–Martin Luther King Jr. ‘You don’t need a god­fa­ther to be­come a judge’

Daily Trust - - INTERVIEW / LAW - By John Chuks Azu

You were re­cently quoted to have called for the con­fab to be re­stricted from press. How cor­rect is this?

I never made that re­mark. I am a civil rights ac­tivist, I know my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Watch NTA or any of the tele­vi­sion chan­nels. What I did was an ob­ser­va­tion I raised on the floor of the con­fab. You re­call that on Tues­day fol­low­ing our in­au­gu­ra­tion, some news­pa­pers went to re­port that del­e­gates were ask­ing for aides. And it is not true. A cer­tain Se­na­tor Jib­ril, a del­e­gate from Ji­gawa ac­tu­ally asked if he was en­ti­tled to his as­sis­tants. He made it clear that he had as­sis­tants who were not hav­ing ac­cess to the venue of the con­fer­ence. I got him clearly, he was not ask­ing for ev­ery­body, he was not ask­ing for salaried pay­ment for his PA and as­sis­tants. Un­for­tu­nately, when the sec­re­tary of the con­fab, Dr Azinge re­sponded to his ques­tion, she re­sponded in a man­ner that painted the del­e­gates in a dif­fer­ent man­ner. And when I was speak­ing, I asked the chair­man. ‘Mr Chair­man, sir, please can you ad­vice or ap­peal to the press to re­port the pro­ceed­ings of this con­fer­ence fac­tu­ally and re­spon­si­bly’. And two, I drew at­ten­tion to page six of the news­pa­per where four pho­to­graphs of del­e­gates who were sleep­ing were taken. And it was es­tab­lished that the del­e­gates, who were snapped, were ac­tu­ally med­i­cally blind- they have glau­coma.

So it is not for me to gag the press. But if you are cov­er­ing an event, you must re­port it fac­tu­ally. My grouse was not with the elec­tronic me­dia but the print me­dia. I never used that word. It was Yinka Odu­makin that brought the word ‘gag’. Of course the ar­gu­ment snow­balled in the con­fer­ence. There were speak­ers who called for the ses­sion to be closed to ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion. If you know how the con­fer­ence works, I didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to cor­rect the im­pres­sion that Odu­makin was try­ing to cre­ate af­ter I spoke. But it is the rules that as a press­man, if you are cov­er­ing an event and you are quot­ing a speaker, quote him cor­rectly and don’t try to put your own in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

What is your agenda at the con­fab?

I rep­re­sent the civil so­ci­ety even though I am from the league of lawyers. We have our own agenda but our agenda is sub­sumed within the broader civil so­ci­ety agenda.

Our agenda is one, the re­struc­tur­ing of Nigeria; two, good gov­er­nance; three, we be­lieve as lawyers that Nige­ri­ans must be part of the process that will lead to the pro­duc­tion of an au­tochthonous con­sti­tu­tion; four, the re­form of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice; five, re­form of the po­lice; and im­por­tantly the sep­a­ra­tion of the of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion and the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice. There should be of­fice of the Min­is­ter of Jus­tice, who of course must be a lawyer and who is a mem­ber of the party in power. But the AGF must be sacro­sanct; and be sep­a­rated from the of­fice of the min­is­ter.

These are our agenda and there are a lot of Nige­ri­ans who are com­ing to this con­fer­ence with so many agenda. We are open to de­bates and ne­go­ti­a­tions.

As the Pres­i­dent of PILL, will you be press­ing for the re­form of the chap­ter two of the con­sti­tu­tion to make it jus­tice­able?

We be­lieve that for us to birth the true coun­try that we can call our own, it is im­por­tant that chap­ter two of our con­sti­tu­tion be­comes jus­tice­able. Eco­nomic and so­cial rights of our people in par­tic­u­lar, and it is im­por­tant that our con­sti­tu­tional must recog­nise these rights. More im­por­tantly, we be­lieve in the

Ab­dul Mah­mud is a poet and Pres­i­dent of the Pub­lic In­ter­est Lawyers League (PILL). He is cur­rently a del­e­gate at the on­go­ing Na­tional Con­fer­ence. In this in­ter­view, he says judges should not be sub­jected to the whims of god­fa­thers. He also speaks on the al­le­ga­tion of ‘gag­ging’ the press in the on­go­ing con­fer­ence, Rivers CJ cri­sis among oth­ers. Ex­cerpts:

new Nigeria, the ju­di­ciary must be above board; the ju­di­ciary in which the ap­point­ment, the rec­om­men­da­tion, must rec­og­nize that those ap­pointed to be judges don’t need to have a god­fa­ther be­fore you are ap­pointed a judge. A judge who is an ap­pointee of a god­fa­ther is ca­pa­ble of un­der­min­ing jus­tice once he be­comes judge of the High Court.

