LAW ‘Ju­di­cial prece­dence will guide ap­point­ment of new CJN’

Barr Frank Ti­etie is an Abuja-based lawyer and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Ci­ti­zens Ad­vo­cacy for So­cial and Economic Rights (CASER). In this in­ter­view, he speaks on the wel­fare of lawyers, cor­rup­tion in the ju­di­ciary and the ap­point­ment of the next CJN. Ex­cerpt

Daily Trust - - LAW - By John Chuks Azu

How do you see the on­go­ing NBA elec­tion cam­paigns?

Well, Ken Mozia (SAN) has been ap­pointed as the chair­man of the electoral committee. Last week there was an ob­ser­va­tion meet­ing with the open­ing of the Ex­pres­sion of In­ter­est for can­di­dates. It was trans­par­ent. Awom­olo (SAN), J.K. Gadzama (SAN) and the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of A.B. Mah­mud (SAN). The last pair is the front-run­ners for the post of pres­i­dent from the North.

It is promis­ing to be some­thing novel in NBA elec­tions and for the en­tire coun­try be­cause it is go­ing to be done through e-vot­ing. The plat­form as we speak is be­ing demon­strated in Benin. I think it is very im­pres­sive and I am happy to be part of the as­so­ci­a­tion that wants to blaze the trail in trans­par­ent elec­tions in Nige­ria.

Un­for­tu­nately, the re­ports com­ing to us on the Unity Bar have not been en­cour­ag­ing. There are two per­sons claim­ing the post of chair­man and sec­re­tary re­spec­tively. That now brings to the fore the is­sue of lead­er­ship and whether it is for ser­vice or self-ag­gran­dis­e­ment. Peo­ple see the crave for lead­er­ship at this level as not be­ing gen­uine. If you look at the na­tional Bar, peo­ple like A.B. Mah­mud and J.K. Gadzama, and the his­tory of the lead­ers, you see that they go for it maybe for sta­tus en­hance­ment or even a sense of achieve­ment, that is we have gone to the point of lead­ing the en­tire Bar.

Do you share the op­ti­mism that the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates have mouth-wa­ter­ing pro­grammes?

I do not share in any of those ex­cite­ments be­cause right from mid-90s, since the re­vival of the Bar, we have seen a lot of prom­ises on the im­prove­ment of lawyers’ wel­fare. None of them has been re­alised. Lawyers suf­fer poor self-es­teem in this coun­try. The proper de­scrip­tion is that they are one of the eco­nom­i­cally en­dan­gered species in this coun­try. The Bar as a trade union has done nothing to safe­guard the economic wel­fare of lawyers par­tic­u­larly, young lawyers in this coun­try.

As we speak, the min­i­mum wage for lawyers that work in a law of­fice at a time was of­fi­cially N10, 000 and now still N15, 000. Most of them don’t even get the min­i­mum wage. Most lawyers don’t have places to do internship when they get out of the Law School. And when they take them they are au­to­mat­i­cally pro­moted as­so­ci­ates so that most cham­bers would avoid pay­ing salaries. We talk about loans to en­able lawyers get cars and law books. And the idea of Stamp and Seal to pro­tect the le­gal pro­fes­sion from quacks and im­pos­tors who may want to take economic ben­e­fits es­pe­cially, when it comes to frank­ing con­veyance of doc­u­ments, started in 1997 un­der Wole Ola­nipekun (SAN) and took al­most 20 years 2015 to ac­tu­alise. The pro­fes­sion has been so bas­tardised it is not pro­tected and stan­dard­ised. It is a sur­vival of the fittest. So there is no ex­cite­ment over the prom­ises be­cause they will be jet­ti­soned im­me­di­ately after the elec­tion.

What is your take on the al­le­ga­tions that the ju­di­ciary is cor­rupt?

The rea­son we have these al­le­ga­tions is be­cause the ju­di­ciary is manned by hu­man be­ings. But the rea­son it is be­com­ing rife is be­cause we are op­er­at­ing a clan­nish and cul­tic ap­proach to pro­fes­sion­al­i­sa­tion, where if you don’t be­long you don’t have favours. We have men of in­tegrity in the ju­di­ciary, but their hands are tied when it comes to giv­ing favours to the peo­ple they are either po­lit­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally con­nected to or by blood. So those are very dif­fi­cult forms of in­duce­ment.

