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‘Judiciary no longer the last hope of the common man’
Chief Emeka Ngige SAN is seeking to contest for the post of the President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) at its delegates’ conference in Kaduna next month. In this interview with Yejide Gbenga-Ogundare, he speaks on the posibility of having a woman as the next CJN, quick dispensation of justice, proposed scrapping of the EFCC, ICPC and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
Will establishment of more courts solve the slow pace of resolving cases in our courts?
The major problem we have as it relates to delay in administration of justice is on the calibre of personnel appointed to judicial posts. If somebody was called to bar and he joins a bank as company secretary, writing memo on mortgages and closing debentures, when he clocks 10 years, he becomes eligible to be appointed to the Bench and you appoint him to the Bench. Do you expect him to perform miracles? Obviously, that person lacks capacity to adjudicate on the various cases that come to the court. If you remember our courts are not that specialised. One judge will do a human rights matter today, tomorrow he will do land matter, another day he will do company matter or shipping matter. It is like a general court. If you now bring somebody whose only knowledge of law is about mortgages and debenture to handle land matter, how do you expect him to deliver a sound judgment? That is why there is delay; they keep adjourning the cases because they don’t know what to write. Even when the written addresses have been submitted, because, he doesn’t have the background in that subject, it becomes difficult for him to put pen on paper and deliver a judgment. That is why we are having the delay.
At the Court of Appeal, those that are being appointed these days, some of them are not qualified. Because of the weakness in the system, they find their way to the Court of Appeal. So, the solution lies in putting a square peg in a square hole. I canvassed the point that we have reached a situation where we should advertise vacancy for judicial appointments. Advertise it in the newspapers and those who qualify should apply. You will be screened, you will bring the judgment that you have delivered if you’re a judge. If you are a lawyer, get all the cases that you’ve conducted including the briefs that you have written. A panel will evaluate it and determine your eligibility to sit at the Bench. Not the present arrangement that if I want to go to the Bench, I will go and meet my uncle who will talk to his classmate who is a judge and he will recommend me even though I have never appear before him. Then I get recommended and become a judge, that procedure is wrong. So, the procedure for appointment of judges must be reviewed for us to overcome all these challenges that you are talking about.
Justice Aloma Muktar is set to become Nigeria’s first female Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), from your knowledge of her antecedents, how do you think she will impact on the administration of justice in the country?
I believe that by the special grace of God, Justice Aloma Muktar by July 15 or thereabout will become the Chief Justice of Nigeria. It will mark the beginning of radical departure from the present norm in the administration of justice particularly at the apex court. Her coming will bring in a breath of fresh air in the Nigerian judiciary. She has a track record of being a hard working administrator; she was the first female chief registrar of the high court of Kano State. From there she became the first female judge in the Kano State judiciary and in the whole of the north. When she was denied from being the first female Chief Judge of Kano, they elevated her to the Court of Appeal. There again, she became the first female Justice of the Court of Appeal.
Now the outgoing Chief Justice had recommended her as possible successor and we thank him for that. We also prayed that the appointing authority, the Federal Judicial Service Commission, National Judicial Council and the President as well as the Nigerian Senate will confirm her appointment. Justice Muktar when at the Court of Appeal, the judgment she delivered shows a judge that has profound knowledge of law. She is a judge that dispenses justice without fear or favour. At the Supreme Court she proved her mettle. Indeed, the climax of her courage, consistency and fear of God was manifested in the case of Muhammed Buhari Vs Umaru Yar’Adua. She wrote a dissenting judgment which today is still referred to by judicial writers, by judges even though it is not an authority being a dissenting judgment.
Do you believe the judiciary is still the last hope of the common man in Nigeria?
I am afraid no. There is crisis of confidence between the judiciary and the common man. The common man does not have hope in the judiciary anymore. The judiciary is no longer the last hope of the common man. The last hope of common man in Nigeria now is God. They have taken everything to God. So it is when we have the right leadership at the executive, legislative and judicial levels that you will start seeing changes and return to the good old days. That is why I am thrilled that Justice Aloma Muktar will take over. I have great expectations for her. The judiciary as at now is at its lowest ebb in terms of respect, in terms of acceptance and in terms of ability to inspire the common man.
There had been comments to the effect that the conviction of the former governor of Delta State, James Ibori exposed the failure of the Nigerian judiciary. What is your take on this?
I agree that judiciary failed in Ibori’s matter and the British court taught us how to do justice. If you recall, Ibori’s case that was filed in Kaduna and the prosecuting counsel was Rotimi Jacobs. But, the system debriefed him and gave the file to another counsel who is not known to be a criminal prosecutor. In our profession we know people who have their own area of versatility. Incidentally, when the file was taken away from Rotimi Jacobs, we started seeing strange happenings and the matter being transferred from Kaduna to Asaba and it was at Asaba that the matter was buried. But, like Jesus Christ, the matter resurrected in London and has now gone to heaven. That case was a clear manifestation of the failure of our judiciary.
