Pension for lawmakers is unreasonable, says Osipitan
President goodluck Jonathan recently declined assent to the constitution amendment bill sent to him by the National Assembly. He faulted some of the provisions of the amended constitution. Some of those provisions have to do with the promotion of the interest of the lawmakers and the whittling down of the powers of the president. In this interview, a Professor of law of Evidence at the University of Lagos, Taiwo Osipitan SAN expresses his opinion to GODWIN DUNIA on some of the issues. He also spoke on immunity clause, xenophobic attack in South Africa and the evidence act.
What is your view about President Jonathan’s decision to decline assent to the constitution amendment? The president has the right under the constitution to declined or assent to the amendment of the constitution and also not to have anything to do with it.
He does not need any reasons for his refusal to give his assent. But then there is provision in the constitution that says after 30 days if he does not give his assent or convey his assent, the National Assembly can hold a joint sitting and pass it through a two third majority then the bill becomes law.
The bill which the president refused to assent to deals with the constitution – on how to amend the constitution. National Assembly may well be guided that this is not just an ordinary bill, it is one that has to do with the constitution.
I want to believe that the power of the legislators to sit again, deliberate and decide on the bill to become law may not be possible again. When you want to amend the constitution, it is a joint responsibility of both national and states assembly’s.
And the National Assembly must have the two third support of the states’ assembly. Therefore, where you have a veto or refusal to assent to a bill by the president, one will expect the participation of the National and States’ Assembly.
I think it is like the president withheld his assent in view of the fact that National Assembly did not carry the State Assembly along in deciding to amend the constitution.
What is your reaction to the proposition in the 4th amendment which is in favour of the provision of life pension for former leaders of the National Assembly? It appears quite immoral that people at the National Assembly, who do not attend to legislative matters on every working days, who take holidays at random will be asking for life pension.
The job of the legislator should not suppose to be a full time job, and pension for people doing a part-time job with all kind of allowances already attached to it is quite unreasonable.
Again we should be careful not to make this jobs too attractive or else you see people struggling for the job in such a manner that it will become a do or die affair and people will want to get there at all cost, and you know what that means.
We must demystify all these job and not attach any importance to them, than just a part-time job. Do you support the demand for the removal of immunity clause from the constitution? The answer is yes and no! Yes because it has been abused by those in government or those it apply to in a way that they have used it to perpetrate shameful act.
The clause is even one sided because nobody can sue them for any civil or criminal offence in private capacity or as a person but you can only sue them officially.
For instance as governor of state A or B, but not as a person, whereas the governor can sue anybody as a person. A governor can be a plaintiff in libel suit but is not possible the other way round.
So whatever is good for the gander is good for the goose. But the clause is to avoid distractions to those it apply to, so that they can concentrate on the task of governance.
Of course, you can always sue them after they must have left the office. You can investigate them, gather available information you have against them, but you cannot use them as evidence to prosecute them, until they leave office.
As a professor and senior member of the bar, what agenda will you set for the incoming administration of Gen. Buhari, on how to improve the judicial sector? As a member of the noble profession, I believe that the government will respect the rule of law, they must also govern base on the constitution.
They must lead by practical examples and they must help us to restore nobility, respect and diginity in the legal profession. There must be no more skipping of court order or judgement, irrespective of who or what you are.
The administration must stop situation where members of the noble profession are assaulted with impunity without any prosecution of such people.
The issue of contempt of court must not be allowed again. There are cases when a siting governor just used thugs to lock up court premises for several weeks even months for fear of impeachment and nothing happened.
And I wonder what they will be doing at that particular period, because court is our workshop, and when the workshop is closed, what do you expect the lawyers, judges and other judicial workers of the affected courts to be doing? We have never had such before, but it is just sliding into a dangerous situation and it will do the legal profession and the public good if the incoming administration help to put a stop to this development.
If courts are not respected by the executive arm of government, the ordinary man who believes that court is the last hope will lose confidence in the court and he will resort to self-help and this too will lead to a state of lawlessness and anarchy.
The government of Buhari must also take radical steps in appointing judges to the court of Appeal and Supreme court. People of merit should be appointed to appellate court to ensure confidence in the judiciary.
I also want his government to prosecute and deal with corrupt judges and lawyers who aid corruption. What is your take on the recent xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other Africans resident in some part of South Africa? It is quite unfortunate that our brother, South Africa can be showing this level of intolerance and violence towards us.
Very regrettable, but it should not degenerate to the level of an eye for an eye. I think our ministers and those concerned should engage them in meaningful discussions and make them understand that South Africa has businesses here, and if they are attacking our businesses there, and our people, I think we will be justified if we attack theirs here too.
But it has not got to that level, there must be proper dialogue and where people had died, wounded or properties destroyed, measures should be taken to compensate these victims apropriately.
Is the new evidence Act comprehensive enough? The life of law is not based on anything else, except experience and the evidence act of 2011 has gone a long way in addressing issues but then there are some other gaps.
They have removed one or two provisions which has the capacity to suffocate the evidence act in Nigeria. Take for example, section 5(a) of the old evidence Act, which was a general provision that allow laws to apply principles of law of evidence in case where evidence law is silence on an issue or when there is a gap in evidence Act.
That provision has been removed. One will not have worried, if the National Assembly that is amending the evidence Act is proactive regularly. That is not the case, this is the first time the evidence Act is been amended since 2005. So we need to wait for another long time before it is amended again. Again they have introduced computer evidence Act.
It appears quite immoral that people at the National Assembly, who do not attend to legislative matters on every working days, who take holidays at random will be asking for life pension. The job of the legislator should not suppose to be a full time job, and pension for people doing a part-time job with all kind of allowances already attached to it is quite unreasonable
That itself has many problem and that is why that section is creating more problem than it want to solve. Before you can tender a computer evidence in Nigeria, there must be a certificate from somebody who is into the system to confirm that the system is in working order at the time the evidence documents were reproduced.
But then, if I have a case against a bank today and they are giving me a statement of account and I said I sue your bank that you proof that your machine is in working condition: tell which opponent will give a report against its interest? I think Nigeria has not developed to that level.
That is one of the problem of that provision. Though, new rules and new development has taken place, but there is still more to be done. We need to go back to the drawing table to look at the evidence Act again and correct some of the gaps there.