and that is it! There is nothing sacrosanct about Nigeria’s sovereignty! Nothing! If we cannot stay together, that is it. I cannot force my wife to be my wife, by putting policemen at the gate. We have to sit and agree and she will say, ‘these are all you have done to me’. And I will say ‘How do we resolve it?’
Unfortunately, the Southern leaders, have got it all wrong by talking to each other. All the guys in Ibadan were Yoruba people and they know what they want. But what do the Northerners want? I would have liked to see a group of Yoruba leaders extend their hands of fellowship and say ‘lets dialogue on this question of Nigeria’.
In the South, we have spoken more than enough about restructure. In fact, we are sounding like a broken record, which is why I don’t like that word. The issue is, how do you persuade the North? Because it’s give and take.
What came out at the National Conference, was the difficulty of fiscal federalism, because of oil. So, eventually we had an agreement that created a sunset clause. The Niger-Delta people had 13%, then it would go up to 15%, 18% and as its going, the powers are being devolved slowly. Then after 25% there is a sunset and everything would have transferred to the regions.
We agreed to do that on solid minerals, bitumen and others. Nigeria has the second largest bitumen deposit in the world. Under the Ondo-Ekiti belt. In Enugu-Benue, there is coal. But the coal is not used. When I was in school, coming from Jos to the East, the train would be pulled by a diesel engine up to a town called Ehamufun. It is the last town before you enter the East. They would remove the diesel engine and put a coal engine, because the East wanted to sell its coal. So, you can see the competition. We can talk to the North, and see what they are willing to agree on. But if I am talking to you every day, nothing will happen!
You were a member of the 2014 Confab. What were the main decisions of the Confab especially with regard to the agitations now? In fact some people are saying that if the results of the Confab are implemented, Nigeria would be better. Do you believe that putting some of these resolutions into the Constitution, do you think it would make for a better Nigeria?
Yes. Because the Confab got off on a terribly difficult start. To the extent that, any resolution of one side put on the floor, would be defeated by the other side. So, Atedo Peterside came up with a business sense (because as a Banker for one, he managed difficult AGMs) to see how a business model can help the conference.
He said ‘Mr. Chairman look, the problem is that we can’t make any progress. So I call for a recess, so you can pick 50 wise men to go and untie some of these difficult knotty issues which we cannot resolve in this marmot gathering. I was part of that process. There was shouting, murmuring and all that, but later, here and there, compromises, and we reached an agreement resolutions on devolution of powers, restructuring (if you like to use that word). The only issue which we couldn’t resolve, was whether to increase the zones from 6 to 8. Introduce a Midwest Zone of Edo and Delta and a Middlebelt Zone of Kogi, Benue and Kwara.
The second difficult issue was, who would be the constituent units of the Federation? Will it be the Regions or the States. But we felt that, these were small problems that could be tied up. We had confronted the more difficult issues.
If Jonathan was serious, I thought he was serious, because my daughter warned me. She said ‘Daddy, I see your name here, please don’t go.’ I said ok, what I will do as a compromise, is not to accept my allowance of N12m. Just Pastor Tunde Bakare and I declined. If you see the report of the conference, you’ll be blown away. Jonathan missed a golden opportunity, to have actualised it. I don’t know how much water has gone under the bridge now.
Can’t the Report be revisited?
President Buhari said he is not going to look at it. So, these are the problems. If President Bihari can look at it, we can reconvene the conference and make progress.
The problem is simply that we cannot supervise policy across Nigeria. How do you expect Fashola to build all the bridges in 36 States? One man! So, all he is doing now is running like one ragged man all over the place, and he has done nothing. Give it to the States, and if you don’t do your own, that is your problem. Then the Federal Government would have less to worry about. Why should the Federal Government worry about building houses, or education?
I like how ASUU was challenged. Since we spend so much on you every year, and we can’t pay you, the solution is to make you autonomous. You’ll expect them to say yes. But they said no. Even at the Conference, Labour refused to be devolved. If Labour is crying about restructuring, then let’s start with them, but they said no. So, you can see how difficult this thing is. Why should there be only one National Labour Congress. They refused.
Even the Nigerian Bar Association! When I advocated State Bars as NBA President, they almost stripped me. Because somebody is used to being called President of the Nigerian Bar Association, so that he can be everywhere.