What is your opinion on the Supreme Court’s verdict that election petitions should be determined within 180 days?
Well, I must confess by saying that I benefited from that interpretation. I had a petition by Professor Dora Akunyuli against my elder brother and I conducted the defence and took advantage of that Supreme Court decision to terminate the proceedings. Before that termination, I had argued three times before the Court of Appeal and they overruled me that in interpreting statute, you must find out the mischief which the statute or the amendment of the statute sought to cure. What was the outcry, what was the complaint before the amendment came to be. The mischief was that cases were dragging before the election tribunals.
Now, some people started twisting the law particularly at the Court of Appeal. When the Court of Appeal said when a matter is remitted for re-trial that you start counting the 180 days afresh. Was it in the law? Are you not amending that law to defeat the mischief intended to be cured by the lawmakers. That was why I agreed with the Supreme Court that section 285 (5 &, 6) of the amended provision of the Constitution is like mount Zion, that cannot be moved. It may create hardship for litigants. The Supreme Court decision was not based on technicality it was a pure substantive position of the Constitution by the lawmakers. The lawmakers wanted it that way, so the way out is not to do an acrobatic interpretation of the law in order to subvert the intention of the legislature but to go back to the legislature and get them to amend the law. To make a proviso that will say ‘’provided that any matter remitted for re-trial by the Court Of Appeal shall attract a fresh 45 days for hearing and determination, simple. So, the Supreme Court should not be blamed for adhering to the provision of the Constitution as demanded by the legislature.
Do you believe that law should be a second degree?
That has been my position over the years. I presented a paper on it in 2009 at the Bar Conference held at the Nigerian Law School. My reason is that since we are complaining about falling standard of education and we can see that most of the lawyers that are passing out of the law school now some of them are 20 to 21 years. Since they are very young, nothing stops the Council of Legal Education and National University Commission from making law a second degree. Let them go and read economics or history or medicine and come back to read law. By that time not only will they have a subject in their kitty, they are now matured. When they are now practicing law they practice it with maturity and with responsibility. When you allow young boys aged 19 to be called to the Bar you may find that youthful exuberance may come to bear on their performance at the Bar.
So, for reason touching on falling standard of education, law as a second degree option is high recommended by me. More so, when you look at the icons in the legal profession you will find that most of them read law as a second subject. Time may not permit me to remember all, Justice Oputa read economics before he went back to read law. Justice Nnemeka Agu studied geography before he went to read law. Fidelis Nwadialor of beloved memory read mathematics before he went to read law. Justice Kayode Eso read classics before he went to read law; Bola Ige read classics at the university before he went to read law. I can name many of them, the only person among the icons that read law as first degree was Rotimi Williams, but he did his Masters’ degree in another subject and not in law. So, it is very important now that study of law should become a second degree as its being done in the United States.
Putting into consideration the insecurity issues plaguing the country especially the north, is it advisable to hold the NBA delegate conference in Kaduna and the annual general conference in Abuja as slated?
The issue of having the delegate conference in Kaduna and the general conference in Abuja is brought about by the constitutional amendment that NBA had in the year 2009 during the regime of Rotimi Akeredolu, where it was resolved that in order to avoid the hustle and bustle that go with annual general conference, NBA election should be separated. So that when people come from conference they are coming for knowledge and to refresh themselves without tension. I give Rotimi Akeredolu-led executive kudos for that wise decision. As for the venue, it depends on the National Executive Council (NEC).As at now it has been fixed for Kaduna. A lot of people including my humble self have reservations about Kaduna. With the spate of bombings by the Boko Haram, thereby making life totally insecure in Kaduna, I believe that it will not be wise for lawyers’ conference to hold there.
The security agency will not be able to cope with security challenges because the Boko Haram people always want to strike where there are large gathering of people. That is why they go to churches. So, I foresee that they will equally want to strike where the lawyers are gathering. There will be more than 1,000 lawyers present. I believe that our President listen to the voice of reason and the delegate conference should be moved from Kaduna to Abuja. I think the Federal Government and the security agencies can protect lawyers in Abuja than in Kaduna. The annual conference coming up in August can still go in Abuja, what is most important is safety of lives. It does not make any sense that because we don’t want to come to Abuja twice, we now go to Kaduna and lose lives. No life is worth losing because of the NBA election because that election does not worth one life of any lawyer. So, I join those who clamour that that conference should be shifted to Abuja in the interest of lives of lawyers that may be wasted in Kaduna.Share