Convicted corrupt judges deserve life sentence, assets confiscation, says Justice Kuti
The ongoing fight against graft in the country has opened up cans of worms on the judiciary. That arm of the government used to be highly reverred and regarded as the last hope of the common man. It threw up revelations about alleged gratification between lawyers and judges. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, a retired justice of the High court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Justice Abdul-Fatai Kuti suggests that convicted judges should be jailed for life and their assets confiscated. He also spoke on State Police and other topical issues. Excerpts:
What is your opinion on the national grazing bill?
I have no comment on that becuase it is very controversial. As a judge, I am apolitical, whether you are retired or you are working, you don’t dabble into politics. Because the law is made for the people and not the people for the law. Whatever the president wants is what will happen in Nigeria.
The bill is not about the president. It is reportedly before the national assembly for consideration.
The bill will go through different stages before it can become law and people who are more inelligent than we are will tackle it. So let us leave it as it is. There are allegations of corruption against judges.
My book on late Justice Mohammed Bello has given answer to that. So I wouldn’t be repeating myself. People should go and read it.
Give us a little insight of the content of your book.
Buhari is God-sent. It is God who sent him and he is God-driven. So he will appoint very good judges who have integrity. They should stop dwelling anymore on paper qualification. People who are not as well educated can perform well. If you go on education, you go on character as well. I am saying that as an incorruptible judge. I served this country for 47 years; 13 in the foreign service, 23 in the judiciary and the rest in the academia. I was the acting dean of the faculty of law of the University of Ado-Ekiti. This government will succeed. I am praying for it.
Will Buhari know the character of all the lawyers to be appointed into the bench?
It is work of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to do a thorough work when the president give them direction. The president will give them directive that he wants good people irrespective of their ethnic background because the president himself is detribalised.
What of the judges who are in the bench already?
My view is that corrupt convicted judges should be executed. But I have mellowdown on that now because in most of the countries of the world now, you dont execute them anymore. So we give them life sentence. That will serve as deterrent. Once they know that they would go for life imprisonment, they will do well. Once they know that their properties would be confiscated, they will do well. There must a kind of deterrent! But if they are old like myself, 80 and above, you cant send them to prison. You will consfiscate their properties and give them heavy fine.
What if they are not able to pay the fine?
Then they go to prison. Judges are wicked, maybe you do not know. We are wicked! How can they say that they should go and execute someone and within minutes it is done? We are not God but we are following the law. Justice must be done without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. Even your own son, you can try him and convict him. The same for your mother, father and brothers. Is that not wickedness? We are wicked people!
But no judge has ever been prosecuted and convicted?
Before I forget, there are very good judges around. There are three arms of government – the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. The judiciary should function fiercely independent. It should fear nobody. It should hold the balance. Like some nordic countries, you have the ombudsman. Ombudsman prevents government exccesses so that government will not do what is called executive recklessness. They ensure that justice is done and nobody is above the law. Justice is done without fear or favour. When judges are dismissed, they are convicted. They should be executed. But when we see that execution are being dropped in most countries of the world, then let all their properties be confiscated. All the properties that they have acquired illegally, get it back from them and give them fine.
What can we do to achieve judicial independence?
We should have people who are bold enough to say their mind. I was offered a job by the late CJN of Nigeria, Mohammed Bello and I refused and he said I would regret it. I was offered a job to the International Criminal Court and I rejected it. We must have people who can stand on principles. I did that on personal reasons which I would not disclose at this stage. I am the only African who rejected the job and when I go to my bank, people run helter-skelter to attend to me, yet I dont take overdraft. I have been in Abuja where people come after I have decided a case with bags full of dollars and I refused. I was given a house with swimming pool and all that and I refused. People must be bold, courageous and principled.
We are looking at the judiciary as an institution. For instance, the judiciary is still depending on the executive for funds.
The president is the only person that can allow the judiciary to be independent in the sense that no president should allow anybody to be above the law. We must shun the issue of plea-bargaining. You agree that you are guilty so that you will not get the full judgment, which normally you would have got. For instance, if you are accused of murder and you say I am guilty of manslaughter so that you would not be executed. That is not law! Tell them in America!
But the advocates say it saves time and cost?
That may be true. But our own judges could also save time if they are serious. When I was in Abuja, I go to court 7am in the morning and come back at 7pm at night. I am a human being also. I was not working for my father or mother but my country and my country comes first.
Do you agree that we should have a special court to try corruption cases?
Yes, I support that.
Does that suggest that the regular courts are not comeptent enough to do the job?
Dont comdemn the regular courts. If you want to have another court, have it but dont condemn anything.
But some say if we go that way, we might have special courts for every issue?
I doesn’t follow. That is nonsequitur. Special cases require special treatment.
The consitution says the welfare of the people is the primary responsibility of government. Is this government doing that?
This government is going to do that whether you like it or not. Give this government a chance. You dont build government in a day. Rome was not built in a day. It takes time. This government is going to succeed whether people like it or not.
You have been in the judiciary and have seen it all…
I have seen it all. I have been in the judiciary and the academia where girls are doing sugar-daddy; where lecturers and professors are using girls like that. I have written a book on malpractices in exam.
The slow pace of justice delivery has been a stumbling block to the judiciary such that some are asking for judicial automation.
Anything that is going to improve the judiciary technologically should be done. It should do anything to ensure it delivers quick judgment. Land cases doesnt need to stay up to 30 years, what is happening? Is it the salary or the discomfort of the chambers and whatever? They must do whatever that can improve the sector!
Do you have an opinion as to what needs to be done?
I have no comment on that. I dont have. What I want is whatever that would improve the system.
Assuming you are appointed into a committee to oversee the process?
I will decline. I dont want to be in any committee. If Buhari calls me, I will tell him that I dont want anything from him.
You mean you cannot serve this country anymore in any capacity?
I cannot, at 79? It depends on your health. No, I cannot work at 79. I dont need money anymore.
What is your view about state policing?
Let every state have its own state police. People in an area know themselves, they will be able to give the police information.
What is the level of gratification a judge could accept from his friends and colleagues?
You dont need gratification. What for? You dont need their money at all. Let them do their work and thank God. In my own case, I was never in practice except for two years out of the 47 years.
That means that you did not have practice experience?
I dont need it. I was in the foreign service. It was more than practice experience.
That means that your experience in litigation and advocacy would be limited?
It is not limited. Those two years, if you know what I learnt you will clap for me. I am not praising myself.
For that two years, did you appear before the Supreme Court?
I did not appear before the Supreme Court, but I appeared in other lower courts. It is not appearing before the Supreme Court that matters. My own uncle, Teslim Elias, did not practice in Nigeria. He came from England with a QC and he was appointed into the Supreme Court as an attorney general. So what are you talking about? And the record is there. There are good judges who came from the academia such as late Idigbe, Nnaemeka Agu, Ganiyu Agbaje, Yemisi Omoleye and others. Brilliant lawyers can be appointed into the Supreme Court. Even Agbakoba was the son a chief judge of Eastern Nigeria. Make him a judge today and you will enjoy him. I am not campaigning for him though I know him very well.