Nigerian judiciary should be lauded for its self-regulatory capacity
The Nigerian judiciary has faced serious criticisms in the recent past owing to serious allegations of corruption. The alleged rot in the sector, which is considered as the last hope of the people reached a crescendo in October 2016, when security agencies invaded the residences of judicial officers in search of evidence to nail them. Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN in this interview with SAM OLUWALANA, said the judiciary should rather be commended for its self-cleansing capacity, in the face of its numerous challenges. He also spoke about other issues as they affect the legal and political developments in the country.
Expressing view on the clamour for restructuring by some parts of the country, Ayorinde said: “The Evolution of Nations State is a dynamic process. It is never settled. Recently in the United Kingdom, a referendum was conducted on the Scottish national question whereby the question of whether Scotland should be independent from the United Kingdom was settled. Scottish nationals, who want the United Kingdom to be restructured, spearheaded the agitation.
Again more recently we also had the Brexit vote, which has now led to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. These are all restructuring issues. Other countries in the world go through similar clamour for restructuring. The Catalan question in Spain is a hot issue at the moment. Therefore it is not a strange phenomenon, particularly in a democratic environment. Governance in a democracy cannot be by fiat or imposition. So it is a welcomed political development.”
Speaking on the issue of devolution of power, the learned silk said: “Devolution of Power is an offshoot of restructuring. The items listed in the exclusive list in the Constitution are too many and should be reduced considerably. Again this is part of the changing dynamics of governance and nation building. Our situation is very different from 1979 and by extension 1999. There are so many items that should be taken up by the states and local governments.
In fact, if we look at the responsibilities that should be left with the federal government such as Defense, External Affairs, Inter-State Travels, and others, the federal government would be so busy that they will see the need not to bother with direct involvement in activities such as Education. The local governments are nearly useless now. That is why you have unkempt roads, sewage problems, dilapidated public schools, lack of public parks, bad transport networks and other eyesores in our cities, towns and villages. Therefore the time has come for devolution.”
Closely tied to devolution of power is resource control. When this issue was raised, Ayorinde said: “Resource control also falls into the category under restructuring. In fact, this is the oldest of the clamour for restructuring. We must begin to think outside of the box, we are not talking about only resource control here. We should also look at regulation, taxation, development of the resources, and align all these with the involvement of the federal government representation of Nigeria at OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and other International bodies.”
Talking on the issue of constitutional amendment, the revered lawyer said law making should be a continuous process. There is the general belief that some of our laws are outdated and that the constitution needs some tinkering. “Law making, law review and law reform are continuous undertakings. These will affect constitutional provisions and also other municipal laws. So it is not a question of our laws being outdated, but the question of reinvigorating the Law Reform Commission and review of legislation even at states level,” he suggested.
Are you impressed with the current war against corruption by the Buhari administration, he was asked? He responded by saying: “Corruption goes beyond catching one government official or the other from time to time for stealing public funds. It should involve a holistic approach to the entire structure of both the public and private sectors of the Economy. You see, if you look at the developed nations and also the new and emerging nations in terms of development, the template to success is the same worldwide. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, we still run a system that leave too many gaps for corruption to thrive. Then is it not laughable that in this day and age, the Federal Executive Council and the State Executive Councils meet weekly to consider and approve contracts? So we are running governments of contracts. The procedure for award and the process of execution of contracts should have very limited government input. The business of government is to identify priority areas in accordance with the manifesto of the party in power and then step back, otherwise we will continue to encourage sycophancy, exposure to corruption, institute executive tin gods and a favour-seeking population. It is these root causes of a corrupt structure that we must find a solution to or else, we shall continue to go round and round in circles.”
Talking about the special courts which the Chief Justice of Nigeria, directed that they should be set up in order to undertake the trials of corrupt cases, the senior lawyer said all the CJN wants is to fast-track dispensation of justice.His words: “The CJN did not order for the set up of special courts. What he actually did was to ask for corruption cases to be allotted to certain courts within the judicial hierarchy so as to expedite dispensation of the cases. In fact, this is not new in some states. However by restating the issue, more impetus will be added to the attention given to the so called corruption cases.”
On the issue of the report, which termed the judiciary as the second most corrupt institution in the country, the senior advocate said corruption allegation in the Judiciary is an unfortunate perception.
Said he: “It is more worrisome because we have some of the most hard working judges in Africa. We need to re-examine ourselves thoroughly and look at our law enforcement budget. How much do we spend on the police? What is the capacity of the police to investigate crime? What is the capacity of the Prosecution Agencies? These are the questions! I have practiced extensively in Nigeria and overseas and I can tell you that you cannot begin to compare the facilities available abroad, the welfare as well as the institutionalized support that Judges of Courts and Tribunals enjoy in other climes compared to the pitiable state of our Judiciary. To whom nothing is given less or nothing is required.
Nobody supports a corrupt Judiciary but where the court system is failing, that must be addressed. Again you must agree with me that the Judiciary is the most self-cleansing of all arms of government. No other arm disciplines its members like the Legal Profession and the Judiciary. The Judiciary should be commended for its self-regulatory capacity in the face of all the challenges in the polity.”
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