LAW SANs take cases befitting junior lawyers – Shehu
Barrister Garba Uba Shehu is the immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Kaduna State. He speaks on women, fashion and archaic and modern law practices and blames some of his colleagues for delaying the dispensation of justice.
What do you think should be done to reform the judiciary as many say it is the last hope of the common man and therefore needs to be upright?
Every segment of the Nigerian society needs to be reformed and the judiciary is one of the most sacred institutions with people who are expected to dispense justice in very strenuous conditions. During the administration of the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, he set up the Justice Kayode Esho Panel on how to reform the judiciary.
My late boss, Barrister Yahaya Mahmud, appeared before the committee and presented the salary scales of magistrates, high court judges and Lords in England who receive N15 to N20 million monthly when converted to naira and compared it to the salary of a chief magistrate who receives N30,000 monthly as salary, with no car, and no generator in the court. Justice Kayode Esho, however told him that it was not possible in Nigeria. Judges in England don’t write long hand, but have stenographers. But Nigerian judges work very hard, take notes while observing the demeanor of a witness. There are bad eggs, like one percent in the judiciary as in every segment of the Nigerian society. We need cleansing.
The best way to assess a judge is not from the order he makes, but the condition he works, sometimes in a situation where the judge works and his salary is paid by somebody who might not even pay him as at when due.
So it is not the judge as a person but the procedural laws. We need to understand that some of the foreign laws from Britain are antiquated there and we need to change them. But the process is very long. We are now trying corruption cases and when we look at the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, the judge cannot give the maximum sentence for first offender.
People think when a judge finds somebody guilty and sentences him to a light sentence, that he had collected money. It is the law that is tying their hand. An example is the pension case between John Ayuba where he admitted. You may have one offence, but then there is one short summary trial where somebody will go to the court and admit; if you admit, the law provides for a lesser sentence because he has saved the court the rigours of going through a long trial. When somebody allows himself to go into a long trial that is when the maximum sentence will come into play. But then if you went to court and got a short summary trial, you may be convicted and you will not have the maximum sentence. The most important thing is to smoothen the rules of procedure that will make the judges work very simple and fast.
What is your take on the case of Major Hamza Al-Mustapha which will go down in history as one of the cases that lasted for almost two decades?
It is the rules of procedure. In the North we apply the rules of procedure and if you want to try somebody it has to be under that law. And it provides a lot of bottlenecks to speedy dispensation of justice. And of course you realize that sometimes lawyers cause delays. May be if they think there is too much outcry, and their client will be convicted, they employ delay tactics; they deliberately bring an issue and the court will rule and they appeal. And in the course of the appeal, they retard the progress of the case.
In Al-Mustapha’s case there are so many appeals pending at the Court of Appeal, even preliminary appeals. Look at what happens in Senator Bukola Saraki’s case, a case that is supposed to last for three to four years might last 18 years.
What is the way out so that the common man can have a sense of belonging in the Nigerian judiciary?
The criminal law has to be reformed so that it provides faster and efficient means for dispensation of justice. An example is the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA 2015, but you find out that it does not apply to state but federal offences, because the federal government can only make laws in respect of those issues there. So the provisions of ACJA are not applicable to states like Kaduna.
We have to find a way of streamlining the criminal justice system procedures by having a uniform system all over the country for a trial not to last for too long. You cannot say because of presumption of innocence under the constitution, a case must finish in six months because if a judge made a ruling that you are not contented with, you will appeal. You cannot give time frame for disposal of a criminal case.
What is your reaction over the different court judgments on the PDP saga?
This is not the first time that this has happened. It happened
Do you agree with the call for the separation of the office of the Attorney General from that of Commissioner of Justice?
It is just duplication, having the two positions in the same place will save a lot of cost and conflict, because if you say the attorney general will be from the core civil service and the commissioner a politician that will be panacea for trouble and the work will suffer.
Why are you in support of the abolition of the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN?
I am in support for the abolition of the title of SAN as some SAN holders do not allow younger ones to practice and some take clients and cases that are befitting of the junior lawyers.
Women preparing for court are said to spend too much time applying make-up while they are not going on fashion parade?
Women should always be women, they should look well and not haggard and you cannot take this away from women no matter the age.
Barrister Garba Uba Shehu