Nnamdi Ebo, a political scientist, author, online newspaper publisher and columnist was called to bar December 13, 2017. In this interview with Alex Enumah, he talked about his dream for the law profession and other issues confronting the nation
You are a political scientist, an author, social commentator amongst others, what is your attraction to the legal profession and how do you feel being called to the bar?
Actually when I applied to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, I applied for Law but they gave me the second choice which was Political Science, so my uncle advised that I take it and afterwards go and read Law. However, when I graduated Nigeria was not bad as it is today. I got a job, bought a car, had a house, so I forgot to go back to school. But after several years of working and doing business, I said no, no, no, I must go back to school. So, I applied at the University of Abuja to read Law, which was my first love and do my primary assignment.
How do you feel today not just being a Law graduate but being called to the bar to practice your dream profession?
I graduated from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, in 1980, did my youth service in 1981 and I got into University of Abuja 2010 to read Law, so between 1980 to 2010 is 30 years. I remember having classmates old enough to be my children but, today, I feel so great because I have fulfilled my long dream which started immediately after the civil war. Though, it took 30 years, but everything has gone now, I am now a lawyer, a practicing one, so I am very happy now.
Now that you have your dream of becoming a lawyer fulfilled, what areas of change you expect to see or make as part of your contribution to the growth of the profession?
One of the areas the judiciary needs help is in the area of information technology. I remember when I did my court attachment in one of the courts in Area 3, Garki, FCT, the judge was still writing by hand. In advanced world they have gone beyond those things. Judges should have stenographers taking word for word what is happening which the judge can review later. So, in the area of keeping records during litigations I don’t think judges should be writing, that delays justice as far as I am concerned because as a lawyer, if you are talking and you are too fast for the judge he would ask you to stop.
Another area is infrastructure. It is only in Abuja, that you see air conditioned courtrooms and maybe a few places in Lagos, if you go to some high courts in some states you would be shocked to see some of them sitting on benches, I mean wooden benches for that matter.
Also the Nigerian judiciary doesn’t have enough online presence. For example, if I need information on judicial matters I will have to go to the Supreme Court library or other library belonging to the judiciary. People should be able to go online and access any information on the judiciary. It is high time they put everything online so that people don’t have to go to court library before they can access information on the judiciary. Court records should be online to facilitate the job of lawyers and even judicial staff.
And as for my dream for the profession, I intend to be very active on human rights law and in the area of Pro-bono. If you go to the prisons in Nigeria today, you will see a lot of people languishing there. A lot of them have spent 10 years, eight years no trial because they are from poor families and they don’t know anybody so they are there. You will also be surprised that a lot of them are caught for just wondering and other petty crimes but they end up staying there for years. So, I intend to go to the Nigerian Legal Aid Council, liaise with them to know what to do in order to offer my legal services through them. I will also go to those prisons find out some of those in need, pick a few cases and have them on Pro-bono without charging the defendants. I want to leave a mark for humanity by offering Pro-bono services to poor Nigerians. I may even establish a foundation in this regard in the future, though the cost is high.
What is your assessment of Nigeria’s judiciary in relation to fight against corruption?
Corruption has always existed, it didn’t start with this administration, and it’s been there. Why it appears as if it is more prevalent now, is that this administration decided to fight it. It was a cardinal campaign promise of President Muhammadu Buhari to fight corruption, so it is as if corruption started now, no it is because he is fighting it and corruption is fighting back.
Unfortunately, one area that corruption has been very endemic is the judiciary, which everybody knows as judicial corruption, a situation where judges compromise their judicial decision on the bench for lucre, it is very unfortunate.
Some judges even give judgment that leaves even the layman amazed. An example is the one given on December 12 by the Lagos division of the Court of Appeal which is currently the most controversial judgment, where the court held that the EFCC has no right either to investigate or prosecute judges. That is a judgment that is controversial and a wrong judgment in the sense that the court’s decision runs contrary to the principle of separation of power, the executive, legislature and the judiciary all have their individual powers and there are checks and balances enabling the three of them to work in unison. So, if EFCC which has statutory powers to investigate cannot investigate or prosecute judges then there is a problem. Though the judgment is not saying judges are immune but that before the EFCC can do anything, the NJC must try the judge and recommend his or her crime to the EFCC for prosecution or dismiss him, or that the NJC must finish before EFCC can prosecute. I do not agree with the judgment because even though the judgment says there is no immunity on the judges, they are inadvertently bringing immunity from another side that is unconstitutional, the kind of immunity the constitution does not envisage. Judges have immunity when they are sitting in their courts but as soon as a judge steps out of his court room and commits a crime he will be tried like any other Nigerian. But any action he takes as a judge sitting in the courtroom he is covered by immunity. That judgment is an infringement on separation of powers, you cannot say the EFCC cannot prosecute until you finish, are you going to recommend the crime to EFCC, it is EFCC that will determine the crime through investigation.
The judgment is not good for judges to start with, because there may be situation where the NJC finds a judge guilty and dismisses him but the court found him innocent through their investigation. Now, he is already been sacked by the NJC, but the court now frees him from the alleged crimes and let him go, what then happens to him, considering that he has already been dismissed by the NJC on a crime he did not commit?
What is your perspective on President Buhari’s fight against corruption and the controversy surrounding the approval given to the executive by the governors to withdraw $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to fight insurgency?
President Buhari means well for this country, unfortunately he is surrounded by corrupt people. A lot of people feel the corruption fight so far is one sided and that the government is fighting perceived enemies, in the opposition and it seemed so because there are some persons in the corridors of powers that people know to be corrupt but they are walking free. While the approval to withdraw monies to fight terrorism can be seen as justified it becomes more confusing if such huge amount is needed to prosecute the war against insurgency when the government keeps claiming that Boko Haram has been decimated.
The problem of this country is corruption. There is no area in this country that corruption has not permeated. In the previous administration a lot of money meant for procurement of arms were diverted into politics. Nigerian politicians are dubious, the government should need less money going by the claim by the military that Boko Haram has been defeated.
What is your take on the dress code for lawyers in the wake of the Hijab controversy generated by your colleague whom the Law School refused to call to bar?
Wearing of wig and gown is a convention, there is no law in the constitution that says lawyers should wear wig and gown, it is a convention and many countries including U.S. and Britain have done away with the tradition. With regards to the Hijab, the Law School has their own regulations and the affected student was aware of it, she just wanted to make a point. To me, if you know your religious belief would affect you in a profession, then don’t go into that profession, but again, I see nothing wrong with her decision.