Politicians must abide by election tribunal verdicts, says Taiwo
The Presidential and National Assembly elections have come and gone. But the outcome of that election surely in many quarters would become subject of dispute. According to the law in Nigeria, election Tribunals are empowered to adjudicate expeditiously on election related disputes. In this interview with GODWIN DUNIA, the former Chairman Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos state branch and current second Vice President, Nigerian Bar Association, Taiwo O. Taiwo counsels politicians to accept the verdict of the Tribunals. He also spoke on the appointment of judges, the NBA, constitutional courts and others.
The Presidential and National Assembly election is over. As a legal practicioner, what do you expect from the Election Tribunal? I expect that the Election Tribunals will be up to their oath of office in accordance with the Hon. Justice Mahmoud Mohammed’s address during their swearing in, sometime in January on the do’s and don’ts and these are men of proven integrity . Surely, we will get the best from them without rancour.
And my only advice is that political gladiators should leave them alone to do their job and whatever judgment they delivered, should be accepted in good faith and anyone who is not satisfied can also appeal. There is an avenue for that up to the Supreme Court. Do you think the period of 180 days is enough to adjudicate on election matters? The point is that we should learn to manage our time. Lawyers should also learn to do their job thoroughly so that there will be no room for interlocutory injuctions, because most lawyers use them to delay hearing of substantive matters.
Election matters are to be handled specially and timely, so that you don’t have someone in a position he or she ought not to be for two, three years before he is removed and another comes in to start four years. So, I believe the interlocutory period has been taken care of.
And the law says everything should be taken care of within this period of 180 days, anything short of this, is not acceptable. The Supreme Court is said to be overburdened and cannot take appeal that is filed less than eight years. Is it that the Court is overburdened? There is no Court in Nigeria that is not overburdened, including High Courts, except State Courts that are legally viable such as Lagos, Port – Harcourt, Jos, Abuja.
But I must say that the workload in the Supreme Court is enormous. Of course, I believe with time when people are discouraged from filing frivolious applications and interlocutory appeals, the workload of my lords at the Supreme Court would be reduced. In Nigeria, we are very combatant, even matters that are supposed to be settled under the roof, in the conference table we take them to Court. Today, we have arbitration centres. The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is there.
I think it is better for people to exploit other means of settling disputes. It is not all cases that should be taken to Court. Can you imagine people taking landlord and tenant disagreements to the Supreme Court? From the Magistrate up to the Supreme Court for 13 years? I think we need to overhaul the administration of justice in Nigeria. Whats your view about the possibility of having a specialised constitutional court in Nigeria? I believe that we need a specialized Courts to deal with constitution matters so that other Court can face other matters.
For instance in Egypt and South Africa, they have constitutional courts. So, I think the time is ripe for Nigeria to establish a purely specialized court like we have the National Industrial Court (NIC) which has taken the yoke of labour related matters and issues of employment from the regular courts. What is your opinion about the judgment of a Federal High Court, Lagos which nullified the restriction of movement during the monthly environmental sanitation exercise in Lagos? Well, as I used to tell people, I don’t criticize judgement of judges. Firstly, I am not a counsel to either of the party neither do I canvass for argument.
I think anybody that is aggrieved should go to the appeal court to challenge the decision of the Court. For me, I cannot query the decision of the judge. It is only the appeal court that can do things like that. I think that is how the judge sees it from the constitution and if Lagos state is not satisfy with the judgement, they should appeal against it. What do you think about the growing army of qualifying lawyers in the contry? Will you say there are too many nowadays? Not at all! It is because we are still developing as a country.
There are many situation that need to be handled by lawyers. For instance, the issue of prosecution by the police should be handled by lawyers and even in every police station, there supposed to be a lawyer who will advice the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) and all other policemen even the one manning the station on issues of human right abuses and others. You are aware that young lawyers are not well remunerated.
Are you bordered by this development? Thank God we have a very viabrant president. And if you are current with issues in national NBA since the inception of current president, you will agreed with me that it will be taken care of soon. Even in the last National Executive Council (NEC) meeting which I am a member as the second Vice Chairman, the matter of remuneration came up and a decision was reached.
But you know things like this are not authomatic! We are appealing to our members to comply on time, because we know most remuneration of lawyers are outrageous. It is not enticing, that is why most lawyers find their ways into other areas from the profession where they feel they can make more money. When I was Chairman of NBA, we did a lot for young lawyers in terms of incentives, and other assistance to make them appreciate the legal profession.
What has been the reactions of the NBA on issues that has to do with the welfare of the people? I think if you follow the activities of the present national chairman of NBA, Augustine Alegeh SAN from inception, you will agree with me that NBA has been on top of issues affecting the people. The position of NBA on any issue is not influenced by any party and NBA is always on the side of the people.
We have a lot of pro bono services. The NBA is a mouthpiece of the people and we have been supporting people oriented issues. For instance,we have been sensitizing people on the need to collect the Permanent Voters Card (PVC), as well as how and the need to vote. We have gone on TV, done seminars and conferences. Even now there is an election monitoring group within the NBA saddled with the responsibility of making necessary datas and information available to the NBA which will be forwaded to the national president.
I think it will be too wrong for anybody to say that NBA has loss its voice on issues of national interest, except they want NBA to toe the line they would not want to. Are you okay or what are your reservations on the mode of appointing judges? On appointment of judges, NBA has always said they should be carried along, because we know ourselves and it is good to appoint somebody who is practicing because if you have not been going to court what is your business in the bench? Right now, we have put forward a proposal that the NBA must be part of appointment of judges because we know ourselves.
What is your line of duty as a Vice President of NBA? As the second vice President, I am in charge of a particular section of the country, that is the Northern zone. I have been to most part of this zone and in my capacity, the President could delegate responsibility of duty to me. I can also represent the president in any function and we report back to him. We all have a schedule of duty.
I expect that the Election Tribunals will be up to their oath of office in accordance with the Hon. Justice Mahmoud Mohammed’s address during their swearing in, sometime in January on the do’s and don’ts and these are men of proven integrity . Surely, we will get the best from them without rancour. And my only advice is that political gladiators should leave them alone to do their job and whatever judgment they delivered, should be accepted in good faith and anyone who is not satisfied can also appeal
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