Why should Federal Government regulate drivers licence? Registration of Business Names, Marriages, so that if you want to do a small business you have to go to Abuja to register it. It was in my time as NBA President, that Belgore CJN accepted my proposal on how to pay our practicing fees. Before then, you had to travel practically to Abuja to pay. So, I said, ‘why cant you pay in any bank?’ it was accepted and that made it easy. That issue of bar practicing fees was resolved and it was because Belgore CJN was keen on accepting my proposal. My point is, don’t belittle the countervailing forces in the South, and in the North against restructuring.
But was it not in the same 2014 Confab that certain people from the North claimed that the oil in Nigeria belongs to them, that they have a larger land mass and so on? A claim that caused some disaffection in the Niger Delta. If some people came out of that Confab with that mindset, how does the issue of sharing get settled?
You know in problem solving, you first create a conceptual solution before applying it. So, conceptually, everybody accepted fiscal federalism, but pointed out the real challenge of the South- South controlling 90% of the revenue. If we devolve, the other parts of Nigeria will be poor. The South-South after a while, saw the point and agreed on the Sunset Clause, so long as they will be getting their incremental percentage.
So, after a while when oil is no longer the main economic driver, they can ‘take your oil.’ That was what was agreed.
After the Sunset Clause, what is meant to happen?
Then back to the regions. The owner, where it comes from, there will be derivation, 100%. By that time, the South-East would have developed their coal. The Ondo-Ekiti Belt would have developed their bitumen. There are 37 key solid minerals which we identified and everything will be developed. So there will be less agitations.
If by some magic, the electric car kicks in today and all of Europe and America no longer use petrol, this oil will become irrelevant.
So, oil will no longer be the mainstay. In restructuring I think what the Southern leaders missed, is the economic side. They were just thinking political. If you restructure and take the thing to the regions, and get the power you want, how do you run your economic system? Restructuring for me, has to do more with economic restructuring. Government must as a matter of priority, cease to play a role in the economy. They should only be planning policy and regulation. In Europe now, virtually all highways are privatised. You must pay tolls. Government’s role is taxation. We have the lowest taxation in the world, 6%. There is no incentive to pay tax here. But if the Federal Government takes its hands off all of the things that they are presently doing, then they can begin to build infrastructure. It is an interlocking issue, very difficult.
How would you rate the federal Government’s fight against corruption , especially when two crucial organs in the fight, the Police and the Judiciary were adjudged to be the first and second most corrupt institutions in Nigeria by the UNODC in conjunction with the National Bureau of Statistics?
Conceptually, the fight against corruption, everybody was impotent. We have to agree that of all the Presidents, Buhari is perhaps, the one who has shown the most determination. What is lacking is strategy. I don’t see coherent policy and strategy, for the counter-corruption strategy to be effective.
We start with the Executive. What is it that they need to do? We need to build that strategy which is not there. There are three elements in the strategy. The investigation part, the prosecution part, and the asset recovery part. These are the three key elements. I doubt that the EFCC as an institution is able to play these three roles effectively.
There is nowhere in the world, where a policeman prosecutes. The role of a policeman in England, the Special Fraud Unit, then turn it over to the Crown Prosecution Service. Then there is an asset recovery process. I would like to see that done here in Nigeria. This will enable Magu and his people, to concentrate on investigation and they can do it thoroughly. Right now they are doing it haphazardly, and prosecution is very poor. then the prosecution will then be under the office of the Attorney-General. Although he has established a list of prosecutors to do all the cases, but the problem with that, is how to fund the counter-corruption war. The war requires a big budget and I am not sure how much EFCC has as its budget.
If you go to there office here in Lagos, they are all hungry and when they are hungry they will take bribe. This is the problem.
How can the government talk about fighting corruption, and they are not funding it? The whistle- blower thing, you see they way it led to recoveries. We need to properly organise that. It must be seen to be blind. Anyone that is accused of corruption, will be gone. For instance I don’t know why they are silent about the scandal of the SGF, Babachir. You talk about Diezani, Diezani, Diezani. That doesn’t make her innocent, but what about the other people who are your friends? That doesn’t create confidence.
It is the President, who can set the tone and ensure that everybody buys into it. Incidentally, there are some lessons to be learnt about the negative man, Abacha. He was decisive and tough, about corruption in the banking system. He set up the failed bank system, funded it, the judges were extremely well paid, and they jailed people! It has been the most vibrant example of the war on corruption in Nigeria. Government should borrow a leaf from that.
