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‘Blame lawyers for rot in judiciary’

By Yetunde Ayobami Ojo   |   10 January 2017   |   1:09 am

Johnson Ezesoobo

Johnson Ezesoobo

The judiciary was very active in 2016. The developments in the sector either earned it accolades or excoriation. What then do we expect from the sector in 2017? Johnson Ezesoobo in this encounter with YETUNDE AYOBAMI OJO appraises the sector in 2016 and argued that lawyers have contributed immensely to the opprobrium it earned.

No meaningful appraisal could be done without considering how the sector fared in 2016. In order to get this done, Ezesoobo was asked to rate the judiciary in 2016. Here is his anwer: “I would say fair and that is because when we consider the improvement witnessed in the year under review, particularly in the Court of Appeal, one can safely say that the judiciary has fared well in 2016. For instance, we were always having appeals run for no less than two years. But in the year, we noticed that the Appeal Court did not run for more than two years. We need to give credit to Court of Appeal. I was happy and my clients were happy.

That, to me, is a good record and my prayer is that they sustain this good development and tempo in this year and beyond. Lest I forget, I want to use this opportunity to say that the Supreme Court should review itself, because once cases get to the Supreme Court, they seem foreclosed. We have seen a situation where cases in the Supreme Court stayed for six to seven years. In fact, they often don’t come up for hearing until after six years. In some cases, we wait for near 10 or 11 years. That is not good enough!

“As the highest court of land, they should organise themselves in such a way that a case will not last more that one year after the brief has been filed. Never forget that you spend six months to compile records; 10 weeks to file brief, and, then, another eight weeks to file response. You can see that one year had already gone. I don’t see why a case should spend more than a year after brief had been concluded. This is so that from the period of compilation, through filing of brief, to hearing and judgment, we are talking about two years. So, I urge the Supreme Court to learn from Court of Appeal to improve.”

There is no way activities of the judiciary can be discussed in respect of 2016 without mentioning the issue of corruption. It could be described as a year of judicial infamy. In response to this, the lawyer said: “It is unfortunate that we have grave pointers to some illegality and abuse of office in the judiciary. So, in my opinion, when we talk about the issue of corruption, the judiciary had not fared well. I say that because I feel like most people that the judiciary being the last hope of the common man, should be above board. And, of course, as the only non-political arm of government, it needed to be flawless in the execution of its duties. This is expected, so that when we say there is corruption in the executive or legislative arms of government, the judiciary should be able to stand above board and ensure a solid balance far and above the other arms of government. I personally think it is about time the various heads of the judiciary looked into this matter.”

Having observed that the judiciary fared poorly last year when it comes to the issue of corruption, Ezesoobo therefore made some suggestions on what he thinks is the way forward. According to him, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) should sit up and ensure that it would not condone infractions.

He said: “The NBA should sit up and ensure that the unscrupulous ones; people involved in corrupt practices are dealt with. There must be sanctions. Many of our colleagues who don’t advice those in government; those in private practices and every other followers of the law must team up to ensure those in authority act right. People should know when to go to court to enforce the rule of law and where there is reason to think that someone is negligent, there should be sanctions. For example, if you give advice or you handle a matter, and you know it is a matter that ought not to get to court at all, there is the need to make your client understand the situation whether he is in government or not. I believe that a lawyer should serve as a safe-guard to the rule of law and guard against misrule, misgovernance, misbehavious by clients, government officials and agencies and all that. But for you to practice in manner that will cause more pain to the client, I think lawyers should be cautioned against that.

“Another example is where someone wants to go to court over a case of N5million and you are looking at the fact of the matter, and you can say whether or not it is a case you can allow to go to court. If you fail to advice the client correctly, the case can go to court and stay there for eternity, thereby wasting needless time. Often, by the time it stays in court for say, five to seven years, and when it ends, it would have gulped nearly N50 million. So, take N50million out of the government department vote for that year, you find that payment of salary would become a problem. It is money that could be used to provide infrastructure. But with a professional guidance, the lawyer would have contributed to the economy positively. With unprofessional lawyers, why won’t things go bad in the judiciary?”

Recently, there was a proposal to buy cars for former presidents and Heads of state. When the lawyer was asked his opinion about that development, he reacted thus: “The President’s proposal for purchase of cars for former Heads of State and their Deputies at a whopping N400 million is unwittingly an introduction by the executive of a corrupt practice into the Appropriation Act. It will be a serious set back to national development. Constitutionally, should the National Assembly pass the bill into law? It is a brazen legalization of corruption which by Section 15(5) of the Constitution, the State is enjoined to abolish.

“The Constitution makes the security and welfare of the people the primary responsibility of government. But the proposal is seeking to provide for the luxury of the elite. It is an irony that against the poor economic situation in the country, which has caused a general outcry of hunger and starvation, even by clergy men of renowned faith, the government is more concerned about the luxury of former presidents or Heads of State and their Deputies than the security and welfare of the people. This is a clear subversion of the Constitution. The proposal goes against our national ethics of Discipline, Integrity, Social Justice and Patriotism enjoined by Section 23 of the Constitution, if former Presidents or Heads of State and their Deputies accept the offer of cars, which they do not need. It will be unpatriotic for them to accept the offer.

A more serious implication of the proposal if enacted into law is that it will amount to the President and legislators, and the former Presidents or Heads of State and their Deputies, taking control of the government of the Federation as a group of persons within the meaning of Section 1(2) of the Constitution. The incidence of former CJNs, Inspector Generals and former Chief Justices of Nigeria, who took away cars, money and other assets belonging to the State, outside their retirement benefits, should be reviewed and the items quickly returned back to government. We cannot pursue some persons, arraigning them in court and detaining some, to recover looted funds and yet leave out these other people who are equally guilty. It was reported that about N28billion debt was incurred by former Inspector General of Police.

“He should be made to account for it. In the absence of this, any cry of fight against corruption is mere lip service. Under our system, a public officer has a maximum amount of expenses he can incur in office. It is doubtful if an IG as a public officer, is allowed to incur as much as N28billion. This is what makes it imperative to probe the matter and recover all debts. I should also like to seize this opportunity to draw attention to the huge local debts that are crippling government in contemporary Nigeria.

It is observed that these debts include Judgment debt, which obviously arose from poor or improper advice by legal officers in Government departments. For example, a situation where a simple debt of N5million is allowed to go to court and by the time proceedings are concluded, the debt rises to N60million with accrued interest does not tell of good and proper legal advice. It was for this reason that the Supreme Court made the obiter dictum in Osho v Foreign Finance (1991) NWLR (pt.184). Today, politicians have been found to defect from one political party to another with relative ease. Where do they stand in all this?

“It is sad that the emerging crop of politicians, including the old breeds play butter and bread politics lacking in principle and ideology. This has seen them jump from one party to the other where they discover butter. It is unfortunate that we find a politician talking in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) today and by tomorrow, he is defending the All Progressive Congress (APC) all because he is looking for personal gains. No doubt, it is unethical. Flirting here and there is not good for the nation and general development. But who can save us from these poorly bred politicians?”




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