Many believe that the National Judicial Council (NJC), empowered by law to discipline erring judges, are sometimes protective of their own, which prompted the security agencies to side-step the Council, when they invaded the houses of judicial officers accused of corruption last October. Chief Ife Adedipe (SAN), in this interview with GODWIN DUNIA, thinks a reform of the Council will address those worries. He also decried the high degree of impunity and violation of the constitution, its adverse effect on the country, insecurity and lack of respect to the rule of law among others.
As a senior advocate, what does Chief Adedipe think of the rule of law, insecurity and the economic situation of the country currently? He said: “I am not an economist, so I may not be able to give appropriate response as to the state of the nations’ economy. But all I know is that the naira has collapsed. Two years ago, it was not this bad but today it is almost N385 to a dollar. In real term, the naira is losing its value and comparatively, you would not say the economy is better this year than it was two years ago. And like I said, when you go to the market to make purchase, you will need more naira to spend than before to buy whatever you wanted.
“In terms of security and order, we have not had it scarier than we are currently having now. The menace and spectre of kidnapping and kidnappers and the fact that we seem not to have a solution to it is worrisome. People are adopted at their homes, schools, highways and every available place with ease. I listened to the Inspector General of police recently, where he said the force needs about 150,000 more men. This is very important and necessary because under the constitution, the primary objective of government is the security of lives and property and I will advice the federal government to take another look at the budget and appropriate more funds to security issues. We cannot continue to live under the fear and terror of the underworld men and women. I salute and applaud the police and military generally, given the limited resources and trainings, they have been able to make use of to ensure that to some extent, the country has not been torn apart. They have been doing their best.
“Another area that used to shock me as an individual is the menace of Fulani herdsmen raiding communities and killing people at will and appropriating their properties and none of them has been arrested and paraded as other criminals by the security men. It is the impression of this anomaly that is behind all those. It is not now that we have the herdsmen around us, but the current onslaught and the way they disappear is worrisome. Often they say they are from foreign land and this has cast an indelible question mark on the preparedness or sincerity of the federal government to fight this menace. Make no mistake, the moment the communities decide to fight back, the country will be in trouble. It will result in communal clashes. From the middle-belt down to Oyo state you ask yourself what is actually happening in the country? It is not that we don’t have security men but none of these herdsmen have been caught. They carry out attacks in groups with sophisticated weapons. Personally, insecurity has been given me concern. Perhaps, the policies of government encourage this by assuming it will solve itself out later. But that is impunity, which in turn breeds anarchy.
“On the rule of law, for the first time ever, judges of the highest court of the land were raided in the mid-night by masked DSS men, not because the judges had initially resisted arrest. And out of eight or 10 of them, only two were put on trial. I think if you wish to arrest a suspected or erring judge, you can invite him through the Chief Judge and it is when he failed to comply that a warrant of arrest could be obtained against him. What the DSS did October last year was to humiliate the country and rape the rule of law. Is it the way judges were humiliated that will help fight corruption? It is bad!
“Often times, they alleged that judges are corrupt and this impression is bad. There could be bad element among the judges, but that does not justify categorising all of them as corrupt. There are times I see judges who worked from 9am to 9pm, especially in election tribunals. To now assume that the best way to appreciate them is to term them as corrupt is painful.”
On whether the National Judicial Council (NJC) can effectively handle cases of erring judges suspected of infractions, the lawyer said the NJC needs reform. According to him, when disciplinary issues are being mentioned against judges, their respective Chief Judges should not be present, as they tend to defend their own.
He said: “The NJC is not a prosecutorial body and it needs to be reformed so that if you are going to report a federal high court judge or States’ high court judge, their respective Chief Judge should not be there, given the fact that often time, they tend to defend their own. Also, any judge who does not know his onus should not have business with the bench, particularly higher bench. And the concerted and sustained attack on the integrity of the judiciary should be resisted. Also, some of those judges made some allegations against certain government functionaries. So what has been done about those allegations? We should know that it takes two to tangle.”