You were nominated along with other lawyers, your brother silks, to be Justices of the Supreme Court. Since the nomination, nothing much has been heard about it. Why? Has the idea been killed or did it die a natural death? Some have argued that the career paths of a Senior Advocate and a Judge are different, and that taking the nomination of SANs for Justices, will only diminish the morale of well deserving High Court or Court of Appeal Judges, who are struggling to reach the pinnacle of their career, just as Senior Advocates have reached the pinnacle of theirs. Is there any merit to this argument?
There is no merit. As to what is happening, I have no idea. Because since after the nomination, I have heard nothing. But as to the role of a QC (Queen’s Counsel) or a SAN in the Judiciary, I would like you to know and I am sure you know that, you cannot be a Judge of the High Court in England unless you are QC. In fact, this is the war which I have fought for a long time, but it didn’t work. But maybe this will now correct the problem. There is question with respect to our Judges, that a substantial number of them are incompetent. They cannot do cases. They have no clue. Why? Because he/she comes from a bank, an oil company or some politician.
So, what they do in England is to make sure that the best get to the Bench. So, I should have been a High Court Judge at the age of 41 or 42. We have no business being in law practice at this time. In fact QCs who don’t go on to the Bench, retire at the age of 60 from law practice. There is a lopsided relationship between SANs and Judges. No SAN worth his salt, ever agrees to be a High Court Judge in Nigeria. None. The fact that you are a High Court Judge, is equivalent to a SAN, but in the eyes of the public, it is not so.
Those who should make sure that the Bench is populated by the best, don’t want it. So, they keep it for themselves and become Magistrates, then go on to become a Director in the Ministry of justice. Then they say ‘oh, this mad SAN wants to come and take our jobs! No way! Keep them out.’ So, the place is populated by Stipendiary Magistrates. In England, if you are a Stipendiary Magistrate, you can never b a Judge.
But here plenty Magistrates are Judges. Plenty Court Registrars are Judges. So, the best isn’t going in. If you look at the Supreme Court today in terms if its composition, it is not as vibrant as it used to be. Because the best are not there! Without sounding immodest, I can imagine a panel of me, Olanipekun, O.C.J. Okocha, J.B. Daudu and A.B. Mahmoud hearing an appeal. We will deliver judgement on the spot! Because, all the issues are in our heads. But if you haven’t had that experience and that diverse practice, you will not be able to deliver.
There are some cases, where you see some of our judges just lost. Just moping and you know they are absolutely lost. In fact, there was a case when I was NBA President, I told the presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Lagos that I was shocked at their ruling. I set before them the Rules of the Court of Appeal to grant me an injunction, even though I had not gone to the High Court on exceptional circumstances. I said to them, if you are taking my application and overrule me its ok. But to say you can’t do it at all, is a perverse decision!
Sometimes Judges and Justices deliver perverse decisions, not that they have taken money, but because they just don’t know the law. So, if we want the best we have to change the rules, to say if you want to be a high Court Judge, you have to be SAN. Its not for nothing that they do so in England. There is a reason that they appoint the best.
If you are managing Arsenal, you have to field the best and make sure the best play. But in Nigeria the worst are brought onto the Bench. That is the problem. So, Nigeria’s best lawyers are not in the Judiciary.
As a Human Rights Activist, who has had his fair share of suffering meted out to him by past Governments, how would you rate this present administration in terms of fundamental rights, and freedom of expression for instance, the recent resolve by the military to monitor the social media?
No government that I have known in Nigeria, understands what the rule of law means. The rule of law means the notion of limited governance. Look at the rogue President in America who looks like
a third world President. He has been shouting? ‘I will do this, I will do that!’ has he done anything? He has been cold stringed. They call it cold-stringing. They told him ‘you can’t do this!’ in respect of fencing off some countries that border America. They told him it is unconstitutional.Then you want to deport boys and girls born in America, but are undocumented. Parliament said ‘you cant do it.’ In Nigeria, if you like go to court. The order of injunction will be served on the Minister, and if he likes he will throw it away.
The notion of limited governance, is not understood in Nigeria. When I was called by President Yar’Adua to give a talk on the rule of law at a presidential retreat for Ministers, you know they always like to start with all these nonsense retreats. So, I warned them and said ‘this thing about rule of law, (because that was the mantra of the Yar’Adua government), its not to say it by mouth ooo! Because when I hit you with an order of injunction, will you obey it?’ I remember Timi Alaibe who was sitting behind me told me, ‘this is the truth.’