Since you have raised the is­sue of judges, what do you make of the de­ci­sion of the Na­tional Ju­di­cial Coun­cil (NJC) to sus­pend newly ap­pointed Rivers Chief Judge?

We agree with the NJC though we em­pathize with the govern­ment of Rivers State. It is part of the lopsided na­ture of our fed­er­a­tion where a federal law de­ter­mines how a Chief Judge of a state can be ap­pointed. It is part of why we are at the Na­tional Con­fer­ence. This is part of the things we feel we can change go­ing for­ward, and we are not in the new Nigeria yet. In­so­far the con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides that the most se­nior judge of a High court, not the Cus­tom­ary Court of Ap­peal, should be­come the Chief Judge of a state, we should re­spect the spirit and letters of our con­sti­tu­tion. Un­til we get the new Nigeria of our dream, we can in­sist on states ap­point­ing their own Chief Judge with­out re­course to the con­sti­tu­tion at the cen­tre. In­so­far we have not got­ten there yet, I be­lieve it is child­ish, in­fan­tile for Rivers State govern­ment to be­have how they are be­hav­ing so far.

Don’t you think ‘locus standi’ is one of the im­ped­i­ments to the re­al­iza­tion of chap­ter two of the con­sti­tu­tion es­pe­cially as it is used to dis­miss pub­lic in­ter­est lit­i­ga­tions?

I think it de­pends on how you look at it. The ques­tion of locus standi has not been part of our le­gal and ju­di­cal ju­rispru­dence for many years, more par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the mil­i­tary regime. What you see in some in­stances is that our courts have done ex­tremely well. We found some in­stances, where lit­i­gants pur­sue some is­sues with suf­fi­cient in­ter­est in the case. But I have al­ways ar­gued, and I have han­dled some pub­lic in­ter­est mat­ters be­fore a High Court. All the lit­i­gants need is to show that you are a cit­i­zen of Nigeria, that you are a tax payer and that the de­ci­sion that the govern­ment takes af­fects you as a tax payer. The nar­row per­cep­tion of locus standi as we used to have it in the early nineties no longer ex­ists. Now courts are giv­ing lib­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tions and grant­ing lit­i­gants locus to ar­gue their mat­ter where they es­tab­lish suf­fi­cient in­ter­est.

It is also im­por­tant that we can­not open our ju­di­ciary to so many busy­body in­ter­lop­ers and oth­ers. We must pro­tect our courts from nu­mer­ous cases that tend to weigh down our ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ings.

A lot of people have crit­i­cized the ‘ex­ces­sive pow­ers of state gov­er­nors’. How do you bal­ance these pow­ers against the back­drop of your agenda for more pow­ers to the states at the con­fab?

That is also a prob­lem. And that is why I have a di­ver­gent po­si­tion from those who ar­gue for a ‘true fed­er­al­ism’. I was telling my friend and for­mer prin­ci­pal Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN the other day that ‘is there any­thing like false fed­er­al­ism?’ What we have is that any fed­er­a­tion is struc­tured to the con­sti­tu­tion of its own so­ci­ety. Our fed­er­a­tion is an ex­tra con­sti­tu­tional method be­cause we had a mil­i­tary govern­ment in power, and what we did was to re-jig our fed­er­a­tion to suit its cir­cum­stance as a mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship. But the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the politi­cian rec­og­niz­ing that power is no longer cen­tred within the Supreme Mil­i­tary Coun­cil of the Armed Forces Rul­ing Coun­cil. Power has been de­volved to dif­fer­ent cen­tres. We should no longer be op­er­at­ing our demo­cratic regime as if we are in a mil­i­tary regime.

As we go into the con­fer­ence, it is im­por­tant for us to rec­og­nize the lo­cal govern­ment as a third tier of govern­ment. So de­vo­lu­tion of power should not just be to the states, but to the lo­cal govern­ment.

Ab­dul Mah­mud

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