With the case the EFCC is try­ing to es­tab­lish against Jus­tice Yusuf, you do not think N750, 000 is sig­nif­i­cant enough bribe to in­flu­ence a judge. But we have seen al­le­ga­tions of judges be­ing paid N15 mil­lion to is­sue an in­junc­tion and counter in­junc­tion re­vers­ing the ear­lier one. While the case of Jus­tice Yusuf can’t be a barom­e­ter to say that there is cor­rup­tion in the ju­di­ciary but when ju­di­cial de­ci­sions are now made based on con­sid­er­a­tions other than law, that is when we can ac­tu­ally say there is cor­rup­tion.

The ac­cu­sa­tions of fi­nan­cial in­duce­ment against judges should not be tol­er­ated be­cause there is no much ev­i­dence in that re­gard, but the con­fi­dence that the ju­di­ciary at all times are im­par­tial, to that ex­tent it is dif­fi­cult to say that the ju­di­ciary is com­pletely free of cor­rup­tion.

What about al­le­ga­tions that se­nior lawyers aid their cor­rupt clients to evade jus­tice?

The crim­i­nal jus­tice system we have does not ac­tu­ally aid the fight against cor­rup­tion. But our crim­i­nal jus­tice system should also be praised for be­ing un­duly pro­tec­tive of the cit­i­zen. Our con­sti­tu­tion favours the cit­i­zen more based on pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence. It guar­an­tees the fun­da­men­tal rights. Even the ap­pel­late process, which goes up to the Supreme Court, even when it comes to in­ter­locu­tory ap­pli­ca­tions, it is sup­posed to guarantee those free­doms. That is the essence of democ­racy. We can­not blame the con­sti­tu­tion in try­ing to pro­tect those free­doms.

Again, who is our DPP? Why can’t we in­vest more in the abil­ity of the Min­istry of Jus­tice to pros­e­cute? Why don’t we have lawyers in the class of Ro­timi Ja­cobs and make him the head to pros­e­cute cor­rup­tion cases? You don’t have to have Ro­timi Ja­cobs and Fes­tus Keyamo as con­trac­tors. Ad­ver­tise the job of the DPP and prose­cu­tors in the Min­istry of Jus­tice and make it at­trac­tive and let lawyers who would want to fight cor­rup­tion ap­ply, in such a way that our hands will be seen to be clean. Be­cause as pri­vate prac­ti­tion­ers who have had some of the said cor­rupt per­sons as clients, you don’t ex­pect us to do their cases in a dis­pas­sion­ate man­ner. At­tor­ney Gen­er­als of the Fed­er­a­tion and in the states should step up.

It has al­ways been the prob­lem of the civil ser­vice that peo­ple who are only in­ter­ested in the salaries and the perks of the of­fice are em­ployed rather than those who are pas­sion­ate and in­ter­ested in mak­ing a ca­reer out of pub­lic pros­e­cu­tions.

As the CJN re­tires in a few months, what kind of CJN do we ex­pect to see in terms of ju­di­cial re­forms?

The his­tory of this coun­try has recorded a pro­gres­sive Supreme Court. Those of us in the le­gal pro­fes­sion pride our­selves in tra­di­tions. There is the Prin­ci­ple of Stare De­ci­sis; that is ju­di­cial prece­dence. That is ev­ery de­ci­sion in Nige­ria’s jus­tice system must be based on what has been de­cided be­fore.

There is no contention what­so­ever as to the process that will lead to the ap­point­ment of the next CJN. The tra­di­tion has al­ways been on se­nior­ity. The most se­nior judge will be rec­om­mended to the pres­i­dent by the Na­tional Ju­di­cial Coun­cil. The pres­i­dent does not have the pre­rog­a­tive to look out­side the se­nior judge in the ap­point­ment of the next CJN.

How do you view the an­ti­cor­rup­tion cam­paign?

It has not been trans­par­ent and im­par­tial enough. It has not been able to shake off the ves­tiges of vin­dic­tive­ness. And the way and man­ner this ad­min­is­tra­tion has gone about it may end up be­ing more de­struc­tive than restora­tive.

Barr Frank Ti­etie

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