No government in Nigeria has obeyed the rule of law, and it affects human rights in varying degrees. There is not a single Nigerian government that understands the meaning of Chapter 4 of the Constitution. So, I don’t even want to attempt to begin to score the government on human rights, when the notion is not even understood.
One person I think you should talk to, is Professor Nwabuaze, because some of these concepts I am discussing, come from his books. He doesn’t talk about the rule of law, like you asked me. He talks about the notion of limited governance. When government is constrained by strong and counterbalanced institutions, the President cannot sack the CBN Governor, he cannot sack the Inspector General of Police, and cannot do so many things, he finds himself limited.
The Attorney-General of America appoints a Special Prosecutor, without telling the President, and the President is angry. But he has to confront it. Can you imagine that in Nigeria? Limited governance. That is what we need.
It is only a new Constitution, that can address these issues. In South Africa, they have the notion of limited governance, even though Zuma is a thug. But at least its there in Chapter 10 of their Constitution, that ‘the following institutions are institutions strengthening democracy’. Can you imagine if our EFCC is independent? They take their budget directly to the Parliament. The President has no control. He cannot appoint and he cannot sack, then the underlying cause of human rights abuse, will disappear or be limited.
What do you think about the outcry that the Senate is not concentrating on its constitutional functions, but is instead, overreaching itself summoning people left, right and centre, without having the right to do so. Do you think they working within their constitutional role?
The National Assembly has become irrelevant. The purpose of the National Assembly, is to make laws for the good running of Nigeria, but they have turned themselves into investigators. Every manner of public official, everyday they are hauling them before the National Assembly.
We have nine critical bills, that have been lying at the National Assembly for over 10 years. Look at Apapa. The only reason it is like that, is because the National Assembly is not working. The government is also not working, but the National Assembly has no clue about the importance, for instance, of the Port and Harbour Bill.
The government needs over N400 trillion to fix ports across Nigeria. It doesn’t have that money, so you need the private sector, particularly FDI inflows, who will bring in foreign direct investments. But the investor is going to ask himself ‘what guarantee do I have that if I put my money here, I will get it back?’ the first thing he going to ask is, ‘what is the legislative framework of investment?’ There is none. It is that Port and Harbour Bill, that would have done it.
So, you now begin to wonder ‘don’t these guys have any brains? Why are they summoning people, rather than do the work for which they taking such huge amounts of money?’
The second important bill is, Nigeria is one of the eight countries in the world that has a sloping continental shelf. Most continental shelves drop. But ours slopes. So, under the United Nations Law of the Sea, Nigeria is entitled to take an extra 150 nautical miles, in addition to the 200 nautical miles of exclusive economic zone. That means we have 350 nautical miles, from the baseline of our territorial waters to exploit.
If I tell you that ‘I surveyed your land. You were mistaken that it is one plot, but its two’, you will be so excited! Wont you?
I told these indolent Nigerian authorities that ‘you have additional 150 nautical miles’. I drafted the bill, and its been lying in the Parliament for the past 10 years.
You have to be in shipping, to understand that we have one of the best tuna in the world. Shrimps, lobsters, octopus, but the Chinese come, and in conjunction with our naval forces steal everything and run away.
Meanwhile NIMASA that should be doing it, is interested in doing other things. The other day someone was asking ‘is NIMASA a naval force?’ They are carrying guns up and down, all over the place. The work of NIMASA, is to actually develop our shipping and ocean economy.
The National Assembly, is not playing any role. For instance, if the National Assembly is not existing, you won’t feel it. I don’t see what they do. Nothing! Compare our National Assembly to the American Congress, where you see all these wise old men, who understand whatever field they are taking.
I don’t even want to discuss how much the National Assembly is taking as salaries and remunerations, because we all know that they are overpaid. The highest paid in the world. They are not even going to disclose how much they are paid. But why is that, if there is Freedom of Information Act?
Let’s go back to the rule of law, and the notion of limited governance. these are the problems. The pillars supporting democratic institutions are not in place. So, it affects everything, the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive. They do what they like. Nobody obeys any law, and they appropriate to themselves what they think is relevant.
When the Uwais Commission on electoral reforms, recommended that the INEC should become free from government revenue, we gave that idea to the National Assembly and they copied. But now, they send their budget for appropriation. What they do is that, they blackmail with it and say ‘if you don’t pass our budget, we won’t pass you own’. So, they have no clue. All they do is to sign off. The President does not even look at the National Assembly budget.
