‘Wrong choice of judges in Nigeria, poor police investigations, responsible for lingering cases’
The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) was enacted to fast-track the hearing of cases and dispensation of justice among others. Despite this development, cases still linger in court. In this interview with GODWIN DUNIA, a Lagos-based lawyer and Principal Partner, Covenant Chambers, Oluseyi Olukoga, enumerated some of the factors responsible for the continued delay. He also spoke about the intrigues involving the appointment of acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and other related national issues.
Despite the introduction of the ACJA, cases are dragging in our courts. What do you think is responsible?
There are many factors responsible for this. And one of them is that we should check those appointed as justices in our courts. A situation whereby a competent person who had been practicing for years applied for appointment as judge and at the end of the day, it is a mediocre that would be appointed do not help the system. Such mediocres are appointed based on ‘who you know’ factor.
Another factor that affects the dispensation of justice is the level of investigation of the police especially in criminal matters. The system which the Police uses in obtaining information is so poor that it has left much to be desired. The Police needs to investigate and gather information such that there will be no room for proof of evidence for lawyers to capitalize upon.
When investigations are not properly done and lawyers look at the investigations against the proof of evidence, the facts are controverted. Poor investigations by the police will create a loophole that will give lawyers opportunity to get the accused or defendant discharged. Also, lawyers themselves are one of the factors that do not help the dispensation of justice. Even when they know the truth, they still go ahead to create unnecessary delays and injunctions in the court.
Another factor inhibiting justice system in courts hinged on the system we operate known as the adversorial system. For instance, even if a crime is committed in the presence of a judge, the lawyer must perform his duties of proving the crime in court because the judge will rely on the evidence before him (judge) for the final judgment.
Again, the judges are always under pressure especially when it involves high profile persons. That is why you hardly seen any VIP convicted. That is when you hear words such as, he is my brother, how can such a person go to jail? He was my colleague and so on. All these contribute to mount pressure on the judge, who at the same time would be careful not to step on toes because he or she too wants to be promoted. But if the structures are there and you know that whatever you do, so far it is right and in accordance to the law; that no one will penalize you, then the judges would be bold to do what is right and quickly too.
What is your view on the suggestion that the office of Attorney-General should be separated from that of Minister for Justice?
The constitution recognized the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. But the point is that the functions of the two
are overlapping and there is no need for separating the two. The AG is like the legal officer while the Minister of Justice is a political
appointment and he is in charge of how the judiciary function and there is nothing the AG can do that the Minister of Justice cannot do.
So, instead of separating the two, it should be left the way it is.
Do you support the call that the appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria should be outside the Supreme Court?
Generally, before you get to the Supreme Court, you must have gone through the high court, appeal court before moving to the Supreme Court. This is the tradition, but there are other brilliant judges/lawyers who can add value to the Supreme Court but may not have the opportunity of been elevated to the Supreme Court. For example, the late Justice Elias and Niki Tobi were appointed outside the existing structure and they contributed immensely to the judiciary. My view therefore, is that this could be given consideration, if only it is not going to be abused. But as it is, we should just regulate and restructure the existing tradition such that it will continue to produce the best. The issue of federal character should be relaxed so that merit will take place.
The quest for candidate outside the Supreme Court arose as a result of the conflicting judgments given by some judges recently. But the point is, we need to change our system, orientation and how we do things, otherwise we may not move forward.
How will you describe the ongoing trial of some members of the bench on allegation of corrupt practices?
These are some of the things we are saying. If you want to prosecute someone, why will you arrest such a person before commencing with investigation or information to prosecute them? It won’t work, but if you know that there are something against them, you can discreetly investigate them.
Are you saying they have not been investigated before their arrest?
No! What I am saying is that there is no need of all these media publicity about their arrest. After all, this is not the first time
judges were arrested for corrupt practices. I remember some years ago, the National Judicial Council (NJC) recommended dismissal of some judges on same corrupt practices or abuse of office but have not gone to the extent of prosecuting them. It is now they started and it is good for the system so that the judge will not feel they are untouchable. But even if they are being prosecuted, it should be done decently and as the law stipulates and not the one with political colouration. Nobody should be above the law in Nigeria, even the president can be arraigned and prosecuted if found wanting in the course of his duty.
Don’t you think the fight against corruption could instill fear in judges such that they may not be able to give judgment against government or its agencies?
That cannot happen. What I am saying is that the judges are now doing the right thing that they should do. It has reduced the level of irresponsibility of judges. It has also put an end to delay rulings.
The judges are now cooperative with the bar and current trial of the judges has also awaken the NJC to be alive to its responsibility.Also, the allegation that some of the judges are being prosecuted as a result of their past judgment against the government is unfounded.There is no way a judge will give a judgment that it will not attract pressure from clients, lawyers and government.
What does the law say about the CJN been appointed in acting capacity?
So many things have been said concerning this. What the law says is that an acting CJN can act for the period of three or six months and after the expiration, the president has the right to appoint another person and that is what may likely happen. And I don’t want to know if it is either deliberate or otherwise. The president has the right to excise his right to confirm him or not. He may decide to appoint the next person in the hierarchy as a substantial CJN. What I know is that who ever is holding the position does that to the whims and caprices of the person in power.
The president can decide to chose the next person to Justice Onnoghen at the end of his three month and this too is within the constitution. What about if he had decided to bypass him and appointed another person next to him as the CJN? And again, the period of his acting has not lapsed. So, we just have to remain neutral and see what happens rather than being speculative. He can still confirm his appointment. But the point is that President Buhari’s action is still within the law. So far, the only way it will affect the judicial sector is that the acting CJN cannot seriously embark on judicial reforms due to the uncertainty sorounding his appointment.
He is not sure if whatever he puts in place will endure or if his acting capacity will be confirmed. As far as I am concerned, it has not affected dispensation of justice. At the Supreme Court level, the judges are about sixteen in numbers or so and they are still meeting. Though, his acting capacity may affect him in terms of administration of the sector just as earlier posited. But in terms of promotion and elevation of other judges or judicial officers, it is mostly a recommendation of NJC, National Assembly and the president. You can even notice that two judges were recently appointed and other things are taking the usual shape.
How do you perceive the intention of the federal government to impose taxation on some services like the telecommunication services?
The government has the right to impose taxes in order to shore up its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). These are what is obtained in other developed countries and it is practicable everywhere. But the point is that there must be assurance that the people will get value for it.
And this has been our problem. The little we have been struggling to pay is not making impact in our lives. We still generate our power, security and so on. Collection of taxes is practicable. Nothing wrong with it, but the question is how are will sure that if they collect more taxes, it will be used for the masses? I advise that it must be done with human face and let the government be alive to its responsibility so that the people can have confidence in them.