He was also asked to express opinion about the refusal of FG to obey court orders. This is how he responded: “Nothing challenges stability of governance than wrong doings by government officials. About three months ago, President Donald Trump gave an executive order banning some migrants and a district judge in that land came up with an order and the moment the order was made it was obeyed. Nobody came up with statements like ‘we will appeal it or we have not seen the order’. It is when a court gave an order and government officials obey that we will have a stable society. It is a pity that we are beginning to have political detainees in a democratic setting. This is dangerous! The constitution has defined functions of all the arms of government and we need to continue to respect each arm in line with the constitution.
“Look at the state governors, they have virtually destroyed the local governments. In this present federal government, we have about seven lawyers in the cabinet and it is a disaster that they still perverse court orders. Also, I don’t know of any governor in this country who is not educated enough to understand what the constitution says. So we cannot say we don’t have elites in all the tiers of government. Look at what happened in Ondo State LG election and how a caretaker replaced them, which is not constitutional. It is not that we don’t have laws, but the problem is impunity. Until we subject ourselves to the dictate of the rule of law, we are going no where.”
Speaking on the current anti-corruption war, the senior advocate noted that a lot are still not right in the country. His words: “Let me say this because I am involved in one or two cases. I need to commend our men who work 24/7 in the anti corruption Commission. A lot are wrong in our society. They should continue to do their work in accordance to the rule of law. People should not be tried on the pages of newspapers, they should rather endeavour to prove their cases before the court. You cannot take a man’s properties without trial. Allegation against him must be proven before the court. It is also wrong to frozen people’ account on allegation that they are proceed of crime. Which crime? That is why I said earlier that I sympathise with men of the Commission and their lawyers.”
He described the decision of the federal government to ignore the Senate in respect of the headship of the anti-graft agency as wrong. He said: “With profound respect and sense of responsibility to this government, the position of the FG on the issue of Ibrahim Magu was wrong. The EFCC is not an inter-ministerial body. It is a Commission set up by statute with specific duties, obligations and so on. EFCC came into existence by virtue of its own statute and it says: ‘there shall be a body (EFCC) whose Chairman shall be appointed by the president subject to the confirmation of the Senate’. The interpretation of Section 172 (2d) is wrong. It is talking about inter-ministerial, which don’t need Senate confirmation. It is not the constitution that creates the EFCC; it is an Act of the National Assembly. The government should be careful not to run down our institutions. There could be reasons to object to some people in the Senate, but the fact remains that they were elected as Senators. You may not approve what they do there but once they take a decision, it must be respected as senators of the Federal Republic. Failure to do this, it is also impunity.”
Reacting to the falling standard of legal education in the country, Adedipe said it is not about legal education. “Is it only legal education that has fallen? Let me remind you about few weeks ago, Federal Ministry of Education released the cut-off point for federal unity schools: for instance, Anambra- 139, Zamfara-2. Now when a student with 138 cannot get admission to a federal school and somebody with 2,3,4 got admission in Zamfara, tell me the two cannot have same level of loyalty to the country. We are just creating future problem for our children. So the falling standard is not about legal education only. There are falling standard in religious practices too. You cannot compare what obtained in mission schools of those good old days with what we have now from Pentecostal Churches. The missions schools of those days funded hospital and pay doctors among others but today, churches has set up universities that even there members cannot afford.”
On the crisis in the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), which resulted in the nullification of its constitution, he said the NBA needs to be careful about what they do. “Politics is good but governance is more important. I think there are more decent ways to resolve the crisis instead of going to court. They should remember that we are learned friends and in time of crisis, there are notable elders within the profession and NBA that should be able to mediate. Under Babangida era, we had similar crisis that rendered the body comatose for long, until 1999 and 2000 that it came back alive. So, I urged contending parties to exercise restraint,” he advised.
He also spoke on the justice system. To him, the problem with the system is in the enforcement sector. “When you think you can get away with criminality and nothing will happen, then it will affect the justice system adversely. Government at various levels refused to obey court orders and treat them with impunity. Again, we need to modernise our justice system and ensure judges work less and spend more time on research. Another point is that the time has come to actually monitor conduct of some lawyers in line with professional ethics and why they must comply with the rule of law. If we respect existing laws our society becomes better,” he said.