When David Mark was Senate President, do you know how much his total earnings were? One Billion Naira a year. When Chuba Okadigbo was Senate President and I was doing a case, he had 32 cars. One driver ran away with one of the cars, and nobody knew for a long time.
The notion of limited governance, is at the heart of restructuring. Not just the regions, because you will transfer the problems we have now to those regions. In fact, the regions may become worse than the federal.
Some have said that even the former senators, seem to have taken an oath of secrecy that they will not divulge their earnings in the National Assembly, and so, they do not talk about even after the leave the National Assembly
The ‘Penny-Penny lawyers’ theory, propounded by EFCC as to why they lose cases, has continued to generate widespread debates across the country. But EFCC has engaged senior lawyers and even some members of the Inner Bar, to prosecute their cases in the past. One dares to mention former NBA President J.B. Daudu, SAN, NBA President A.B. Mahmoud, SAN, E.C. Ukala, SAN, and Rotimi Jacobs, SAN. What then, informed your position that EFCC hires ‘Penny-Penny’ lawyers?
First, it’s important to clarify what I meant by ‘penny-penny lawyers.’ Penny-Penny Lawyer’ does not mean a lawyer that is engaged, but it refers to the legal budget of the EFCC. The legal budget of the EFCC is ‘penny-penny.’
Go and ask these Senior Advocates that you have called, how much they get paid as EFCC lawyers? As far as I know, the key lawyer of the EFCC is Rotimi Jacobs. He seems as if he is everywhere, and there is no way one man can carry out all these things. The EFCC has a ‘penny- penny’ policy of hiring lawyers, whether they are juniors or seniors. That will not do anybody any good.
I was once retained by the EFCC under Mrs. Farida Waziri, and I looked at the fee and said ‘It is not possible. I cannot do this work, for this type of pay’.
I was watching a television interview, where someone said that the senior lawyers should do it for country, and not be concerned about remuneration.
Why? What do you mean? Lets be clear, it’s not a pro bono issue. That is part of what I am saying. That the government is not serious.
You want to catch people who have billions, and you think you can use ‘penny-penny’ legal budgets, its not going to work. The EFCC should have a legal budget that is at least N5b. They are looking for over 5 trillion Naira, and you’ll go and engage a Peter Nwankwo that is 3 years old at the Bar and give him N30,000, or you engage J.B. Daudu, SAN and give him N1m. He is not going to win. Defence rouges will hire a top lawyer and say ‘Take N300m’. How will that defence lawyer, not defeat a ‘penny-penny’ lawyer, whether he is a Senior Advocate or two years old at the Bar? So, it goes back to the point I made earlier. I have heard Magu complain that they do not have money. If they have no money, how does the President expect them to achieve on his fight against corruption?
As a former NBA President, how do you think sanity can come back to the NBA in the face of the numerous litigations against the NBA and its Board of Trustees of which you are a member?
Can you prevent anybody from going to court? Is that not what the courts are meant for? There is nothing wrong with that. Rather, I would have thought that it in fact, shows the freedom that anyone has to sue.
But it is weakening the Association, as it affects its cohesion and creates disaffection.
It is really? Disaffection is on J-K Gadzama’s view that he was cheated at the election. J-K’s point is that, there was electronic manipulation of the electoral process. I have no idea whether that is true or not, and it has led to all this litigation in court. But you can’t stop that. There is no way you can stop it. What I do know, is that the electronic voting process was a great idea. I voted from Malta. I was abroad.
Before we had to gather in one place, and it would take hours to sort things out. But now, the electronic process is a step forward. Of course it has its challenges which is in the allegations made by J-K. But, the courts will determine it.
The more important issue which comes from your question, is whether the structure of the NBA is not in need of review. It’s simply not possible, to have 10,000 lawyers in one place. My first day at the Conference, was the last day I went. The whole place was choked, right from the gate. The only way out of all this, is to have State Bars. These court cases, suggest that the NBA needs a new operating model as a way forward. I think State Bars, are crucial for the survival of the NBA over time.
Do you think the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice should be separated?
Because one is political, and the other professional. The Attorney-General should head the office of State Prosecution Service, and deal with prosecutorial matters. Its like a law firm. He reports to nobody after appointment, except for bad behaviour or his tenure runs out.
The Minister of Justice, sits in the Executive and acts as Legal Adviser to the President. So, it becomes a matter of conflict, that he can act against his own boss. If you want to have a good rule of law system, the offices should be separated. Even at the National Conference, it was agreed that the two should be separated.